Formed in 1972, the International Marine Animal Trainers Association
(IMATA) was founded to serve marine mammal science through training, public display, research, husbandry, conservation, and education. The organization states that it clearly opposes the Japanese dolphin drives that occur in Taiji every year between Sept. and March, but does it?
In these drives, pods of dolphins are driven into a natural inlet where a select few are chosen for captivity, and the remainder are slaughtered for meat. It is a practice that has been occurring in Taiji since the 1970s, originally for meat and then for profit. These drives have a history that speaks for itself.
Until 1978, dolphin hunting in Japan had largely gone unnoticed until photos of a slaughter at Iki Island in 1979 hit newspapers around the world. It was an event that grabbed the attention of Hardy Jones, a marine mammal advocate from the conservation group Blue Voice
In 1980, Jones and cameraman Howard Hall, went to the Island and "walked into a massacre" of almost 2,000 dolphins. Footage captured of the slaughter
, was beamed around the world sparking massive protests to Japanese embassies.
The slaughter at Iki Island occurred under the mistaken belief that dolphins were competition for fish, and must be slaughtered for the benefit of fishermen. But the game really began to change in 1990, when Jones filmed a group of Americans wrestling Risso's dolphins in Taiji harbor. These dolphins – transported from Taiji and shipped to Hawaii, were absorbed into the U.S. Navy's Marine Mammal Program.
Nine years on in Futo, Japan, the capture of 100 bottlenose dolphins at Futo Bay changed the game once more. Six young mammals were wrestled into slings and sold to aquarium representatives. Many dolphins drowned in the nets, but the captive few created a new incentive – profit. In his documentary When Dolphins Cry
, Jones confirms that a market had now been established, a lucrative demand for dolphins driven by money.
Until the Futo Bay incident, there were "indications that the drive hunts were becoming a dying practice," said Sakae Hemmi of Japan's Elsa Nature Conservancy
. In the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society's publication, "Driven by Demand
," Hemmi explained:
The US Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) records the Miami Seaquarium, Sea Life Park in Hawaii, the Indianapolis Zoo, Sea World Inc. and the US Navy as having imported live cetaceans from Japan.
By purchasing these dolphins, US marine facilities provided the drives with the financial incentive needed to continue the hunts. In a Frontline special on PBS called "A Whale of a Business
", Jim McBain the Director of Veterinary Service at SeaWorld Inc., even answered questions about the animals that SeaWorld acquired from drive fisheries:
In our collection right now, we have false killer whales. And three of the animals came from drive fisheries, one of them came from a drive fishery that went to the Indianapolis Zoo on a permit, the animals now in our park on a breeding loan. We've had two offspring from that group, so there's six total ... over the years there have others that have been in part of the collection, sure, that passed away.
When pushed directly for some kind of total number of animals acquired from the drives, Bain replied, "There's been 15 total. 'Course that information is public information through the National Fisheries Service. It's not like it's a secret that SeaWorld has."
This might also explain why author David Kirby believes that SeaWorld still refuses to irrefutably condemn the Taiji dolphin drives. "SeaWorld says Taiji's hunt is 'horrible,' said Kirby recently in an article published at TakePart.com
, "but won't condemn other dolphinariums that source their cetaceans from the Cove," he added.
The author of the newly released book, Death at SeaWorld
, said that indeed SeaWorld was not the least bit concerned about its past involvement in the Taiji dolphin drives. In fact, Kirby cited company spokesman Fred Jacobs' following statement on the dolphin drives:
We stopped [buying] and have not resumed, not because we are ashamed, but it was not something that we cared to be involved with any more.
Although "no cetaceans captured in Japan are known to have been imported into the US since 1993," explained Hemmi, the practice appeared to halt only after the "US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) denied Marine World Africa USA a permit to import four false killer whales from Japan. The reason given was “serious concerns whether the collection/take of animals through a drive fishery operation is [was] humane."
This move by NMFS may have put the kibosh on any future US imports of marine mammals caught in drive fisheries, but it also inferred that aquariums withdrew from the drives less by "choice" and more because hands were forced.
Today the drive hunts still continue for six months of every year, although only Taiji now actively supplies marine mammals to international parks. Pressure to end the drives has continued to come from several dedicated conservation groups, but it was the release of the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove
, that truly rallied the public.
The movie, produced by Louis Psihoyos, followed an elite team of activists from Save Japan Dolphins
as they embarked on a covert mission to reveal the ongoing dolphin slaughter in Taiji. The film, like Jones' documentary had, once again clearly linked the drives to profit.
As pressure mounted, organizations that endorsed public display were forced to make a stand against the hunts. One of these organizations was IMATA, who in May 2006 posted this statement on their website:
The IMATA Board approved the following position which supports the termination of drive fisheries. IMATA, the International Marine Animal Trainers Association takes a strong position on the Japanese drive fisheries, which are debated frequently internationally.
IMATA condemns the inhumane killing of dolphins and other cetaceans in the Japanese drive fisheries. IMATA members care deeply about dolphins and whales. Our mission and our work every day is to connect people and whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals to foster understanding, caring and respect, and to help preserve and protect their ocean environments.
IMATA's code of ethics
Members of this Association, specifically, must maintain the fortitude and insight necessary to demonstrate a sense of responsibility, beyond reproach, within the principles of professionalism dictated by morality, logic, and knowledge. These are the qualities to which the Association and every member of the marine animal community must aspire.
Further requirements for membership spelled out by IMATA, also says that members should be:
Aware of the inherent need to maintain a positive image in the eye of the public-at-large; and to better prepare its members to act as ambassadors of the marine mammal community. The highest standards of ethical conduct are expected of the members of this Association at all times in all places.
Finally, it concluded that members must be committed to:
Exercising the highest levels of respect and humaneness for all animals.
This last sentence is one worth noting considering several members of IMATA are from Japan who sources many of its marine mammals via Taiji. These aquariums include:
Awashima Marine Park; Enoshima Aquarium Marineland; Kamogawa Sea World; Niigata City Aquarium; Okinawa Marine Research Center; Minato-ku; Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium and Shimonoseki Marine Science Museum.
Awashima Marine Park sources 100% of its marine mammals from Taiji; Enoshima has at least five wild captures from Taiji along with several captive born mammals. There is also one wild caught false killer whale and some Risso's and Pacific white-sided dolphins of unknown origin.
Kamogawa has a mixture of rescued marine mammals, captive births and wild caught animals; Niigata City Aquarium mammals are all wild caught; Okinawa, has two pantropical dolphins and at least one Risso, all wild caught. They did have some captive births but none survived. For the remaining facilities it is more of the same; a mix of captive births and a few rescues, with the majority of animals sourced from wild captures.
But IMATA also has members from the country of China, and China is, according to Elsa Nature Conservancy, one of the largest foreign importers of dolphins captured directly from the Taiji dolphin drives. Beijing Aquarium for example, which sometimes acts as a kind of clearing house for marine mammals coming into the country, has imported many animals directly from Taiji.
Angel, Beauty, Little Chi, Princess and Water Girl were all captured in Japan in Feb. 2003 and transferred to Beijing Aquarium on March 20 2003. This was reported by the Beijing Post
. On Dec. 16 2009, another six dolphins arrived from Taiji
. Video of their transfer
is provided by Beijing TV.
At Guangzhou Ocean World, four female bottlenose dolphins arrived from Japan
on July 20, 2007.
The list is endless and ongoing. In fact, data gathered by Elsa Nature Conservancy
between 2002-2008 from documents by the Trade Statistics of Japan issued by the Financial Bureau, the Taiji Town Assembly and correspondence with Taiji Town, show that China purchased 99 dolphins from Taiji. And over the following three years: 2009; 2010 and 2011, China imported yet another 117 dolphins all sourced from Taiji's Cove.
Just this year for example, Hangzhou Polar Ocean Park imported six Risso's dolphins
from Taiji; these were transferred on Jun 17, 2012. Ocean Park employs seven people who are members of IMATA.
But it doesn't end there. Dolphins Pacific in Palau (of whom two employees are members of IMATA), imported 11 dolphins from Taiji in 2001 according to CITES Trade data. Taiwanese facilities which actually hold "organizational membership" in IMATA, have also imported dolphins from Taiji. And in Hawaii, a single false killer whale captured in the drives, is the only surviving animal in the US from a drive fishery; her name is "Kina."
"Tracking Taiji: Live Capture and Export Data from Drive Fisheries
," is an online Marine Mammal Inventory compiled by Ceta-base.com
. Many of Taiji's dolphins can be tracked through this report, one of the first documents ever, to compile data and destinations for marine mammals captured in the Cove.
IMATA, which celebrates its 40th anniversary
this year, held its first ever workshop for experienced trainers courtesy of the Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego, California. Its third Marine Mammal Trainer Workshop was hosted by Marine World Africa USA. Its second annual conference was hosted by SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida – the same facilities that Elsa holds partially accountable for the continuation of the drives.
So when IMATA says it condemns the inhumane killing of dolphins and other cetaceans in the Japanese drive fisheries, and that its members must be "beyond reproach" or exercise "the highest levels of respect and humaneness for all animals," don't believe it for a minute.
In condemning the dolphins drives, but endorsing members who source their animals from Taiji, IMATA may not directly have the blood of thousands of marine mammals on their hands, but they are certainly stained by it.
Oh and its 40th annual conference which will be held in December this year? It should come of no great surprise to learn it will be hosted by Ocean Park in Hong Kong, China.