THE BLOG

WAZA Can Save Angel and End Dolphin Hunts in Taiji

01/21/2014 03:13 pm ET | Updated Mar 23, 2014

This past weekend, a very large pod of bottlenose dolphins were captured and herded into the Cove in Taiji, Japan. These horrible dolphin hunts were revealed to the world (including most Japanese) by the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove.

One of these dolphins is a small calf that we have named Angel. Angel is completely white with pink eyes, a true albino, and was herded into the Cove with its mother. Our volunteer Earth Island Cove Monitor Karla Sanjur was there and her report and photos can be found here.

Karla described the baby dolphin as looking like an angel with fins. It was brutally taken from its mother and put on display in the Taiji Whale Museum, which subsidizes the dolphin slaughter by paying top dollar for a handful of captive dolphins. These dolphins never see the ocean again, much less their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Those unfortunate dolphins left behind, including Angel's mother, will be killed in a welter of blood for meat in Japanese markets, despite the fact that the meat is contaminated with dangerous levels of the neurotoxin mercury.

Worldwide condemnation of the dolphin drive hunts continues to grow. US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy released an unprecedented public statement of concern over the Taiji kill. And Japanese artist and activist Yoko Ono published a powerful open letter to people of Taiji calling for an end to the dolphin killing to avoid "making the children of the world hate the Japanese".

One of Japan's foremost defenders of the dolphins, our colleague Sakae Hemmi of the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, submitted a letter a few weeks ago to Dr. Gerald Dick, Executive Director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which includes as a member the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA), one of whose members is Angel's captor, the Taiji Whale Museum.

Dr. Dick responded to Elsa stating that WAZA would not take action against the hunts: "As you know, in some Japanese communities these drives have been part of the culture for centuries."

This is nonsense, and Ms. Hemmi has replied to Dr. Dick with an open letter stating that: "In fact, the history of dolphin hunting in Taiji is short. According to The History of Taiji, edited and published by Taiji town in 1979, the first recorded dolphin drive was in 1933, with subsequent hunts occurring in 1936 and 1944. It was not until 1969 that dolphin drives have been conducted on a large scale. The history of the dolphin drives spans not so-called 400 years, but a mere 45. Furthermore, in 1969, the main goal of the dolphin drive was to capture pilot whales as prized showpieces for the Taiji Whale Museum. In other words, the dolphin drive was purely for profit, having nothing to do with cultural history."

Elsa and two other grassroots Japanese environmental organizations are asking WAZA, in their open letter, to eject JAZA members that violate the WAZA "Code of Ethics" in using the brutal hunts to catch dolphins for display, thereby subsidizing the slaughter of dolphins for meat.

What is going on here? The dolphin hunts are being used by the captivity industry to supply wild dolphins to aquariums in Japan, China, Dubai, and other aquariums all around the world. (Imports of dolphins from Taiji into the US were finally blocked by the efforts of Earth Island Institute and other organizations in 1993.)

WAZA publishes a "Code of Ethics" and has given lip service to opposing the Taiji drive hunts. But JAZA and the Taiji Whale Museum are still members in good standing with WAZA.

What kind of ethics condemns the dolphin hunts while taking advantage of them to help the Taiji dolphin hunters round up and slaughter hundreds of dolphins every year?

It is time for the dolphin captivity industry and WAZA to become part of the solution for dolphins and whales instead of a major source of the problem. As the documentaries The Cove, A Fall from Freedom, Blood Dolphin$, and Blackfish make plain, intelligent dolphins and whales like orcas and beluga, do not belong in small concrete tanks, separated from the two most important things in their lives: their families and their freedom of the oceans.

WAZA should stop making claims based on the false assertion that the dolphin hunts are somehow part of "Japanese culture." This is just a lame excuse for the lucrative captures and killing to continue.

Instead WAZA and ALL its members should be condemning the dolphin hunts in no uncertain terms. If JAZA members continue to acquire dolphins from the drive hunts in Taiji, JAZA should be expelled from WAZA.

Dr. Dick should join Karla and me in Taiji to see for himself what his captive industry is doing to dolphins and small whales.

Unlike Angel and other dolphins in captivity, WAZA has the freedom to make a choice on how to act. So far, Dr. Dick and WAZA have made the wrong choice and that is shameful.

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