Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 2 April 1997


The Taiji Five Revolution and Action Alert

by William Rossiter, CSI President


A revolution may have begun in Japan on February 7th over the issue of the capture and display of marine mammals, and CSI hopes that you'll be part of it. A pod of ten orcas was found by fishermen 50 km offshore of the Wakayama Prefecture, the first sighting of the species in over ten years. The local Fishery Section quickly confirmed for the Taiji Fisherman's Union that a 1992 National Fishery Agency "scientific research" permit for the capture of five orcas per year was still valid, and the whales were herded into Hatajiri Bay. Five aquariums began an immediate bidding war and by February 10th five orcas were sold. The remaining five, apparently including a calf of a captive female, had already been separated and chased out of the bay to an unknown fate. After the auction one adult female remained at Taiji Whale Museum. A second adult female was moved March 5th to Izu Mito Sea Paradise. The three others were transferred to Nanki Shirahama Adventure World, including an adult female whose own calf was apparently released, and two 2-4 year old males. Trainers were reported to be afraid of this female because of her "violent temper". Despite the current secrecy over the condition of these orcas, reliable reports indicate the females may not have eaten since the capture! Historically females captured as adults have not done well; some have died of starvation. Our scientific knowledge of orcas describes them as intensely social organisms, with matriarchal families organized into pods, clans and populations defined by culture, dialect, range, prey preferences and behavior. The Black Current and Kurile Regions support fewer than 1000 orcas each, and there are no good data on regional populations near Japan. However, the impact of this capture on the population was never a consideration. The pod was destroyed. If any die another capture permit may be given!

Taiji is deeply rooted in whaling. The Taiji Whale Museum is a tourist attraction which, along with a beached Antarctic capture boat, some statues of dolphins, and a whaling festival, celebrates centuries of whaling. Today there are active small type coastal whaling or drive fisheries from Taiji that kill pilot whales, false killer whales, and several species of dolphin. It is a commercial market, although some justify it as the necessary removal of competitors for the fishermen's catch. Until the IWC moratorium minke whales were also killed. A Taiji Drive Fishery has been authorized by the Wakayama Governor every three years, although killing orcas was finally prohibited in 1991. The capture of these orcas was part of a normal pattern in some Japanese communities that, in the past, has even included representatives from Marine World USA selecting individuals from a drive hunt to buy for captive display, from among several hundred other dolphins and whales slaughtered soon after. There are a few suggestions of other American interests in acquiring cetaceans from Japan that are being watched very carefully. This American participation only adds incentives for the Fishery Union to conduct more drives.

Under restrictions imposed by the government or by the aquariums the Japanese media had limited access, and reported little of the orca capture. Some Japanese-American newspapers and several U.S. TV stations or newspapers carried it, but in general there was very little information available to the public. So far this is just the way it has always been done, along with Japanese "scientific whaling" in the Antarctic and Pacific, the incidental killing of over 17,000 dolphins and whales yearly in net fisheries, and so many other examples of the Japanese perspective on resource exploitation. The five whales are still captive. The Japanese captive display industry is expanding. A potential export market may grow as well. Where's the revolution?

The revolution was the unprecedented public response to this capture. Within hours several Japanese environmental organizations representing thousands of people were reacting in a growing coalition including IKAN or Dolphin & Whale Action Network, Elsa Nature Conservancy, Free Animals Network, Japanese Anti-Vivisection Association, ALIVE, IFAW, Atelier Orca, OSS, and others. Within a day initial details had spread to organizations around the world in a flood of Internet messages. Within two days protest faxes began to pile up in offices of the Prime Minister, Governor, Fishery Agency, consulates, embassies, politicians, captive facilities, associated industries and the media. Within a week demonstrations had begun that eventually included Tokyo, Osaka, Shizuoka, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, New York, Atlanta, Boston, and London. CSI was just one of many, many organizations that responded with appropriate faxes, releases, and other protests. Many of these responses are common elsewhere, where the ethic of keeping cetaceans in captivity has evolved faster, but not in Japan.

A web site was quickly on line at http://www.paws.org/activists/taiji, enabling people with facts, details and contacts to express their outrage to appropriate officials. The reaction of thousands included Lolita's Legion, a coalition of students that includes chapters in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Holland. By late February the Prime Minister and many, many other officials had each received hundreds of faxes from at least 15 countries. Several levels of political Resolutions, Memorials, and actions were reported. Several experts arrived at Taiji and the various aquariums to assess the situation and work for the release of the captives. The official response seemed to ignore the unprecedented protest, but unofficially there was great surprise and concern. However the five orcas are still captive. If one of them dies soon permits for more captures may be quickly given. Has anything changed?

Yes, we have learned how to be worldwide yet focussed, diverse yet united, and far better prepared next time. Revolutions are about change and there were remarkable changes evolving from the Taiji orca capture that involved thousands and thousands of people. First, the responses of Japanese organizations and individuals were extraordinary. Japanese environmental organizations reacted, adapted, and matured swiftly, and emerged stronger than ever. Their capacity to form coalitions to attract, inform, and represent the Public Will has seen enormous gains. Their ability to harness worldwide environmental response and action has never been so strong. The second revolution involved the Internet. The nets and links concerned with events like Taiji became crammed with information, discussions, and strategies. Facts were confirmed, rumors were quelled, and assistance was given. It was a learning experience for everyone, and an eye-opener regarding future potentials for similar events. Join this revolution. Check out the Taiji WWW site, or ask us for details. And, if nothing else, please express your opinion to The Honorable Ryutaro Hashimoto, Prime Minister of Japan, fax: 81-3-5511-8855, or send CSI your letter and we will forward it for you.


Go to next article: Australian Task Force Preparing Report on How To Achieve Permanent Ban on Commercial Whaling or: Table of Contents.

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