By Rob Gilhooly
In an unexpected move, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) has confirmed it will stop its members from buying dolphins caught by drive fisheries in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.
JAZA was facing possible expulsion from the the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) after being suspended by the global body for allowing its members to take dolphins caught in Taiji, whose drive fisheries are renowned for what activists believe are inhumane hunting methods.
In an announcement May 20, JAZA said that during an emergency meeting all but three of its 152 members had voted on the issue of whether to stay in WAZA. Of those, 99 voted in favor of the motion, while 43 voted against it.
The statement added that the JAZA board had made the decision to “prohibit members from acquiring dolphins caught in the wild by drive fishing in Taiji” in order to ensure its WAZA membership remained intact. It also announced the banning the export and sale of dolphins caught in the hunts.
However, JAZA chairman Kazutoshi Arai was adamant that this announcement was far from being a condemnation of the Taiji drive fisheries. “The drive fisheries in Taiji are certainly not the brutal affairs indicated by WAZA,” he said in press conference. Right wing daily Sankei Shimbun referred to the drives as a “Japanese tradition.”
The decision was made in light of a WAZA announcement on April 23 that it had suspended JAZA from its membership roster after the two organizations had been unable to reach an agreement on issues involving JAZA member zoos and aquariums taking dolphins from the annual drives in Taiji, a coastal town in Wakayama Prefecture.
Also known as “killer cove,” the town was brought to international attention in 2009 following the release of The Cove, a documentary about the dolphin culls that went on to win an Oscar for best documentary in 2010.
According to WAZA executive director Gerald Dick shortly before the JAZA announcement, the Gland, Switzerland-based world body had made numerous attempts to stop Japanese aquariums from taking cetaceans from the Taiji drives, which are undertaken for several months each fall and frequently garner international criticism.
WAZA officials made an appeal in Tokyo as recently as last summer and again in November during WAZA’s annual international conference in New Delhi.
WAZA asserted that taking from the drives went against the organization’s codes regarding animal welfare.
According to a WAZA official Hyatt Antognini Amin, WAZA bylaws state that in the case of a suspension “the affected member may provide further information on the issues raised to the President within 30 days.”
After that, “the council must decide to lift the suspension or to expel the member concerned prior to the next administrative session,” she said. “This is when the final decision will be made to either expel them, in which case they will be removed from our website.”
Dick denied that WAZA had given Japan an ultimatum whereby it would have to cease purchasing dolphins caught in Taiji by May 21 or face expulsion. “There is a grace period which is between 30 days (after the suspension) and the next (WAZA) council meeting, which is in October,” he said.
Following the suspension in April, JAZA’s Kensho Nagai said the organization had explained its “circumstances” in some detail, but that WAZA had not been able to fully comprehend them. The method employed in Japan to catch dolphins is recognized by the Japanese government, he said. What’s more, the method used to catch dolphins that are used in Japan’s aquariums and zoos is very different than the one used to catch dolphins that are used for food, he added. “Despite this, the two methods are seen as being one and the same thing.”
Dolphins fished for aquariums “are handled with extreme care” and “are exposed to zero stress” by the Taiji fishermen, Nagai said.
Asked if WAZA had perhaps misunderstood JAZA’s explanation, Dick said: “We can only make a decision based on the info that’s given,” he said.
“This is an issue that has garnered attention around the world and we have been looking into the Taiji drive fisheries for 10 years, and concluded it was a violation of our codes regarding the welfare of animals.”
Dick was also critical of certain activist organizations – including one in Australia that is currently filing a lawsuit against Taiji – for spreading “false and misleading” information about the drives to gain attention in the media.
“Our focus is rather than going that route to focus on cooperation and building cooperation between all interested parties, he said. “It is much more constructive to do this because in the end we all have the same goal.”