To stop the killing of dolphins for sale in Japan’s marketplace.


Greenpeace Foundation originally helped define the Japan dolphin-saving issue for the world. Now we are working to end “drive kills” and “harpoon fisheries”. We’re also investigating to expose and end the growing practice of selling dolphin as “whale meat”, which defrauds the Japanese consumer, creates a lucrative black market, and encourages international trade in dead dolphins.

The photos associated with this campaign are distressing. Discretion should be used when viewing them.


Greenpeace Foundation has worked for many decades to save dolphins around the world, and Japan has – of necessity – been a prime focus. As the world’s largest far-seas fishing nation, Japan has impacted the dolphins in many ways, and this continues to be the case.

Japan does NOT set purse-seine nets on dolphins to catch tuna, and many in Japan share our feelings that the kill by the Central American tuna fleets are destructive. However, Japan is the center of many dangers to the dolphins, such as driftnet kills in foreign EEZ’s (by laundering products as well as directly), and dolphins killed intentionally for domestic consumption.

The most visible kills are Japan’s “drive fisheries”, wherein mixed-species pods of migratory dolphins are driven into enclosed bays for mass slaughter. These events are horrific, cruel, and extended – sometimes taking days to kill dolphins after they have initially been stabbed. In the ’70’s and ’80’s these kills were driven by a “bounty” paid by the Japanese government for each dolphin killed; then increasingly in complicity with international oceanarium suppliers (keeping the pristine young dolphins to perform in shows while slaughtering their families). Now, in addition, they supply a thriving market as falsely-labeled “whale meat” .

Market-testing of Japan’s ‘whalemeat’ market using DNA techniques has not only shone a harsh light on Japan’s continued taking of “protected” whale species, it has brought to light a shocking truth about Japan and dolphins.

Dolphin: the “other” whale meat

Dolphins are not afforded protections or status under the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and are increasingly being used to fill a “market niche” for whalemeat.

DNA exposes – pioneered by Earthtrust and supported by members of the Forensic DNA Alliance for Wildlife (FDNAW) and their subsequent offshoot organizations – have dramatically lowered the availability of endangered-species whale meat in Japan’s markets by embarrassing Japan repeatedly in world scientific journals, media, and treaty meetings. Consumption of protected whales is in violation of both the CITES treaty and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules. However , dolphins receive neither of these treaty protections, and are increasingly being sold as “whale meat” at high prices.

Earthtrust’s work showed that fully 1 in 3 of all “whalemeat” samples bought were small cetaceans of various species. Worse, data shows that this percentage has been steadily rising as dolphin meat is increasingly substituted for whale – unbeknownst to the consumer. Prices paid for mislabeled “dolphin meat” by Earthtrust collection agents show that the meat of a single dolphin, mislabeled as whale, can bring US$3000 in the marketplace.

Thus we are seeing a wholesale shift from whale consumption to dolphin consumption in Japan…. with no international treaties in place to halt it. Clearly, the prices being charged endanger not only Japan’s coastal dolphins, but dolphins anywhere in the world. Japanese consumers are also victims; being charged a high price for a product they don’t really want, which contains high levels of bioaccumulating toxins such as PCB’s, organochlorines, mercury and other heavy metals.


As is often the case with our core issues, Greenpeace Foundation created the world focus on Japan’s dolphin kills in the late ’70’s by drawing attention to the ongoing “drive kills”. From 1978-1980, Greenpeace Foundation campaigner Dexter Cate traveled to Japan to work with local people and try ending the mass kills.

At that point, the high mercury levels of dolphin meat (as a top predator) made it unacceptable as a food except to poor coastal villagers. These villagers, when tested, had high mercury levels in their bodies, and were at risk for “Minimata Disease” (mercury poisoning) as it is known in Japan. The meat’s relative toxicity caused the government to order that the dolphins caught be ground up into mush and thrown on fields as fertilizer. Japan’s government paid a bounty equal to US$80 per head for each dolphin killed, under the “fewer dolphins, more fish for us” theory.

After two years of experiencing the carnage, Dexter took Sue White’s inflatable kayak and paddles with him on his 1980 trip to Japan. Again, he pleaded for the lives of some 400 bottlenosed dolphins which had been netted; and again he had to watch the killing. For a long day on Tatsunoshima Island, Dexter and his wife documented the kill for Greenpeace Foundation, capturing images that would shock the world. At the end of the day, the bay was filled with blood, but half of the dolphins remained alive. Dexter paddled his kayak across two miles of open sea in cold high winds to return to the island and release them. Untying the ropes which held the nets, he guided the dolphins into the sea. The next morning the fishermen found him sitting there to receive them, shivering with the cold, the dolphins gone. Dexter was arrested and held for 80 days in solitary at Sasebo Prison without being charged with a crime; and was ultimately deported. During that time, Japan’s treatment of dolphins became a world focus, which it has remained.

In the glare of publicity, Japan stopped paying a bounty on dolphins, and it is likely the drive kills would have ended if not for the intervention of entrepreneurs associated with the international “marine parks” industry, which has used the kills to cheaply supply performing dolphins. The first occurrence of this may have been a humanitarian gesture to save a few dolphins from a drive kill. However, it quickly became a partnership in which the money paid for the “performing” young dolphins became the main funding for the drive kills, even though them may constitute only a small percentage of the total pod. Although it is illegal for U.S. oceanariums to utilize capture methods that harm other members of a dolphin pod – and you can’t harm them much more than chopping all of them shrieking into pieces in front of their young – some of these drive-kill dolphins have made it into US oceanariums. With other oceanariums opening up around the world where regulations may be lax to nonexistent, the trade in young dolphins will presumably keep the coastal drive kills going as long as the customers of marine parks and “swim with” programs don’t ask – or care – how the dolphins were obtained. (Greenpeace Foundation considers this “marine park drive kill” industry detestable, and will continue to do what it can to end it.)

Kudos to Ric O’Barry’s efforts and the film “The Cove” which has achieved a level of public awareness we could only wish for in the early years. Visit his organization’s site at SaveJapanDolphins.org and give them your support.

It will be hard to end the true ongoing kill without also ending the fraud which allows dead dolphins to be sold for thousands of dollars each as “whale meat”. The problem is not only the grisly drive kills like that confronted by Dexter Cate – it is the allowing of ocean-killed dolphins into the market system to be labeled as other products, which is nearly impossible to track.


Just as the U.S. government is now poised to allow dolphin-deadly tuna to be labeled “dolphin safe” (see dolphin-safe campaign) regulators in Japan are allowing dolphin meat to be falsely labeled as “whale”. As noted, this allows sellers to charge “caviar” prices and has fueled an increase in dolphin kills within Japan. Greenpeace Foundation suspects that dolphin meat is increasingly being imported into Japan from elsewhere as well, and believes that time is short to stop a growing industry which could rob the international seas of dolphins just as they have been robbed of whales.

The order of magnitude of the kill seems to be tens of thousands of dolphins per year or – probably – much higher. No one is counting the total tonnage sold at this point and this may be a vast underestimate. (This IS the same nation and industry which successfully conspired with the USSR to launder millions of pounds of illegal whalemeat through its markets – see the Whaling Campaign)

We support consumer initiatives to strengthen labeling laws in Japan and let the Japanese consumer know of the marketing fraud which is driving the increased kills, even in the face of an emerging appreciation for living dolphins among many in Japan. We are supporting work to develop DNA techniques which can quickly monitor compliance with labeling laws. In addition, we continue our call of many years to bring small cetaceans under the management of the International Whaling Commission, which – while far from being perfect – would be better than no international regulation at all.