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Japan's tragic orca anniversary

February 7 2007 marked the 10th anniversary of the tragic day in 1997 when 10 members of an orca family were herded into a small bay near the Japanese coastal town of Taiji. For further information on the Japanese drive hunts click here.

Click here to view a video of the orca capture on YouTube

Within a few days, 5 members of the family had been shipped to captive tanks, and the other 5 members released (they had to be chased away). Three of the captives were taken to Shirahama Adventure World, one to Izu Mito Sea Paradise, and one to the Taiji Whale Museum. Collectively, they became known as "The Taiji Five". A great cry arose from around the world. Literally thousands of people made impassioned appeals to Japan to return the orcas to the ocean, and dozens of rallies and demonstrations were held, all to no avail. For more information on dolphins and whales in captivity click here.

Click here to listen to a clip of the littlest orca calf's cries - this calf was split from its mother during the Taiji Five capture when the pod was split; it died shortly afterwards.

Within a few short months, two of the Shirahama captives were dead, a young male, and a female who was pregnant when captured and soon aborted her baby. Some years later, in 2003, the Taiji Whale Museum sold their female, then 10 years old, to the Nagoya Aquarium. The following year (2004) Shirahama's last captive died. Today, there are just 2 survivors; both are females: "Ku" at the Nagoya Aquarium, and 16 year old "Asuka" at Izu Mito Sea Paradise. The fate of the 5 members of the pod who survived the capture remains unknown.

In part, the tragedy of the Taiji Five lies in the certain damage the capture did to Japan's fragile orca population. In part, it lies in the lost opportunity Japan had to correct a great mistake that occurred out of ignorance. Very little is known about Japan's orcas, but their numbers are certainly tiny. In the 1950s and 60s, the population was decimated by coastal whaling operations, and in recent years it has suffered other tragic losses in ice entrapments. The fragility of the population makes it imperative that such captures never happen again!

At this time, so many years after the event, it is very unlikely that any appeal will convince Japan to release the two surviving captives. However, Japan must be convinced to take steps to prevent any future repetition of the Taiji tragedy. The threat of new capture attempts is very real. Japanese officials are presently considering a new application to capture orcas at Taiji.

Director of Marine Connection, Margaux Dodds explains; "people who visit marine parks and aquariums today are often unaware that orcas have been captured as recently as 2003 and that Japan is considering taking further orcas from the brutal Japanese drive hunts which also sees the slaughter of thousands of small whales and dolphins."

"It is crucial that the public realise that the captivity industry is contributing to the violent and distressing captures of not only wild orcas but also regularly beluga whales and dolphins. People feel marine parks and wild captures are detached from one another but they are inherently linked as captive-bred stocks cannot hope to sustain the industry."

If the legacy of the Taiji Five is that Japan's orcas forever remain free from threats of harm, including capture, their tragic fate may not have been in vain.

For further information on the wild orca captures and other information please click here (There is a button to translate the site into English)

Take Action!
Please take a moment to appeal to Prime Minister Fukuda requesting that Japan's orca population be fully protected under Japanese law, and that no captures be allowed in the future. Please also copy your letter to the other officials on the list below. Thank you!

Mr Yasuo Fukuda, Prime Minister of Japan
Email here via the Japanese government website

Fisheries Agency whaling-section
E-mail
Fax: +81 3 3502 0806

Mr. Kazutaka Sangen, Mayor of Taiji
E-mail
Fax: +81 735 59 2801

Mr. Bunmei Ibuki
Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
E-mail
Fax: +81-3-3597-2757
*Aquariums and Zoos in Japan are under their control.

Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Mr.Teruyuki Komiya, Director of JAZA
Fax :+81 3 3837 1231

Images of orca capture - © Nanami Kurasawa / IKAN
Image of wild orcas - © James Dorsey

With thanks to Paul and Helena Spong, Orcalab

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Conservation through education - protecting whales, dolphins and the world's oceans for the future generations