• Staff Report


Kazutaka Sangen, the mayor of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, which conducts annual dolphin drive hunts, said he wants to set up a new association with aquariums wishing to obtain dolphins from the town, NHK reported Wednesday.

Sangen’s remarks, which are highly likely to reignite controversy over dolphin hunting, came as the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums decided in May to officially ban its members from buying wild dolphins captured off Taiji and expel aquariums that continue to obtain the mammals from the town.

The association made the decision after the Switzerland-based World Association of Zoos and Aquariums suspended JAZA’s membership in April, saying it would expel the group unless it promised to stop acquiring dolphins from Taiji, where drive hunts and annual culls of wild dolphins for sale as food has sparked outrage from animal rights activists.

“(The) dolphin drive hunt in Taiji is legal, and we will continue the practice,” Sangen told NHK, adding that he hopes to establish the new association in three to five years. Sangen reportedly said he would make the proposal Wednesday at a meeting of aquariums nationwide expected to be held in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Even after JAZA banned the purchase of dolphins from Taiji, many aquariums in Japan are apparently still interested in buying them from the town because they lack the facilities, technology and experience need to breed dolphins themselves.

The 34 aquariums in Japan that belong to JAZA had a total of 287 dolphins as of the end of 2012, and most of them were from Taiji, NHK said.

To artificially propagate dolphins in aquariums, a separate pool is specially needed and female dophins must be closely monitored for about a year once they become pregnant. The survival rate of baby dolphins is low. Out of 31 born in aquariums nationwide, only 11 had survived as of the end of 2012, according to the report. The low survival rate is partly due to a failure to get dolphins to properly lactate as well as other technical reasons, according to sources.

Another option would be to import dolphins from the United States with advanced technology for breeding, but aquariums have to bear huge purchase and transportation costs.

JAZA plans to strengthen cooperation among aquariums to step up breeding efforts, but some that are pessimistic about breeding want to continue getting dolphins from Taiji, NHK said.

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