On February 7, the Taiji fishing collective captured a family of ten orca whales and confined them in Hatajiri Bay on Japan's southeast coast. Within 48 hours, Japanese aquarium and entertainment parks had purchased five of the orcas for an average price of $250,000 each.
The capture began some 50 kilometers [31 miles] off the Taiji coast. A single fishing vessel encountered the transient orca pod, the first seen in the area in a decade, and raised a capture alarm. Soon a flotilla of 15-20 boats surrounded the pod to conduct oikoimi, a practice using loud noise to herd and entrap acoustically oriented marine mammals. Fisherman hammered on hollow metal pipes suspended boatside, driving their orca prey inland. Taiji fishermen, long noted for butchering thousands of dolphins and whales in gruesome drive fisheries, conducted this hunt under the auspices of a five-year-old Fisheries Ministry permit to capture orcas for "reasons of scientific research or academic purposes."
Videotape taken by activists at Hatajiri Bay reveals the captured orcas huddling, thrashing their flukes and calling out to one another. Fishermen gradually tightened a wall of containment nets and forced the whales into shallow water. Staff-wielding boatmen separated and restrained orcas bound for marine parks. Two young males, two females (one reportedly pregnant) and one calf were lifted by cranes and loaded into lorries for transport to various captive facilities. Japanese whale and dolphin activists raised an international outcry that resulted in the release of the remaining orcas and created a stir over the captive whales, dubbed the Taiji Five. Demonstrators in London, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, Portland, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco (at an Earth Island rally at the Japanese consulate) condemned the capture.
Japan is the only nation which conducts orca captures. Iceland, a traditional whaling nation, realizing the destructive reprocussions from such activities hasn't issued orca capture permits since 1990. Since that time Iceland has developed a profitable orca and minke whale-watching industry. In the US, Washington, the only state with orcas off its coast, banned captures in 1978.
World renowned orca researcher Dr. Paul Spong had this to say about
the Taiji capture.
"When you think about what an orca pod is, and the fact that lineage and traditions are passed down through key females, it's pretty easy to see that taking certain individuals could have ramifications down through generations. The Pacific Northwest orca population at large still hasn't recovered because so many individual orcas were removed in the '60s and '70s. The imprisonment of the Taiji Five and release of the other five members may result in the total destruction of the family, We know one of those released was an adult male; another was probably a post-reproductive female; a third was a young male. That means the pod's future lies in the hope that the two others were female and can get their lives back together and bear offspring."
For too long Japanese officials have attempted to justified the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins and whales as traditional, subsistence harvesting practiced by indigenous people. In recent years, however, these fishers have discovered the profitability of working with Japan's whale and dolphin entertainment facilities. The Japanese delagation to the International Whaling Commissionin in October should be asked how the Taiji fishing collective's suppling orcas to Japan's aquariums constitutes "scientific research."
What You Can Do
The Taiji Five orca pod can survive if its captured members are reunited with the rest of the family.
Send an email letter to:
Honorable Ryutaro Hashimoto
Prime Minister of Japan
Ask him to intervene to reunited the captive Taiji orcas and to ban the further capture of
orcas by Japan. Let him know that actions like this make Japan look bad in the eyes of
the international community.
These letters are being collected and forwarded by Earth Island's resident anti-marine mammal captivity authority, Mark Berman. E-mail Mark your 'Save the Taiji Five' letter at firstname.lastname@example.org