About half of the dolphins caught in drive hunts in western Japan were exported to China and other countries despite criticism of the technique by an international association of aquariums, data confirmed by Kyodo News show.
Drive hunting is a practice that has been used for decades in the coastal town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. It has been criticized as cruel, recently forcing the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums to ban members from acquiring dolphins captured using the technique, which uses sound to drive the animals into a killing zone.
JAZA issued the ban last month after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums threatened to expel it should members continue purchasing such dolphins.
In drive hunting, fishermen herd dolphins into coves by banging metal poles against their fishing boats before slaughtering or capturing them. The practice spurred international controversy, especially after the Oscar-winning 2009 U.S. documentary “The Cove” revealed the bloody slaughters that take place.
According to statistics from the Fisheries Research Agency, 760 live dolphins were sold after being caught off Taiji from September 2009 to August 2014.
Trade statistics from the Finance Ministry meanwhile show that 354 live dolphins were exported in the same period, including 216 to China, 36 to Ukraine, 35 to South Korea and 15 to Russia.
In Japan, live dolphins are supplied only from Taiji, so the animals covered by the trade data are presumed to have been caught there.
U.N. data based on the Washington Convention for the protection of endangered species showed that the export of live dolphins from Japan between 2009 and 2013 was almost entirely to zoos or aquariums.
According to the WAZA website, China is not represented in the world body through a national association.
An official at an aquarium in western Japan pointed out that WAZA is mainly composed of U.S. and European associations and said dolphin trade that is not subject to WAZA rules is prevalent in Asia and other regions.