Albino dolphin calf “Angel” captured in Japan

An albino dolphin calf with its mother before it was captured by Japanese fishermen in the shallows of Taiji Cove, South of Osaka, on 21 January 2014.

An albino dolphin calf with its mother before it was captured by Japanese fishermen in the shallows of Taiji Cove, South of Osaka, on 21 January 2014. Sea Shepherd

By Gabrielle Jonas | IScienceTimes

ON THE WEB, 21 January 2014

Japanese fishermen drove a large group of dolphins into the shallows of Taiji Cove, Japan, Tuesday morning, and, hiding from reporters and TV cameras behind a tarpaulin, stabbed at least 30 dolphins to death. The culmination of the annual hunt sparked an outcry in the West, Reuters reported.

Every year, fishermen in the town of Taiji Cove, western Wakayama prefecture, drive hundreds of dolphins into a cove, select many for auction sale to marine parks, release some, and kill the rest for meat. On Tuesday, at least 30 dolphins out of the group of more than 200 held in the cove since Friday without feeding were herded by boat engines and nets into the killing portion of the Taiji Cove, Reuters reported. Fishermen waiting in the shallows, some in wet suits with snorkeling masks, wrestled the dolphins into submission and tied their tails with ropes. The fishermen pulled a tarp in front of the cove to prevent activists and reporters from witnessing the slayings, but a large pool of blood seeping under the tarp and spreading across the cove made the slaughter apparent.

“A metal rod was stabbed into their spinal cord, where they were left to bleed out, suffocate, and die,” Sea Shepherd Conservation Society activist Melissa Sehgal told Reuters. “After a traumatic four days held captive in the killing cove, they experienced violent captive selection, being separated from their family, and then eventually were killed today.”

Mass-killing of dolphins concerns Caroline Kennedy

US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy expressed her concern about the plans for the killing of the dolphins in Taiji Cove Monday evening, when she had sent out the following tweet: “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.”

Japanese officials didn’t appreciate the criticism from Kennedy, who has only been ambassador to their country for two months. They were surprised that a diplomat from an ally country would lash out at a national tradition, USA Today reported. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters at a news conference Monday that “Dolphin fishing is one of the traditional fishing forms of our country and is carried out appropriately in accordance with the law. Dolphin is not covered by the International Whaling Commission control and it’s controlled under responsibility of each country.” Masayhisa Sato, a Japanese lawmaker, said, “I wonder whether it’s appropriate for ambassador to comment on this.” One Japanese Twitter user wrote, “The drive hunt is a traditional fishery that was established long before the foundation of the United States of America.” And another compared the dolphin hunt to the meat industry in the West: “Isn’t it inhumane to kill millions of cows and sheep for consumption?”

A cultural tradition or an act of violence?

More than 250 bottle-nosed dolphins, including a rare albino dolphin, were lured into a cove off the Japanese coast. According to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is tracking the dolphin roundup, by Sunday two had already died and 40 had been taken into captivity. One of these dolphins was an albino calf dubbed “Angel.” Sea Shepherd is calling the dolphin “Shoujo”.

“They’ve been held for 72 hours,” said Capt. Paul Watson, a Sea Shepherd spokesperson, speaking to ABC News. “That’s a lot of trauma, a lot of stress. They’re not being fed. And today most likely they will kill them.” Watson’s prediction became true Tuesday morning, as an estimated 30 dolphins were butchered under cover of tarp.

Timothy Hitchens, the British Ambassador to Japan, had also slammed the “drive killings” of dolphins citing the “terrible suffering” inflicted on the marine mammals in a tweet. “UK opposes all forms of dolphin and porpoise drives; they cause terrible suffering. We regularly raise [the issue] with Japan,” wrote Hitchens, in a tweet on Monday.

Activist Yoko Ono, speaking as a Japanese citizen decried the tradition in an open letter to the fishermen of Taiji, cc’d to the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe. In the letter, she wrote that condoning the killings with the traditional festivities surrounding the slaughter would do irrepable harm to the Japanese image globally. “The way you are insisting on a big celebration of killing so many dolphins and kidnapping some of them to sell to the zoos and restaurants at this very politically sensitive time, will make the children of the world hate the Japanese,” Ono wrote, closing her letter with the plea, “Please use political tact and cancel the festival which will be considered by the rest of the world as a sign of Japanese arrogance, ignorance, and love for an act of violence.”

The annual hunt has been a source of controversy since even before the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove brought international attention to the suffering of the dolphins. Yoshinobu Nisaka, the governor of Wakayama prefecture where Taiji is located, defended the annual dolphin killings. “Dietary culture varies and it is the wisdom of civilization to mutually respect other’s standpoints unless the world faces a lack of resources,” Nisaka was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency. Japan maintains that killing dolphins is not banned under any international treaty and that the animals are not endangered. Local officials defended the right of their fishermen to make a living, claiming that they are just conducting a legal fishing activity in their traditional way, ABC reported. Local villagers asserted that it is a critical part of their economy and a sacred cultural tradition.

“An angel with fins”, now motherless, awaits life in an aquarium

Human hearts have been captured by the sight of “Angel,” a sweet-faced albino dolphin baby whose fin looks like wings.

“The captivity industry is subsidizing the hunts by paying top dollar for captive dolphins like Angel, while the mother is carted off to the abattoir [slaughterhouse],” Ric O’Barry, director of the Dolphin Project of the Earth Island Institute (EII), noted in his blog last Thursday. “Taiji dolphin hunters have caught a real prize: A white albino dolphin calf, which EII’s Cove Monitor Karla Sanjur described as ‘an angel with fins.’ Angel was taken from its mother to the Taiji Whale Museum Friday morning. This is particularly foolish, as the calf’s likelihood of survival in captivity would be enhanced if the mother was with Angel.”

According to O’Barry, Angel is a huge prize for the dolphin hunters. He predicts that the Taiji Whale Museum — “really a whaling museum rather than a whale museum” — will keep Angel to attract tourists. He also predicts that Angel’s mother “will be slaughtered and sold for meat, while Angel will sit in a tank to be a freak on display. The hunts for dolphins in Taiji must be stopped, and the captivity industry should be in the forefront of efforts to stop the hunts.”

Tuesday night, Mark J. Palmer, Associate Director of the International Marine Mammal Project at the Earth Island Institute confirmed to the International Science Times that Angel is in an outdoor tank at the Taiji Whale Museum. “One of our Western Cove Monitors, Karla Sanjur, tried to go into the Taiji Whale Museum, but was refused entry,” Palmer wrote in an email. “The Taiji Whale Museum is the place you can go to see dolphins and whales in captivity perform, and then buy whale meat in their gift shop. It may well be dolphin meat falsely labeled as ‘whale’ meat.” Earth Island officials have not been ableto confirm a rumor that the Taiji Whale Museum was putting Angel up for sale. “We assumed the Taiji Whale Museum would keep Angel on exhibit, as Angel would be a tremendous attraction in Japan, even more so than in the US or Western countries,” Palmer wrote. He was able to confirm, however, that O’Barry had watched a video taken by Sea Shepherd activists of Angel’s mother “bobbing up and down after Angel was taken away from her. Then she went under and did not come up again.”

Palmer thinks that Angel’s mother did not reappear because she had killed herself out of grief. “Dolphins are not automatic breathers,” Palmer wrote. “If you put one under sedation, they stop breathing and die. Ric has seen many instances of dolphins deliberately stopping their own breathing and dying under stress, and we know the dolphins in Taiji, especially mothers that are separated from their calves, are under a lot of stress.” But Palmer sees some reason to hope coming out of the slaughter. “Now that Ambassador Kennedy has tweeted her opposition,” he wrote, “we may have a shot (finally) of the Obama Administration pulling up their jockey shorts and doing something,” he said, referring to the Obama administration’s 2010 support of lifting a 24-year-old international ban on whale hunting.

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