Dolphins at Shinagawa Aquarium, Japan.

Dolphins at Shinagawa Aquarium, Japan. Image by Dick Thomas Johnson / CC BY 2.0

Japan’s aquariums have said they will stop acquiring dolphins captured in a bloody hunt that was depicted in the Oscar-winning film The Cove and has caused global outrage.

The announcement by the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums follows a decision last month by the Swiss-based umbrella group World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) to suspend the Japanese organisation’s membership. WAZA characterised the Taiji hunt as “cruel”, and decided that none of its members should acquire dolphins in such a way. In the hunt, dolphins are scared with banging, herded into a cove and speared by fishermen for their meat. The best-looking ones are sold to aquariums.

The Japanese group is sending a letter to WAZA expressing its wish to remain a member of the organisation. In a letter to WAZA, the Japanese group, which comprises 89 zoos and 63 aquariums, said it would abide by WAZA’s decision. “It is our wish at JAZA to remain as a member of WAZA,” chairman Kazutoshi Arai said in a letter addressed to WAZA president Lee Ehmke.

The campaign against the Taiji hunt has drawn Hollywood stars as well as the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd. The latest move was welcomed by animal welfare groups. “This momentous decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan,” said Sarah Lucas, the CEO of Australia for Dolphins.

Officials in Taiji, a small fishing village in central Japan, and fishermen have defended the hunt as tradition, saying that eating dolphin meat is no different from eating beef or chicken. Eating dolphins is a delicacy most Japanese never experience. Many Japanese are horrified by the dolphin killing and have joined the campaign against the Taiji hunt.

The Cove, which won an Academy Award in 2009, focuses on veteran dolphin activist Ric O’Barry, who trained dolphins for the 1960s Flipper TV series before deciding to devote his life to protecting the mammals and keeping them in nature.

Groups such as Australia for Dolphins argue that dolphin meat does not provide enough monetary incentive to keep the hunts going, but dolphins are sold to aquariums and marine shows for thousands of dollars.

(Press Association)