Taiji is a small town in western Japan considered the place where whaling originated. The members of the small town established an organized whaling company called a “kujira-gumi.” In 1606, and the hunting of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in coastal waters continued from that time. The claim advanced that Japanese culture and tradition pegged on Dolphins has been dismissed as missing supporting grounds and evidence. It is therefore clear that we cannot place exactly when the practice began (Jun 2009, p. 15).
Definition of Dolphins
Dolphin represents ‘a small extroverted toothed whale that characteristically has a beaklike muzzle and a curved fin on the back. Dolphins are characterized as mammals with high level of intelligence and of high social nature.
Literature Review: Ethics
Different people have referred to ethics under various definitions. Some have maintained that revolves around what we feel to be right or wrong. Others think that ethics revolves around one’s religious beliefs and practices. Others say that ethics are concerned with the standards of behavior our humanity admits and lastly others hold that being ethical is fulfilling the requirements of the law. These positions held by different people are shaky though they represent what the majority of us hold. It is in fact hard to pin down the meaning of ethics although under this discussion, we shall consider ethics as what is generally accepted as right and wrong for social interactions (Richard & Keith 2000, p. 95).
One then wonders what then ethics is. Ethics can refer to two things. First, the peculiarity of what is right and wrong shall be referred to describe the first meaning of ethics in this framework. It is guided by various obligations, which include the benefits society shall accrue, human virtues and rights of individuals. It would for example refer to those principles that enforce the sensible responsibilities to catchphrase from murder, rape pedophilia, theft and fraud. Ethical principles also include those that instruct virtues of sincerity, sympathy, and allegiance. Such values are sufficient standards with regard to ethics since they are sustained by unswerving and well-founded rationales (Timothy 2007, p. 18).
Secondly, ethics are regarded as a benchmark to describe one’s understanding with regard to ethical standards. As stated previously, laws, social norms and feelings can diverge from what is moral. It is therefore essential constantly to examine one’s values to guarantee that they are sensible and well instituted. Ethics also are used to describe the continuous efforts through own moral observations, behaviors and beliefs in order to ensure well founded and reasonable actions are undertaken in society. With this background in mind, we then, pose the question; is the issue of dolphin slaughtering of any ethical concerns? (Peter 2007, p. 23)
Why Hunt and Slaughter Dolphins?
Some people like to catch and eat fish, something which others would find immoral and understandably even offensive. Eating dolphins is also unnecessary, but we all like to do many unnecessary things, from jogging in the morning to playing with our kids in the evening. Undoubtedly, Americans consumes in large quantities cattle, and unlike dolphins, which are warm-blooded mammals contrary to Japan culture and traditions with regard to these mammals. Why then does it seem so immoral when the Japanese hunt and slaughter dolphins for their own edification? The proponents of this practice make the following arguments:
A source of food
The main purpose of the dolphin hunt is to provide dolphin meat to the Japanese people. However, it is of significance importance to note that, notwithstanding widespread popularization of Dolphin meat in Japan, it is in fact a small proportion of the population that uses Dolphin’s meat as usual delicacies. This is usually due to the regard and consideration of many Japanese towards Dolphin’s meat as “trashy” compared to the much luxurious whale meat. Evidence obtained from DNA tests carried out on meat labeled “whale meat” in Japanese markets have revealed the meat is in fact falsely labeled dolphin meat. Whale meat sells for more money than dolphin meat, so Japanese consumers are tricked into buying dolphin meat falsely labeled as “whale” meat (Thomas 2007, p. 67).
There is another essential and rather shocking aspect to the dolphin hunt; it has been established that dolphins are not only hunted for their meat or for sale to the dolphinarium industry but they are also killed “as a form of pest control”. According to the fishermen, dolphins eat too much fish, and by killing the dolphins therefore, they are simply killing the competition in their own habitation.
A cultural practice
The fishermen on their part and the residents of the dolphins hunting communities have repeatedly argued that they kill the dolphins in order to maintain their ‘tradition’ or ‘culture.’ As noted earlier, the people of Taiji claim that the practice of dolphin hunting began back in the 17th century and it has therefore been a tradition for them. This emphasizes the aspect of Dolphin hunting as a major and reserved culture for Japanese population (Thomas 2007, p. 73).
Over-fishing is a problem experienced globally and Japanese have therefore not been spared in this venture. The region has witnessed massive depletion of livestock and environment at large a factor greatly contributed by Japanese Dolphin and various practices towards them as ascertained by the government. In order to contain the problem of overfishing, the Japanese government has continuously supported the practice of dolphin hunting especially through issuing of permits. The government has in fact on several occasions cited this argument of over-fishing at the platform provided by the International Whaling Commission that whales eat fish and therefore need to be controlled by killing. This spares the practice of Dolphin slaughtering in the country (Thomas 2007, p. 78). Dolphin’s meat is highly rich in mercury content and its consumption is highly discouraged due to health complications. Various groups have advanced counter claims especially those against Dolphin killing basing their arguments on ethical and moral considerations. Some of the reasons given include:
They oppose the argument that the dolphins are killed in order to provide meat for the Japanese people. According to them, this is not the case, but on the contrary it is a selfish undertaking geared towards eradicating as many dolphins as possible in order to make the oceans’ fish available to themselves. There are sadly several areas in Japan where local dolphin populations have declined or been eradicated by this mentality, like ‘wakayama’ prefecture fully supported by the Japanese government. Besides the government and the local fishermen of Taija, the powerful Japan Fisheries Agency also promotes the killing of dolphins and whales as part of Japan’s “food culture” even though only a few Japanese are interested in eating whale and dolphin meat anymore, and large surpluses are stored in refrigerated warehouses. The Agency considers the support and promotion of Dolphin slaughtering as a positive step in cushioning Japanese people from the negative effects of overfishing in the world. The fear of losing their jobs by the Japan Fisheries Agency staff, once the whaling business is burnt is an additional very personal incentive. This is so advocated since the proceeds from whale meat coupled with government subsidies are sufficient in covering all their salaries. The end of whaling and killing of dolphins would therefore mark the end of their work (Andrew 2007, p. 23).
Methodology: Method of Dolphin slaughtering
From a moral point of view, the bad practices cannot and should never be used to justify a bad action undertaken for whatsoever reasons. In this regard, the question of how the dolphins are hunted and slaughtered comes to play. Even if it is done for the economic wellbeing of the community, it is nonetheless bad if it violates the international accepted animal rights. For example, the most popular methodology used in Dolphin capture, slaughtering and subsequent sale (drive fishing) has been described internationally as cruel. In Taiji, the dolphins are hunted in a specialized way especially to prevent their escape where they are directed to a shallow cove covered with a net across its opening. Using such methodologies, Japanese officials term them as safe and acceptable since the animals die quickly and with minimum pain. Non-governmental organization (NGO) observers say that dolphins clearly suffer a prolonged and excruciating death, which definitely violates the rights of animals. This is unnecessary, cruel and covered up (Hadoram 2006, p. 65).
In this “new era of whaling’” the signatories state that the slaughtering of dolphins for consumption and their non-consumptive use (for example dolphin watching) can “coexist without conflict.” Small-type whaling and dolphin “hunters” are encouraged “to keep their sustainable operations and to keep contributing to the local community in the future.
Critics, across Japan both in civil and Non-governmental organizations have highly criticized slaughtering of dolphins and all processes involved – as unacceptable. Moreover, they say that the justification for the killings that dolphins are eating too many fish, hence risking local fisheries has not been scientifically proven and the lack of fish in local areas is most likely due to over-fishing by humans not dolphins. During this hunt, Dolphins experience massive pain and panic, which ought to be abated, as it is regarded as inhumane and cruel act even though directed towards an animal. For a long time, seafarers and shore-dwelling people have almost everywhere found dolphins to be wonderful and inspiring, and for that reason as well as their high intelligence, they have had a very special relationship with humans (Taras 2008, p. 48).
Health effects of eating cetacean products
Each country’s food culture is a cause for revulsion in another. It does not matter whether consumption of such species is regarded culturally acceptable or not, the process adopted ought not to be used on any creature whatsoever. Following increased child development problems in the Faroe Islands (between Iceland and Norway) and other areas where humans depend significantly on cetacean meat for their diet. Since oceanic products have been regarded as highly contaminated, their consumption was categorized as hazardous and bears far reaching negative health consequences. Furthermore, Mercury levels as estimated in dolphin meat which is consumed in Japan remain far-off greater than the levels permitted in line with the health principles of the World Health Organization. Dolphin meat also contains high amounts of cadmium as well as PCBs with elements of the dioxin group, which potentially makes the meat, unfit for consumption (Andrew 2007, p. 26).
The discussion above has brought to the limelight that the practice of Dolpin slaughtering has various moral obligations and consequences. This is the same with every aspect of the human existence as a whole, which undoubtedly has countless moral consequences. Japanese are in meticulous conscious of human impiety concerning consuming other creatures, based on their strong animistic and Buddhist inclinations. As such, many Japanese do hold dearly the fact that nature has provided an opportunity for sustenance of their culture, feeding habits and traditions for their daily lives. It is no secret that human beings so long as they continue to live on the universe will continue to consume other lives, whether they are plants, fish, birds, mammals, or even dolphins. If something is atrocious, our human life is inconsistently inhumane. It is therefore imperative to comprehend that our survival and continuation is dependent on other creatures’ lives, therefore, we ought to all be appreciative for the loss. However, if the human life and its basic rights (which include freedom and prosperity) are threatened because of our love for other creatures, it is essential in concluding that the order of morality is deeply confused and we should not hinder anyone’s rights for sustenance and to lead prosperous lives.
Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that not every Japanese citizen practices dolphin hunting, nor does the government actively encourage it. It is also significant to keep in mind that the fishing in ‘Taiji’ does not obliterate the environment by hastening the extermination of any species. The causes after their obligation to dolphin fishing are to include to their already rather self-effacing earnings. It therefore calls us to be calm and sensible as we reflect about these aspects of dolphin fishing in ‘Taiji.’ Is the mass slaughter of dolphin’s good, evil or beyond ethical concern? Rather than trying to hide the hunts, in a democratic country this ‘use’ of a ‘natural resource’ and its economic, health and moral implications should be open to public debate.
Andrew, D 2007, Harpoon: Into the Heart of Whaling, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW.
Hadoram, S 2006, Whales, Dolphins and Seals: A Field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the World, A&C Black, London.
Jun, M 2009, Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics and Diplomacy, Hurst, London.
Peter, J. S 2007, The International Politics of Whaling, UBC Press, Vancouver.
Richard, O’Barry, & Keith, C 2000, Behind the Dolphin Smile, Renaissance Books, Los
Taras, G 2008, Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood,
Bloomsbury USA, New York
Thomas, W 2007, In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier, Blackwell, Malden, MA.
Timothy, S. G 2007, Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.