Thanks to AFD’s supporters, who made legal action possible which resulted in the JAZA decision, 2015 is a breakthrough year for dolphin protection.

The historic decision by JAZA (the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums) to ban all its aquariums from purchasing dolphins captured in Taiji was the first major breakthrough in ending the hunts since The Cove hit cinemas in 2009.

The question now is: What will this mean for the Taiji hunts? Will less dolphins be captured this season?

For the past week, Jordan (AFD’s Advocacy Director) and I have been in Japan, and on a mission to find the answer to this question.

Some activists and scholars familiar with Taiji believe that the JAZA decision will have little impact, and it will be business-as-usual in the Cove this season.

But, based on the numbers and our interviews in Japan, Jordan and I feel much more optimistic.

Firstly, the numbers: JAZA aquariums have, until now, been the largest market for Taiji dolphins.

In the 2012-13 season (a year for which we have statistics), 247 dolphins were captured for sale to aquariums. Fifty-one (or 20%) of those dolphins were exported to overseas destinations. [1]

The remaining 80% were sold inside Japan. Of that 80% sold inside Japan, Elsa estimates that 76% are sold to JAZA aquariums.

To get to the point, this would mean that 60% of the dolphins captured in Taiji are captured for JAZA aquariums.

And now, that 60% has been eliminated.

If the dolphin hunters don’t have a buyer, they won’t incur costs capturing the dolphins. Given that the buyers responsible for 60% of demand are prohibited from purchasing dolphins this season, it is warranted to have real optimism that the capture numbers will be lower this season.

Jordan and I visited several aquariums during our trip, and confirmed on the ground that JAZA aquariums really won’t buy from Taiji this season.

Enoshima Aquarium, for example, has previously purchased many animals from Taiji. Its tiny pools – some of which are half the size of a backyard swimming pool – are crammed with dolphins and whales the staff admit (when pushed) are from Taiji.

However, aquarium officials confirmed to us that, because of the JAZA decision, Enoshima will not purchase any more dolphins or whales from Taiji.

It is likely that, in the future, some aquariums will leave JAZA in order to circumvent its ban on buying from Taiji.

However, when aquariums were given the chance to announce that they would leave at a recent JAZA meeting, not a single aquarium did.

At least for the upcoming season starting in September, it looks very likely that all JAZA’s aquariums will still be in JAZA, and forced to comply with the Taiji ban.

We heard a rumour from a senior journalist in Japan that a handful of pro-Taiji aquariums are planning to leave JAZA, and set up their own new aquarium association. Fortunately, this would take some time, and will not happen for this season – giving us plenty of time to come up with a plan to stop them.

However, the journalist mentioned that the aquariums are very worried about the reputational damage they will incur from leaving JAZA. Therefore, even if the new association does finally come to fruition, it looks as though only a minority (at most ten aquariums) will actually leave JAZA to join it.

This would mean most of JAZA’s aquariums (and therefore most of the aquariums which keep dolphins in Japan) will remain part of JAZA for good, reducing their demand for Taiji dolphins in the long-term.

Apart from the economic impact of the JAZA decision, we also can’t underestimate how powerful it has been in raising awareness of the Taiji hunts and the need for dolphin protection within Japan. I am excited to share this with AFD’s supporters, because it was your action that catalysed the JAZA decision, and made waves throughout an entire country.

During our travels, we were told by animal welfare experts, journalists, and members of the public that the JAZA news had been big. It was on the front cover of the major newspapers, covered by national news stations and popular talk shows, and even broadcast from the TV screens in the elevators of Tokyo’s skyscrapers.

One television journalist told us that the dolphin issue was now one of the biggest news discussion topics in Japan.

A businessman, who works in an office in Tokyo, said that, for the first time, it is not taboo to mention dolphin hunting, and his co-workers had actually been discussing the issue.

Takeshi Kitano, a very famous comedian and director in Japan who has his own talk show, apparently pointed out on TV that “an Australian organisation with only three people” had made dolphins a national issue in Japan!

In fact, this result was thanks to AFD’s dedicated supporters, who applied pressure on JAZA through a global petition and groundbreaking legal action.

The countdown to the next hunting season is now on, and we know that the bloodbath will start in the Cove in a few short weeks.

But we can face this season with the optimism that it is possible to make a change in Taiji – we’ve now proven that it is. AFD has big plans for its next action, and we are really looking forward to updating our supporters soon.

Until then, thank you again for your dedication. It has already achieved so much.







[1] Dolphins Raised in Japanese Facilities, a report by Yukari Sugisaka of Help Animals and Sakae Henmi of Elsa Nature Conservancy, 2013.