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SeaWorld & co, WAZA and IMATA and Their Collaboration with the Dolphin Slaughter in Japan

By October 14, 2013No Comments

Commentary by Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen


The drive hunt for Pacific White-sided dolphins
got the green light in 2007.
Photo: Sea Shepherd

On August 27, 2012, SeaWorld LLC quietly applied for a permit to import the 6-year-old Pacific White-sided dolphin named Kirara for public display at SeaWorld San Antonio. Kirara was born on May 3rd, 2006 in Kamogawa Seaworld in Japan.

Kamogawa is just another entertainment-through-slavery facility of which Japan alone has more than 50, mostly ‘stocked’ with animals stolen from the wild. This particular place for instance houses the Orcas Bingo and Stella captured in Iceland, three Belugas captured in Canada and Russia, and Bottlenose, Common, Risso’s and Pacific White-sided dolphins originating from the wild.

Two Orcas that together with Lolita were abducted from the Salish Sea in the infamous Penn Cove capture on August 8, 1970 ended up and died in Kamogawa Seaworld within 4 years of that dreadful day.

This is also the place where the wild-caught False Killer whale, renamed Sirius, was exported from and into the US in 1990. Sirius later died in Sea Life Park Hawaii in 1996.

Last year SeaWorld San Diego took a Pilot whale named Argo from the same park. The animal reportedly stranded itself in January 2004.

Argo was, according to local news agencies, transported by a FedEx plane. The Pilot whale transport took a horrendous 20 hours from pool to pool. The estimated time for Kirara is 22 hours.

The triumvirate of SeaWorld, Kamogawa Seaworld and the Japanese drive ‘fisheries’ is a long-standing one.

John Hall PhD., former marine biologist at SeaWorld in the documentary, Fall from Freedom:

‘Starting in the early 80s SeaWorld, which had developed a business relationship, and a professional relationship with the Kamogawa Seaworld in Japan, had learned that it might be possible to enter into a business arrangement with the Iki Island fishermen who had largely phased out the drive fisheries because of the negative worldwide publicity in the late 70s, to start selectively driving dolphins including False killer whales into shallow water where SeaWorld, and other oceanaria including Marine World, could select the beautiful few…

…and then allow the fishermen to slaughter the remaining whales…

…By the time I had moved to San Diego as research scientist, SeaWorld had several False Killer whales in captivity that had been obtained through this drive fishery that they stimulated. SeaWorld obtained permits from the fishery service to import 6 False Killer whales in the late 1980s. They sent a capture team to Iki Island, Japan and caught 12 False Killer whales.’

Hardy Jones of the organization Blue Voice declares in the same documentary that the Iki slaughter had stopped after the shocking footage he took in 1980 was widely distributed, but was reopened because of aquarium interests.

There are some interesting claims in the application for Kirara — claims, true or false, that SeaWorld has to make to have any chance at receiving the desired permit. One is that “the exportation of this animal from Kamogawa Seaworld will not result in the collection of additional Pacific White-sided dolphins for their facility.”

A dubious claim to say the least as the Japanese captivity industry has been instrumental in adding this species to the drive ‘inventory’. The Japan Fisheries Agency included the Pacific White-sided dolphins in the catch-quota of the drive hunt in 2007 and this still stands today.

As a reason for adding this species, the notification cites “a strong request from fishers in recent years to allow their capture.” With the generalization ‘fishers,’ they are referring to the small group of dolphin killers of the Isana Union in Taiji.

As is the case with many official statements concerning the Japanese fisheries, which includes the whaling industry and dolphin drive-hunts, this was a fabricated lie. The true request for capturing Pacific White-sided dolphins came from the Japan Cetacean Conference on Zoological Gardens and Aquariums.

An internal communication unearthed by Elsa Nature Conservancy, sent on August 16, 2006 by this ‘Conference’ to the directors of zoos and aquariums, noted that Pacific White-sided dolphins were hard to obtain, and that not all aquarium directors who desired to obtain these were able to do so. The letter states, ‘Permission has not been granted to take Pacific White-sided dolphins at Taiji, and therefore drive fisheries for them are not allowed. But if the capture of Pacific White-sided dolphins becomes possible at Taiji, it will benefit aquariums with cetaceans, and fishers.

This was a successful attempt by the organized aquariums that desired Pacific White-sided dolphins, to influence Taiji Town officials and the Fisheries Agency to add this species to the drive hunts.

The memo was from 2006. The drive hunt for Pacific White-sided dolphins got the green light in 2007.

The resulting known captures are:

  • 2008: 21 total animals caught, 5 killed & 16 live captured.
  • 2009: 14 total animals caught, 1 killed & 13 live captured.
  • 2010/11: 26 total animals caught, 2 killed, 21 sold to aquariums & 3 released.
  • 2011/12: 2 caught as live-capture.
  • 2012/13: 32 caught, 8 killed, 24 live-capture.
  • 2013/14: none yet, but there is a quota for 134 animals.


This is a prime example of how the captivity industry drives and directs the Taiji dolphin hunt.


32 Pacific White-sided dolphins were captured in 2012 / 2013. 8 were killed and 24 went to live-capture.
Photo: Sea Shepherd


Another admission came from Seiji Ohsumi, director of the Institute of Cetacean Research, who said in a Japan Times opinion piece this past August: ‘Whales and dolphins are kept healthy in Japanese aquariums, as they receive great care from trainers and veterinarians. The reason these undertakings have been successful is the dolphin drive fishery, which supplies living whales and dolphins to aquariums internationally as well as domestically. The fishery has thus contributed to the welfare of people in countries where whales and dolphins are kept in aquariums.’

On September 29, 2005, a 13-person delegation from Taiji Town, including its mayor, visited the Beijing Aquarium. In an October press release, the Beijing Aquarium proudly announced their friendship with Taiji and ‘the two sides plan to build a platform to archive the imported marine mammals in the aquariums all over China’ and to ‘have negotiations on the import of killer whales’. Almost all Cetaceans in Beijing come from the wild.

China is the biggest importer of dolphins from Taiji with a staggering 117 dolphins purchased in just the 3 years of 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Even though Kirara is captive born, her parents were not. In SeaWorld’s own explanation: ‘the sire, CO9L0047, and the dam, CO9L0046, were collected from a set net procedure in the Kyoto Prefecture on 2-8-94 and 2-9-94 and transported to the Kinosaki Aquarium. They were transferred to Kamogawa Sea World on 11-8-94.’

This can only be read as a deliberate wild capture even though Kamogawa Sea World claims the animals were incidentally captured on February 5 and 8. Note that these dates differ from the ones supplied by SeaWorld to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Kamogawa specifically emphasizes that ‘both animals were not captured by ‘drive fishery’.’

The Pacific White-sided dolphins in Taiji were originally herded into the cove as all other species in this dolphin hell, but as they tend to throw themselves on the rocks in panic, getting cut open on the sharp edges, they are since caught in nets just outside the Taiji Harbor entrance.

SeaWorld is a shining example for the greedy everywhere that money can be made from exploiting dolphins. SeaWorld is the richest, most politically powerful park in the captivity industry. Through business relations and strategic investments, they encourage and help fund foreign parks. In the summer of 2011 for instance, SeaWorld bought sperm from Kshamenk, prisoner in the Argentinean theme park Mundo Marino. The money SeaWorld paid Mundo Marino will no doubt help keep that park afloat, ensuring Kshamenk’s continuous illegal enslavement. In 2001, SeaWorld Orlando supplied Ocean Park in Hong Kong, China with California sea lions and Harbor seals. Ocean Park HK buys dolphins from Taiji. The only animal currently living in the US that came from a Japanese drive hunt came via Ocean Park, who obtained it directly from the slaughter itself. That False killer whale, named Kina, lives now in the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology. SeaWorld directly supports parks like Ocean Park in Hong Kong, Sun Asia Ocean World in China, and Ocean Adventure Park in the Philippines who in turn directly support the Taiji slaughter.

Where direct imports from Taiji are no longer allowed in North America and Europe, developing nations are standing in line to own their own money-making, dolphin-slavery enterprises. SeaWorld and the like are an inspiration, fueling the demand for dolphins worldwide. This is an important argument against the excuse that, because captive breeding now sustains the keeping of Bottlenose dolphins in Western parks, these parks in particular and dolphin captivity in general are not linked to Taiji and its slaughter.

In the last couple of years, dolphin exports from Taiji, have gone to China, Georgia, Korea, Ukraine, Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, Palau, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Qatar, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

The US Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) records the Miami Seaquarium, Sea Life Park Hawaii, Indianapolis Zoo, Sea World Inc. and the US Navy as having imported live cetaceans from Japan at some time in the past.

Import into Europe and North America from drive hunts and slaughters in Japan, either directly or indirectly through a Japanese park, ended in the late 1980s/early 1990s with False Killer whales being flown all over the world and dying off quickly one by one in concentration camps like Sea Life Park Hawaii and Dolfinarium Harderwijk in the Netherlands.

In 1993, Six Flags (then Marine World Africa USA) applied for a permit to import 4 False Killer whales from the slaughter on Iki Island. The park justified their application by saying that the purchase of the dolphins was a ‘humane act that saved four animals from certain death,’ an excuse used by SeaWorld in the past and recently by Ocean Adventure Park in the Philippines:  ‘Ocean Adventure is home to several species of dolphins, all of whom are rescued animals. Some came from the drive fishery in Japan where they were literally hours away from being slaughtered.’ The Marine World Africa USA permit was denied because of the link to the slaughter and no new permit for wild captured animals was filed until 2012’s Georgia Aquarium application for 18 Russian Belugas.

It’s not difficult to connect the dots in order to see how Western parks are connected with parks shopping for dolphins from Taiji’s bloody cove: Six Flags got the Orca Shouka from Marineland France in 2002. Shouka, in 2012, ended up in SeaWorld San Diego. In 1995 Marineland France supplied one of the last wild caught Icelandic Orca’s, named Tanouk, to Izu-mito Sea Paradise in Japan. Renamed Yamato, he later shared tanks with some of the Taiji 5 Orcas, captured in that Japanese hellhole in February 1997. Tanouk/Yamato died October 2000. Izu-mito Sea Paradise bought a False Killer whale from Taiji in 2011.

SeaWorld did not stop purchasing dolphins from drives in Japan on moral or ethical grounds. Spokesman Fred Jacobs: ‘We stopped [buying] and have not resumed, not because we are ashamed, but it was not something that we cared to be involved with any more.’

Georgia Aquarium made clear that there is still no objection on the part of US marine parks to rob the wild of cetaceans, when they requested permission to import 18 Belugas from Russia. The cetaceans were captured from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011 and are currently living in pens at the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station on Russia’s Black Sea Coast. Some of the belugas were destined for display at Georgia Aquarium’s partner facilities on breeding loans, including SeaWorld of Florida, SeaWorld of Texas, SeaWorld of California and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. The permit was denied, but Georgia Aquarium is fighting the decision in court. The Belugas remain in floating cages.

The US is not alone in this; Marineland of Canada purchased Russian Belugas as recently as 2008 even though Canada stopped catching Belugas themselves in 1992 after public outrage over the methods.

As if more proof is needed of the interconnectedness of the slave trade in dolphins and other cetaceans, two Russian Belugas suddenly showed up in Taiji in February this year. Reportedly they were part of an exchange with four Taiji-caught Bottlenose dolphins.

More wild-caught Belugas live in Sun Asia Polar World. Dalian Sun Asia Tourism Holding that operates this park and another one called Sun Asia Ocean World, that took 8 Bottlenose dolphins from Taiji in 2005, stated on parkworld-online that it remains committed to updating its attractions, creating friendly relationships with many world-famous animal attractions including SeaWorld in the United States, Kelly Tarlton Arctic Encounter and Underwater World of New Zealand, Dolfinarium in the Netherlands, Ocean Park in Hong Kong and many more.

Dolphinarium Harderwijk is the Dutch park that refused to release the semi-stranded Orca Morgan back to the wild, but in stead trafficked her to the Canary Islands. Harderwijk and Loro Parque decided to use ULS Airlines Cargo for this purpose. ULS Airlines has a history in the dolphin slave trade. They are based in Istanbul, Turkey and have shipped wild-caught dolphins out of Taiji in 2010 and the Solomon Islands in 2009. The other Orcas at Loro Parque are owned by SeaWorld and Brad Andrews, Executive VP for Zoological Operations at SeaWorld, was present when Morgan arrived.

SeaWorld is not the only entity failing to keep their distance from Japanese drive hunts. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (WAZA) very own statement reads: ‘WAZA has worked with the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) and the Port of Nagoya Aquarium, to establish a new, transitional approach to the capture of dolphins as part of a tradition of Japanese inshore fishery. At this time it has been officially confirmed that during September dolphins will be collected for aquaria, the only species taken will be the Bottlenose dolphin, and the method employed will be ‘herding’. No dolphins will be taken for human consumption during September, and all surplus animals will be released.’

No matter what their rationalization is, WAZA is supporting the wild capture of dolphins in Taiji.

To close the circle: Kamogawa Seaworld, SeaWorld’s link to the Iki slaughter and current holder of Kirara, has a combined breeding program with the Port of Nagoya Aquarium, WAZA’s partner. On December 15, 2011, Kamogawa Seaworld gave Port of Nagoya Aquarium 2 orcas, Bingo and Stella, on a five-year loan. The mingling doesn’t stop there: In turn, Nagoya Aquarium works with the Taiji Whale Museum. In 2003, the female Orca Ku, one of the Taiji 5, was sent to the Whale museum on a breeding loan from Nagoya. Ku died from Herpes in Nagoya in 2008.

The International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA) cozied up further with Taiji in its latest drive ‘fisheries’ statement: ‘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. 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. 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.

It shall come as no surprise that IMATA held its 2012 annual conference at Ocean Park HK, a buyer of Taiji dolphins.

SeaWorld requested authorization to import Kirara on or before March 15, 2013, but this has not yet happened. I inquired as to the status of the request from NOAA last week and their reaction was: ‘A decision has not been made on this application. When a decision is made, it will be made public via a Federal Register notice.’

Kirara will spend the rest of her life in slavery, be it in Japan or the USA, unless the people who care also act.

There are two roads: Shutting down the wild capture of dolphins in Russia, the Solomon Islands and Taiji will drain the parks of their supply. Shutting down the captivity industry will eradicate the demand for dolphins. I see no reason why we can’t travel both roads at the same time. In the meantime, keep supporting Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians and don’t support the captive industry.


The application for Kirara

Federal registry regarding Kirara

WAZA statement

IMATA statement

Japan Times opinion

WDCS’ driven by demand

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