Cruelty of captivity industry exposed

WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, is today (April 2006) uncovering the worrying involvement of the aquarium industry in dolphin hunts in Japan.

With increasing numbers of people visiting dolphins held in aquaria, the demand for these animals has never been greater. Today, WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, reveals that one of the world’s largest sources of wild dolphins for display in aquaria, and certainly the cruelest, is dolphin drive hunts in Japan.

In these hunts sometimes whole pods of dolphins and small whales are herded by boats towards the shore. Metal bars placed in the water are struck by the hunters, causing the dolphins to flee from the disturbing noise. Once they reach the shore the dolphins are surrounded by nets. While some animals become trapped in the nets and suffocate, others injure themselves in their panic to escape.

Confined in the shallows, the young and pretty members of the pod are picked out by aquarium staff and hauled away to a lifetime of confinement – a life that is likely to be significantly shortened by the stress of the capture and the effects of captivity.

The rest of the dolphins are killed, either in the water or taken to a slaughterhouse. Death does not come quickly, as their throats are cut and they may be left to bleed to death, sometimes taking many minutes to die.

Although Japan has been conducting drive hunts for many years, evidence suggests that this cruel practice was coming to an end. With little demand for dolphin meat, and an increase in the popularity of whale and dolphin watching, drive hunts were becoming a thing of the past. However, with the high prices offered by aquaria in Japan and some other countries for the live dolphins captured in these hunts, it is this demand that has now become the primary motivation for the hunts to continue.

Dolphins are intelligent and powerful animals. In the wild they are far-ranging, fast-moving and deep-diving predators, and it is impossible to accommodate their mental, physical and social needs in a tank. Many of the dolphins that are taken into captivity from the hunts die from the stress they experience, but when they do, the aquarium simply orders another one.

WDCS has traced animals that have been captured in the drive hunts, and have found them living in cramped and dirty conditions, a far cry from the life they once knew in the ocean.

Anti-Captivity Campaigner for WDCS, Cathy Williamson, says: “We believe that people would not visit aquariums holding animals captured in drive hunts if they knew the truth about the cruel way in which the whales and dolphins came to be there. These animals are highly intelligent, self-aware beings. During the hunts they suffer extreme fear and distress, not to mention the pain of slaughter, over a prolonged period of time. Added to this is the stress of confinement in captivity, torn from their families and the life of freedom they enjoyed in the wild. If you want to help us to end the drive hunts in Japan, please log on to to find out more.”

Click here to see the coverage of this story on the BBC.

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© Coalition For No Whales In Captivity 2006