Are dolphinariums saving dolphins from slaughter?

No, they dont!

We have been reporting from Taiji regularly since 2004, and the most shocking aspect of the dolphin drive hunt is the active role that some dolphinariums and the captivity industry play in sustaining the hunt.  Dolphinariums are always looking for ways to obtain more dolphins.  This is because, unknown to the public, dolphins die prematurely in captivity at a very high rate.  Many times, the fishermen of Taiji will drive a large school of bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, or false killer whales into the killing Cove, and dolphin trainers and marine mammal veterinarians flock to the scene to seek out the best-looking dolphins for their display facilities.  By doing business with the dolphin killers, they are helping to maintain the dolphin drive hunts.

A live dolphin sold to a dolphinarium brings in a much higher profit than does a dead dolphin sold as meat, which brings in about US$500-600, depending on the size of the dolphin.  In Taiji, live, trained bottlenose dolphins have been sold for as much as US$155,000 each.  The dolphin massacres in Japan will likely continue for as long as members of the international dolphin display industry reward the fishermen with thousands of dollars for animals that are deemed suitable for commercial exploitation in captivity.  The captivity industry that works together with the Japanese dolphin killers are a major reason that the dolphin slaughter is still going on.

Dolphinariums that purchase dolphins from the dolphin killers will tell you they are “saving” the dolphins from slaughter.  We view this as nothing but propaganda, aimed at concealing the fact that they are fuelling the dolphin hunt by making it tremendously profitable.  Working side by side, dolphin trainers and fishermen force the dolphins into shallow water, haul the dolphins ashore and line them up.  The trainers then inspect the dolphins one by one, choosing only the ones that can be used in dolphin shows and captive dolphin swim programs.  They are typically looking for young, unblemished dolphins.  They “save” only the ones that can be commercially exploited in the display industry.  The ones that are too old, too young, have the wrong gender or have too many blemishes are not worth “saving” to them, so they let the dolphin hunters kill them.

We have seen dolphin trainers assist the hunters in bringing the rejects to the killing Cove to have their throats slit or their necks spiked.  They don’t even bother to inspect the very young babies, knowing that they can’t be used in dolphin shows.  Using ropes and physical force, dolphin trainers separate the babies from their mothers.  They haul the mothers close to the rocky beach to measure and inspect them.  The babies cry out, but they are doomed.  The dolphin trainers are not going to help them.  If these dolphin trainers and marine mammal veterinarians were into “saving” dolphins, they would be there with a protest sign and video cameras, just like we are.  Instead, they take advantage of the dolphin slaughter to nourish the huge profits made from captive dolphins.

The grueling selection process drags on for several hours, and some dolphins die either from shock, injuries or exhaustion during this time.  Some make frantic attempts at staying at the surface of the water, but their pectoral fins have been dislocated or broken.  An injured dolphin is worth nothing to the aquarium industry, and the dolphin trainers simply haul the dying dolphins back into the water and dump them, showing no emotion whatsoever.

In recent years, “freak” dolphins have been especially prized by the local Taiji Whale Museum, which is based just around the corner from the killing Cove.  The Taiji Whale Museum is owned by the town government of Taiji.  They are major brokers of wild dolphins all over the world.  A few years ago, a bottlenose dolphin was caught with four fins – that is with two vestigial fins near its tail.  The dolphin was a prized “freak show” at the Taiji Whale Museum until it died after 5 years, far shorter than it would have survived in the wild.  More recently, several albino dolphins have shown up in the drive hunts – their mothers were slaughtered along with the rest of their pod, and they were put on display at the Museum.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has a “policy” that its member zoos and aquariums should not get captive dolphins from drive hunts, but this policy was routinely violated by WAZA members, including the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA).  Finally, after a ten year campaign by Earth Island’s Save Japan Dolphins and other organizations, such as the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Australia for Dolphins, WAZA took action, giving JAZA members a choice of stopping the sourcing of captive dolphins from Taiji hunts or leaving WAZA.  After a tumultuous vote, JAZA members agreed to end captures of live dolphins in the Taiji hunts.  We believe this will have a significant adverse impact on the Taiji hunters, as they will miss out on millions of yen for live dolphins from JAZA member aquariums.

*Photo is from Voice of the Blue

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