Are we losing some of Medicine’s Most Needed Secrets as Dolphins Continue to Be Slaughtered?

October 12, 2010: 14 Dolphins Murdered on October 12, 2010 in Taiji,  Japan

In the small Japanese coastal town of Taiji, the water turned red again on October 12, 2010.  “The Cove”,  made famous by the 2009 documentary detailing the Japanese fisherman as they take motorized fishing vessels under the cover of darkness to the dolphin’s migratory fishing routes so that they can hunt them and drive them back into a small secluded cove  where they would like to keep what they do there a secret from you.

Fisherman use loud banging sounds which disrupts the dolphins sensitive sonar and causes them to panic, and they are then herded into the small cove in Taiji,where some will be selected to be shipped out to dolphinariums or marine parks, while the rest of the family is slaughtered and butchered for their meat.  Dolphin meat, is actually poison, so even putting some of the ethical issues aside, it is an issue that seriously affects human health to consume dolphin meat.

dolphins-getting-slaughtered-in-japan Dolphin meat has more mercury in it that the fish that caused the town of Minimata to become sick which was one of the worst incidents of mercury poisoning in modern history. Prior to the release of the documentary, of  “The Cove”,  in 2009, the dolphin meat from the slaughtered dolphins was provided to school age children in Taiji, as part of their school lunches. The Japanese people weren’t even aware that their children were being fed the mercury poisoned dolphin meat. Now, although providing dolphin meat to school age children has stopped, it is still distributed to the Japanese people without labeling or warnings about what they are consuming.

Dolphins are usually killed at very close quarters using spears, knives and hooks. The fisherman and Japanese government  spread mistruths about the manner of killing, and tell reporters that the slaughters are done humanely. This could be nothing further than the truth–the death of these dolphins can be a slow, tortuous and grotesque process, sometimes lasting up to 2 hours before the dolphins finally perish.

The multi-million dollar marine park business drives the economics of the dolphin hunts, with dolphins selected for captivity bringing from $150,000 to $165,000 per dolphin. The rest of the dolphins not selected for captivity are left for the local fisherman to slaughter, generally bringing around $600.00 per dolphin. This results in the slaughter of  approximately 23,000 dolphins a year.

Filmmaker of the cove, Louie Psyihoyos says, “There is a systematic cover-up of mercury and dolphin hunting issues in Japan. The Japanese trust their government. But the government does not want them to know basic information that would affect their health, especially that dolphin meat is many more times toxic than their own country’s health standards allow. Corruption is rampant and people are profiting from misinformation.”

By the time the traumatized dolphins arrive in the Cove,  they are exhausted and frightened, and are generally with all their family members in their close knit groups called pods.  A group of Risso dolphins were captured in the Cove on October 11th, 2010,  and 2 were “chosen” to be shipped out for a life in captivity. Reports of 14 dolphins being  brutally slaughtered came in from observers in Taiji, in a practice that is barbaric—as these self aware creatures die a slow and painful death while observing and listening to the dying cries of their family members around them.

The Taiji fisherman reportedly released about six (6) juvenile dolphins that were initially captured,  however, due to the age of the juveniles it is unlikely that they will survive because they most likely  still needed their mothers to survive in the wild. Like humans, the dolphin mothers take care in teaching their young, the lessons needed to live life independently. When this cycle is interrupted the life lessons of a matriarch are left in the blood flowing in the Cove. The fisherman refused to release the Dolphin’s mothers along with the juveniles. Can you imagine the traumatized juvenile dolphins having witnessed the murder of their entire family–swimming in their blood,  and then being sent out to sea?  It’s like, one witness said, “sending a five year old out in the world after having seen their entire family slaughtered.”

Conservation group, Sea Shepherd, has people in Taiji standing watch over the Cove, documenting the continued hunt and dolphin slaughter perpetrated by the Taiji fisherman and condoned by the Japanese government.

The Sea Shepherd group, even approached the fisherman on October 11, 2010 prior to the slaughter, and offered to purchase the lives of the captured dolphins in exchange for their safe release. The fisherman’s representative refused the offer, and the fisherman proceeded  to kill the captured dolphins in the Cove, again, turning the sea a bright shade of red from the dying dolphins’ blood.

The Slaughter of Our Closest Relatives:

When you analyze all the creatures that inhabit the Earth’s oceans, dolphins and other marine mammals are the closest relatives of humans. Coming from the Greek word for “womb”, the name Dolphin refers to their human-like way of birthing their young, and also like us, the dolphins nurture their young carefully and with lots of investment in time and compassion towards each other.

Dolphins can utilize tools, once thought to be only a skill that humans possessed.  The actual genetic makeup of dolphins shares a number of genetic traits with human beings.

Called “the human beings of the sea” by the Maori of New Zealand, dolphins have intrigued humans throughout history.

Dolphins, are actually thought to be Earth’s smartest creature, besides humans, according to Lori Marino, an expert on cetacean neuroanatomy at Emory University in Atlanta.  Just how smart are Dolphins? Perhaps smarter than anyone even knows.

Marino says “dolphin brains stack up quite well to human brains,” and it’s been found in studies that their neocortex, which is the area of the brain that handles difficult tasks such as problem solving and self awareness, is quite complex.     Dolphins it seems, can even sense the ability to know what you may be thinking. These are characteristics that are normally associated with human thought processes and intelligence. Captive dolphins can learn up to 90 commands in American Sign Language.

Those who observe and study dolphins have documented that dolphins are able to display a very wide variety of emotions, including compassion and humor.

Former Dolphin Trainer, now turned activist Ric O’Barry, well known for his work as the trainer of “Flipper” in the television series, actually says that there were 5 “Flippers” who starred in the role. One of the most famous,  in the series was a dolphin named Kathy, and Rick says that every Friday night he would leave the Flipper household where he lived and take a television set out to the dock and O’Barry hooked up the TV to an extension cord. Kathy,  would swim up from the pool where she was kept and watch the show with him and could recognize when other dolphins were “playing her part” in the series.

O’Barry explains that when dolphins breathe, they must actually voluntarily take their next breath, unlike humans who breathe involuntarily. One night Kathy swam into his arms, looked at him, and actually stopped breathing by closing her blowhole voluntarily so that she would drown.  In essence, committing suicide. As he watched Kathy’s lifeless body float to the bottom of the pool, Ric vowed then and there to reversing the wrongs that occur when dolphins are held in captivity.

Once a live dolphin is transported off to a life in a marine park, dolphinarium , or swim with the dolphin program it is torn from it’s family members, hoisted onto a truck and shipped off to a life in a pool where the odds of it’s survival are very slim.  More than one-half of all captive dolphins will perish within 2 years of first entering captivity compared to the 40-50 years they could, depending upon their type, live in the wild. Some Orcas in the wild will actually live until 80.  However, in captivity, dolphins have many health problems.  They develop depression, obviously are separated from their families, and often get illnesses and skin sores from being in chlorinated water. Their sonar, one of their most important senses,  is constantly disrupted and not able to be used properly in a captive tank. Additionally, they are used to being able to swim 40 miles each day in the wild, a far cry from what their new environment will be like even in the unlikely event that they survive.

Diane Reiss, a cognitive psychologist at the hunter college of the City University of new York, explained to an audience at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that the social intelligence of dolphins is quite similar to those of the great apes.  Having the ability to recognize themselves in the mirror — which she explains, most animals are not able to do, is a sign of self awareness.   Dolphins are also able to understand complex “gestures” which to them make up sentences, and finally, Reiss comments, that “Much of their learning is similar to what we see with young children.”

How Medical Science And Advancement is Lost By Slaughtering Dolphins

So how are we losing valuable information in the field of medicine by watching Japan and other countries slaughter these magnificent creatures?

Well, it turns out that dolphins may hold the key towards helping medical researchers find strategies for preventing such things as cervical cancer.

Hendrik Nollens, D.V.M., Ph.D., a marine mammal biologist and clinical assistant professor at The University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine says that, “because of advances in Molecular medicine since January 2006, we’ve found more than 40 new viruses in dolphins alone. When the last textbook came out in 2003, only 19 were noted.”  Nollens also comments that “we’ve discovered that dolphins get multiple infections of papillomaviruses, which are known to be linked with cervical cancer in women,” but there is no evidence that dolphins ever contract cervical cancer. “Why do people develop the disease, but dolphins don’t? If we can figure out why the human medical community might be very interested in how that information might be applied to human strategies for preventing Cervical Cancer,” he said.

No animals are harmed during the collection of blood and tissue samples that has been used in collecting information by the biologists’  studying how the dolphins may help us find clues to solving the cervical cancer puzzle in humans.

According to Teri Rowles, D.V.M, Ph.D, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response program, research like this demonstrates the importance of more work and understanding of the connections between the oceans and people.

Rowles, says that we need to be “better stewards of healthy oceans and coasts, healthy marine mammal populations and healthy people.”

Why Japan’s Logic on Dolphin Slayings Doesn’t Hold Water

Japan’s government and the Taiji fishermen insist that westerners should stay out of their business, and post signs near the cove saying exactly that.  “Keep out” the signs read. “No photos.”  The men say that it’s Japan’s culture to pursue the dolphin hunt and slaughter, yet the murder and  capture of dolphins in Tajii is only said to be around 40 years old.  This certainly does not equate to a cultural norm.   And what culture is so ashamed by it’s practices that it hides what they are doing from the world?

Would you willingly stand by and say nothing if your nearest relative were slaughtered? Can you imagine your thoughts and feelings watching your mother be stabbed and then hearing the cries of your family members as all of them were systematically killed?

Dolphins are the only known wild animal to come to the rescue of humans-and have been documented as actually saving human lives. I heard a story this week from a friend whom I’ve known for 25 years. Although we’d talked about lots of subjects throughout the years, I learned something new from my friend about dolphins.

Formerly a very good barefoot water-skier, my friend  had practiced years ago in the Intercoastal Waterways of the Carolinas. Because the dolphins had never seen a barefoot water-skier before, they were intrigued by his presence and used to follow him out into deeper waters as he practiced his barefoot skiing. Often times he would encounter whales in the water in the Carolinas. When this happened, the dolphins would form a circle of protection around him, keeping him safe from harm.

He was even more astonished when this very same thing happened in the water of a salt water lagoon in Egypt where he was also practicing his barefoot waterskiing during his free time after working in Egypt on a job assignment. Although sharks were often present in the lagoon in Egypt, he was most often accompanied by dolphins that would again, form the protective circle around him when the sharks would show up.

The sad thing is that the world may lose more than they bargained for if the ruthless and systematic killing of dolphins is permitted to continue. In addition to pillaging our oceans we may be losing the clues that scientists have been searching for years which is the prolonging of life.  What a travesty if we allow the one creature who is closest to us in relationship and perhaps much smarter than us as a species to be destroyed in these in-humane and holocaust like hunts. Perhaps by killing the dolphins — we are in essence killing ourselves.

For more information about what you can do to help end the dolphin slaughter you can visit the following websites:

Sea Shepherd