***Update: it turns out I was wrong! Pokemon Scarlet and Violet will feature the series’ first dolphin Pokemon: Finizen and Palafin.
The announcement of the newest Pokemon games last week marks the beginning of the ninth generation of Pokemon and a new assortment of elemental creatures to catch and battle. In anticipation for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, Pokemon fans around the world are wishing for new additions they’d like to see added to the current roster of 905. Many current Pokemon are based on real-life animals so it makes sense that fans want a full menagerie in their Pokedexes.
One of the most popular requests is for there to be a dolphin Pokemon and it’s astounding there isn’t one already. Gorebyss looks kind of a dolphin but I don’t really think it is. To me, it’s more of a cross between a pipefish and an oarfish. That would explain why it’s Pokedex entries say it resides in the deep sea, which dolphins do not. There’s also Kyogre which is based on an orca. Although orcas are technically dolphins (they’re the largest species of the dolphin family), they aren’t what you think of first when you imagine your typical dolphin. Pokemon fans are just asking for a water/psychic or water/fairy bottlenose dolphin, simple enough right? While many fans may attribute the lack of a dolphin Pokemon to a disobedient Gamefreak, there’s actually a more sinister reason.
Japan’s Cetacean Fixation
Japan has a long history of whaling. While the practice began in the 12th century, it did not reach its full stride until the turn of the 20th century when the Japanese adopted modern whaling technologies from Norway. Commerical whaling continued until the International Whaling Comission’s moratorium in 1986. However, Japan still continued to hunt whales for the sake of scientific research.
Although the practice garnered heavy criticism internationally, the Japanese defended the practice by asserting it is for the sake of scientific research and maintaining cultural heritage. Because most of the world’s whales are endangered, the Japanese government claimed this research is critical for studying the status of their populations. However, those in the international sphere said Japan was merely conducting commercial whaling under the guise of research. In 2018, Japan left the International Whaling Comission and has resumed commercial whaling in its territorial waters.
Dolphins in Japan
Of the many historic whaling towns in Japan, the most well-known is Taiji in the Wakayama prefecture. Taiji was a hub for Japanese whaling. Although the town’s whaling operations are much smaller than before, its tradition and history with dolphins is alive and well. Taiji celebrates an annual dolphin drive in which hundreds of dolphins are corralled into a shallow cove to be captured or slaughtered. Usually, after a long day’s work of trapping the dolphins, the animals are left to suffer overnight before they are killed. Supposedly, this is because the meat tastes better that way but it is more likely that killing dolphins in the early morning allows the fishermen to conceal the bloodbath.
Officially, the reason for the dolphin drives is for dolphin meat. However, the consumption of dolphin meat in Japan has been declining and the meat is frequently labelled as whale meat to garner a higher price. The biomagnification of mercury in seafood has also raised health concerns about eating dolphin meat. Instead, there are also two other, more prominent reasons for this practice. For one, selling live dolphins to aquariums has become increasingly lucrative. Cetacean captivity is a controversial topic with several concerns over the ethics of keeping intelligent animals, the adequacy of aquarium facilities, and the usefulness of captive cetacean research.
The second reason is for “pest control”. Japanese cuisine is well-known for its seafood (think sushi, sashimi, and nigiri at your local Japanese restaurant). In the face of depleting world fisheries, Japanese fishermen blame dolphins for their reduced catches. The idea is that because dolphins eat fish, they are in direct competition with Japan’s appetite for seafood. The Japanese government perpetuates this belief by readily issuing hunting permits for these animals. Furthermore, there is an active coverup of these dolphin drives – the drives are heavily monitored by police, foreigners are looked at with suspicion in Taiji, and the slaughters are done covered in tarps to avoid any pictures and video taken of the event. Unfortunately, unlike whales, there is no international body to regulate killing dolphins.
It should be noted that Taiji is not the only place in the world that participates in dolphin drives. Places like the Solomon Islands and Faroe Islands also hunt dolphins but the Taiji dolphin drive is one of the world’s largest hunts. Because of its size, it has received the most attention and backlash. Additionally, with its hidden, more controversial reasons for the drive, Taiji is a big target for activism and objection.
No Dolphin Pokemon
The multi-faceted controversy of dolphins and Japan, from animal welfare to environmental issues to cultural heritage, is a really sticky situation. I suspect this is why we don’t have a dolphin Pokemon yet and will probably never get one. The Pokedex does have whale Pokemon; both Wailord and its preevolution, Wailmer, resemble blue whales. Therefore, I don’t think the issue is whaling in general. Instead, the controversial Taiji dolphin drive may explain why we still don’t have a dolphin Pokemon.
It is well known Pokemon likes to avoid controversy. Porygon hasn’t appeared in the anime since that one episode. Jynx has been officially purple since Generation 3. Gambling has been absent from the main series games since Generation 5. For a franchise as beloved as Pokemon, a potential controversy with a dolphin Pokemon may not be worth the satisfaction of millions of fans around the world. Sorry Pokemon fans – until Taiji’s cruel and controversial practice comes to an end, we won’t be getting a dolphin Pokemon anytime soon.