Like the rest of you, we at VOTO are deeply saddened & heartbroken by what is happening right now near Taiji, Japan. Thanks to the brave work of SeaShepherd volunteers we are all witness, in real time, to the termination of entire pods of bottlenose dolphins at a roped off cove. Approximately 250 have been captured. The few animals that are now “blessed” by their corporate masters, and spared, will spend their lives impoverished, swimming in circles and performing tricks for human tourists at sea circuses. 

As described by attorney Martha Brock, “After all desirable calves are taken for captivity, most of the pod will face ‘death-by-spike’ and processed for human consumption. Those deemed unfit for capture or consumption will then be forced back out to sea, forced to fend without the companionship of their pods.”

 
At VOTO we ask, Why hasn’t SeaWorld spoken out and denounced this practice? 
 

In the words of Dr John Jett, “Interesting the great conservation organization SeaWorld has never spoken out against this practice. They’ve never commented on it at all to my knowledge. Hmmmm. Could it be that this helps supply the industry with cheap “assets?” The public should press them on this. Bogus.

— Voice of the Orcas 1/18/14

But SeaWorld has indeed spoken on the drive fisheries.  The following three videos, a bit outdated, have been available on its website and YouTube channel since 2010.  For the record, I am not endorsing these videos, rather sharing them.

SeaWorld’s involvement with the drive fisheries did not begin until the mid-1980’s, and they were joined in Japan by another purchaser of drive fishery dolphins and pilot whales – the United States Navy.  However, the first recorded capture at the Taiji drive took place a few decades before SeaWorld’s involvement, in 1969, when four pilot whales were taken captive and moved to the Taiji Whale Museum.  Even if SeaWorld had never purchased from Japan, it’s quite likely with the exponential increase in aquariums and dolphin attractions throughout Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, that the current growth we’re seeing in captures would take place anyway.  As a former trainer for the Whale Museum told the BBC: “Foreigners would often come to Taiji to buy dolphins and I remember them saying that Taiji was the only place in the world where they were able to buy dolphins so easily.”

On January 21, 2014, SeaWorld released the following statement:

Each year, hundreds of dolphins are slaughtered by Japanese fishermen in a brutal hunt known as the “drive fishery.”

SeaWorld is opposed to these drive hunts in Japan and elsewhere. Every accredited zoo and aquarium in America also is opposed to the practice.

No animal in our collection is from a drive hunt. The overwhelming majority of marine mammals in our parks were born in our parks.

In fact, it is a violation of U.S. law to bring an animal collected in that manner into the U.S.

An elongated version of this statement has appeared for a number of years on SeaWorld’s website:

SeaWorld, like every zoo and aquarium in America, is opposed to hunts like the ones shown so graphically in The Cove.  It is a violation of U.S. law to bring a marine mammal into this country that was collected in a drive hunt.  None of our marine mammals came from a drive hunt.  In fact, more than 80 percent of the marine mammals in our care were born at SeaWorld.

The Cove is purposefully misleading on these points, which diminishes what is otherwise a moving and important film.

In the 1980s, SeaWorld and other U.S. parks saved a handful of marine mammals from these fisheries, but we stopped many years ago because we didn’t want to be a party to a hunt of this kind, even if we were only present to save animals.

SeaWorld is also opposed to the practice of killing dolphins (known as drive fisheries) and remains committed to seeing it stopped.

No animal at SeaWorld came from these hunts nor does any other U.S. marine institution purchase animals from this hunt. The collection method is in violation of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, which means that it is illegal for any animal taken as part of this fishery to be brought into the U.S. for display.

A day after SeaWorld released its statement, Merlin Entertainments, another attraction company partly owned by Blackstone, released their own statement on the drive fisheries.  It was released through Merlin’s non-profit Sea Life Marine Conservation Trust, an offshoot of the company’s Sea Life brand of aquariums and marine mammal sanctuaries.

In light of the ongoing dolphin drive hunt season in Taiji, Japan, the Sea Life Marine Conservation Trust (SLMCT) – the conservation charity launched by the global network of Sea Life centres – strongly condemns these activities and calls upon all zoos and aquaria to cease association with the dolphin drive fishery in Japan.

“The Taiji drives involve the herding of dolphins at sea to be then driven and corralled into the confines of a cove. After sometimes being held for days, the dolphins are then slaughtered for meat or kept alive for sale to marine parks and aquaria across the globe,” said Sarah Taylor, Head of the Sea Life Marine Conservation Trust.

“Yearly quotas for these drive hunts reach into the thousands. They are a brutal reminder that we have a very long way to go towards securing a safe and humane future for all whales and dolphins,” she added.

Sea Life, with 44 attractions around the world, is working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), to establish the first permanent sanctuary for captive whales and dolphins where they can be retired or rehabilitated and live a more natural life.

We likely won’t hear anything stronger out of either SeaWorld or Merlin this year.  It doesn’t have anything to do with acquiring animals, but rather corporate expansion, and in this case, it’s not SeaWorld’s.  Today, THE BIG PICTURE looks at

WHO’S GOT THEIR FINGER ON SEAWORLD’S LIPS?

And here with the answer direct from her twitter account is Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite:

BREAKING. SeaWorld’s largest shareholder Blackstone claims Dawn’s death was her fault. http://t.co/FF79a1g7Xv

— GabrielaCowperthwait (@GabCowperthwait) January 24, 2014

Actually, Gabriela, it didn’t.  He never mentioned her.  He said “the person involved violated all of the safety rules that we had.”  I’ve been told he knows much more about what happened than you and I combined.  And I don’t believe he was talking about Dawn.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Once you get past the emotional screaming of a CNBC anchor that SeaWorld “abuses fish,” and rewind to the beginning of that interview in Davos, you’ll notice that Blackstone’s CEO Steve Schwarzman did not confirm when questioned that Blackstone would be investing in Japan, but he did state that he had met with Prime Minister Abe and the head of Japan’s central bank.

However, one company in the Blackstone portfolio is putting a huge investment in Japan.

Four hours up the coastal road from Taiji sits Nagoya, the third largest city in Japan.  All the dolphins headed to points north and to international destinations are driven through this town.

Merlin is planning to open the LEGOLAND Japan theme park in Nagoya in 2016, complete with LEGO themed hotel.

LEgo3 Lego1

And this is where things get sensitive.  This is where either SeaWorld or Merlin having a louder voice on Taiji can be detrimental to this project.

The land the park will sit on is part of the Port of Nagoya.  The Port, through its nonprofit Port of Nagoya Foundation runs a number of museums and educational attractions in the vicinity.  One of those is the Port of Nagoya Aquarium.

Port_of_Nagoya_Public_Aquarium

Most of the aquarium’s dolphins come from drive fisheries.  In 2010, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) announced:

WAZA has worked with the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) and the Port of Nagoya Aquarium, to establish a new, transitional approach to the capture of dolphins as part of a tradition of Japanese inshore fishery. At this time it has been officially confirmed that during September dolphins will be collected for aquaria, the only species taken will be the Bottlenose dolphin, and the method employed will be ‘herding’. No dolphins will be taken for human consumption during September, and all surplus animals will be released.

But activisit groups have expressed concerns that this more “humane” method is only at the start of the drive season and that there is nothing to prevent the aquarium from purchasing directly from Taiji fishermen or other aquariums such as the Whale Museum.

In the meantime, one wonders if there will be a joint ticket between the two hottest attractions in Nagoya.

THURSDAY: As promised, how an IMAX film on dolphins didn’t let you know how sexy dolphins could be.

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