Image Credit: Huffington Post Images
As of this writing, Taiji, Japan remains ground zero for the capture and distribution of wild dolphins to amusement parks, dolphinariums, and swim-with-dolphin programs worldwide, fetching as much as $200,000 for a trained dolphin. At the same time, Taiji is a place where hundreds of dolphins, pilot whales, false killer whales, and other dolphin species are murdered and slaughtered every year from September until March; supposedly for human consumption, but also to rid the local waters of this so-called "pest." A slaughtered dolphin brings in only a few hundred dollars.
The Government of Japan and Taiji sanctions these activities, claiming them to be a centuries-old tradition. Yet, marine animal parks only originated some 50 years ago.
Activists such as Sea-shepherd and Dolphin Project among others report that the inhumane slaughters are fueled and paid for by the captive industry, that dolphin trainers stand beside the killers deciding which dolphins will live a life of cacophony, confinement, and tricks, and which will die. For those who are naysayers, watching any live-streaming footage supports those claims and shows the brutality, fear, and terror these sentient families of dolphins endure in the process, begging the question:
Is it possible for Taiji "fisherman" to become dolphin stewards and ambassadors instead of killers?
My position is yes, and to support that position I present a number of studies showing how a change in livelihoods and activities, from killing wild animals to conservation and ecotourism, not only draws people and cash, but also promotes positive perceptions of the people and locale.
This PLoS One study shows how in the Maldives, Indonesia, and Philippines, where Manta rays were killed for their gill plates for trade in Asian markets, Manta rays were on the verge of local extinction. When the trade in Manta rays was replaced with ecotourism and swim-with-Manta programs, local incomes increased and these communities earned positive reputations for wildlife conservation and habitat rebuilding. This study concluded that live Manta rays are worth 28 times more than dead ones.
Likewise, Scientific American reports that elephant ecotourism helps local communities earn 76 times more income than they would earn from the ivory of dead elephants. This demonstrates how ecotourism promotes stewardship of wildlife and habitat and improves the lives of the animals and local communities.
An article in Current Issues of Tourism shows that in places where sharks of all kinds were finned but are now protected with ecotourism, entire ecosystems thrive along with local businesses and tourism.
Another PLoS One study demonstrates on a more general note how ecotourism and the conservation of nature improves livelihoods, brings in money, attention to the area, and turns into a self perpetuating business; the basic tenet being: The more animals, the more business.
Finally, a former sixth-generation Japanese dolphin hunter turned dolphin advocate and touring outfitter demonstrates that it IS POSSIBLE to transform a traditional livelihood into a successful income-generating business.
From these examples we see that conservation efforts, ecotourism, and wildlife preservation earns more money, respect, and provides more services to local communities than the killing, loss, or commodification of dead wildlife.
Taiji can learn from these case studies. Taiji can rebrand itself from a town of dolphin killers to a town of dolphin protectors. They just need to see that the economic and reputation benefits of these changes outweigh those of the ongoing slaughters.
This is a definite possibility, and as these case studies show, it has happened before.