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article imageLawsuit slapped on Taiji town government on behalf of dolphins

By Elizabeth Batt     May 15, 2014 in Environment
Taiji - Angel, a young female albino dolphin being held at the Taiji Whale Museum in Japan, has sparked the first ever lawsuit for dolphins against the government of Taiji.
The 'Action for Angel' lawsuit, filed on behalf of Australians for Dolphins and the Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project and Save Japan Dolphins, asserts that the museum acted illegally by denying entry to dolphin experts wishing to assess Angel's condition.
The albino bottlenose dolphin — estimated to have been around 12 months old at the time of capture, was driven into the cove during a massive roundup of about 250 animals last January. Angel, named for her rare coloring, was separated from her mother and sent to the Taiji Whale Museum where she has been on display ever since.
Angel's capture sparked worldwide condemnation of the annual dolphin drives conducted in the Wakayama Prefecture, and prompted US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, to express her government's opposition to the Taiji dolphin hunts.
"Angel is now a highly-valuable 'freak' show on display in a tiny, filthy tank," said a joint press statement sent to Digital Journal by the Earth Island Institute (EII). "Eyewitnesses report she floats lifelessly, or swims in small distressed circles, much of the time with her eyes closed."
Dolphin Project director, Ric O'Barry, explained, “Angel is living in hell. This one small dolphin has become a global representative of the thousands of dolphins slaughtered and captured each year in Taiji."
Now the town's government, owners and operators of the Taiji Whale Museum will be forced to answer allegations that it refused entry to concerned dolphin experts based upon opinion and race.
Takashi Takano, Representative Partner of the Tokyo-based Takano Law Office, called the refusal of entry to his clients, "an egregious violation of the Japanese constitution and deeply-held Japanese values." He added, "my clients were refused entry to a public place simply because of their appearance. We are confident we can demonstrate this in court."
Almost 30,000 people have signed a petition co-authored by Australia for Dolphins calling for Angel to be released into a shaded sea pen. Sarah Lucas, CEO of the group and a plaintiff in the case, called the young dolphin's current situation deplorable:
The Taiji Whale Museum tries to hide its cruel treatment of Angel in a dark indoor tank from the world's cameras. We hope this action will open up the museum to the sunlight of public scrutiny, and bring about improvements to Angel's living conditions.
Taiji, which conducts its annual dolphin drives between September and March, garnered much public pressure after its hunts were featured in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary, 'The Cove.' According to the online cetacean inventory, Ceta-Base.com, this season's drive hunt netted, "a total of 1,450 dolphins from six species." More than half were slaughtered and around 10 percent were consigned to captivity for sale to marine parks around the world.
Reuters reports that Taiji Whaling Museum vice director Tetsuo Kirihata, admitted that the museum did try to keep activists out — including Lucas, but, he added, "the move was not discriminatory or based on appearance."
"Taiji is full of activists expressing their opposition to the hunt and to keeping dolphins in captivity," Kirihata said. "If we let them in, they would disturb our other visitors and interfere with our business."
The plaintiffs are demanding compensation of 6.7 million yen (US$65,800). More importantly said EII, if the lawsuit is successful, "it will ensure access for those wishing to legally photograph and monitor the well-being of dolphins in aquariums in Japan."
Whatever the outcome, the lawsuit will once again focus attention on a town that doesn't want it. "Action for Angel ramps up the pressure on the Taiji government to bring an end to these inhumane hunts once and for all," said O'Barry. "The Taiji Whale Museum is the government institution at the heart of the Taiji dolphin trade."
More about ric o'barry, taiji whale museum, taiji japan, the cove movie, save japan dolphins
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