Here’s a new entry in the annals of bad marketing ideas: Officials in Taiji, Japan, recently announced plans to open a marine park, where visitors can swim and kayak alongside dolphins and whales. Then after drying off, tourists can sample dishes made with dolphin and whale meat. And the proceeds from the park will help fund the slaughter of dolphins. How could that possibly lose?
You probably recognize the name “Taiji.” This is the town that acquired global infamy after its annual dolphin massacre was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. Turning Taiji into a tourist destination, where unsuspecting visitors swim with dolphins while, in a nearby bay, other dolphins thrash in their own blood after being speared or having their throats cut, sounds like something out of a horror film.
Dolphins have rich social lives, brains that are as complex as our own and pod-specific cultural practices that are passed down from generation to generation. In her new book, How Animals Grieve, Barbara J. King recounts heartbreaking stories of dolphin mothers desperately trying to revive their dead calves by repeatedly lifting their small bodies above the surface of the water and pushing them under again, often while other dolphins swim protectively nearby. Some scientists argue that dolphins should be classified as “nonhuman persons” and that their rights should be protected. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Environment and Forests in India issued an order to all Indian states banning dolphinariums.
The Cove exposed the Taiji dolphin slaughter, taking us back to the unenlightened times of Moby Dick. More recently, Blackfish has rightly turned people away from marine animal parks that snatch infant whales and dolphins from their ocean homes and force them to perform demeaning tricks for our entertainment.
The two industries are inextricably linked. Although most dolphins captured in Taiji end up as meat in Japanese supermarkets — despite the fact that dolphin flesh is so dangerously contaminated with mercury that some Taiji officials have likened it to “toxic waste” — about two dozen live dolphins are sold every year to aquariums, performing-dolphin shows and “swim-with” programs across the globe. It’s these lucrative sales that keep the dolphin slaughter going.
A dead dolphin brings in a few hundred dollars. But a single live dolphin can fetch $150,000 or more.
According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, dolphins captured live during Japan’s annual massacres have ended up in aquariums all over the world. Even countries that no longer allow the importation of dolphins caught during the gruesome slaughter may be displaying animals purchased before the ban or moved through other countries to disguise their origin.
These magnificent animals suffer immeasurably in captivity since it is impossible to meet their psychological and physiological needs. In the wild, dolphins swim together in family pods up to 100 miles a day. They navigate by bouncing sonar waves off objects to determine distance and location. When dolphins are kept captive, even the largest pen or tank is merely a hideous prison. Their vocalizations become a garble of meaningless reverberations. Most aquariums keep antacids on hand to treat the animals’ stress-related ulcers.
If you wouldn’t dream of patronizing the proposed marine park in Taiji, then please don’t patronize any such facility. Buying a ticket to a marine park or swimming with captive dolphins supports condemning these beautiful, intelligent animals to a lifetime of misery and deprivation.