Featured Image Credit: Kamogawa Sea World/Kyodo
By Kira Krall
In 2015, the Worldwide Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) mandated that the Japanese AZA cease purchase of live dolphins from the drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. During the collection season, dolphins are herded from out at sea into a cove along the Taiji coast. The dolphins collected there have three pre-determined paths. One, they are slaughtered for their meat; two, they are collected, trained, and sold to aquariums around the world for upwards of $150,000 (source: Huffington Post); three, they are released back into the wild. The latter option may seem like the best, but these dolphins that often live in tight-knit social groups have witnessed the killing and collection of their closest friends and family. Some dolphins are found dead in nearby waterways following a release event.
Two facilities have recently left the JAZA in protest of this new “no Taiji dolphins” policy. Enoshima Aquarium and Shimonoseki Marine Science Museum Kaikyokan withdrew from the Association for different reasons. Enoshima wanted to save face with a Taiji fishermen’s union while Shimonoseki simply believes that the drive hunt is a permissible custom. Withdrawing from the JAZA leaves these facilities at a severe disadvantage, as the JAZA helps zoos and aquariums get international permission to collect and breed exotic animals, among other benefits.
That pressure is one reason why 99 of the JAZA’s 142 members voted to stay in the AZA global network and ban the purchase of Taiji dolphins. Captive breeding programs are slated to take the place of wild collection.
The Taiji dolphin harvests are internationally controversial events. They have been protested as cruel, inhumane, and unhealthy. Dolphin meat has been consumed for hundreds of years, but recently that meat has become a health hazard. Higher levels of mercury have been reported in dolphin meat than ever before, and an international awareness campaign has thankfully sliced the dolphin meat market in half.
Hopefully, the JAZA’s decision can inspire other entities to follow suit. These types of regulations paired with international education can sustain the Worldwide Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ mission to facilitate sustainable and conservation-oriented zoos and aquariums across the globe.