Dolphin drives

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Dolphin driving, a highly controversial practice still performed today in the town of Taiji in Wakayama prefecture, and made (in)famous by the documentary "The Cove," has been practiced in some parts of Japan since ancient times. The practice involves using various techniques to drive a school of dolphins in towards the shore, either beaching them, or driving them in to a small bay or other small body of water where they are then slaughtered.

The common dolphin (Delphinus delphis / Delphinus capensis) and Pacific whiteside dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) are believed to have been the species most hunted in pre-modern and early modern Japan. In those villages where dolphin drives were practiced, when a school was spotted approaching land, fishing boats were sent out to intercept them and attempt to drive them towards the beach. A series of nets were used to hem the dolphins in, and to push them towards the beach, where crowds waited to capture them by hand. It often took five to eight people to land one dolphin. Perhaps in large part due to the collective effort that was necessary to execute such a drive, it was standard in most regions for the proceeds of such a drive to be distributed more or less equally among all the villagers; this is in contrast to the way whalers were permitted to claim the gains of their efforts for themselves, without sharing it amongst the villagers. The owners of nets or boats were typically compensated, however, for boats or nets damaged or lost in the process of the dolphin drive.


  • Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 180-182.