The Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums says hackers stole phone numbers and email addresses of thousands of zoo and aquarium workers nationwide in an incident earlier this year.
JAZA said Wednesday that Anonymous, a loose network of hackers and activists, penetrated two JAZA websites, retrieved members-only data and published it online.
JAZA said it temporarily shut down the website from which data was stolen. The organization was unavailable for further comment when reached by a reporter on Wednesday.
A week ago, JAZA banned its members from purchasing dolphins caught in controversial hunts off Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture. An annual cull of the mammals at Taiji has drawn accusations of cruelty, but fishermen involved typically kept some animals alive for sale to aquariums.
The stolen data included details of species procurement and the breeding records of animals including dolphins held by JAZA members.
Anonymous released the data in late February together with messages protesting both the capture and display of dolphins and killer whales at Japanese aquariums. It is unclear why the self-styled activist group did not protest the display of such animals at other aquariums worldwide.
The group leaked the email addresses and phone numbers of around 2,350 individuals employed at 130 of JAZA’s 152 member facilities, of which 63 are aquariums and 89 are zoos.
JAZA said it first learned of the breach in March, when police alerted it. The group has since beefed up online security and has informed members about the hacking incident.
However, worries remain that groups such as Anonymous could attack again after Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen said the town, which operates an aquarium, would continue purchasing dolphins from local fishermen — a move the central fisheries ministry supports.
“We are at risk of further attacks, so we stepped up security. We have also alerted member facilities and asked them to change their workers’ email addresses,” an official at JAZA said.
Taiji’s dolphin hunt gained global recognition after the 2009 release of “The Cove,” an award-winning documentary that portrayed the town’s dolphin hunt and included footage of seawater running red with blood.
Anonymous criticized Japan for its whaling activities and threatened to attack Japanese organizations in a series of YouTube messages posted between May 30, 2013 and January 2014.
“This is not just a warning,” the first message declared, accusing Japan of contributing to “the destruction of marine life worldwide.” The message was illustrated with footage of Japanese ships hunting whales with harpoons.
The message, posted on May 30, 2013, threatened to target Japanese government institutions related to the whaling program.
“Unfortunately for them, we know who they are,” the message said. It listed 22 organizations — including those of the prime minister’s office, Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, and the fisheries ministry — whose computers the hackers vowed to penetrate.
The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology has said it detected attacks on some government servers following the group’s first threat.