Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 18: Extirpation

Dear Japan, where are your pinnipeds? Everywhere has some species of seal or sea lion, so why do your beaches appear completely void of them? Maybe I'm missing something...

Naturally, I did a bit of research today to put this question to rest. Here's what I found out:

There are indeed a few species of seals who's range includes Japan, including the spotted seal and harbor seal. There was once a commercial hunt on seals, and although it has ceased, it is reported that they are still hunted on occasion.

I continued my research and learned a little bit more...

In addition to seals, Japan was also once the home of a sea lion species closely related to Guadalupe and California sea lions, appropriately named Japanese sea lions, and also known as black sea lions. These sea lions ranged along the west and east coast of Honshu, off Shikoku and Kyushu, in the Seto Inland Sea, and on islands in the Sea of Japan and the Izu region. A few stragglers could be found in the Kuril Islands to the north, and the east coast of South Korea. In the 1800's, scientists estimate the population was between 30,000-50,000. By the 1930's the population was down to about 300 individuals, and by the 1950's it had dropped to only a few dozen. This species is thought to have gone extinct sometime during that decade.

What was this species like? What did they eat? How long did they live? When and where did they birth and wean their pups? No one really knows. There is very little literature on this species, because so much is pure conjecture without being able to study a living population. I guess Japan's 'lethal research' program did not apply back then.

So what happened to the Japanese sea lion? They were hunted to extinction, wiped forever from our planet. According to my research, their meat was not eaten due to poor taste, instead they were harvested for their fur and oil. It is said that some organs were used in traditional medicine, and whiskers were used as pipe cleaners. It's also possible that they were targeted because fishermen saw them as competition. In addition to mass murder, many were taken for captivity. Now why does that sound familiar?

Extinction is forever; there's no going back once a species is gone. What will become of Japan's dolphins? They're killed indiscriminately, whenever they unknowingly venture too close to this country's many killing machines. I read earlier that (historically) fishermen would refrain from killing dolphin calves and females with calves. What happened to that part of the tradition? Now the dolphin killers rush out of the harbor every morning with the intentions of driving any and every cetacean they can into the cove, sparing only those who can be sold to aquariums. They are only able to drive dolphins so effectively because they have an insanely fast fleet of banger boats which dolphins are unable to outswim. Where is the tradition in that? It's just like how a few years ago, several individuals from the Makah Indian Tribe, which in the past has had a permit for subsistence hunting, set out in their speed boat and shot a gray whale using a machine gun. The concept may be a historical one, but nothing about this current method can be called traditional. No, this is no longer about tradition, more like arrogance and self-entitlement.

Even so, whether it can be considered tradition or not is completely beside the point. The Japanese sea lion is now extinct, and what are we left with? Was it worth it? And who gave you permission to eliminate an entire species, anyways? You annihilated them without consulting the rest of us here on Earth, and now we'll never have the opportunity to see them. How long until all of the dolphin species passing by the coast of Japan are extirpated due to captures and drive hunts? Even if quotas were to be set at a sustainable level, tradition could still not be used as a valid excuse. Every country has traditions that it has moved past. Take slavery for example; this U.S. tradition went on for centuries. Does that justify it? No. It only means that it took us that long to be forced to open our eyes to the insane cruelty we were teaching younger generations.

You say your dolphin drive hunts are tradition, I say it's high time that tradition end. Why not start passing down a new concept to your children, like respect, and the ability to coexist with the ocean's inhabitants? Why not turn in those white boots for a camera, and convert those speedy banger boats into whale watching vessels? Death is wasteful, however life is more valuable than we can comprehend. Turn that life into a successful wild dolphin watching tourism business, and you will survive just fine - I should know, that's how I make my living.

"We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."


  1. What a powerful, thought provoking post ... I hope those reading from Japan will take this to heart, for the good of all of us.

  2. We species are all connected whether we realize, acknowledge, respect, and live in balance, or not. When we destroy a species, we are ultimately destroying ourselves...
    Profound posts Heather, you are making a positive difference! Thank You!

  3. Fantastic Heather. Thank you for writing this.
    Kim Talley