"Bloody Cove" / Photo: courtesy of Oceanic Preservation Society and Save Japan Dolphins

“Bloody Cove” / Photo: Courtesy of Oceanic Preservation Society and Save Japan Dolphins

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~

If you’re a wild bottlenose dolphin in the waters off Taiji, Japan, the hunters waiting there might have different plans for you today than they did yesterday.

September 30 was reportedly the last day of this year’s catch season when you could be somewhat sure you would not be killed. Instead of getting slaughtered and butchered for your meat, you might have been sold to an amusement park, or to a swim-with-dolphins tourist venue, or to an aquarium—either to perform the tricks you’d be taught, or to serve as what some call an “ambassador” for your species.

According to animal advocate Ric O’Barry, a deal struck between the Taiji hunters and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) required those taking dolphins from the wild in Taiji to abide by the restriction.

O’Barry, whose dolphin protection work was spotlighted in the Academy-award winning film The Cove, and his group Save Japan Dolphins say that the month of September was designated in this way so that WAZA members could buy wild bottlenose dolphins from Taiji for use in their exhibits while being able to claim that none of those animals were killed for meat during that time period, thus shielding themselves from public criticism.

However, beginning today, October 1, if you’re a bottlenose dolphin swimming near Taiji you’ll have no assurances about your fate. And if you’re a cetacean of some other type, for example a pilot whale, you were never part of the deal, because you’re not as attractive as the bottlenoses for performing or “ambassador” roles. Thus all along you’ve been more valuable to the hunters dead than alive.

WAZA “does not support the dolphin fishery”

In response to the allegations by O’Barry and others, a prominent note on the homepage of WAZA’s website provides the following “Statement of clarification”:

“WAZA does not support, and has never supported, the Taiji dolphin fishery in any way. To the contrary, WAZA has attempted to intervene directly, and has endeavoured to use its influence to bring to an end a practice which surely has no place in modern times. WAZA’s efforts will continue, through direct engagement and influence, until the practice is halted. Secondly, WAZA does not represent ALL zoos and aquariums – it represents a group of progressive and passionate conservationists who are united in support of wild animals and wild places around the world.”

In a document titled “Ethics and Animal Welfare Committee briefing on general principles and practice with particular reference to dolphin capture developments, 2010,” WAZA explains further (in part):

“There is a platform for discussion and development of new ideas and approaches because of the WAZA: JAZA [Japanese Association of Zoo and Aquariums] relationship. This is a very powerful way to work with Japanese colleagues as a tradition [marine mammal hunting] stretching back generations is subject to review within Japanese society. There has been considerable influence and the discussion continues.

“WAZA applies a clear ethical framework across a very diverse range of members and issues. The Association takes its responsibilities seriously via a dedicated committee and wide ranging formal and informal discussions. Defining issues, such as that of the methods and purpose of dolphin capture, are consistently treated with significant attention and will continue to be so. Choosing a course of constructive engagement does not equate to condoning any particular practice, but to a need to work in partnership with othercultures. This course of action has inevitably led to frustration on the part of people who have chosen a different course; however WAZA’s goal is to develop a collaborative relationship that will result in a shared standard of animal welfare and in long term wildlife conservation.”

The count so far

What seems evident is that during the past month, since the dolphin drive hunt began on September 1, as it does every year, dozens of animals have been driven into Taiji Cove and either killed for their meat or transported elsewhere to be held in captivity. At least two animal advocacy groups, Save Japan Dolphins and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, say their volunteers monitor activities in Taiji Cove daily and post data from their observations on the groups’ websites.

Another site, Ceta Base, describing itself as “a general database and resource for those interested in captive held marine mammals” unaffiliated with either animal advocacy groups or with the animal use industries, has posted the following summary covering the dates September 1 to September 17:

“Since the start of the season on September 1st, 2013 a total of 181 dolphins from two species have been driven into the cove in Taiji, Japan. Of this total 31 were slaughtered, 121 were released and 29 were live-capture. (One bottlenose dolphin was slaughtered after dying during capture process) Species captured, sold & killed include: bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops gilli) and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus).”

Ceta Base reported as follows for the catch last year in the season spanning September 2012 to April 2013:

“Since the start of the season on September 1st, 2012 a total of 1,486 dolphins from six species have been driven into the cove in Taiji, Japan. Of this total 899 were killed, 340 were released (two of these dependent juveniles Risso’s dolphins not likely to survive) and 247 were live-capture.”

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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for  outlets such as National Geographic TravelerThe San Francisco ChronicleTravelers’ Tales, NBC’s Petside.com, and Examiner.com (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.

Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).

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