Animal advocates are celebrating a victorious announcement from the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) that it will no longer acquire dolphins obtained from the controversial hunts in Taiji.
The annual drive hunts, which have incited international outrage, result in thousands of dolphins being rounded up, butchered and sold for their meat, and even more are torn from their families and sold to aquariums and marine parks for public display.
Organizations including the Japan-based Elsa Nature Conservancy, the Dolphin Project, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Sea Shepherd, OceanCare, Animal Welfare Institute and Australia for Dolphins (AFD), among many others, have been working to see these drives hunts ended for years.
After being targeted in a lawsuit filed by AFD, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) finally took action last month when it voted unanimously to suspend JAZA because of its continued involvement with drive hunts in violation of its code of ethics and animal welfare.
According to an inventory conducted by the Elsa Nature Conservancy, there are nearly 600 dolphins in captivity in Japan, while almost 68 percent of the aquariums that do hold them are JAZA members.
JAZA faced permanent expulsion this week if it decided to continue obtaining dolphins from Taiji, which would have made the country’s zoos and aquariums outcasts and cut them off from the international community.
Fortunately, even though JAZA still won’t condemn the hunts, a majority of the association’s 89 zoos and 63 aquariums voted not to continue and now dolphin advocates hope that this decision will cut off a major source of live dolphins for captivity and end any financial incentive to keep capturing them.
“JAZA aquariums provide up to 40% of total demand for live dolphins from Taiji. So, as of today, the market for Taiji dolphins could be nearly cut in half,” said AFD’s CEO, Sarah Lucas. “This significant decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan.”
With live captured dolphins being worth more than $100,000 on the market, compared to a few hundred for meat, many have continued to argue that if it weren’t for the money brought in by sales for captivity the drives would have ended by now.
“A stunning blow against the dolphin killers of Taiji,” said David Phillips, Executive Director of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project. “If all the Japanese aquariums follow through with this new ban on captive dolphins from Taiji it will take millions of yen out of the Taiji dolphin killer’s pockets and could render the entire Taiji killing operation uneconomic and unsustainable.”
JAZA’s announcement is an epic step towards ending the drive hunts, but more still needs to be done. The door is still open for non-members and others may continue taking dolphins from Taiji and the wild elsewhere. Captivity itself is also still an issue for cetaceans, and now JAZA facilities may turn to captive breeding programs in order to ensure that dolphins don’t disappear from aquariums.
In the meantime, AFD will be continuing with its legal action against WAZA to help ensure no dolphins are taken from the wild for captivity, in addition to pushing the association to enforce its welfare policies for all of its member facilities. We can all continue to support the efforts of dolphin advocates to end the demand that continues to fuel this industry by avoiding facilities that keep cetaceans in tanks.
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