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article imageJapan aquariums vow to stop buying Taiji dolphins from cruel hunt

By Megan Hamilton     May 21, 2015 in Environment
Taiji - Bowing to pressure amid threats of expulsion from the world's leading zoo organization, aquariums in Japan have voted to stop buying live dolphins from Taiji, where the annual slaughter of hundreds of cetaceans has drawn widespread criticism.
The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) has voted to keep its membership in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) on Wednesday, and this move effectively ends the purchasing of dolphins in Taiji by aquariums and sea parks in Japan, The Guardian reports.
This decision comes just weeks after WAZA suspended its Japanese members and threatened them with expulsion if they didn't end their "unethical" association with the town.
Taiji is located in Wakayama prefecture, on Japan's Pacific coast, and the town gained notoriety in The Cove, an Oscar-winning documentary released in 2009 that showed fisherman herding pods of dolphins into shallow water and then dispatching them with knives.
JAZA has 152 member sites, and on Wednesday the organization said it would prohibit members from acquiring wild dolphins caught by drive fishing in Taiji and would prevent them from taking part in the export and sale of the creatures, BBC News reports.
The organization's chairman, Kazutoshi Arai, said at a news conference that the move wasn't a criticism of the Taiji "drive fishing" method, or of the whaling culture itself. JAZA, he said, still believes that the Taiji hunt was "not cruel." He then blamed pressure from international anti-whaling activist groups as the reason why the international zoo organization suspended JAZA'S membership.
For their part, the activist groups welcomed the move, and many said that the hunt is made economically viable because of the trade to aquariums.
The anti-whaling organization Sea Shepherd noted this was "great news for the dolphins in Taiji."
"With the elimination of the demand for Taiji dolphins from Japanese aquariums, Taiji's hunt is one huge step closer to being sunk economically," Sea Shepherd said in a statement.
"This momentous decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan," Sarah Lucas, chief executive of Australia for Dolphins told the Guardian. "Without demand, the hunts won't continue. It is the first major step towards ending the Taiji dolphin hunts once and for all."
She added:
"The capture of live dolphins, which sell for up to $100,000, is the motivation for the brutal dolphin hunts in Taiji. This decision, which stops Japanese aquariums demanding more Taiji dolphins, is a huge blow to the hunts."
The Dolphin Project reports that 751 dolphins were slaughtered during the previous season in Taiji, which lasts from September 2014 through March 2015. An additional 80 dolphins were kept for captivity, while 251 were released. The project cautioned that the figures are rough estimates based on independent observations, CNN reports.
Run by the Earth Island Institute, the project reported Japan is the biggest market for captive dolphins, but dolphins caught at Taiji also wind up in China, the Middle East, and Russia.
Now, JAZA officials say they plan to concentrate on expanding domestic breeding programs to try to make up for the expected shortfall in the supply of dolphins, which are a huge attraction in a country with several aquariums and sea parks, the Guardian reports.
Prior to the vote, Yoshinobu Nisaka, governor of Wakayama prefecture, said the threat of expulsion was an example of "bullying from all over the world."
Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, defended the hunts, and said they are "a sustainable fishing [method] under the appropriate control by the government with scientific foundations, and carried out carefully so that dolphins are not hurt."
The Guardian reports that the capture of dolphins has doubled in the last decade. A dolphin that's fully trained and on public display can be worth more than $100,000 (£62,000). If butchered for meat, they are worth as little as $100. Dolphin activists say that the market for captured dolphins is growing rapidly in China.
More than 5,000 dolphins have been killed at Taiji over the past five years, according to observers. An additional 750 have been captured for aquariums.
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