Keeping dolphins and whales

Regarding Rob Gilhooly’s July 26 article, “Japan bucks trend: Captive dolphin biz big“: I cannot agree with the opinion of Sakae Hemmi of the Elsa Nature Conservancy that the reduction of dolphins in captivity is the international trend. This trend is a current fashion of Western culture only. We must respect the culture of each people in the world.

Japanese people now enjoy visiting many aquariums in which whales and dolphins are kept alive and perform wonderful shows, the result of training in the facilities. Japanese people learn about marine life and ecosystems in the facilities. Thus, anti-whaling ideas have not been brought into those parts of Japan where whales and dolphins are close to people’s lives.

Whale-watching and swimming with dolphins have been recommended by anti-whaling groups, but the people who can enjoy such an activity are limited to healthy younger generations. Children, disabled people and the elderly in countries that do not have such facilities are not happy about not being given the chance to visit aquariums where they can observe and enjoy live dolphins and whales. Such facilities help in the rehabilitation of disabled people and in the rescue of stranded dolphins.

Whales and dolphins are kept healthy in Japanese aquariums, as they receive great care from trainers and veterinarians. The reason these undertakings have been successful is the dolphin drive fishery, which supplies living whales and dolphins to aquariums internationally as well as domestically. The fishery has thus contributed to the welfare of people in countries where whales and dolphins are kept in aquariums.

As dolphin specialist Shuhei Hasegawa, manager of Minami Chita Beachland in Nagoya, explained in the article, the catch of whales and dolphins that are not subject to the International Convention for Regulation of Whaling is regulated by local governments under the auspices of the Fisheries Agency. The catch quota for each dolphin species is set according to population research by the National Research Laboratory of Far Seas Fisheries.

If Japan is called a “developing country” by some people in developed countries just because it keeps whales and dolphins in aquariums, we’re content with such criticism, for we take pride in living closely with whales and dolphins.

seiji ohsumi
institute of cetacean research

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • AnimuX

    I find it interesting that as India has just recently announced a total ban on dolphin captivity and recognition of dolphins as ‘non-human persons’ — a title also bestowed on dolphins by scientists due to the growing evidence of cetacean intelligence — a representative of the ICR then claims opposition to captivity is a ‘western’ trend.

    Why is it that whenever the subject of whales or dolphins comes up some representative of the Japanese government attempts to frame every objection to exploitation of these animals as a matter of cultural differences? Perhaps, as Jun Morikawa has repeatedly pointed out, this is because corrupt bureaucrats (amakudari) in Japan’s government benefit personally from all of the public funding spent on the whaling industry.

    There is absolutely no public benefit derived from keeping dolphins in captivity to perform stupid pet tricks for entertainment and profit of a select few.

    In fact, the aquarium industry does not even inform its customers that many dolphins die in captivity at much younger ages than they would reach in a natural environment. Customers are also not shown the horrible slaughter of dolphins in places like Taiji and the Solomon Islands which supply so many animals for the captivity trade. This is a problem that is consistent between western and Japanese businesses that exploit dolphins for entertainment displays.

    The documentary film “The Cove”, which attempted to inform people about the dolphin fishery, was obstructed during its production and then obstructed again when it was presented in a feature length release in Japan. This attempt at censorship by both the government of Japan and extreme nationalists should serve as an indication of the measures taken to hide the horrors of the captivity trade from the public.

    What’s worse is Japan is clearly not a ‘developing country’. Japan is the third largest economy in the world which uses its considerable power and influence in order to prop up an internationally prohibited whaling industry. Now it seems the same corruption that funds whaling with tax money is involved in the captive exploitation of live dolphins as well.

  • Malcolm J. Brenner

    I think this about as good an argument for enslaving another intelligent, social species as it gets. What next, Mr. Ohsumi? Enslaving humans of races that you find inferior, because Japanese people enjoy their company? It only follows logically, right?

  • Yvon Godefroid

    “The slaughter will begin soon. At Taiji, dolphins will be killed in a horrendous way. Babies will be thrown away in the black waters, far from their mothers and unable to survive. Other will be trained with violence until they die or they obey. Then they will sent to tiny pools for the rest of their short life.

    But once again, following M. Seiji Ohsumi, and just like whale hunting, it’s supposed to be a sacred Japanese tradition (or a scientifc research ? It’s not clear), not a Western one !

    Oh yes ? What about India that recently banned dolphin captivity ? Is it a Western country ? What about Brazil or Chili, that did the same ? Are they Western countries ? What about amazing discoveries about
    cetacean intelligence, social bounds, empathy, or emotional life that Science – which is not Western or Eastern, I hope ! – brought us recently to our knowledge ?

    What about “kaluchua”, this important concept of non-human cultures, found by
    the great primatologist Kinji Imanishi, when everybody knows whales cultures
    are much more sophisticated than those of apes ?

    “Torture is not culture”, M. Seiji Ohsumi.
    In Belgium, until the 16th century, we were burning “witches” alive,
    and it was a great tradition by us. In France, they were cutting the head of
    criminals in front of a large audience on a public place until 19th
    century. In Papua New Guinea, eating his ennemy’s corpse was
    also a great tradtion until the 20th century.
    Sometimes, traditions have to change, M. Seiji Ohsumi. Not because of “Western pressure” but because they are cruel and unethical.

    Whales and dolphins do not belong to Japan. They belong to themselves. They are sef-aware beings. No matter you are Japanese, American or European, no one has the right to kill ( with a spike in the neck and a 10 minutes long agony) or put in slavery such wonderful and innocent sentient beings. Japan is a fierce country and it deserves to be proud of itself. Everyone in the world admires your art, your poetry, your novels, your technology, your gastronomy and even your old and wise traditions and philosophies.

    When they are not bloody.

    • Murasaki

      Fantastic post, just remember then when you are cutting in to that beef steak of yours.

      Remember Cows, Pigs, Lamb(Baby Sheep 3 months old), Chicken and Rabbits(4 months old) do not belong to Belgium. They belong to themselves, they are self-aware beings. No matter you are Belgians, American or European, no one has the right to force animals to have sex, just to kill there offspring for food.

      BTW : Belgian Chocolate Covered Ice Cream Bars taste fantastic.

      • M. Kolsch

        very poor arguments. better go and visit the reality at the place of torture and slaughter in the cove of Taiji. Kolling season starts Sept. 1. If that leaves you cold and doesn’t change your view. .

    • kamakiri

      Allthough i’m not advocating captivity or killing of dolphins , whales or any other animal. I’m always surprised by this hypocrisy of people that scream loud that it is wrong to kill dolphins and whales but take no second thought at the animals that are abused on a daily basis to provide for their comfy lifestyle. all i’m saying is there is always two sides to a coin. also refering a single town in japan where terrible things happen against dolphins does not represent Japan. That’s like saying all belgians eat live fish in alcohol as they do in Geraardsbergen. it’s BS. Talking about how wrong captivity is, whyle in belgium there is also a dolphin park and only recently they stopped the dolphin show in the zoo of antwerp. No one is the moral superieur of another especially not the west.

      Greetz from Belgium

  • StellaSf

    Seiji you left out how many of these animals are killed to be on a table for dinner or how they are trained by starvation. Leaving this out makes this an advertising for your company.

  • Elizabeth Batt

    If you truthfully believe that Japanese people learn about ecosystems and cetaceans from these shows, then surely you must believe the same about how these dolphins are captured? If you also believe that your stance is correct then share all information with parkgoers openly and honestly then allow them to form their own opinions. Dolphins after all, don’t just magically appear in concrete pools. Offering the paying public ALL relevant information about the manner of drive fisheries and numbers of dolphins slaughtered during capture, would be synonymous with fairness, honor and pride, no?

  • Daniel Oliver Jost

    Culture again eh. Well we’ve travelled down that road several times already… As the old saying goes: “Never get into an argument with an idiot. He’ll just pull you down to his level…and win by experience!” So I’ll let you get back to the important duties that await you at your Institute of Cretinous Research.

    But do think of the future a bit. At the end of this year the International Court of Justice will most probably rule against your killing expeditions to Antarctica. As to the drive hunts and captive cetacean industry, it’s also just a matter of time before they die out. We now have these things called Internet and social media you know, which help to combat the evil.

    So long Ohsumi-san. I’ll be popping by your offices this autumn to see if I can find my old friend your Facebook admin. Perhaps you’ll also be there and we could have tea together? I’d be delighted… Matane!

  • Melanie Stewart

    “Whales and dolphins are kept healthy in Japanese aquariums, as they receive great care from trainers and veterinarians.”

    Really? Where are you getting your data, Mr. Ohsumi? You are clearly misinformed. Captive marine mammals suffer extremely high mortality rates as compared to those in the wild. As for their educational value, the only thing one learns from visiting a marine park is that these animals’ lives are filled with despair.

    You “take pride in LIVING closely with whales and dolphins”? Why? Clearly, because they are within reach of your KILLING harpoons, your banger boats and your metal spikes to the spine? If you truly care for these animals, you will celebrate them in their natural habitat — ALIVE AND FREE.

    Why don’t you admit once and for all that your argument has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with the money to be made from the captive dolphin trade and from government subsidies to kill whales?

  • Fern Yates

    The Japanese look set to continue on their destruction of two highly intelligent species on our planet. They pride themselves in it being their culture to consume the flesh of the whales and dolphins. They don’t really seem to think about the high levels of mercury in the flesh they eat caused by man’s pollution of the oceans and seas of the world. They are slowly killing themselves by continuing this culture. Will they wake up and stop this barbaric practice before all the whales and dolphins and they are lying on their beds gasping their last breath too?

  • Debbie Gallagher

    We can respect all cultures without respecting all cultural
    activities. Some traditions are just plain wrong; does the author agree
    with female genital mutilation? How about the selling of child brides?
    Or the burning of dead mens wives? These are all ancient traditions.
    Their place in any given culture does not justify them as an activity.

    would also take issue with the claim that people learn from
    dolphin/whale shows about the ecosystem; tell me, what can anyone
    determine about the natural life of a dolphin from watching it in an
    entirely unnatural environment? That it is very unhappy? That its life
    span will be much shorter than that of a dolphin in the sea? if you want people to enjoy the undersea world, teach them scuba and
    snorkelling. For those who are unable, take them out in flat bottom boats,
    or even submarine cruises. Let them see the truth of the undersea world
    in all its magnificence. This is a cure far beyond the petty cruelty of marine shows, far beyond the desperate clutchings of therapy based on a lie. Contact is good for humans we know. But contact with an animal that is forced to endure our touch? If this is about empathy, there is a desperate irony in seeking so much and displaying so little.

    I salute and support those people of Japan who work so tirelessly to end the tragic mistreatment of dolphins and cetaceans. To anyone thinking of attending a marine park I say, put your money towards diving lessons instead. Learn to be strong in the water. Forget petty tricks and money spinning cruelty. Come out into the sea.

  • Yvon Godefroid

    Of course this text is a provocation. It shows how Japanese Government can hide some troubling truths to their citizens, as it does for Fukushima radiocative pollution. Anyway I’d like to add 2 other remarks :

    – Dolphin Captivity is born in the USA (Barnum Circus and its
    beluga) then became an American “tradition”, before touching Japan. So,
    it’s surely not a Japanese cultural tradition to keep dolphins in pools. It’s an American one.

    – The “family welfare” these poor Taiji dolphins are supposed
    to provide benefite mostly to the best “friend” of Japan. After local market, the main customer of this living sentient being traffic is China. It’s quite nice Japanese Government care about the welfare of Chinese family.

    Oh ! By the way… 300 tons (71,895 gallons/272,152 liters) of radiocative water are pouring into the sea each day from Fukushima. I’m sure the meat of dolphins will taste better in some weeks… Good appetite !

  • Len Varley

    Institute of Cetacean Research needs to pull it’s fat finger out and do
    some actual research…I can cite several cases of animal cruelty in
    cases of captive whales and dolphins in Japanese facilities. And how
    exactly does issuing permits for the slaughter of 23,000 dolphins
    annually equate to the comment – “we take pride in living closely with
    whales and dolphins”? Seriously…this guy needs to move from underneath
    those power lines….pure rationalisation!