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Caroline Kennedy ‘deeply concerned by inhumannness of’ Taiji annual dolphin hunt

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Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Japan and daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, has made public via her Twitter page her feelings over the annual killing of dolphins at Taiji Cove, stating, "(I am) deeply concerned by inhumanness of drive hunt dolphin killing." Kennedy also added that the "U.S. government opposes driving hunt fishing." MSN News.

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Each year, Japan's Fisheries Agency issues permits to fishermen to slaughter dolphins. It is a literal bloodbath for these highly intelligent creatures during the hunting season, which lasts from September to May. They are primarily hunted for meat. Others are sold to dolphinariums. In addition, fishermen kill dolphins "as a form of pest control"; their aim being to eliminate the competition for fish, according to Save Japan Dolphins.

Thousands of dolphins are killed during the annual event in the Japanese fishing town of Taiji. This government-sanctioned, centuries-old practice had been going on in secrecy. It was even hidden from their own people. Since "The Cove" was released, the ugly secret was revealed to the world, including Japan.

(WARNING: Photos and video may be disturbing to some.)

Japan justifies its annual dolphin slaughter by arguing they are neither endangered, nor banned from being hunted under any international treaty. Furthermore, Japan says the annual dolphin cull is "traditional culture." MSN News.

Animal activists, on the other hand, take the animal rights angle. The slaughtering of dolphins for human consumption, entertainment or pest control has no redeeming value, whatsoever. The practice is brutal, tortuous and inhumane.

Fishermen seal the mouth of the Taiji Cove with several nets, which traps the dolphins. They are left corralled over night. During this time, dolphins are panic-stricken as they try in vain to find a way out. The fishermen return before sunrise the next morning and herd the trapped dolphins into shallow waters where "they kill [them] with long, sharp spears." Save Japan Dolphins goes on to say:

Often times, they stab the dolphins with sharp fishermen's hooks and haul the still living dolphins onto their boats. The cruelty is enormous. The dolphins thrash about in their own blood, and the air fills with their screams." Source

Their suffering isn't just physical. There is tremendous emotional torment, as well. Dolphins are "believed to be the world's second most intelligent animals...", says Jennifer Viegas with Discovery News. As highly intelligent marine mammals, it must be unimaginably agonizing when victim dolphins witness other dolphins being killed and come to the realization of their own fate.

As a U.S. ambassador to Japan, Kennedy is responsible for protecting and promoting national interests and maintaining diplomacy. Thus, such a public statement about a country for which she serves as an ambassador is pretty significant.

Will Japan take notice? Is it enough for Japanese officials to rethink the "traditional culture" of its annual dolphin massacre at Taiji Cove?

Some activists contend that abolishing the annual dolphin culling event will take significant opposition from the Japanese people, rather than from outsiders. Before "The Cove" was aired, many Japanese people were unaware of the event. Now that they are aware of it, more and more Japanese animal activists have joined in on the protest, according to David Kirby with Takepart.com. Still, the annual cull has continued to take place.

Louis Psihoyos, the National Geographic photographer for "The Cove," opined in New York Times Dot Earth Blog that an animal rights approach won't work. Rather, a humanitarian approach would be more compelling. Since dolphin meat has high levels of mercury, there are serious human health implications of eating dolphin. Therefore, Psihoyos says, “[i]t is a crime against humanity when people are serving poison as food.”

Concededly, a firmly entrenched tradition or culture is very difficult to change. Nevertheless, the general public perception regarding dolphin culls is a negative one, even in Japan. Hopefully, legislation will be passed to put an end to this gruesome "tradition," thereby solidifying society's values.

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