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article imageOp-Ed: IMATA conference is opportunity to condemn Taiji dolphin drives

By Elizabeth Batt     Mar 12, 2013 in Environment
Las Vegas - This September, the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) will meet in Las Vegas for their annual conference. What won't be on their schedule -- but should be, is a discussion about one of the largest dolphin slaughters on the planet.
The conference, held at the prestigious Mirage hotel, home to Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat, is a fitting venue for an assortment of marine mammal trainers. Between Sep. 8-13, an international consortium will descend on Vegas to attend job fairs, participate in contests, and perhaps pick up a few new tricks of the trade guaranteed to be people pleasers.
Over several days, trainers will be encouraged to submit their contest artwork (with a little help from a painting sea lion), and awards will be doled out to recognize all manner of achievements across the training world.
Sonny Allen Professional Achievement Award
One of the association's most coveted awards, the Sonny Allen Professional Achievement Award, will be given to honor "An individual who has demonstrated a dedication to the field of marine mammal science, training, and service to IMATA." Previous winners of this award include Julie Scardina of SeaWorld, and two members of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program.
Perhaps this year, the recipient of the award will hail from a facility in Japan? Awashima Marine Park perhaps, or Enoshima Aquarium Marineland? These two aquariums do have members in IMATA, as does Kamogawa Sea World; Niigata City Aquarium; Okinawa Marine Research Center; Minato-ku; Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium and Shimonoseki Marine Science Museum.
All of these aquariums source some, or all of their dolphins, from the Japanese dolphin drives.
With few restrictions on how far a trainer can climb the ladder within IMATA, members can aspire to reach the top if they put the work in. Trainer Timothy Desmond for example, is the current CEO of Ocean Adventure. He served as Vice President, then President of IMATA, and today, sources some of his dolphins from the Japanese drive fisheries as well.
One of the most brutal slaughter of dolphins in the world
The Taiji dolphin drives featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary: The Cove, run between September to March every year. Hundreds of wild dolphins are pushed exhausted into a natural inlet by up to 12 motorized boats. Here, they are either slaughtered for meat or consigned to captivity and sold.
The slaughter is a brutal one. Nudged by boats into the shallows, the dolphins' struggle and thrash as fishermen insert a metal rod behind the dolphin's blowhole to paralyze it. The rod is then removed and replaced by a wooden plug to prevent bleedout.
The dolphins are then hauled to a slaughter house and butchered. Cove Guardians with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) captured this image earlier in the season of a slaughtered striped dolphin with the plug still in place:
The drive season for 2012-13 concluded a few weeks ago. A total of 1,486 dolphins from six species were driven into the cove over the last six months. Almost 900 of them were killed for their meat. Another 247 were kept alive, trained, and sold to captive facilities that employ IMATA members.
[Drive Stastistics:].
IMATA members in Taiji?
But IMATA condemns the inhumane killing of dolphins and other cetaceans in the Japanese drive fisheries. Its members they add, 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.
But does that connection involve the trading of animals between two cetacean-hunting countries?
Taiji town recently traded several bottlenose dolphins for two beluga whales captured in a whale drive in Russia. SSCS Cove Guardians snapped a picture of a man who escorted the belugas to Taiji. He is seen wearing an IMATA cap. In the image below his, is another trainer in Taiji feeding the dolphins. She is wearing an IMATA sweatshirt.
Aside from their mission statement, IMATA's Code of Ethics is even more strongly worded. The organization dictates that members must be:
Aware of the inherent need to maintain a positive image in the eye of the public-at-large ... to act as ambassadors of the marine mammal community.
It further informs them:
The highest standards of ethical conduct are expected of the members of this Association at all times in all places ... exercising the highest levels of respect and humaneness for all animals.
So why does it allow its members to work at facilities that use marine mammals captured in the drive fisheries?
In 2011, the International Coalition Against Cetacean Slaughter, which included conservation groups such as Earthrace, Save Japan Dolphins UK and Save Misty the Dolphin, submitted a joint letter to IMATA. The Coalition stated that given the organization's own Code of Ethics:
There can be no greater disconnect between this statement of values and the attrocities committed in the Taiji Cove.
The group then asked IMATA to sever all ties with any facility or trainer involved in the "selection, training, sale, transport, or receipt of dolphins from the Taiji Cove."
Unfair to blacklist members
IMATA responded that while it agreed the drive fisheries should be terminated, "We oppose the unreasonable demand that IMATA blacklist members." In fact, the organization said, IMATA was an avenue for discussion. One that could provoke, "A thoughtful dialogue on a difficult subject," and "a positive way to make changes that eventually benefit marine mammals."
[Source: Deeper Water; Len Varley; 2012]
When IMATA hosts its annual conference in Las Vegas, Taiji fishermen will be one week into the 2013-14 dolphin drive season. Is there any time more apt to approach such dialogue, given their members' heavy presence in Japan?
There are several credible, nonconfrontational and reputable conservation groups that would readily, willingly and freely attend your conference to initiate a careful dialogue on the Japanese drive fisheries.
What say you IMATA? Will you allow this discussion at your conference? So that it may "foster understanding, caring and respect" for the dolphins and pave a path to "help preserve and protect their ocean environments?"
A barking dog is always more useful than a sleeping lion.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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