A Japanese town that became synonymous with the killing of dolphins after it was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary on the controversial practice is to open a marine park that will allow visitors to swim with the animals.
The town of Taiji, in the Higashimuro District, continues to hunt for small whales and dolphins after commercial whaling was suspended in 1988.
The town was the subject of the 2009 documentary The Cove, which examined Japan’s infamous dolphin hunting culture and the controversial dolphin hunt that takes place in the town between September and April annually. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary the following year.
Organisers in Taiji have now begun preparing proposals that would see a part of the cove sectioned off to create a marine park, offering visitors the opportunity to swim alongside dolphins and whales, Masaki Wada, a local government official told AFP.
Once built, the marine park would span 69 acres and could be open within the next five years under current proposals. It would be located within close proximity of Hatakejiri Bay, where Taiji fishermen regularly corral dolphins into nets before slaughtering them.
Black whales and bottlenose dolphins captured in nearby waters would be released into a pool that would eventually be developed into a nature park for tourists.
“We already use dolphins and small whales as a source of tourism in the cove where dolphin-hunting takes place,” Wada said.
“In summer, swimmers can enjoy watching the mammals that are released from a partitioned-off space.
“But we plan to do it on a larger scale. This is part of Taiji’s long-term plan of making the whole town a park, where you can enjoy watching marine mammals while tasting various marine products, including whale and dolphin meat.”
Tokyo-based conservationist group Iruka & Kujira (Dolphin & Whale) Action Network (IKAN) described the plan as “unfortunate” and warned it could ignite a series of protests.
“The whole plan is based on the concept that they can exploit dolphins and whales freely as their resource, but the mammals don’t belong to Taiji,” said Nanami Kurasawa, the IKAN secretary general.
“Marine mammals migrate across oceans, and international public opinion is that wildlife should be allowed to live as they are. The plan will only ignite more protests over dolphin-hunting,” she said.
A spokesperson for animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said:
"Turning Taiji into a tourist destination where unsuspecting visitors swim with dolphins in the same waters that have turned red from the animals' massacred families sounds like something out of a horror film.
"These magnificent animals suffer immeasurably in captivity since it is impossible to meet their psychological and physiological needs. When dolphins are kept captive, even the largest pen or tank is a hideous prison. Buying a ticket to a marine park or swimming with captive dolphins condemns these beautiful animals to a lifetime of misery and deprivation."