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Australian group forces Japanese aquariums to stop buying dolphins caught in harrowing chase

May 21, 2015 by Andrew Darby  

The Age

A small Australian group has done what years of vigils, arrests, and even the plea of a Kennedy could not: knock the wind out of Japan's dolphin hunt.

Australians For Dolphins, headed by Sarah Lucas, has forced Japan's aquariums to stop buying dolphins caught in the harrowing Taiji chase.

The Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) said in Tokyo on Wednesday its members had voted not to acquire dolphins caught in a "drive fishery", such as Taiji's.

JAZA bowed to a threat of expulsion from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which in turn was sparked by a legal action in Switzerland by Australiafor Dolphins.

"This was the best case scenario result," she said. "We feel it marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan."

"We sure feel like we're in a David and Goliath battle," Ms Lucas said in Melbourne after the decision. "And we've managed to get in and kick him."

At Taiji, fishermen in boats drive herds of dolphins and pilot whales towards the shore to trap and kill hundreds for meat and select dozens for a burgeoning live dolphin trade to public aquariums and amusement parks.

Ms Lucas said live captures were worth up to ten times as much as the meat to local fishermen, with an individual dolphin selling for up to $100,000.

Over the past decade, attempts by activists to free captured dolphins at Taiji brought arrests, vigils, and the Oscar-winning documentaryThe Cove.

Australia for Dolphins chief executive Sarah Lucas: "We sure feel like we're in a David and Goliath battle. And we've managed to get in and kick him."Photo: Supplied

But even the tweeted personal protest of US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy came and went. "Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing," said the daughter of former president John F. Kennedy.

Ms Lucas, after seeing the hunt for herself, decided to try a different weapon - the law.

"For us it's very important to take a lawful, peaceful and respectful approach in Japan," she said. "There certainly is a huge respect for the law there."

Australiafor Dolphins, which has just three full-time staff, took the world association to a Geneva civil court, to require it to enforce its own code of ethics against inhumane capture.

Last month WAZA suspended JAZA's membership for violating the code and gave it 30 days to end connections with drive hunts, or be expelled.

"WAZA requires all members to adhere to policies that prohibit participating in cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild," it said in a statement.

"WAZA Council re-affirmed its position that members of WAZA must confirm that they will not acquire dolphins from the Taiji fishery."

Individual Japanese member organisations this week voted 99 to 43 to to stay with WAZA, accordingtoThe Japan Times.

JAZA Chairman, Kazutoshi Arai, told a news conference his organisation's decision was on whether to stay in the world body, not on condemning or endorsing the drives at Taiji.

Ms Lucas said without WAZA membership, the Japanese zoos and aquariums would have lost vital access to international breeding programs and data bases.

She admitted there was a possibility some may resign from JAZA and go their own way, in order to keep access to the Taiji dolphins.

But Ms Lucas added: "JAZA aquariums provide up to 40 per cent of total demand for live dolphins from Taiji. So, as of today, the market for Taiji dolphins could be nearly cut in half.

"Without demand, the hunts won't continue. It is the first major step towards ending the Taiji dolphin hunts once and for all."

Ms Lucas said she would keep negotiations underway in Switzerland with WAZA, aiming to tackle dolphin aquariums in China and Indonesia.

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