Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt
Dolphin hunts are often described as cruel and horrendous acts. The process of hunting dolphins involves herding them into a cove, after which they are either selected alive to be sold to aquaria and theme parks to entertain humans or slaughtered for human consumption. The practice of dolphin hunting has received considerable criticism across the globe. The most notorious drive hunts for dolphins occur in Japan, and particularly the Taiji dolphin drive hunt, which is one of the leading slaughters of dolphins and whales globally. It is astounding that the majority of the Japanese are unaware of the hunt, which takes place from September to March annually. Environmental and animal rights activists have expressed their concern over the inhumane treatment of animals. Despite these condemnations, the dolphin drive practice has been defended in Japan as a form of a custom. In fact, they do not argue that it is the same as slaughtering other animals for human consumption. The government supported this view by stating that Japanese fishermen are simply exercising their rights to fish. This paper analyses the Taiji dolphin drive hunt from a sociological perspective in an attempt to have an understanding of why this cruelty towards animals occurs.
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The first social science perspective that helps to understand the Taiji drive hunt is the geographic perspective, which focuses on understanding and exploring the spatial and social processes shaping the world. According to Marsh & Stoker, the geographic perspective provides a framework for comprehending and looking at the world. When adopting the geographic perspective, one is interested in when, where, and why things, places, and people are distributed across the world. In essence, the geographical perspective involves analyzing a phenomenon within its physical, political, cultural, historical, and spatial context. Anything having a spatial context can be studied using the geographic perspective. This means that events occur in a particular place at a particular time because of specific reasons. When applying the geographic perspective to the Taiji dolphin drive hunt, it can be stated that the drive hunts occur because the geographic location of Japan provides an ideal habitat for dolphins, especially during the months between March and September. Moreover, it can be said that the hunts occur because of a combination of facts, namely that the geographic location of Taiji provides a habitat for dolphins, and it is inhabited by people; hence, a human-animal interaction is expected. Moreover, drive hunts in Japan are most notorious because of the vast supply of dolphins when compared to other regions. For instance, an estimated 316000 dolphins inhabit the northwest Pacific of Japan. This is significantly higher when compared to other regions such as 45000 dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, about 29000 dolphins in the United States waters in the western North Atlantic, and approximately 10000 in the Mediterranean region. In these other regions where the supply of dolphins is low, the hunt of dolphins is not that notorious as is the case of Taiji, Japan. Therefore, the geographic perspective provides an explanation as to why dolphin hunts are prevalent in Taiji unlike in other geographic regions – Taiji enjoys a vast supply of dolphins during the season spanning from March to September.
The political perspective is another social science perspective that can be used to analyze the Taiji dolphin drive hunts, which focuses on the use of knowledge of political processes and institutions in evaluating the behavior of people. The political perspective is the most dominant social science view that has been adopted to understand the issue of cruelty towards animals. As Peggs explains, governments and societies often decide who has to be granted rights including the manner in which those rights are obtained. Some people consider it unacceptable to utilize animals to serve any human purpose be it entertainment or human consumption. This view is particularly held by those concerned about the welfare of animals, animal fundamentalists, and animal activists. However, in some political contexts, animals do not have rights and can be used for any human purpose. In Japan, the government publicly defends dolphin hunting and considers the practice to be similar to any other form of slaughtering animals for the purpose of human consumption. In fact, the Wakayama Prefectural Government issues a yearly quota for catching dolphins, which is about 557 bottlenose dolphins and 2026 small porpoises. The fact that dolphin hunting has some political support in Taiji explains why the practice is common in the area. There is no policy action adopted by the government to protect dolphins. Moreover, there is no pressure exerted by advocacy groups on the local government to adopt the relevant regulations to protect dolphins. When compared to other regions such as the West, where people are against animal cruelty, dolphin hunts are not common. Thus, the political perspective provides a lens for understanding why the dolphin hunting is a popular practice in the town of Taiji.
The third social science perspective that can be used to analyze dolphin hunts in Taiji is the economic perspective, which studies the manner in which societies use resources for satisfying human needs. This perspective draws upon the presumption that every person wants and needs particular things. Needs comprise socio-economic, personal, and physiological requirements used for functioning and living, whereas wants comprise the means that people use to fulfill their needs. The economic perspective assumes that man is a rational being who seeks to maximize the consumption of goods offering the greatest amount of satisfaction. From an economic perspective, mankind has a limitless quest. The issue of animal cruelty has been closely intertwined with the economic perspective. The economic necessity is often used to justify using animals for human purpose regardless of the underlying cruelty. Over the world, the export of animal products is a multi-billion dollar industry ranging from hunting ducks, exporting ship, and killing elephants for their tusks among others. Some commentators argue that animal cruelty is an integral component of the global economy and human culture. Across the globe, most people consume animal flesh and use the skin for clothing. Additionally, animal research is a crucial component of medical research. In countries such as the US, some people view hunting deer as some sort of sport. Moreover, the seemingly benign attitudes that people have towards animals draw upon a mentality characterized by viewing animals as a property that can be owned. For instance, while people have pets to act as animal companions, they are easily disregarded if they become troublesome to keep. The basic view is that animals exist to satisfy the needs of humans. Presently, the most notable form of animal cruelty occurs in the form of killing animals for food. Animal caring is a costly undertaking. As a result, it can be seen that the economic exploitation of animals is a global trend.
The same pattern of economic exploitation of animals can be applied to analyze the case of the Taiji hunts. There is vast evidence to support the claim that the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji is done for economic reasons. First, residents of Taiji hunt dolphins for human consumption. As Burgess explains, Taiji residents do not fish dolphins because they gain pleasure in killing them; instead, they do it to sustain their lives. The town of Taiji is economically dependent on hunting dolphins. Besides hunting dolphins to have meat, some dolphins are selected and sold to aquariums globally, which acts as a source of income for the residents. The best specimens of dolphins fetch are worth up to $15,000 when sold to aquariums and sea parks globally, which further exploit the dolphins for economic gain. With the demand for dolphins increasing from aquariums and sea parks, it explains why the practice is becoming more popular in the town of Taiji. Moreover, a number of supermarkets in Japan stock dolphin meat although it contains high levels of mercury. The government is also distributing the meat of dolphins and whales to canteen found in hospitals and schools.
Another socio-economic perspective to be used to analyze and understand the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji is the cultural perspective that explores the manner in which people are influenced by their environments and the cultural and social factors. Culture has been established to influence the behaviors and beliefs of people as well as their values. The issue of animal cruelty is tightly entangled with the concept of culture. Smith explains that animals have different roles in various cultures, which subsequently results in differences in the attitudes towards animals in these cultures. Across the globe, there is a link between animal welfare and underlying cultural values. For instance, Native Americans utilize animal fur as a spiritual and a traditional material. In some cultures, animals are slaughtered for ritualistic purposes. In the case of the dolphin hunt in Taiji, cultural ties can be drawn. First, the town of Taiji has a long tradition of whaling that dates back 400 hundred years. Organized whaling in the country is believed to have originated in this town. Hunting dolphins is one of the traditional fishing practices in the country. Residents of Taiji town believe that the practice is a historical tradition. Also, the government reiterated that Taiji residents cannot be prohibited from practicing their traditions and culture. The view that dolphin fishing is a part of the resident’s traditions and culture has played a key role in declaring the legitimacy of the practice. In fact, some authors are puzzled as to why Taiji residents continue hunting dolphins regardless of opposition from various quarters across the globe; they conclude that the practice is deeply entrenched in the traditions and culture of Taiji residents.
In conclusion, dolphin drive hunting in Taiji could be examined and understood via various social science perspectives including geographic, political, economic, and cultural. From a geographic perspective, the practice can be attributed to the fact that the Taiji town offers an ideal habitat for dolphins; hence, the number of dolphins in this location is vast, which naturally initiates human-animal interaction. From a political perspective, dolphin drive hunting seems to be supported by the government; hence, residents are not prohibited from engaging in dolphin hunting. From an economic perspective, dolphin hunting in the town of Taiji is motivated by economic reasons – human consumption and sale of dolphins to aquariums for income. Lastly, from a cultural perspective, it is seen that dolphin hunting is an old tradition in the town and entrenched in the culture of the Taiji residents. Therefore, diverse approaches are needed to help tackle the problem because it is cannot be explained by a single perspective.
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