JAPAN - Concern and relief greeted the decision by the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) to change how domestic institutions procure dolphins, with aquariums fearing a decline in the number of their dolphins and zoo officials relieved they would still have access to animals from overseas.
The Japan association made its decision in order to remain in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). Many of JAZA's member aquariums have relied on drive fishery to procure dolphins.
Given the difficulty of breeding the animals, there is serious concern that the number of dolphins in their collections could drop. However, some zoo officials expressed relief that they would still be able to obtain animals, including rare species, from overseas through WAZA's network.
"I don't believe it's possible to stably secure dolphins through breeding alone," said an official at an aquarium in the Chubu region. "I'm afraid there will be significantly fewer dolphins at domestic institutions in the future."
Specialist staff and a dedicated pool built for the purpose are needed to breed the animals, and in some cases, baby dolphins can drown, according to sources associated with the aquariums.
One official said, "We're thinking of splitting off from JAZA and continuing to procure dolphins from drive fishery." The director of an aquarium in the Kinki region also expressed concern, saying, "JAZA could break down."
"Dolphins have long life spans, so they won't disappear anytime soon," an official at another aquarium in the Chubu region said. "I don't think there's any way but to collectively procure animals born in breeding facilities."
Toshinari Tanaka, director of the Sapporo Maruyama Zoo, expressed relief over the move. His zoo plans to obtain polar bears from overseas through WAZA's network.
"I'm worried that if JAZA breaks off from the world association, it will interfere with our plans. So we welcome the decision to remain with WAZA," Tanaka said.
"Zoos used to always procure animals by capturing them in the wild, but now breeding is the standard," said a director of another zoo in the Kyushu region. "That's the path aquariums should follow."
JAZA Chairman Kazutoshi Arai held a press conference Wednesday evening, saying, "We're taking the first step in a new direction to increase the number of dolphins bred in captivity and decrease the number captured in the wild."
The organisation plans to soon assemble representatives of institutions with dolphins to discuss measures to promote breeding, such as knowledge sharing and animal exchanges.
Arai said domestic aquariums currently purchase an annual total of 20 to 30 dolphins captured through drive fishery. It will take "more than five years" to establish a breeding system, he said.
Regarding drive fishery, the JAZA chairman said, "I don't think it's cruel."
"I've asked WAZA on many occasions what's cruel about drive fishery, but have never received an answer," Arai said with a disapproving look.
Regarding the world association's perception of drive fishery, a senior JAZA official said: "There have been online videos showing a cove whose waters are red with the blood of dolphins. WAZA officials may have presumed that drive fishery is cruel based solely on that image."