The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has suspended the membership of a Japanese industry association, stating that domestic aquariums procure dolphins from the drive fishery in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.
The international governing body, based in Switzerland, has also warned that the 153-member Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) will see its membership stripped this month unless an improvement is made in relation to the practice, according to sources.
Because many aquariums in Japan rely on the town of Taiji for their dolphin supply, they would become unable to procure the animals, which attract many visitors. "I can't go along with the WAZA warning," one industry representative said.
Meanwhile, Japanese zoos that obtain rare species and other animals from overseas zoos through WAZA's network say that the Japanese body should avoid being denied WAZA membership as that could have a negative impact on their ability to acquire animals.
As a result, JAZA members remain divided. The Japanese association is expected to make a final decision soon after hearing the opinions of its members.
According to JAZA, about 30 member aquariums keep dolphins, while some of them breed the animals. Each year, the aquariums purchase a total of about 20 dolphins that were captured in the Taiji drive fishery. Of those, "almost 100 per cent" of bottlenose dolphins - a common species - have been captured through the hunting method, according to Kensho Nagai, JAZA's executive director.
WAZA suspended the membership of JAZA on April 21, stating that such an acquisition method violates its codes of ethics, which emphasise animal welfare. The JAZA was also warned that its failure to improve the situation within a month would result in expulsion from WAZA.
A 2009 US documentary, "The Cove," showed secretly filmed footage of the dolphin drive fishery in Taiji, prompting members of the antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd to come to the town and protest the hunt. Criticism has also been directed at Japanese aquariums, with both Japanese and foreign environmental conservation groups petitioning JAZA to take action during demonstrations in front of the body's headquarters in Tokyo.
In August last year, a senior WAZA official visited Japan to discuss the matter with JAZA and called for an end to Japan's practice of acquiring dolphins from the drive fishery.
WAZA members in other countries acquire dolphins by breeding in principle, but few aquariums in Japan have breeding facilities.
"It's disappointing because we've explained to WAZA that measures have been taken to prevent the drive fishery from causing harm to dolphins [captured alive]," a JAZA official said. "We'd like to make a decision carefully after listening to our members."
Established in 1946, WAZA has more than 300 member organisations and facilities in 50 countries and regions. Its missions include the conservation of rare species.
- Drive fishery
A method that involves banging on metal poles in fishing boats and herding sound-sensitive dolphins into coves. Dolphin drive fishery can be conducted within a state-set quota with permission of the prefecture's governor. According to the Fisheries Agency, this method is currently used only in the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. Dolphin hunting for aquariums is conducted separately from hunting for meat consumption. Dolphins caught in excess of the target are reportedly released once it is established that the target has been met.