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WAZA’s Rebuke: JAZA penalized for continuing association with dolphin drive hunts in Japan

In response to international pressure that has intensified over the past several years as aquaria affiliated with the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) continue to take dolphins from the brutal dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan to stock their facilities, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) finally suspended JAZA from official membership in the zoo organization.  

WDC welcomes this suspension as a positive step by WAZA, and acknowledges our ongoing dialogue with WAZA which commenced in the early 2000s specifically to address the issue of the drive hunts and WAZA-member facilities acquiring dolphins from these hunts. More recently, we have been critical of the concessions made between WAZA and JAZA by shedding light on the negotiated ‘dolphin management protocol’ that allows acquisition from the hunts by JAZA members to continue and represents a stark contradiction of WAZA’s strong statements and resolutions against the hunts. We are encouraged that WAZA has taken the positive step to suspend JAZA’s membership status and to hold all members accountable to the WAZA Code of Ethics. With this action, WAZA has reaffirmed its position against the dolphin drive hunts in Japan while encouraging discussions with JAZA to continue.

Over the past decade as we have documented aquaria that continue to source from the drive hunts, we have maintained our dialogue with WAZA and heightened our criticism of their inactivity in regards to definitively acting to hold its membership accountable for violations of their own ethical codes and mandates. Even before the release of our campaign report documenting the association between captivity and the drive hunts (See Driven by Demand), we worked to encourage WAZA, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquaria (Alliance), and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to issue statements in 2004 condemning the dolphin drive hunts. From that point forward, we joined the growing international refrain calling for the expulsion of JAZA from WAZA membership as the most direct way to penalize their continuing association with the drive hunts in Taiji and this cruel method of collecting dolphins from the wild.

Since its statements against the hunts were issued in 2004, instead of expulsion, WAZA had chosen to maintain an ongoing dialogue with JAZA with the hope that it could positively influence acquisition policies, but that ultimately led to the endorsement of JAZA’s proposal to conduct herding exercises that were meant to be ‘gentler’ and less harmful to dolphin populations (the dolphin management protocol), but that actually were no different than, or separate from, the typical dolphin drive hunts.

The basis for the suspension is the determination that JAZA has violated WAZA’s Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare.  This code was adopted in 2003 and speaks generally to the organization’s guiding principles such as opposition to cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild. The code was clarified in November 2004 with a statement that “Members must adhere to the WAZA Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare and ensure that they do not accept animals obtained by the use of methods which are inherently cruel. An example of such a practice is the catching of dolphins by the use of a method known as ‘drive fishing’.” 

WAZA’s ethical policies were reaffirmed and further clarified in 2006 when WAZA’s then-President condemned the continuing association of JAZA members, specifically, who were sourcing from the drive hunts by stating: “As members of WAZA, it is in direct violation of the Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare, that they have signed, to accept dolphins collected by a drive fishery operation or to be in any way connected with dolphin drive activities.” Therefore, it has always been clear to us that any member of WAZA, including JAZA members that associate with the drive hunts in any way, are in violation of WAZA ethical policies and mandates.

The fact that JAZA or any other WAZA member is in violation of WAZA’s Code of Ethics if they acquire live dolphins from the drive hunts is not news. WAZA clarified not only its position against the hunts, but what constituted violations by members of the established Code of Ethics, when it issued these statements against the dolphin drive hunts. However, until now, WAZA  has failed to act definitively to reprimand and penalize those members that continued this activity.

There is more work to do, and suspension provides the opportunity to continue to reform JAZA’s policies and encourage their complete disassociation with the dolphin drive hunts. Whether permanent expulsion or temporary suspension, we hope that this strong and responsive action by WAZA will further incentivize the ongoing dialogue between WAZA and JAZA by representing and wielding the full weight of disapproval of the international community that unanimously condemns these practices.

Indeed, the rationale behind the negotiated ‘dolphin management protocol’ must still be challenged and dismantled. This concession between WAZA and JAZA was based upon JAZA’s premise that herding and driving dolphins from the open ocean into a cove is a legitimate and humane method to acquire dolphins. It is also based in the assumption that the driving methods used in the drive hunts, apart from the terminal killing of dolphins, is humane. Not only does this protocol defy reason, it defies the science that has proven that dolphins experience shock and distress and even death when chased and herded at sea, whether for live acquisition or for eventual slaughter. The scientific research collected in the tuna-dolphin fishery in the Eastern Tropical Pacific confirms these facts.

This means that there is still work to do to educate and convince JAZA that these methods are not only unacceptable, they are brutal and inhumane. What is important is that JAZA ultimately reform its policies and likewise prohibit and condemn any association by its members with the dolphin drive hunts in Japan.