Faced with international criticism, Japan's aquariums look to artificial insemination to breed dolphins instead of taking them from wild


Japanese aquariums are beginning to consider breeding bottlenose dolphins through artificial insemination as a way to maintain their numbers and avoid continued international criticism of displaying dolphins caught in the wild.

A small male dolphin swimming with its mother has become a major attraction at the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium after it was born this May through artificial insemination, the first such birth reported in Japan in 14 years.

The mother was removed from dolphin shows about six months prior to delivery and remains uninvolved in performances.

“Showing how a new life is born and growing like this is the purpose of an aquarium’s existence,” said aquarium director Hiroshi Nitto.

Hoping to learn from the rare success, other aquariums in the country have contacted the aquarium to learn about its techniques.

Aquariums nationwide currently hold about 200 bottlenose dolphins, with a large portion of them being caught in controversial drive hunts off Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. The ratio of aquarium-bred dolphins only accounts for about 20 percent, according to the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

In 2015, the aquariums were rocked after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums voted unanimously to suspend JAZA’s membership over the practice of obtaining dolphins through drive hunts and threatened members with expulsion from the global body.

JAZA subsequently banned its members from acquiring Taiji dolphins, prompting some to cancel their membership of the association.

While remaining members were left with no choice but to breed bottlenose dolphins, JAZA has estimated that if aquariums in the country resorted to only breeding the species, the total population at facilities around the country will drop to 69 by 2030.

Small aquariums with limited finances face a particularly high hurdle when it comes to breeding, as constructing a special pool for the dolphins to deliver and raise calves often costs hundreds of millions of yen.

Some facilities only raise female dolphins as they are easier to train for shows, and a few aquariums breed them by keeping them together in pairs.

Artificial insemination could be a solution for aquariums hoping to increase the number of bottlenose dolphins as it can be conducted by inseminating the females with sperm and does not require the dolphins to be transferred to a special facility.

The technique has been carried out at aquariums abroad, but Japan is relatively inexperienced with the procedure. It has been successfully done only twice prior to the instance in Nagoya, at Kamogawa Sea World in Chiba Prefecture.

In September, Kujukushima Aquarium Umi Kirara in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, succeeded with the birth of a male bottlenose dolphin. Another dolphin, conceived through artificial insemination, is expected to be born at the aquarium later this month.

Although the aquarium is not a member of JAZA, the facility said it opted for artificial insemination due to international criticism of capturing wild dolphins.

“If you consider the costs, it is easier and cheaper to bring them from the wild, but breeding is the trend of the times,” said Nagoya’s Nitto, adding he expects more facilities will start using artificial insemination.

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