WAKAYAMA – Sales of dolphin and other small cetaceans caught in controversial drive hunts in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, increased by almost 40 percent in the eight months to April, data showed.
Despite the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums introducing a ban last May on purchasing dolphins from drives, the Wakayama Prefectural Government data showed fishermen caught 936 cetaceans using the method during the September to April hunting season — virtually unchanged from 937 the previous season.
Of the 936, 117 were sold to aquariums unaffiliated with the association or to dealers, up from 84 the previous year.
The figures raise doubts over the effectiveness of actions aimed at curbing drive hunts, a technique that has been criticized internationally as cruel but which the people of Taiji describe as part of their fishing culture.
In drive hunting, fishermen capture dolphins by herding them into coves while banging metal poles against their fishing boats.
The hunting practice has spurred international outcry, especially after the Oscar-winning 2009 U.S. documentary “The Cove” showed the bloody slaughter of dolphins during a drive hunt.
While the number of dolphins and cetaceans sold increased from the previous season, a lean year, it was still “fewer than normal times as the annual average over the last five years was about 150,” a Wakayama official said.
Yoshifumi Kai, an official of the Taiji fisheries cooperative association, said there was “no major confusion during hunting last year” despite the acquisition ban.
But Kai said the industry’s future remained “unclear” so long as members of JAZA — consisting of 89 zoos and 62 aquariums — stuck to the ban.
Halting the acquisition of Taiji dolphins poses future challenges for some aquariums in Japan that cannot breed dolphins. Dolphins are often the stars of shows staged at aquariums, garnering revenue required to operate the facilities.
Leaving JAZA enables aquariums to procure dolphins from Taiji. A whale museum run by the Taiji town government did so in September, becoming the first member to withdraw from the Japanese aquarium body since the ban was imposed in May last year.