Dolphins caught in Taiji for Olympic Games

Wädenswil, 23rd January 2014 – Every winter, the Japanese community of Taiji is the scene of dolphin drive hunts. During the last five months, many animals were killed, and 97 dolphins were captured alive to supply the dolphinarium industry – 51 of them during the last hunt on January 17th. In recent years, entertainment parks in China increasingly became the destination of dolphins caught in Taiji, and so did Russia, host of the Olympic Winter Games. The public is vehemently criticising these drive hunts. The international conservation NGOs OceanCare and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation WDC jointly call for a ban on hunting dolphins.
The driving force for the cruel Taiji dolphin hunts is the global amusement park industry, selecting young animals and paying significant amounts to purchase their future show-acrobats. Since the Olympic Winter Games were awarded to the Russian Black Sea port Sochi, captive dolphin facilities were enlarged or newly built there, claiming that this would contribute to sustainable tourism development. Formerly, Black Sea dolphins were confined to Sochi’s dolphinaria, but in the past two years there were also imports of animals from Japan. According to Japan’s official statistics, in 2012 four bottlenose dolphins were exported to Russia. Conservation NGOs documented the export of another 15 dolphins from Japan to Russia in 2013. The official trade statistics for 2013 are not available yet.

The destination facilities are not mentioned in the trade statistics, but there is no doubt that at least some of these animals are held in captivity in the Sochi dolphinaria, a fact that is also confirmed by the operators’ own communications. “Some operators are boasting that they saved Japanese dolphins. In reality, trade in these live animals is the driving force for massacring hundreds of dolphins”, states Sigrid Lüber, president of international conservation NGO OceanCare. The organisers’ scrupulousness is also demonstrated by plans for the Olympic torch relay. According to Russian news reports, on February 4th a dolphin shall drag an athlete carrying the Olympic flame through a pool.

Capture of small whales booming in Russia

The hunt for orcas and belugas is also booming in Russia. At least seven orcas were caught in Far East Russian waters during the summer of 2013 to make dolphinaria cash tills ring. Two of these animals were already transported to Moscow and it might be just a question of time for some orcas to be shipped to Sochi, information known to OceanCare and WDC indicate. “There is a blatant abuse of major events in order to carry out bizarre and obsolete entertainment projects at the expense of highly intelligent marine mammals. We demand that the IOC implements ethic principles that are not hollow phrases, but prevent absurd projects that cause animal suffering”, says Dr. Karsten Brensing, WDC.

Calling for the animals’ release

The general public, political institutions like the US and UK embassies in Japan, the German fisheries minister, as well as prominent personalities like Yoko Ono Lennon are heavily criticising the drive hunts in Japan. People from all over the world are sending petitions to the International Olympic Committee to express their dismay and to call for the release of the orcas caught in Russia. OceanCare and WDC are supporting these protests, are informing the public about the suffering of whales and dolphins in captivity, and are jointly working in international fora towards a ban on taking cetaceans from the wild. At an international conference in November 2013, OceanCare achieved that the Black Sea riparian states are now obliged to better implement and survey the ban on capturing small whales in the Black Sea, which was already in force.