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Dolphins In The News: Taiji, Then Lolita

January 28, 2014

Lots of dolphin and orca news in the past week. And National Geographic online has been deep into the Taiji part of it.

Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama

Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama

Here’s my look at the changing financial incentives for the dolphin drives. Bottom line: over the past ten years the average annual number of dolphins slaughtered for meat has roughly been halved. And the average annual number of dolphins selected from the hunt for captivity has roughly doubled. The captive display industry, in all its forms and no matter what protestations it issues regarding drive hunts, is driving the demand for dolphins that drives the fishermen of Taiji to hunt them. Show the world that you can make a lot of money with dolphin shows and by letting park guests jump in a pool with them, and parks around the world (both existing and abuilding) will want dolphins. Fact.

NatGeo saw impressive traffic and social media sharing for its Taiji coverage, so followed up with the sort of media NatGeo does so well: a photo gallery. The interest that readers showed drove home the point that more and more people deeply care about how humans are treating the dolphins of this world, a point dramatized by the fact that Caroline Kennedy, newly installed as the U.S. Ambassador, had the undiplomatic temerity to voice, er tweet, opposition to the Taiji drive hunt. She explained why in this interview:

Q: Your tweet regarding the drive dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, drew a lot of attention in Japan. Why did you make that comment?

A: Well, you know, people had been writing to me and tweeting and emailing and calling the United States–calling the embassy here. Hundreds and hundreds of people have been doing this for the last few weeks. And so I thought it was really important to make our policy known, and we have a longstanding policy of protecting these mammals, since 1972, in the United States. And the U.S. government has a policy on this: Drive hunt fisheries are unsustainable and inhumane. So I thought it was important to clarify that and put that out there.

Finally, I checked in on the albino dolphin calf that was taken from the Taiji drive hunt to the Taiji Whale Museum. Melissa Sehgal, the lead Cove Monitor for Sea Shepherd told me that the calf was the first dolphin selected for captivity, and that there appeared to be a good bargaining session by Taiji’s dolphin brokers under the tarps on the beach before the calf was finally trucked to the Whale Museum. (You can read an interview that I did with Melissa, about what it takes to be a Cove Monitor, here).

An albino bottlenose dolphin is extremely rare. In fact, no authority I spoke with had ever heard of one. That no doubt made the calf seem extremely valuable to the brokers and the captive industry. But the rarity of the calf also drew the attention of the world media. So the race to capture, select, and display the calf, could in the end backfire on the Taiji Whale Musuem. The calf may be a public draw. But it is also extremely young, likely stressed by the capture and its new environment, and without its mother. If it dies, it will not go unnoticed by the world and the media, and in the heat of the condemnation that will follow the Taiji Whale Museum could well end up regretting that they ever grabbed it.

No dolphin calf should ever be put in a position to be martyred. But if “Angel” as she has been dubbed becomes a victim of the hunts and the captive display industry, her memory will matter.

I hope to have more information to share about the status of the calf soon. The picture above was sent to me by Satoshi Komiyama. Here is another set of photos Satoshi took, and was kind enough to share:

Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama

Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama

It is hard not to feel for the albino calf, and the dramatic turn her life has taken. The life of Lolita, the killer whale who was captured at Penn Cove and has been performing at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 40 years, evokes all the same emotions.

We featured the capture operation that sent Lolita to Miami in Blackfish, and people often tell me it was one of the most moving sequences in the film.

A number of groups and individuals, most notably Howard Garrett and the Orca Network, have been fighting for Lolita’s freedom for almost two decades. Last week, after years of frustration in that quest, Lolita finally caught a potential break. I explain what happened over at Outside Online.

If Lolita does get listed with her family under the Endangered Species Act, then it will be very difficult for Miami Seaquarium to hold onto her. But, I learned, there is a note of caution that needs to be kept in mind. NOAA has already expressed some skepticism about returning Lolita to the wild. So, absent a very convincing and well-funded plan to take her to a sea pen in her home waters, there could be a scenario in which U.S. Fish And Wildlife (which would be responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act), would remove Lolita from Miami Seaquarium, but decide that it is less risky to place her in a better facility than it is to transport her across the country and drop her into the Haro Strait.

Photo Credit: Piotr Domaradzki, Miami, FL, 1998 via Wikimedia

Yep, SeaWorld could come into the Lolita scenario. Not saying it will happen, or that it is even likely to happen. But I am saying that if even if she is listed under the Endangered Species Act it will still be a fight to get her to a sea pen.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. @Active4Orcas permalink
    January 29, 2014 12:11 am

    Surely Lolita will be freed by the grand schemes of @RaulJuliaLevy? He seems to have $8m tucked away in his sock drawer just waiting for Miami Seaquarium to say the word. Or at least that’s what he’s claiming. Of course his press releases ARE six years old yet people are still falling for them. I guess these are the same people who line up to go into SeaWorld. It’s all unicorns and rainbows for some, isn’t it?

  2. January 29, 2014 1:48 am

    Lolita belongs back in the San Juan Islands with her mother who is still alive, NOT SEAWORLD. Oh you will hear the biggest uproar you ever heard if they put Lolita in SeaWorld tanks I will fight to the death for that whale to be returned to her native ocean EVEN in a sea pen where she can at least see and hear her mother through the net.

    • Donnamarie Boyer permalink
      February 3, 2014 10:08 am

      Yupppppp me too!!!

  3. Usahi permalink
    January 29, 2014 2:10 am

    “Our #Oceans only survive because of the existence of our Marine Wildlife. They are the #Lifeblood of our aquatic world. We ground bound humans derive over 50% of our much needed oxygen as a byproduct of our seas. If we do not preserve and protect all #MarineWildlife we will soon find ourselves gasping for breath.”

    Please sign and share the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins

  4. January 29, 2014 4:53 pm

    It’s true that absent a very convincing and well-funded plan Lolita could end up in another tank (though it would be NOAA Fisheries, not FWS who would decide). However there is a thoroughly researched plan for Lolita’s retirement, here:

    What’s needed is for those who have influence on public opinion in these matters to look over the plan, suggest any improvements if needed, and then publicly and whole-heartedly endorse the plan. We are approaching the point when NOAA Fisheries will decide whether to sign off on our proposal or not. I believe they are currently predisposed to reject it, due to long-standing contacts with the orca display industry and the legacy of influence over the cetological community by the industry.

    Without whole-hearted public support from the public and experts in the field NOAA will likely continue to have their doubts and will not approve our proposal.

    Once there is a green light to return Lolita to her home waters and a time-frame in which to do so, fund-raising will follow and is not expected to be much of a problem.

  5. February 10, 2014 4:42 pm

    I left my comment on the NOAA site for Lolita, they are taking public comments until the end of March. Everyone please comment for Lolita, and tell everyone you know to leave a comment. We the people have the power to make changes if we use our voices, its time to end this cruel industry.This proposed rule to include Lolita with her family as endangered is the right, and moral decision, it was wrong to have ever had taken her in the first place. Its a very simple decision for them to make, all they need is common sense. Lolita must be retired immediately to live free again, they brutaly tore her away from her mother, then dumped her in a tank to exist for 44 years, only to splash people twice a day then float sadly all alone by herself in a tiny dirty pool. Seaaquarium your disgraceful! You have committed a crime, an atrocity to such a remarkable, intelligent, magnificent whale. Lolita must be let go before she gives up, time is running out for this sweet girl, LET HER GO FOR GODSAKE! Shame on you all involved in taking and keeping Lolita, you sentenced her to a life in prison just to soley fatten your own pocket books,.. disgraceful.


  1. Taiji Whale Museum On The Albino Calf | Tim Zimmermann

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