Japanese zoos, aquariums vote to ditch Taiji dolphin hunt

TOKYO, Japan – Japan's zoos and aquariums voted Wednesday, May 20, stop using dolphins caught by the controversial "drive hunt" method in Taiji, allowing them to remain part of a global body that had suspended the country's chapter over the issue.

The vote was prompted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (WAZA) suspension of the Japanese chapter (JAZA) last month, saying it had refused to stop taking dolphins caught in the southern Japanese whaling town.

Taiji came to worldwide attention after the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove" showed pods of the animals forced into a bay and butchered with knives, in a mass killing that turned the water red with blood.

"(JAZA) will prohibit its members to acquire wild dolphins caught by drive fishing in Taiji and to take part in their export and sale," JAZA chair Kazutoshi Arai said in a letter to WAZA following the vote, which saw an overwhelming majority of the 152 members opt to remain part of the global body.

JAZA does not regard drive hunt as "cruel", Arai told during a press briefing, adding that a dolphin from Taiji costs about a million yen ($8,300).

"Various facilities (zoos and aquariums) will have to cooperate to promote breeding," Arai said.

Earlier, JAZA executive director Kensho Nagai said: "We annually take about 20 dolphins from Taiji, but we have improved how we hunt, separating our hunt from everything else at Taiji that is for dolphin meat.

"But we don't have control over the rest of the dolphin catch, part of which is said to be sold by local brokers to aquariums in China and the Middle East," he added.

'Cruel and non-selective'

Taiji residents have long defended the drive hunt saying its purpose is to obtain dolphin meat, which they say is a traditional part of their diet.

But some live dolphins are also sold on after the drive hunt – which typically involves pushing the animals together with boats and closing off their escape, forcing them into a coastal bay.

Critics of the practice say there is insufficient demand for dolphin meat and drive hunting is only profitable because of the high prices live dolphins can fetch when sold to aquariums and dolphin shows.

"(WAZA) requires all members to adhere to policies that prohibit participating in cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild," the global body said when it suspended JAZA.

A weekend Japanese report said nearly half the dolphins in the country's aquariums are caught using the controversial fishing method, but it did not specify whether the dolphins came from Taiji.

Chief Cabinet Secretary and top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday the government "is aware" of the controversy between WAZA and its Japanese chapter, and "the government will take measures to avoid any ramifications on exhibitions in aquariums."

The drive hunt "is a sustainable fishing (method) under appropriate control by... the government with scientific foundations, and is being carried out carefully so that dolphins are not hurt," Suga said. – Rappler.com