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.
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.
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)
Please take a moment to appeal to Prime Minister
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
Fax: +81 3 3502 0806
Mr. Kazutaka Sangen, Mayor of Taiji
Fax: +81 735 59 2801
Mr. Bunmei Ibuki
Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
*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