Kelly D’Ambrogia is an intern with the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute and a student at the University of California at Berkeley.
Earlier this year, member aquariums of the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) decided to withdraw their memberships due to that association’s decision to ban members from acquiring dolphins through the annual Taiji dolphin drive hunts. On March 31, 2017, both the Enoshima Aquarium in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, and the Shimonoseki Marine Science Museum Kaikyokan, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, withdrew from the organization in a strong statement of opposition to the ban. (Shimonoseki is the home port of Japan’s Antarctic whaling fleet, which certainly suggests the aquarium’s decision is linked to pro-whaling politics.)
The decision to prohibit members of JAZA from acquiring dolphins through the Taiji dolphin drives came in May 2015, after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) suspended JAZA’s membership due to the association’s violation of the “Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare”. WAZA had claimed to be ethically opposed to the Taiji dolphin drives for several years following the publicity around dolphin drive hunts used to provide live dolphins to aquariums, and finally decided to take action against JAZA following the International Marine Mammal Project’s ten-year Save Japan Dolphins campaign against WAZA, with a number of other organizations also putting pressure on WAZA. Previous to the ban, JAZA had allowed its members to purchase live dolphins through the Taiji dolphin hunts, an extremely cruel, immoral, and devastating practice that leads to the deaths of hundreds of dolphins each year. When threatened with expulsion from WAZA, JAZA decided to comply with WAZA’s demands a month later and began enforcing the ban on acquiring dolphins from Taiji among its member aquariums in Japan.
This compliance, however, did not result from a change of heart from Japanese member organizations in regards to the immoral practice of dolphin drive hunts. In fact the members of JAZA have stated that they don’t see the dolphin drives as cruel in any nature, and believe that they are an integral part of “local culture”. Instead, the 99 to 43 vote to remain in the worldwide organization came from the realization that if expelled from WAZA, members of JAZA would no longer be able to cooperate with other international member organizations for breeding and trading programs. The zoos in Japan, which have no dolphins, voted to remain with WAZA.
However, the Enoshima Aquarium and Shimonoseki Marine Science Museum Kaikyokan aren’t the only members of JAZA who have decided to leave the association due to the ban on dolphins from Taiji. On September 4, 2015, the Taiji Whale Museum also decided to withdraw its membership, right at the beginning of the Taiji dolphin drive season. The Taiji Whale Museum is one of the largest brokers for dolphins captured through the Taiji dolphin hunts, and keeps its own captive dolphins in tiny exhibits and horrible conditions. Leaving JAZA right at the beginning of the dolphin drive hunt season allowed the Taiji Whale Museum to continue to obtain captive dolphins for their exhibits. Last season (Sept. 2016 to Feb. 2017), Taiji hunters caught more than 200 live dolphins to sell to aquariums in Japan and overseas. Only about 40 aquariums in Japan are members of JAZA, but there are around 100 facilities in total that hold dolphins in that country. China, Russia, and the Middle East are the main overseas markets for Taiji live dolphins.
Though the majority of zoos and aquariums in JAZA have said they will begin to shift their focus to captive breeding programs rather than buying dolphins from Taiji, it is possible that some will follow the Enoshima Aquarium, the Shimonoseki Marine Science Museum, and the Taiji Whale Museum in leaving the association. If captive breeding programs are unsuccessful, the aquariums might decide to continue their ties with the bloody dolphin drives in Taiji.
IMMP urges an end to keeping dolphins and other cetaceans in captivity. One of the major reasons is that the sale of live-caught dolphins in Taiji helps subsidize the slaughter.