Dolphins from Taiji sold to Egypt, Saudi Arabia

57 believed shipped live worldwide this year; one load faces ban

by Minoru Matsutani

And Boyd Harnell

The town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, exported four bottlenose dolphins each to Saudi Arabia and Egypt in August, a Taiji official said Friday.

“Dolphins in Taiji are popular around the world because they are smart and I personally think they have cute faces,” Hiromitsu Nambu, who arranges exports of live dolphins from Taiji, told The Japan Times.

Dolphins are also caught alive in the Black Sea and near Indonesia and the Solomon Islands, but “probably none of those places secure as stable a supply of live dolphins as Taiji,” Nambu said.

Activists criticize capturing dolphins, saying the mammals undergo enormous stress. The Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” in addition to showing the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, has footage of dolphins reputedly being fed medicine for stomach ulcers.

Taiji also sells dolphins to China and other countries, Nambu said. According to export statistics compiled by the Customs Bureau, 57 live animals under the category of whales, dolphins, dugongs and manatees were exported from January to August this year, of which 22 went to China, 16 to Ukraine and 11 to Thailand.

The total monetary value of the animals was ¥172 million, customs declarations show.

All of these animals were probably dolphins caught in Taiji, either from the town directly or from aquariums in Japan that bought the dolphins from Taiji in the past.

Whales and dugongs are not caught alive anywhere in Japan, and manatees are not found here, according to Yoshiko Machida, a spokeswoman for World Wide Fund for Nature Japan.

Taiji, the only place in Japan where live dolphins are caught, took 93 alive in 2008, the Fisheries Agency said.

The town also slaughtered some 1,700 dolphins that year, agency figures show.

Four bottlenose dolphins from Taiji were delivered about two months ago to the popular Egyptian eco-tourism resort of Hurghada on the Red Sea, Amr Ali, a spokesman for the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association, said Oct. 1. After changing hands for a reputed $300,000 (¥24.71 million) each in retail, the two males and two females were flown to Egypt on Aug. 15, Ali said.

HEPCA, whose members monitored the dolphins’ arrival, said they were all placed in a swimming pool owned by a businessman named Wagby Saad.

HEPCA is concerned that importing the dolphins to Egypt may have contravened the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and amounted to smuggling. The Red Sea Governorate of Egypt, in which Hurghada is located, also prohibits the trade, shipment or holding in captivity of wild dolphins.

Kazunori Itagaki, an official at the Finance Ministry’s Customs Bureau, said CITES regulations were checked before the exports were approved. Taiji’s Nambu said he exchanged a great deal of correspondence with customs officials in Japan and Egypt and other importing countries to make sure no CITES rules were broken.

According to Ali, though, following HEPCA’s campaign against keeping captive dolphins and a screening of “The Cove” in Hurghada on Oct. 3, the Red Sea Governorate has issued a decree banning the import of any marine mammals. As a result, the arrival of another five Taiji dolphins reportedly earmarked for Egypt is likely to be blocked.

As Ali commented with pleasure on that ban, “The main objective of our whole campaign is not these four dolphins; it’s to stop the frenzy of having any ‘dolphinariums’ here.”

Additional reporting by Boyd Harnell