The world’s leading zoo organization announced it has lost patience with Japan’s continued use of dolphins from fisheries drives in Taiji prefecture and suspended the Japanese from its roster.
The country is the worst offender when it comes to slaughtering whales, dolphins and other endangered marine mammals that are internationally protected. Most of the slaughter is simply for meat, which is a prized delicacy in the Asian nation.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) made numerous attempts to stop Japanese aquariums from taking cetaceans that get caught in the commercial fisheries, which are undertaken for several months each fall.
The highly controversial drives frequently garner international criticism from both governmental and environmental groups.
Last summer, WAZA officials made an appeal in Tokyo, recommending Japan impose a two-year moratorium on member organizations taking show animals from the drives. The issue was again discussed during WAZA’s annual conference in November.
The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) refuses to restrict its members from taking animals from the drive, WAZA said.
“WAZA council concluded that a satisfactory agreement could not be reached and voted to suspend the Japanese association’s membership,” said Hyatt Antognini Amin, a WAZA spokesman. “The council also reaffirmed its position that WAZA members must confirm they will not acquire dolphins from the Taiji fishery.”
The governing body for world zoos requires “all members to adhere to policies that prohibit participating in cruel and nonselective methods of taking animals from the wild.”
The dolphin hunts were brought into gobal focus following the 2009 release of “The Cove,” a documentary that went on to win a best Oscar in 2010.
Japan has taken extraordinary measures in recent years to keep the killing activities shielded from public view.
The culls are widely considered to be both cruel and non-selective. The method of catching the helpless dolphins involves banging metal pipes underwater to confuse the animals’ sensitive sonar.
The species are prized as “show dolphins” for aquariums and can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. The dolphins destined for aquariums are trapped in nets, while the remainder are impaled with spears behind the blowhole to sever the spinal cord.
What impact the suspension will have is unknown due to a seeming lack of concern about the Taiji drives in Japan.
Toshiaki Morioka, a member of NGO organization Action For Marine Mammals, said “most Japanese don’t know the facts” about the slaughters.
“If they did, I think most would be against it,” Morioka said. “It is symbol of a pathology in Japanese society that this news is rarely mentioned in the Japanese media.”
Morioka went on to say that JAZA ignores the global trend to reduce numbers of both dolphins and aquariums, but hopes that the suspension will act as a wake-up call for JAZA to reconsider its use of the animals.
Asked if JAZA would consider forcing member aquariums to buy dolphins from places other than Taiji, Nagai pointed to a dearth of alternatives.
“The chances of that happening are next to zero,” he responded defiantly.