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article imageJapan ousted by world body over bloody Taiji dolphin hunt

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 24, 2015 in Environment
Taiji - Responding to pressure from conservationists, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has suspended its Japanese member because it is involved in the controversial dolphin hunts that take place each year in Taiji.
WAZA suspended the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) after a unanimous vote by its council, The Guardian reports. Conservationists had launched a court action against the association and accused it of supporting the hunts. In these hunts, dolphins are herded into shallow water. Some are slaughtered, while others are captured for public display in aquariums. The hunts gained international notoriety after The Cove, a documentary about the dolphin killings in Taiji, was released.
Warning: Graphic images.
JAZA represents aquariums that have captured dolphins from the hunt, and as such, it rejected a proposal by WAZA to place a two-year moratorium on the hunts.
"JAZA responded by proposing some guideline changes that would put restrictions on the method of capturing dolphins and improving animal care, but because it did not restrict taking animals from the drive, WAZA council concluded that a satisfactory agreement could not be reached and voted to suspend the Japanese association's membership," the association said in a statement.
It also added:
"The basis for the suspension is a determination that JAZA has violated the WAZA code of ethics and animal welfare. Moreover, WAZA council reaffirmed its position that members of WAZA must confirm that they will not acquire dolphins from the Taiji fishery."
The announcement by WAZA came barely a month after the animal welfare organization Australia for Dolphins filed a lawsuit against them. The lawsuit claimed the organization endorsed a decision by one of its Japan members to obtain a dolphin from the Japanese hunts, The Dodo reports.
Australia for Dolphins CEO Sarah Lucas welcomed WAZA's decision as a "major blow to the world's largest dolphin trade," in a press release on Wednesday. The group notes that 40 percent of the demand for Taiji trained dolphins stems from WAZA aquariums. The group intends to continue its lawsuit against the organization because some of WAZA's Korean members also pick animals from the Taiji hunt as well. Nevertheless, this is a good step forward, Australia for Dolphins noted.
"This is another huge embarrassment to the global reputation of Japan, and another nail in the coffin for the Taiji drive hunts," Lucas said, per The Dodo.
"JAZA are suspended rather than expelled but the threat of expulsion will be looming over them and they will know the world's leading zoos body will be watching them closely if they don't improve," Lucas said, per The Guardian.
"We want WAZA to enforce that code of ethics across the board so we'll be continuiing the legal action," she said. "We also want WAZA to take action against zoos that are abusing animals, such as chaining and beating elephants. The reputation of WAZA has been hurt by this and I hope this is a start of a new era for them."
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Association(WDC) lauded the WAZA's decision to suspend its Japanese member, saying in a statement:
"WDC is pleased that WAZA has taken the positive step to suspend JAZA's membership status, and to hold all members accountable to the WAZA Code of Ethics. With this action, WAZA has reaffirmed its position against the dolphin drive hunts in Japan while allowing discussions with JAZA to continue."
The WDC recently supported a recent inventory of captive dolphin facilities in Japan, and found that of the 104 aquaria in Japan, 67 are JAZA members. Out of that number, 37 members have captive dolphins. The Taiji Whale Museum is one such member, and it's the primary broker of dolphins to national and international facilities. More than 1,200 dolphins caught in the hunts have been transported to dolphinaria in Japan as well as several other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, China, Iran, Palau, The Philippines, and Turkey.
There are more than 20 associate members in WAZA, including JAZA. The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, along with 300 individual zoo members, including London Zoo, the Zoological Society of San Diego, Toronto Zoo, Bronx Zoo, and Melbourne Zoo, The Guardian reports.
Melbourne Zoo condemns the Taiji dolphin hunts, said a spokeswoman for the zoo.
"Those bodies that are in some way linked to the slaughter, either as customers for the meat, or for the live animals themselves, are complicit in the slaughter," the spokeswoman told The Guardian. "We welcome the suspension of JAZA from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. We acknowledge the efforts of the WAZA council in trying to convince JAZA to stop their involvement in Taiji. We also call on JAZA members to cease any involvement in the Taiji hunt."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society also--cautiously--welcomed WAZA's decision.
"While we are elated to hear this long-overdue announcement, we also stand in firm opposition to the confinement of highly intelligent and socially complex whales and dolphins in captivity at WAZA aquariums, swim-with-dolphin programs and other captive facilities that continue to drive the demand for captive dolphins, and the wild captures still occurring around the world. These highly intelligent, sentient and socially complex marine mammals belong in the open ocean where they can engage in their natural behaviors and live in their natural family groups--not performing tricks for food in concrete bathtubs while being subjected to loud music and noisy crowds."
The drive hunt spans from Sept. 1 until March, and the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians assiduously document and live stream "every capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales" as part of the organization's Operation Infinite Patience campaign, "ensuring the eyes of the world remain on Taiji's infamous killing cove."
In the cove, those who kill the dolphins work beside those who train them in order to pick the "prettiest" dolphins (ones without visible scars) to be sold into captivity. It occurs at the same time as the slaughtering process, and Sea Shepherd notes newly imprisoned dolphins witness the murder of their family members.
Just one captive dolphin call sell for as much as $100,000 or more, and this is really what drives the dolphin hunt to begin with, Sea Shepherd notes.
In the brutal culls, dolphins to be sold as meat are killed by a spike driven through the back of the head, The Dodo reports.
While the Sea Shepherd, Australia for Dolphins, and other organizations view the move to suspend JAZA as a good one, it should be noted that Japan is planning to kill 4,000 whales over the next few years, once again, for "scientific purposes."
Hopefully these organizations will stay on their toes, so that the blue waters off the coast of Taiji will no longer be stained with blood.
More about Taiji, taiji dolphin hunts, The Cove, Japan, Massacre
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