There’s been some well deserved cheers following the announcement that the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) have voted to comply with a demand from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) that Japanese facilities stop buying dolphins from drive hunts, or face expulsion.
While I happily join in the chorus, my good cheer is tempered by the knowledge that JAZA member facilities begrudgingly ceded to WAZA’s demands, and the fishers of Taiji have no intention of giving up on the Japanese industry of providing live dolphins to whoever will buy.
JAZA chairman, Kazutoshi Arai, was quoted as saying: “We do not think it is cruel to take wild dolphins…but as we have reached this kind of conclusion in relation to WAZA, we need to steer (our policy) toward breeding,”
An abundance of markets still exist for the dolphins captured in Taiji. Australia for Dolphins, states that approximately 40% of the dolphins caught for the live dolphin market are slated for Japanese facilities, leaving a majority going to overseas zoos and aquariums.
Dolphins captured in Taiji have been exported to China, Korea, Ukraine, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Buyers of wild caught dolphins still exist among the WAZA membership and the executive of the world body have enforcement work to do. WAZA cannot selectively enforce its mandate that requires all 50 member countries and territories to “adhere to policies that prohibit participating in cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild.”
Australia for Dolphins chief executive Sarah Lucas was quoted in The Guardian as saying that Australia For Dolphins “would continue its legal action against WAZA because other members of the organization continue to buy dolphins from Taiji and other inhumane hunts.”
Captive breeding takes place in a small number of Japanese zoos and aquariums, representing an estimated 12 to 13 percent of the captive dolphin population in Japan. Many of the facilities lack separate breeding pools to accommodate nursing females; a clear indication that those facilities are substandard and inappropriate for the ongoing care of dolphins.
The Taiji cultural tradition of dolphin ranching?
In an article from the New Straits Times (Reuters, 21 May, 2015), Taiji mayor Kazutaka Sangen told reporters that consideration was being given to set up a dolphin breeding centre in a partitioned area of the notorious cove. Sangen was quoted as saying: “We plan to protect our fishermen, who have authority from both the nation and the local government.” “We believe it can become the world’s main provider. I believe in 10 years our town will have changed its role in all this.”
Sangen added. “My justification is that the government recognizes the catches and so does the prefecture, there’s absolutely nothing wrong.”
The majority of the Japanese people, and most assuredly- their protectionist government, do not believe that dolphins and other cetaceans are suffering in captivity and there is little chance that they will suddenly develop an empathy for the dolphins and the meagre existence that captivity affords them.
We can’t shame the Japanese people into changing how they feel about dolphins and whales. They’ll resent the insult and it will push them away. We can pressure their government but… historically, when pushed, they look for a lessor path of resistance to do whatever they want.
We need to patiently and politely help the the citizenry of Japan to understand the depth of emotion that dolphins possess, that they enjoy their freedom and can only truly thrive as they should, in their natural home.
I suspect that as time goes on and other nations acknowledge the injustice that is being done and change their laws to reflect the recognition that as intelligent and emotional beings, dolphins and whales deserve to live as they should; the people of those nations who’ve lagged behind in that understanding… will shame themselves.