On the 10th anniversary of their capture, WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, is asking people to remember the 10 orcas (killer whales) that were trapped and removed from the wild near the coastal town of Taiji, Japan, and is asking the Japanese authorities to refuse permission for further orca captures in Japanese waters.

While the Japanese still hunt whales for food, these orcas were captured to be placed in aquariums. Following their capture in a drive hunt on February 7th 1997, five of the Taiji orcas were transferred to various aquariums around Japan. Of those five, only two survive today. Internationally, of the 135 orcas known to have been taken from the wild and sold to captive facilities since 1961, 86% are now dead. WDCS wants to see an end to the captive display of all whales and dolphins and the “live capture” methods used to catch them, which can be violent and lead to the deaths of more animals than just those removed for captivity.

The statistics highlight the suffering endured by these highly sentient and usually long-lived animals. WDCS also has serious concerns that further live captures could have implications for the continued survival and conservation of orcas in the western North Pacific. Despite the statistics and conservation concerns, however, the town mayor of Taiji recently requested a permit from the Japanese Fisheries Agency to capture another 10 orcas, for display in aquariums in Japan and possible export to overseas facilities.

Ten years ago, the family group of 10 orcas was corralled by Japanese fisherman using crude methods which included banging on iron rods and water bombs to disorientate the animals and force them into a bay, in what is commonly known as a “drive hunt.” After a traumatic capture, the animals were restrained in the bay for a further two days before representatives from Japanese marine parks arrived and animals were sold off to the highest bidder. The family was split in two. Five animals which hadn’t been selected by aquarium officials were released, their fate unknown. The remaining five were transported via road or sea to the aquariums that had purchased them. Of those five, three are now dead. The two remaining animals live in isolation in two separate Japanese aquariums.

Erich Hoyt, of the Far Eat Russia Orca Project, says, “Orcas may have once been common around Japan but intensive hunting and more recently live captures, have made them ‘rare.’ It would be completely irresponsible for the Japanese Fisheries Agency to grant an orca quota or allow even one removal from Japanese waters, much less a whole pod!”

The WDCS’s Cathy Williamson says, “Confinement in captivity is no place for these highly mobile, highly social, complex animals. The average survival time in captivity for wild-caught orcas is less than six years. And yet the high price paid by aquariums around the world continues to fuel the orca trade and threaten the lives of orcas in countries without strict legislation to protect them. WDCS is calling on the authorities in Japan not to permit any further captures of orcas in its waters.”

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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