By Helene O’Barry
A popular argument used by the dolphin hunters in Taiji when asked why they kill dolphins by the thousands every year is: “We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years; it’s our tradition.” Some people immediately accept this explanation and back off without asking any further questions. “If killing dolphins is their tradition, then it must be OK,” seems to be their line of reasoning, and it is a dangerous one -- it makes it too easy for those who inflict pain on others to continue doing it unchallenged.
The term “traditional dolphin hunt” glorifies the dolphin slaughter, creating images of proud men carrying out courageous deeds to ensure the survival of their tribes. But the dolphin hunters of Japan are part of modern society. They do not live in tribes, what they do requires no bravery, and they certainly are not proud of what they do, which is illustrated by the tremendous amount of time they spend hiding their activities from the world. Any person capable of forcing large groups of marine mammals into a tight space, from which there is no escape, can do this job. We have heard the dolphin hunters’ laughter as they held up their tools before turning to finish their work concealed behind tarp, barbed wire and chain link fences.
The dolphin hunters’ argument that the hunt is justified by being “traditional” illustrates a fundamental hypocrisy: While the dolphin hunters apparently want to waste time standing still and refusing to accept today’s knowledge about dolphins as an intelligent, self-aware and highly evolved species, they are not against progress as long as they can benefit from it. They use modern technology to carry out their so-called “traditional dolphin hunt,” thereby turning it into something entirely different from what it was hundreds of years ago. Taking advantage of high-speed motorized boats, radios and walkie-talkies, they are able quickly to locate and hunt down thousands of dolphins and other small whales during the six-month-long hunting season. But as soon as anyone questions the justification of the hunt, they immediately revert back to their argument of keeping things the way they have been for hundreds of years. So while the dolphin hunters hide behind “tradition,” their modern dolphin killing machine marches on, eradicating entire dolphin schools in its destructive path.
We urge everyone never to accept the term “tradition” as valid reason for any action. Tradition is no excuse for cruelty.