JAZA reinstated in world body after suspension over Taiji dolphins

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums on Thursday regained its membership in the global industry body after it ordered its members to cease acquiring dolphins from a controversial drive hunt.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced its decision to end JAZA’s suspension in a statement on its website.

“We feel relieved and are very pleased to hear about WAZA’s decision,” JAZA Secretary-General Naonori Okada told The Japan Times.

Asked if JAZA had taken the suspension as a warning, he replied, “We regarded it as a call for improvement.”

WAZA hailed JAZA’s move.

“This result has come about after a lengthy period of negotiation, and I am delighted to see such a positive outcome, and that JAZA is able to stay within our global community,” WAZA Executive Director Gerald Dick said in the statement.

WAZA represents more than 50 national aquarium and zoo associations worldwide and requires members to adhere to certain animal welfare standards. It suspended the Japanese body on April 21 over its members’ acquisitions of dolphins from Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, where every year fishermen herd the animals into a cove and butcher them. They save a handful of the animals to sell to aquariums.

The Japanese body met on May 20, when a majority of its 89 member zoos and 63 aquariums voted in favor of staying in WAZA by ending the purchase of dolphins from Taiji.

The group enacted the ban on June 12, threatening violators with expulsion.

“We complied with all the requirements WAZA had imposed, and in response we have amended our code of ethics in line with the requirements, JAZA’s Okada said.

Okada said WAZA’s suspension has also prompted his group to seek alternative sources of live dolphins and to put more efforts into supporting captive breeding programs.

The group has also introduced a tracing system requiring members to provide information about the origins of their marine mammals.

WAZA appeared to echo this in its statement, saying JAZA would “establish a registry for all individuals of all species held at its member institutions, including photographs for individual identification.”

For JAZA, leaving the world body would have meant a loss of a vital source of international support, which could have led to significant difficulties in gaining assistance for its breeding efforts, Okada said.

Meanwhile, JAZA dolphin-owning aquariums met in the city of Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Wednesday and Thursday, where they discussed the new policy with fisheries cooperatives.

Representatives from the Taiji fisheries cooperative insisted they would continue their hunts, JAZA officials said. But none of the aquarium representatives who attended said they would resign from JAZA — something they could do if they wanted to continue sourcing animals from Taiji.

WAZA said it will continue to monitor developments in Japan closely. “We are confident that JAZA aspires to reform its previous practices and WAZA will enhance cooperative efforts to support JAZA’s decision,” WAZA President Lee Ehmke said.

Although the world body condemned the drive hunts in Taiji in 2004, the move backfired by drawing criticism for not kicking out the Japanese association — opting for dialogue rather than confrontation.

JAZA then offered to encourage more humane herding practices, a proposal WAZA accepted.

The slaughter at Taiji gained global notoriety after the Oscar-winning 2009 U.S. documentary “The Cove” showed the water running red with blood.

Information from Kyodo added