05/16/2014 04:46 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2014

A Lawsuit for Angel

This post is co-authored by Sarah Lucas, CEO of Australians for Dolphins

Australians for Dolphins and Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Project and Save Japan Dolphins Campaign are filing a lawsuit in Japan against the notorious Taiji Whale Museum on behalf of the little albino dolphin Angel and for all the hundreds of dolphins killed or captured every year in the bloody Taiji dolphin hunts, depicted in the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove.

In Taiji, dolphins are annually slaughtered - about 835 this past season - for food in the most inhumane manner imaginable. And the meat is highly contaminated with mercury and PCBs, unfit for human consumption.

But the driving force behind the hunts is the capture, sale and transport of wild dolphins for the aquarium trade. A dead dolphin might bring $500-600 on the market in Japan when sold for meat. By contrast, a trained wild dolphin from Taiji can bring as much as $154,000 or more on the international market. Last season, approximately 160 dolphins were captured for captivity in the Cove at Taiji, to be trained by the Taiji Whale Museum and then sent to dolphinariums for a life of captivity.

Angel is a good example. She was swimming in the Pacific Ocean off Taiji in January with her mother when dolphin hunters ripped her from her mother's side and her pod. Her mother was killed in a mass slaughter so violent it made global headlines, and prompted US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy to declare the US government's opposition to the Taiji hunts.

Angel is now living in hell. Her life has been reduced to a highly valuable "freak" show on display in a crowded and sterile tank. Eyewitnesses report she floats lifelessly, or swims in small distressed circles, much of the time with her eyes closed.

This one small and delicate dolphin has become a global representative of the hundreds of dolphins slaughtered and captured each year in Taiji.

Our Action for Angel lawsuit takes aim at the Taiji town government as the owner and operator of the Taiji Whale Museum, the aquarium that holds Angel and which brokers wild-caught dolphins from the drive hunts to aquariums in Japan and around the world. The lawsuit asserts that the Museum behaves illegally by denying entrance to dolphin welfare experts and observers on the basis of their opinion and race. This conduct is in breach of the Japanese constitution, which protects equal access to public places for all law-abiding people. Our Japanese lawyers are convinced we have a very good case that the Museum (and thus the town government that runs the Museum) are in violation of deeply-held Japanese values of non-discrimination.

For too long, the hunts and the active role of the Taiji Whale Museum in helping the slaughter have been hidden from the Japanese people. The government's Japan Fisheries Agency and a compliant media hide the truth. But our lawsuit, along with our many other steps to publicize the hunts, can break that silence. Some stories are too big and too embarrassing to hide.

Can Angel be saved? We believe that Angel can be moved to a sea pen in the Taiji Whale Museum lagoon where she would experience better water quality, less confinement, and a much more interesting and varied environment. She will also need shade -- as a true albino, she has no pigmentation to prevent sunburn -- and a non-aggressive female companion. There is also the possibility of moving her to other locations in Japan with better water quality and even larger pen space for her to find a more natural environment. Either of these measures would be an improvement over her current captive situation.

One of us, sneaking into the Taiji Whale Museum in disguise , filmed Angel being harassed by her tank mates in the small tank. There is no where for her to hide and get away from her aggressors (two striped dolphins, also traumatized by being pulled from the hunt lagoon for captivity). There is a strong smell of chlorine coming from the tank, which may be why Angel keeps her eyes closed so much. We strongly feel something must be done to bring Angel's plight to the attention of the Japanese people.

Last season, approximately 160 dolphins were captured for captivity at Taiji, to be trained and then sent to dolphinariums. We believe that if the Taiji Whale Museum and the international aquarium industry stopped paying dolphin hunters enormous amounts of money for captive dolphins, that the Taiji slaughter would collapse, as the market for dolphin meat continues to decline.

The Taiji Whale Museum is trying to hide its cruel treatment of Angel in a dark indoor tank from the world's cameras by refusing to allow foreigners, including representatives of Australians for Animals and the Dolphin Project, to enter the Museum. We hope this legal action will open up the Museum to the sunlight of public scrutiny, and bring about improvements to Angel's living conditions.

What You Can Do:
Sign on to our Action for Angel petition, and see our special website for further information on our work for the dolphins: