Japan's bloody dolphin hunts have gotten the country's aquariums suspended from the world body that oversees the humane treatment of animals in captivity.
The "drive hunts" were featured in the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary "The Cove," which included graphic footage of dolphins being herded into coastal inlets, with some captured and the rest killed for meat. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) announced this week that its Japanese affiliate has now been suspended for refusing to stop taking dolphins seized in those hunts.
The Switzerland-based WAZA "requires all members to adhere to policies that prohibit participating in cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild," the organization said in a statement announcing the decision. But despite several years of talks, WAZA and the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) "could not reach agreement" on the issue.
In the wake of the decision, the Earth Island Institute urged Japan's government to stop the hunt.
"WAZA has taken action; now JAZA and Japan must take action for the dolphins," the group's associate director, Mark Palmer, told VICE News.
The hunts are conducted around the fishing port of Taiji in the fall and winter. There was no immediate response from JAZA, but conservationists cheered the decision — even as some said dolphins have no place in any aquarium.
"Even as an entity that is all about the captivity industry, today WAZA has taken an important step to distance itself from the slaughter that turns the waters of Taiji red with blood — blood that WAZA does not want on its hands," said the activist group Sea Shepherd, which monitors the annual hunts. "The tide is turning. One day, the cove will be a permanent and peaceful blue and profiting from the suffering of these familial and intelligent beings will be a practice driven into the past."
And Naomi Rose, a marine biologist at the US-based Animal Welfare Institute, told VICE News the decision "means the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums is finally recognizing that this behavior from one of its members is intolerable."
The Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Project says 751 dolphins were killed in this year's Taiji hunts by February, with another 80 captured and 251 released. Captive dolphins are sold to zoos in Asia for tens of thousands of dollars apiece, Rose said, while American aquariums haven't taken dolphins from Japan since 1992.
Conservationists have been pressuring WAZA for the past several years to suspend the Japanese association, "and they kept coming up with reasons why this wasn't the right tactic," she said. Now, she said, the hope is that pressure will spur Japan to reforms.
"They don't like being publicly embarrassed, and this is publicly embarrassing," she said.
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