Trainers Involved In Selection
Unsettling as it may be, dolphin trainers are a part of the captive selection process in Taiji, sorting through the wild dolphins netted in the cove to identify candidates for sale to marine parks and aquariums around the world. By doing business with the dolphin hunters, marine parks sustain the dolphin drive hunts. A live dolphin sold to a dolphinarium brings in a much higher profit than does a dead dolphin sold as meat, which brings in about $600. In Taiji, live bottlenose dolphins have been sold for as much as $152,000 USD each. The captivity industry offers the primary economic motive for the dolphin slaughter. This reality reinforces the idea that the drive hunts are inextricably tied to the captivity industry, and that the desire for captive dolphins fuels the continuation of these captures.
The Role of Trainers in the Hunt
Dolphinariums that purchase dolphins from Taiji may suggest they are “saving” the dolphins from slaughter. However, the fact is that they are fueling the dolphin hunt by making it tremendously profitable. Dolphin trainers and hunters work side by side to force the dolphins into shallow water for inspection, choosing the ones that can be used in dolphin shows and dolphin swim programs.
They are typically looking for young, unblemished female dolphins. They “save” only the ones that can be commercially exploited in the display industry. The rest are slaughtered.
Complicit in Cruelty
We have documented members of the international aquarium and zoo industry take part in aspects of the hunt beyond captive selection. Our team has observed trainers get in the water with the dolphin hunters, tying ropes around the dolphins’ tail flukes so that the fishermen could tie the dolphins to their boats on the way to the slaughterhouse.
The drive and captive selection process inflict multiple physical injuries on the dolphins, from shock to broken fins. The trainers frequently contribute to the harm by tackling the dolphins in the water and pursuing them against jagged rocks, and not once have we ever observed them attempt to protect or offer medical assistance to an injured dolphin.
Where Taiji Dolphins Go
While many marine parks and associations have publicly disavowed the Taiji drive hunts, the dolphins captured in the process have made their way around the world over the years. Most of have remained within Japan, which has over 50 marine parks and swim programs.
Dolphin exports from Taiji have gone to China, Korea, Ukraine, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the Philippines. U.S. aquariums like SeaWorld claim they don’t import dolphins from Taiji, but prior to a ruling by the NMFS stating that imports from Taiji, Japan, were illegal because U.S. law specifies that captures of marine mammals should be humane, small cetaceans like false killer whales were regularly obtained by SeaWorld, the Indianapolis Zoological Society, Miami Seaquarium, and the U.S. Navy.
Interactive Map of Current Taiji Dolphins in Captivity
Map Courtesy of Ceta-Base
Understanding the intelligence and complexity of these species, as well as how they behave in the wild helps us understand that their natural ranges in the open ocean are where they thrive. It is vital that we continue to spread awareness about dolphins to help end exploitation in captivity, and to help wild dolphin populations stay healthy!
Education is the first step to moving others to take action. Help spread the word about protecting dolphins!