The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) has been hard at work these past few months, trying to protect dolphins, whales, and their ocean habitats around the globe.
In Taiji, Japan, another bloody dolphin hunt season came to an end in February, and IMMP’s volunteer Cove Monitors, with crucial help from Japanese activists, have continued to inform the world about the capture and killing of dolphins there.
Despite the international scrutiny, the horrible practices continue in Taiji. While the number of dolphins killed for meat this season – about 900 – was slightly higher than last season, even more disturbing was the capture of 250 wild dolphins. They are being held in small sea pens cobbled together with nets in Taiji harbor. Last season, 50 dolphins were kept aside for captivity, and we thought that was a lot. There are no animal welfare laws in Japan for dolphins and whales in captivity.
IMMP has managed, for the moment, to stop the export of captive dolphins from the Solomon Islands. But now Taiji is turning into a major source of captive dolphins.
Fortunately, a growing number of Japanese activists are joining IMMP in Taiji, risking harassment from the Japanese Fisheries Agency and from extremist nationalist groups that have seized upon the hunts as an issue to promote their campaigns against foreigners. IMMP is now planning a campaign strategy for the next hunting season that begins again in September.
Meanwhile, IMMP is making real progress in Indonesia. We were instrumental in temporarily shutting down the last traveling dolphin circus in the world and getting the government to halt the capture of dolphins. The project’s joint efforts with local partners, including the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, have paid off. However, we still haven’t been able to convince the Indonesian government to seize dolphins that have been caught illegally and release them back into their home waters.
In India, IMMP has been working with the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations to petition the Indian government to declare dolphin captivity inhumane and illegal. The Animal Welfare Board of India has already issued a directive opposing any dolphinariums in India. There are still more steps that need to be taken to make India the largest country to prohibit inhumane dolphin exhibits and swim-with-captive-dolphins programs, but we’re on the right track.
Closer to home, the fight goes on to restrict the expansion of US marine park holdings of dolphins and whales. The Georgia Aquarium – working on behalf of several theme parks, including the three SeaWorld parks – is seeking permission to import 18 beluga whales that were caught in Russian waters. If approved, this would be the first import of wild-caught cetaceans into the United States in more than 20 years. IMMP did some research on belugas in captivity, and the findings were predictably disturbing. The aquariums and theme parks asking for the imports have held 71 belugas over the years, of which 34 (48 percent) have died. Now they want more marine mammals from the wild. If brought into the country, the 18 new belugas will face a terrible life in captivity. Many of them will die young.
Meanwhile, SeaWorld’s Orlando, FL outlet is planning to import a Pacific white-sided dolphin from Kamogawa Seaworld park in Japan. While they claim this dolphin is captive-born, it is very likely that either one or both of its parents were caught in Taiji in one of those horrible dolphin drive-hunts. Importing dolphins caught in conjunction with the hunts is against the US Marine Mammal Projection Act, but SeaWorld is getting around that by asking for captive-born dolphins from animals caught in conjunction with the slaughter. IMMP is planning legal action against the US National Marine Fisheries Service if these import permits are granted. Hopefully justice for these intelligent creatures will prevail.
—Mark J. Palmer
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