Mar 23, 2019 | Updated: 12:48 PM EDT

In Japan, Dolphin Controversy Continues Despite International Outcry

May 21, 2015 02:08 PM EDT

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Officials from the small fishing village of Taiji, in Central Japan, remain defiant amidst protests that label their dolphin hunts as cruel. Despite international outcry, the slaughter continues.

"We are hunting under the permission of the Japanese government and prefecture, and so we will continue to protect our fishermen and the methods. We will not quit," says Kazutaka Sangen, mayor of Taiji.

The dolphin are hunted for two purposes: for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in Japan, despite a downward trend in its consumption; and as live merchandise for the entertainment industry, where they fetch astronomical figures.

The hunting of dolphins off Taiji is a personal affair. The mammals are not caught in long-ranging nets, they are driven into a small cove by the noise of clanging metal, and are then corralled and speared. But before the killing ensues, choice dolphins are selected and captured, later to be sold for upwards of $150,000.

This gory industry was captured in the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove. Directed by Louie Psihoyos and hosted by former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry (of the TV series "Flipper"), the documentary exposed the fishing industry off Taiji in all its bloody reality, prompting outrage and action worldwide.

And pressure is now being exerted by the very folks who benefit from the capture of dolphin and other marine mammals. The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA), following a decision by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), is now promising to refuse to acquire any dolphins captured using the inhumane techniques of the Taiji fishermen.

WAZA labeled the hunts as "cruel" and urged their members not to purchase dolphins captured in such a manner. JAZA, which includes 89 zoos and 63 aquariums, agreed with WAZA's decision and vowed to cooperate.

"It is our wish at JAZA to remain as a member of WAZA," said chair Kazutoshi Arai in a letter to WAZA President, Lee Ehmke.

The Associations have been joined in their fight by celebrities and advocate groups, including the organizations Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Australia for Dolphins. CEO of AD, Sarah Lucas, said, "This momentous decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan."

Despite optimism on the part of animal welfare groups, the Taiji fishermen defend their hunts, claiming they are part of traditional Taiji culture and that the consumption of dolphins is no different from that of beef or chicken.

For now, the international community continues to apply pressure and the killing of dolphins continues. 

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