With the end of the most recent Taiji dolphin-hunting season on March 1st, Taiji town and the dolphin killers have been planning for the future of captive dolphins.
The plans look ugly. According to the Japan Times, Taiji’s leaders are planning the long-delayed netting off of the local Moriura Bay to have dozens of captive dolphins trapped in a “whale park” among kayakers and swimmers. Furthermore, Taiji’s dolphin hunters have made a long-term deal with China’s captivity industry to supply live dolphins.
For a number of years, Taiji town leaders have been talking about establishing a large “whale park,” basically a part of the local bay netted off from the ocean and seeded with many species of dolphins and whales. At one point, the town called for keeping minke whales, a baleen species of whale that has never been kept in captivity, as part of the whale park.
Rumors are that, a few year ago, the Japan Fisheries Agency turned down a request by Taiji to hold orcas in the whale park, likely because of the danger such captive orcas might pose to the tourist swimmers and boaters in the whale park. While wild orcas have never been shown to attack humans, captive orcas have attacked and sometimes killed trainers and others at a number of parks.
China has been a major market for live dolphins caught in the Taiji drive hunts, and that relationship has recently been extended, according to the Japan Times. Taiji town leaders, who own the Taiji Whale Museum, have reportedly signed a five-year agreement with Chinese interests to supply 60 live dolphins a year to Chinese aquariums and to train Chinese in how to care for and train captive dolphins. The contract is said to be worth 1.5 billion yen (about $14 million US).
According to the story, the dolphin hunters now acknowledge the decline in dolphin populations along the Japan coast and the difficulty of finding the dolphins to kill. However, rather than pin the blame on the hunts, the locals claim climate change is causing the dolphins to change their migration routes to farther offshore.
The Japan Times quotes Taiji’s mayor Kazutaka Sangen stating: “My goal is to turn Taiji into a world-class research center for dolphins and whales.”
Of course, little research will be done. The purpose of the park is to attract tourists to Taiji to stay and swim with whales in the bay. The dolphin hunters will also keep and possibly breed dolphins for aquariums and swim-with-dolphins facilities in Japan, China, Russia and the Middle East. Meanwhile, the drive hunts will continue to kill thousands of dolphins and capture hundreds for a life spent in small tanks, doing tricks for the tourists.
Photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.