The killing of dolphins has begun again in the small Japanese village of Taiji. The controversial hunting season starts in September and ends in March. This event is constantly causing trouble between Western environmentalists, and the locals that say it is a “traditional hunting practice.”

Local fisherman are permitted by the Wakayama Government to hunt nearly 2,000 dolphins of varying species. Dolphins are either killed for their meat, even though the Japanese government has warned consumers that they are at risk of mercury poisoning due to high levels of toxins in the meat, or sold to live in captivity.

The Taiji dolphin hunt has become a hot topic for activists and environmentalists who in recent years have gone to Taiji to protest the slaughter of the dolphins. Also attracted to the coast is conservationist group Sea Shepherd, that has also created a social media campaign about the hunt.

Sea Shepherd has attracted a lot of celebrity attention, like actress Shannen Doherty who recalls her chilling encounter witnessing the hunt. Doherty says, “You wonder how they (the hunters) are able to go to bed at night… I think being here rocks even the most hardened human being, because it is just atrocious.” Sea Shepherd’s coordinator Melissa Sehgal says that the hunting season has started with the killing of four Risso dolphin pods.

On the opposing side, locals are defending the killing of dolphins each hunting season, once again stating that it is their local tradition, and that it is also a major component to the town’s economy. “The dolphin fishery is still an indispensable industry for the local residents to make their living,” states the Wakayama Government.

The hunting process begins when the fisherman chase the dolphins towards the Taiji Harbor, forcing them into shallow waters near the coastline of the cove. Once at the cove, dolphins are netted to the shallow area. Dolphins are trapped side by side then segregated into two groups, those who will be sent to live in captivity and those who will be killed. In recent years hunters have changed their methods of killing the dolphins, resulting in less dolphin blood washing ashore.

Many organizations like Sea Shepherd have campaigned to help end the slaughtering of these innocent dolphins. Programs like Ric O’Barry’s The Dolphin Project helps to raise awareness against the live dolphin trade. Both Sea Shepherd and The Dolphin Project are mentioned in 2009 Oscar award winning film, The Cove, which documented the dolphin hunting season in Taiji, and raised awareness for the the industry on an international scale.

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