As the annual dolphin-killing season begins at the cove at Taiji, Japan, the focus will be on the slaughter. Far less attention will be paid, however, to the fate of dolphins captured and sold to marine-mammal entertainment parks worldwide.
But some activists are bringing their fight to facilities that fuel demand for live dolphins.
Live dolphins are far more lucrative than dead ones. Taiji fishermen can earn $150,000 or more from selling a single live animal, while one butchered for meat fetches only $500 to $600, an economic reality that keeps the drives in business, opponents say.
It is impossible to know the final fate of all dolphins captured in Taiji. The Japanese government does not keep figures, nor does the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Most information comes from newspapers, activists on the ground, or people in countries where dolphins are destined to perform for or swim with tourists.
One website, Ceta-Base, tracks captive cetaceans and documents about where some, but not all, Taiji dolphins go. There were about 300 live captures in Taiji in 2013, according to the site, but information only exists on about half of those animals. Here’s the count: 92 dolphins were transferred to Japan, 36 went to China, 20 to Ukraine, 11 to Russia, six to South Korea, and five to Vietnam.
Worldwide, 105 facilities in about 20 countries import or display dolphins obtained from Taiji, according to Ceta-Base.
Kish Dolphin Park in Iran, for example, imported 12 dolphins in 2008. Dolphinarium NEMO, in Ukraine, bought 36 dolphins between 2010 and 2013; Saudi Arabia’s Fakieh Aquarium purchased six dolphins in 2013; and Cabo Adventures, a swim-with park in Baja, Mexico (the only site in the Americas with Taiji dolphins), imported seven animals in 2005.
Many animals never leave Taiji, including Angel, an albino calf captured in January and now on display at the Taiji Whale Museum.
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