The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums has voted to stop buying dolphins captured during drive hunts conducted by fishermen in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. For the past decade, the town has received a great deal of negative publicity because of its dolphin slaughter, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums told its Japanese member that it would be expelled if it continued to patronize the hunt, which WAZA views as being “cruel.” Since JAZA members rely on WAZA for animal exchange and other zoo-related activities, the majority gave in to the ultimatum, but a few aquariums say they may leave the group because Taiji is their only source of new dolphins.
The mood in the Japanese media has been one of grudging acceptance: Japan has again been vilified by outsiders who don’t like the way it does things, and the WAZA demand is associated not only with the dolphin slaughter, which Taiji insists is a community-sustaining tradition, but also with the larger controversy of Japanese whaling. Following the vote, the Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun ran almost identical editorials saying that Japan had to do more to convince the world that the Taiji drive hunts are not cruel and that WAZA apparently doesn’t understand the “tradition” behind the method. Mainichi went into more detail by explaining that the Taiji fisheries cooperative tried to placate these concerns by targeting “relatively small schools” of dolphins for capture, but apparently that wasn’t enough.