Skip to main content

Dolphin Trainer Group Makes Laughable Attempt to Justify the Unjustifiable

By September 29, 2013No Comments

Commentary by Scott West


A dolphin is covered in blood as it’s being wrangled in the cove
Photo: Sea Shepherd

There is little that makes me smile, much less laugh, when it comes to dolphins and other cetaceans captured in the wild and forced to do tricks for food.  However, the recent IMATA statement on small cetacean drive fisheries was a laugh out loud experience.   It is seldom that I see it piled this high and deep.

Sea Shepherd believes that the captive dolphin and other cetacean entertainment industry are feeling the pushback from informed people around the world. As more dolphin trainers are starting to wake up to the reality that they are harming and not helping dolphins, the entertainment industry is trying to rally its troops.   Therefore they have given the world this bit of entertaining drivel.

My comments are in bold below.  You can find the IMATA declaration at

International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association’s (IMATA) Position on Small Cetacean Drive Fisheries
September 21, 2013 at 3:09pm

International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association’s (IMATA) Position on Small Cetacean Drive Fisheries

In 2005, the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA) formalized its position on drive fisheries.

The statement is clear: IMATA strongly opposes the mass slaughter of whales and dolphins that occur in drive fisheries, and is dedicated to advancing humane care of marine animals in zoological settings.

SW: We are glad to hear that IMATA strongly opposes the mass slaughter of whales and dolphins, but what about any slaughter of whales and dolphins?  It is also good to hear that IMATA is dedicated to advancing humane care of marine animals.  It is a shame though that they still think it is humane to enslave cetaceans.  There is nothing humane about putting mammals that can swim up to hundreds of miles a day into a tiny tank for the remainder of their lives.  Forced to swim in circles and do tricks for a few dead fish in order to entertain humans. 

Drive fisheries are a method of using both sound and boats to herd small dolphins and whales into shallow water along the shore. Their operation in Europe and Asia has been well documented for at least the past 650 years (Brownel, Jr., R. L., Nowacek, D. P., & Ralls, K., 2008) and they continue today in the Solomon Islands, Denmark, and Japan.


White sided dolphins being pulled into the skiff
Photo: Sea Shepherd

SW: It is true that humans have attacked, injured, killed, and otherwise exploited dolphins and whales over time.  This does not make it right.  Despite the continuous and murderous history of humans against dolphins, there is no recorded event of a dolphin injuring, much less killing, a human.  In fact, there are numerous accounts of dolphins saving humans.  It is also true that in some human societies, like in ancient Greece, to kill or injure a dolphin was punishable by death.  In most modern countries today, it is illegal to harass, injure, or kill a dolphin.  The Danish Faroese can claim that they have been killing pilot whales for over a thousand years.  Again, the length of time of committing an atrocity does not somehow magically make the atrocity anything less.  Also, the use of internal combustion engines to drive these cetaceans is a relatively new phenomenon and these modern conveniences are certainly not based in tradition. 

Beyond that, how long can you continue to kill entire family units and perhaps even entire sub-species specific to a region before they become extinct? The Bonn Convention, established in 1979, that now includes 119+ countries was created to protect migratory species like these, because there is an understanding that they should be and need to be protected.   Population figures for some of these species in the wild are listed as ‘data deficient’ by those agencies who monitor such data.  That does not mean these animals exist in such abundance that we can destroy them with abandon.  On the contrary, it means no animals should be taken because we have no precise, verifiable data of how many are left in the wild.

The drive fishery in Taiji, Japan, is among the most widely documented and most controversial. Claims that international and Japanese aquariums are driving the demand for the Taiji drive fishery to continue are false. Most of the animals herded to shallow waters at Taiji are killed in a misguided attempt at ‘pest control’ by fishermen and harvested for food. Only a small number are sold to marine parks and aquariums, predominately those located in Asia.

SW: To say the killing of dolphins in Taiji for “pest control” is a red herring.  There are some ignorant fishermen there that blame dolphins for taking all the fish.  It is certainly much easier to scapegoat the dolphin instead of facing the reality that humans have wrought destruction on the oceans and severely reduced fish populations.  But if it the slaughter were truly for pest control, why would the Japanese fisheries have quotas for the capture of dolphins?  

It is the captive entertainment industry that funds the Taiji dolphin slaughter.  Without the money received for enslaving dolphins, training them to do tricks for food, and supplying them to entertainment parks, there would be no drive hunt in Taiji.  If Taiji were to provide captive dolphins free of charge, there could be a basis for the argument that the drive is about pest control or human food.  However, the income from dolphin meat is simply not sufficient to keep these 28 individuals and their expensive vessels in operation.  The captive dolphin entertainment industry is popular in Asia.  It is also popular in the Middle East, in Europe, and in North America. Taiji sells the dolphins.  It is big money for the killers and trainers there and for the middlemen along the way.  Expanding and supporting captive entertainment parks in new areas equates to creating demand for the captive entertainment industry everywhere. 


Trainers on the skiff shortly after the selection process
Photo: Sea Shepherd

While some oppose the collection of animals from drive fisheries for live sale, the practice is lawful in countries where some IMATA members live and work. In fact, some Japanese aquariums have no choice; internal Japanese regulations require that dolphins and small whales be acquired from the drive fisheries in Taiji. In contrast, many countries (including the United States, Canada, and those in Western Europe) ban the importation of dolphins collected from the drive fisheries in Japan.

SW: Perhaps marine mammal trainers should advocate for the end of drive hunts and slaughters, but of course doing so would require them to actually take a stand in defense of dolphins and would cut off their supply of dolphins and dolphin DNA. 

Trainers do have a choice.  They can choose to leave the animals in the wild and work to see them and protect them in their natural environment instead of profiting off of their capture and confinement. 


Dolphin Trainers in Taiji
Photo: Sea Shepherd

IMATA is not an advocacy group; rather, it is a professional association of individual members committed to fostering the development of marine animal trainers. It is a non-profit, volunteer organization created by and for zoological professionals to advance the humane care of marine animals in zoological settings. The well being of the animals in the daily care of IMATA members is their first priority.

SW: There you have it.  IMATA does not advocate.  Just as “trainer” is a part of their name, they spell it out.  Trainers exploit enslaved dolphins, ‘pimping them out’ to do tricks for food.  They are not a group of caring individuals who work in rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured or sick dolphins.  There is nothing ‘humane’ or caring about taking a wild animal and enslaving it.  

It is fascinating how they sanitize entertainment venues with the phrase “zoological settings”.  The fact is the majority of dolphins and other cetaceans on display are not found in zoological settings.  No, they are found in for-profit entertainment parks.  It would still be wrong to keep cetaceans in any tank, but at least in a zoological setting the cetaceans would not have to do tricks in order to eat.

It is not hard to imagine that the daily care of the dolphins in captivity is a first priority for without those dolphins, the entertainment industry would collapse.  Live dolphins represent a significant investment of money.


Striped dolphins netted off as
blood seeps into the cove
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Any individual who believes in IMATA’s mission and who supports its goals is welcomed into the membership. This includes extending membership to individuals who work for organizations that acquire dolphins from a drive fishery.

SW: There is no doubt that trainers working to select dolphins in Taiji and in places where those dolphins are sent share in IMATA’s mission and supports its goals.  IMATA gives them cover and legitimacy and therefore supports the drive “fisheries”. 

A caregiver is welcomed by IMATA even if s/he participates in the selection and collection of live animals on the premise that those animals will benefit as s/he is exposed to the most current best practices in animal care and training.  This helps to ensure the well being of animals living in zoological settings around the world.

SW: Caregiver?  Let’s call it what it is: pimp, enslaver or jailor. 

IMATA strongly emphasizes the continuing education of frontline animal trainers. The organization provides a forum for thoughtful dialogue among a large, diverse, and growing international membership from varying cultures. Through an IMATA membership, trainers have access to a global network of training professionals, resources such as educational publications, and opportunities to attend IMATA’s professional meetings where the most current training information and research is discussed.

SW: There is no doubt in my mind that many dolphin trainers believe that they genuinely love dolphins and are doing right by the dolphins in their care.  It is misguided though.  If they knew anything about dolphins, they would know that they do not belong in tanks nor should they have to entertain humans.  These trainers exploit the dolphins they proclaim to love.  If you truly love these animals, you need to work to protect them in their natural habitat.

Extremist groups that oppose having any marine mammals in human care in zoos, aquariums, and marine parks target IMATA by using misinformation and emotional appeal for funding support, often through social media campaigns.

SW: It is certainly questionable whether or not any animal should be housed for display, but we are talking about dolphins and other cetaceans here.  They certainly do not belong in a tank.  Period.  Other than the rare circumstances where a rescued cetacean is unable to return to the wild and in that case, a suitable pen in open water is necessary at no time should a cetacean have to do tricks for food.  

Yes, it is an emotional topic.  Slavery always is.  It is emotional for the slaves and it is emotional for those who benefit from the slavery.  It is also emotional for folks of solid character who see the injustice of it all.  It is not so-called “extremist groups” who oppose the capture, enslavement and slaughter of these magnificent animals.  The truth is most of the world wishes to see dolphins living happily in their natural habitat.

Funding IS the key; captive dolphin entertainment venues make significant amounts of money from the suffering of dolphins and other cetaceans.  This is why they are fighting so hard to try and keep them enslaved.  It is why places like Taiji make so much money off of sales of trained dolphins and dolphins are constantly bred for the “entertainment” industry.

Concerning drive fisheries, these groups erroneously claim that most dolphins in marine parks worldwide were purchased from Taiji’s drive fishery, and furthermore allege that IMATA is directly responsible for the slaughter because some of our members work for organizations that house dolphins from the drive.

SW: The Taiji drive hunt has been occurring since the 1970s.  Thousands of dolphins have been violently taken from the wild in Taiji and dispersed all over the world.  Some of their progeny continue to live on in tanks worldwide.  Taiji is not the only source for the captive dolphins, but it was a major source in the past and continues to be a major source for new entertainment venues.  

Marine mammal trainers are responsible for this practice.  It is the revenue from captive dolphin entertainment that drives the slaughter.

As part of their campaign, these groups call on IMATA to ‘blacklist’ these trainers from those facilities that acquire animals from drives. We reject this request as manipulative and ill informed, and IMATA stands by its goal to help every professional trainer continually improve his or her skills in caring for marine mammals.

SW: We call upon everyone who cares about dolphins and other cetaceans to cease their participation in the captive dolphin entertainment industry.  If you participate in the industry or support it by buying a ticket to a show, your hands are just as bloody as those of the killers and trainers in the waters of the cove.

Indeed, there have been some enlightened former trainers who now stand against this slavery and exploitation.  Cetaceans only need our help and “care” to protect them and keep them in their natural habitat.

As animal care and training practices advance IMATA is positioned to motivate, educate, and provide expertise for the best animal care and training practices to an ever-growing number of professionals throughout the world.

Trainers, look around you at the dolphins in your care.  How many need medicine for the stress and routine ‘enrichment’ to try and keep them sane?  If you really want to help these animals, cease your participation in the entertainment industry.

For more detailed information about IMATA, detailed facts about drive fisheries, and information on how you can get involved, please visit IMATA’s web site at:

Or for information on what is really happening and to get involved to protect the whales and dolphins in the wild visit:

Brownell, Jr., R. L., Nowacek, D. P., & Ralls, K. (2008). Hunting cetaceans with sound: a worldwide review. (Paper No. 94). Retrieved from Publications, Agencies, and Staff of the U.S. Department of Commerce website:

To get the facts on the drive hunt in Taiji, go see it for yourself.  You can join the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians in Taiji by writing to  

There has always existed a natural attraction between cetaceans and humans.  It is easy to understand why humans want to interact with dolphins.  The place to do it though is on the open water with dolphins in their world.  To view a dolphin in a tank or captive swim program is not authentic or in any way related to a natural situation.  It amounts to participation in slavery.  Buying a ticket to the show fuels the demand for more dolphins to be captured and bred.  Without the demand, there would be no hunt and slaughter in Taiji.  Together, let’s end the slaughter and empty the tanks once and for all.

For the Oceans,

Scott West
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society 
Infinite Patience Campaign Coordinator

Leave a Reply

to the Oceans Today!