Sydney-based organisation Australia for Dolphins has filed a first-ever lawsuit against Taiji, the fishing town in Wakayama Prefecture know for its dolphin hunts.
Taiji came under the spotlight globally following the release of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove in 2009. The lawsuit, which is being jointly filed by AFD and Save Japan Dolphins, run by a key figure in The Cove, Ric O’Barry, relates to the “appalling conditions” for dolphins being kept at the Taiji Whale Museum, according to organisers.
What’s more, the museum is denying entrance to law-abiding people based on their appearance, they add. “People of foreign appearance are deemed to be ‘anti-whalers’ and not allowed to enter,” said AFD’s Sarah Lucas. The lawsuit asserts that this is in violation of Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and Article 19 which protects freedom of thought, she added.
Lawyers representing the groups believe they have a strong case, she said. “If we win, it will bring public scrutiny to the museum, and hopefully help improve the conditions of the dolphins.”
One of the dolphins causing particular concern for the organisations is an albino calf that O’Barry has named Angel. “As Angel has become a symbol for all the dolphins caught in Taiji, hopefully shining a spotlight on her will bring another wave of interest in the issue,” Lucas said.
O’Barry says he is determined to one day return Angel to a more natural habitat.
“They don’t want people like me to go into the Taiji Whale Museum to monitor Angel,” O’Barry said during an interview Thursday in Tokyo following a trip to Taiji, made a protest to the aquarium but was denied entry — an lambasts on discriminatory grounds.
According to news reports, the facility frequently denies access to foreign activists, such as O’Barry and Sea Shepherd.
O’Barry is among many protestors, dolphin protection groups and researchers worldwide that have long been calling for an end to the culling method employed by fishermen at Taiji, calling it inhumane and against international codes governing the capture of the cetaceans. The method employed involves impaling the dolphins behind the blowhole to sever the spinal cord. While this seems barbaric, Japanese researchers claim it is more humane than the more random hurling of harpoons from boats employed previously in Taiji’s drive hunts.
A study by scientists in Britain and the U.S. last year refuted those claims, saying that analysis had indicated the method does not “fulfill the internationally recognized requirement for immediacy.” “It would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world,” said University of Bristol Veterinary School professor Andrew Butterworth, lead author of the paper. The culls have continued regardless, causing outrage among concerned groups. “From a scientific, humane and ethical perspective, the treatment of dolphins in the (Taiji) drive hunts sharply contradict current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies,” said Diana Reiss of Hunter College at the City University of New York.