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Honey, a Captive Dolphin Abandoned in Shuttered Aquarium in Japan

| Mark J. Palmer
Topics: Captivity Industry, Dolphins

(NOTE: Ceta Base supplied information for this blog.)

The plight of Honey, a bottlenose dolphin who has been reported left behind in a tank in an aquarium in Choshi City, Chiba, Japan, has touched many of us.  The aquarium was closed in January.

At the heart of the problem is that the aquarium’s owners, who have to approve moving Honey to another facility, have been very difficult to find.

Honey’s story has gone worldwide both in mainstream media and social media, and the Japanese press has been closely following the issue.

The aquarium, Inubosaki Marine Park, west of Tokyo, also still houses two-dozen penguins along with many fish and reptiles.

Media reports in Japan state that the animals are being taken care of by aquarium staff, albeit there have been concerns, especially about the water quality in Honey’s tank.  There are rumors of negotiations, but the absence of the owner has hindered any moves for Honey.

The International Marine Mammal Project contacted the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), based in Switzerland.

In response, WAZA told us:  

“Unfortunately, Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium is not one of our current members, and as an NGO (Non-governmental Organization) we are limited in our capacity to address welfare issues at non-member organizations.  We have, however had contact the regional association Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA); they are well aware and have tried for many months now to help and move the animals. As you know from the newspapers, the owners of the park are as yet untraceable/not available for contact.  Unfortunately, Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium is also not a member of the JAZA, which means we are limited in what WAZA and JAZA, and other members can do to help.”

The good news is that Honey and the other animals are still being fed by aquarium staff.  The local Chiba Kaisei Health Center has been conducting monthly inspections of the aquarium.  In February, the inspection found Honey had “dry cracks” on her skin, likely from sunburn (a hazard for captive dolphins, which stay at the surface of their tanks, unlike their wild kin who escape sunburn by swimming underwater most of the time in the wild), which was being treated with petroleum cream.  But the condition had cleared up by the August inspection.

However, government agencies have no authority in Japan to intervene, so the talks go on about moving Honey, hampered by the absent owners.

It seems likely that the problem will be resolved when the owners are found to give permission for transfer of the animals to new facilities in Japan.

Sadly, Honey was caught in 2005 in a Taiji, Japan, dolphin drive.  It is likely her pod no longer exists, having been broken up into captive pens and shipped around the world, or slaughtered for their meat.  While Honey would benefit from being placed in a seaside sanctuary, none exist in Japan, so the immediate need is to transfer her to a cleaner tank with dolphin companions.

Since Japan’s government continues to promote the Taiji hunts, and since the Taiji hunters make a lot of yen by selling wild dolphins into captivity, we will continue to see more of these tragedies unfold.