A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Two Arguments of the Taiji Hunters

Where the dolphins are shipped after they’re captured at Taiji

The latest dolphin drive hunt at Taiji is now “over”.

Over, that is, for the dolphins who are dead – 41 according to Sea Shepherd. And over for the people who massacred them and are busy pocketing their profits. But certainly not over for the 52 dolphins who were taken captive and are now being shipped around the world to marine circuses and hotels where tourists will pay hundreds of dollars to “swim with dolphins” and thousands of dollars for quack “dolphin therapy” sessions.

And anything but over for the 140 or so dolphins who were driven back out to the ocean. Most of them will die from their injuries or from being orphaned or separated from their pod and with no idea where to go, what to do, or how to live on their own.

Last week, as U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy joined the chorus of criticism, the Taiji hunters and the Japanese government responded with two main arguments. One of them is contemptible nonsense; the other is something we need to think about.

The nonsense argument is that massacring dolphins is a cultural tradition. The “it’s my culture/my religion” thing has been wheeled out to defend all kinds of atrocities – from cock-fighting to bear-baiting and from incest to slavery.  Dolphin advocate Ric O’Barry demolished it in a few seconds on CNN, telling Anderson Cooper:

“That’s a deliberate lie. Anyone can research this and learn that it actually started in 1969. So it’s not traditional and it’s not cultural, and it’s time to end this.”

taiji-seashepherd-1Cooper followed up by posing the second argument: that it’s hypocritical to complain about the killing of dolphins when we in this country are killing cows and pigs and chickens by the millions.

O’Barry countered by saying, “They’re comparing domesticated farm animals with wildlife.” And on Huff Post Live, Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute took a similar approach:

“When you slaughter livestock for consumption, for food, there are humane slaughter laws in most countries that require that certain standards be met, that the animal becomes insensible instantly. And you can’t do that with a dolphin. … The way they kill dolphins in the cove, given that they can’t restrain the animal properly or in any way meet the standards of a humane slaughter law, it’s incredibly cruel.”

Interviewer Josh Zepps pressed the point by saying, “But if they could do it humanely, we would still consider it wrong. Right?”

To which Rose responded, “These are wild animals; they’re not being ranched or farmed. It’s not only cruel, it’s unsustainable.”

But in the final analysis this argument doesn’t really hold up. It only begs more questions: “So if you could do it without pain, would it be OK?” or “If they were to breed them at a dolphin farm, would that be OK?” or “Isn’t it equally cruel to keep pigs in gestation crates where they can’t even turn around for months on end?” There’s just one clear, unambiguous response to the argument that “you people do it too.” And that response is “I don’t.”

Sure, the Taiji massacre men and the Japanese government are simply trying to create a distraction. But it’s a distraction that works for them because it puts animal advocates on the defensive and takes the debate off in a different direction.

If animal abuse is wrong, then it’s wrong whether you’re doing it in a Japanese cove, or in stream with a fishing pole, or at an American factory farm, or anywhere else.

And if you’re a dolphin advocate who’s still eating animal products, you’re not only putting yourself in an awkward situation; you’re complicating things for the rest of us, too.

Very simply, there can be only one clear, unambiguous response to the argument that “you people do it too.” And that response is: “I don’t. I’m against all forms of animal abuse. And I oppose factory farming, too. But we’re not here to talk about that; we’re here to talk about what you’re doing, which is the cruel and monstrous massacre of dolphins.”

End of argument.

There’s just no way around the fact that as long as we’re slamming the dolphin massacres while consuming animal products ourselves, we’re left open to the charge of hypocrisy.

Many of us who already eat a plant-based diet still feel obliged to give the “It’s more cruel” or “They’re not farm animals” response because we know so many dolphin advocates who use animal products every day. We feel defensive by association – as if we have to cover for them.

Whether you’re a supposedly humane organization that serves up scallops and Beef Wellington at a fund-raising dinner, or you’re criticizing cock-fighting and then going home to a chicken dinner, or you eat “dolphin-safe tuna” while complaining about people who eat dolphin, or any of the other inconsistencies between what we say and what we do, you’re just hobbling your case.

The bottom line is very simple: Either you’re against cruelty to animals or you’re not. And if you want to make the case against dolphin hunting or any other kind of abuse, it’s best to get with the program and stop patronizing any of the cruelty industries. That way you’ll never end up on the defensive, and you’ll be getting others of us off the hook, too. Best of all, you’ll be a better advocate for dolphins – and for all animals everywhere.