World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Cuts Ties to Taiji Dolphin Slaughter

Each year, from roughly September through April, more than a thousand dolphins are removed from the wild during the unspeakably cruel Taiji, Japan, dolphin drive hunts. Most are herded into the shallows and violently slaughtered for meat and blubber, as depicted in the Oscar-winning movie, The Cove. For others, the suffering lasts even longer—as they are sold into a life in captivity within aquariums in Japan, China and elsewhere.

AWI has long been involved in efforts to stop these brutal hunts, and this year we are hopeful that the hunting season will be different, thanks in large part to a handful of dedicated Japanese citizens who have been working for decades to effect change, and a small, new organization called Australia for Dolphins (AFD).

For years, AWI and other animal protection groups have been calling on the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) to expel its Japanese subsidiary (JAZA) for allowing members to source dolphins from the Taiji hunts. Despite growing pressure, WAZA refused to act… until now. On April 22, one month after AFD filed a lawsuit against WAZA, arguing that WAZA must stop endorsing members involved in dolphin hunting and other animal cruelty, WAZA’s Council voted unanimously to suspend JAZA for violating WAZA’s Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare. Following the suspension, JAZA polled its 152 member facilities, including zoos as well as aquariums, and the majority chose to remain with WAZA—meaning, for them, no more dolphins acquired from Taiji.

This historic win for dolphins, however, does not spell the demise of the Taiji hunts just yet. The town’s mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, vowed to continue dolphin hunting, and even suggested setting up a dolphin breeding center to produce dolphins for sale. And there is a growing market for dolphins from non-WAZA members, including in China and the Middle East. We must continue to expose the truth concerning how these animals suffer, and hope the public in those countries will join us in saying no to dolphin captivity for our entertainment.