Uncertain Fate Awaits Rare Calf Captured in Japanese Dolphin Hunt

AngelA rare albino dolphin calf, rounded up in a dolphin hunt off of Japan earlier this month, is now on display at a Japanese whale museum, where experts say its long-term survival is in doubt.

The dolphin, a female believed to be less than a year old, was part of the Taiji dolphin hunt that drew global media coverage and outrage from animal protection advocates.

“Albinos stand out and tend to be targeted by predators,” said Taiji Whale Museum Assistant Director Tetsuya Kirihata in a statement, according to some media reports. “She must have been protected by her mother and her mates. We will take good care of her.”

But that may be difficult, according to Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“Calves that have stranded for various reasons have sometimes been nursed back to health by humans, but others have died,” Kuczaj said. “So the calf could survive, but that is certainly not guaranteed.

“We know little about the effects of trauma [and] stress on young marine mammals, but it seems likely that this calf was very stressed by the hunt and so could be at even greater risk,” he continued, “especially since it was separated from its mother.”

Efforts to reach the Taiji Whale Museum directly were unsuccessful.

Animal advocates quickly dubbed the dolphin “Angel” in an effort to draw the world’s sympathy to what they say is the brutality of dolphin hunting.

The young albino calf proved attractive to Taiji’s dolphin brokers, who sell captured dolphins from Taiji to marine parks across Asia and beyond.

According to the animal-protection group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which closely monitors the Taiji drive hunts, the albino was the first dolphin selected for capture and sale.

Naomi Rose, a dolphin and killer whale expert at the Animal Welfare Institute, said that despite assurances from the museum about the calf’s safety, the young dolphin shouldn’t be there in the first place: “Taking a dependent calf goes against every established conservation principle there is.

“It was wrong ethically, biologically, and in terms of management,” she said. “It was wrong on every level and just plain cruel.”

Full story: National Geographic

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