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WAZA and JAZA to Meet in Japan Ahead of Upcoming Drive Hunt Season

Responding to the collective voice of over 168 Japanese animal welfare and conservation organizations, the Executive Director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (WAZA) has agreed to meet with representatives from these organizations in a joint meeting with leadership of the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquaria (JAZA) on August 10th in Japan. The groups presented their letter and petition seeking more action from WAZA against the dolphin drive hunts in late March in Switzerland where a key representative from Elsa Nature Conservancy met with WAZA officials during a protest held at WAZA headquarters in Geneva. This important meeting resulted in WAZA Executive Director Gerald Dick’s commitment to hold a follow-up meeting in Japan, inviting JAZA leadership and representatives from a coalition of Japanese organizations.

WDC, along with 45 other international animal welfare and conservation organizations, also sent a letter to WAZA seeking their definitive action in late February, and supporting the call for action made by Japanese animal welfare and conservation organizations. 

Although WAZA has made statements against the dolphin drive hunts, and has indicated that all WAZA-member facilities must adhere to the WAZA code of ethics and refrain from aquiring dolphins from these cruel hunts for captive dolphin attractions, the zoo and aquaria association has done little to reprimand or penalize those member facilities that continue to source dolphins from these hunts. JAZA is a member of WAZA, and member facilities of JAZA continue to acquire dolphins from these hunts. A recent inventory of captive dolphin facilities in Japan, supported by WDC, reveals that of the 104 aquaria in Japan, 67 are JAZA members, and 37 of those members hold dolphins. This means that 55% of JAZA facilities hold dolphins acquired from the dolphin drive hunts. The insidious and continuing relationship between the demand generated by captive facilities and the deadly drive hunts was documented in our Driven by Demand campaign report

One of these JAZA members is the Taiji Whale Museum, the primary broker of dolphins to national and international facilities. Despite strong statements against the drive hunts, WAZA has failed to reprimand the ongoing violations of its ethical policies by its members organizations. A video statement from these Japanese organizations, represented by Elsa Nature Conservancy, emphasizes the fact that the mechanized and commercial dolphin drive hunts are not a traditional part of Japanese culture, and rather have developed only more recently in the past 45 years. A Japanese version of this video statement is also available. WAZA’s lack of clear and definitive action against those member facilities still acquiring from the drive hunts has resulted in more than 1,200 dolphins being caught alive and sent to aquariums since WAZA’s announcement against the drive hunts in 2004.

WDC has maintained its dialogue with WAZA since before the statements against the drive hunts were issued in 2004, and has condemned the concessions that WAZA has attempted to broker with JAZA in order to keep them under their association umbrella and avoid punitive action against the Japanese zoo association. One of these concessions was the issuance of the Dolphin Management Protocol which has allowed captive facilities to round up bottlenose dolphins in the month of September in the killing cove as long as the fishermen refrain from killing this species. At the time this protocol was issued, the suggestion was that animals would not be taken from the Taiji drive hunts but from a separate ‘herding exercise’ as a means of acquisition of wild dolphins for aquariums, and that more humane methods would reportedly be developed for these additional captures. Although these additional captures have not been documented, round-ups still occur in the killing cove, in close association with the drive hunts.  With no cessation of the killing activity, numbers of dolphins collected alive each season for captive facilities have actually increased since this protocol was agreed between WAZA and JAZA.

In hearing from the voices within Japan, and in meeting directly with JAZA leadership, we hope that WAZA will take tangible action to penalize those facilities that continue to source from the dolphin drive hunts in violation of WAZA policies and mandates. In its failure to comply, JAZA should be expelled from WAZA membership as they continue to be a ‘black mark’ on all other WAZA facilities that are complying with the Code of Ethics and find any association with the dolphin drive hunts abhorrent.

September signals the beginning of yet another dolphin drive hunting season in Taiji. The hunts begin on September 1st and will run through April or beyond. WDC has been active on confronting the dolphin drive hunt issue in Japan on various levels, both through direct action and onsite presence, to supporting educational outreach through partner Japanese organizations such as Elsa Nature Conservancy, and the initiation of dialogue with the zoo and aquaria associations engaged in sourcing from the drive hunts. We also have worked with the marine mammal research community to garner a statement against the drive hunts and open the dialogue in scientific fora. Among other efforts, WDC also helped procure a congressional resolution against the drive hunts, and has worked to expose the cruel killing methods being utilized in Taiji.

WDC will continue our work to foster the love and appreciation for whales and dolphins that can be found within Japan, supporting this growing public sentiment that may ultimately be the reason the Government of Japan will abandon these cruel and unsustainable practices.

Alongside our efforts, many individuals are working to end these horrific hunts, including a host of impassioned grassroots activists that are working to raise awareness and activate the global community. One of these initiatives is the Red Letter Campaign. This effort, started by one activist who is now joined by thousands around the world, seeks to generate a wave of letters to Japanese officials, sent in red envelopes on August 15th, and calling for an end to the dolphin drive hunts in Japan. Please join with your letters of support!

Stay tuned for more details of another grassroots initiative that you can take part in to help in our efforts to end the dolphin drive hunts—Japan Dolphin Day. Global demonstrations will occur around the world on, or near, September 1st. WDC will again be participating in this event, and hope that our supporters can join us in one of our international locations. More information to come!

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.