Orders for dolphins caught in drive hunts in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, this fiscal year are coming in at almost the same rate as before even though the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums has banned its members from buying animals caught via such methods.
A local fishermen’s union said Monday that the orders are mostly coming in from facilities that are not members of JAZA and dealers who may be exporting the dolphins.
Of the roughly 150 orders placed this year, the only applicant belonging to JAZA was the Taiji Whale Museum, according to sources close to the purchase.
Orders from members of the association generally accounted for 20 to 30 percent of applicants in previous years.
JAZA introduced punitive measures last month, including possible expulsion from the body, for members acquiring dolphins captured in drive hunts, in line with the hard-line stance adopted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
The world body had threatened to expel the Japanese body if its members continue to buy such dolphins, criticizing the practice as cruel.
The practice of herding dolphins into coves has long been used in Taiji.
It attracted controversy after the 2009 Oscar-winning U.S. documentary “The Cove” showed the bloody slaughter of the mammals caught by this method.
Those who want to take part in the lottery determining the order for purchasing dolphins caught in drive hunts to start next month were supposed to apply by Monday to the fishermen’s union.
The roughly 150 orders for the current fiscal year, which ends next March, came from some 20 facilities, compared with the approximately same figure from about 30 facilities last year.
An official of an aquarium in western Japan that is a member of JAZA said many association members decided not to buy dolphins from Taiji out of fear of ruining their reputation.
About half of the dolphins caught in Taiji have been exported to foreign countries including China, South Korea and Russia in recent years, according to data obtained by Kyodo News.
The Japan association decided in May not to buy dolphins caught by drive hunting amid international protests and pressure from WAZA.
While the decision enables the group to remain a member of the world body, it has set high hurdles for aquariums if they want to continue holding dolphin shows as major attractions.
Dolphins are hunted for their meat as well as to supply aquariums under catch limits approved by the Fisheries Agency.
As of the end of 2012, aquariums in Japan had 287 dolphins, according to JAZA. Around 240 were wild dolphins, of which most were caught off Taiji and purchased for about ¥1 million each.
“We were able to procure as many dolphins as necessary when we asked Taiji,” the head of an aquarium said.
Aquariums in Japan will need to shift the procurement of dolphins to breeding after the decision not to buy them from Taiji. But this requires large capital investments, including for the construction of birthing pools, despite the low success rate of breeding the animals in captivity.