Taiji Whale Museum On The Albino Dolphin Calf

Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama
Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama

During my reporting last week on the fate and status of the albino calf (dubbed “Angel”) that was taken captive and shipped to the Taiji Whale Museum, I asked a local Japanese contact if she would relay a list of questions to the Whale Museum for me. Intrepid person that she is, she managed to reach Assistant Director Tetsuya Kirihata. Somewhat to my surprise he provided pretty detailed responses (which were translated by my extremely helpful contact).

For the record (and without comment), I am posting the Whale Museum’s responses here, as I haven’t seen any detailed updates on the calf, and its fate, from the Whale Museum itself.

Q: What is the status of the albino calf?

Kirihata: She’s kept in a spare pool next to the main dolphin show pool with another bottlenose dolphin. At first there were two other bottlenose dolphins in the same pool, but those were more active and would snatch the food she couldn’t catch. Therefore they were moved to another tank.

The reason why she cannot catch the food she is fed is not because she is sick, but probably due to the change of environment. When she manages to be fed, she continues to be fed. She eats the same amount as the other dolphins.

Q: How is she doing?

Kirihata: Compared to other bottlenose dolphins she doesn’t interact with other dolphins as much. It’ll be better if she becomes a little friendlier. During the day her eyes are closed or slightly open and at night they’re open.

She can see [note: observers have wondered about her sight, as most photos, like the one above, show her with her eyes closed] and has no hearing problems. She responds to the splashing sound of the fish hitting on the surface of the water.

Q: Does the Whale Museum plan to keep the calf or sell it to another facility?

Kirihata: We plan to keep her long term.

Q: Is there any possibility of giving her away or selling her?

Kirihata: Not for the moment, but it might happen if another aquarium or a research facility could provide a better or more beneficial environment for her.

Q: How are you able to care for such a young albino calf?

Kirihata: We do not necessarily give her extra care because she is albino. However, as she is still a young calf we do feed her more frequently than other adult dolphins.

We are still observing and examining if she shows any difference from other individual dolphins. The more we know about her the better conditions we can provide for her.

Q: Is there a possibility you will transfer her from the current pool to another pool within the Taiji Whale Museum?

Kirihata: She is only temporarily kept in the spare pool.  Depending on the situations as well as her condition, we will consider transferring her to another pool within the Taiji Whale Museum.

Since albino dolphins are rarely seen in the nature and often do not survive long, we intend to do our best to take care of her and learn as much as possible from this unique albino dolphin.

Also, thanks to the determined efforts of Karla Sanjur, who was on the ground in Taiji for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, we have video footage of the young albino:

Angel in the Taiji Whale Museum from Dolphin Project on Vimeo.

It is important to note that while the world’s attention has been preoccupied with the experience and fate of the albino calf, her life is no more important than the life of any other dolphin that gets driven into the Taiji capture and slaughter process. It’s just that she is easy to identify and is therefore easy for the world (and the media) to connect with. It shouldn’t be that way, and it would be nice if everyone cared as much about ALL the dolphins as they do about the albino calf. But if people are willing to pay more attention to what happens to dolphins off Taiji because Angel exists, then her experience is important and has additional meaning.

Obviously, Angel did not ask to become the poster-dolphin for the Taiji drive hunt, and would rather still be a wild dolphin, swimming with her mother and pod. But that is the role the human world has given her.

(Yet!) One More Round On The Taiji Cruelty Report

Following the recent release of a paper on the inhumanity of the Taiji dolphin drive hunt (previous here, here, here, and here!), Lori Marino of Emory University voiced strong concerns about the language and approach of the paper, most prominently here.

Lori is as passionate, dedicated, and smart as they come when it comes to advocating for the rights of nonhumans. And she bravely raised completely legitimate points (though I personally did not agree completely with them). But she has reconsidered the sharpness and tone of her response, and has just released an open statement to the report authors:

Note to Self: It’s Not About Us

Open Statement to the authors of the Butterworth et al.(2013) paper: A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the “Drive Hunt” in Taiji, Japan

In response to the outpouring of strong reactions to this paper, both negative and positive, I need to say that my own criticisms of the paper reflect a very deep commitment to a particular stance on how we should oppose dolphin exploitation and abuse. They were not meant as a personal attack on the motivations of the authors, and I apologize and take full responsibility for any hurt the tone of my reaction and my comments have caused.

We are all frustrated over the ongoing abuses of dolphins and other animals. And we all have strong opinions about how to bring an end to those abuses. My own view is that a strong rights-based stance is the only one that will lead to real change, and that when we give the impression that we’re endorsing more “humane” ways of killing nonhuman animals, we have stepped over a “line in the sand” with regard to being respectful to the lives of the animals we are setting out to protect.

So I have very real concerns that a paper of this kind can backfire in terms of our goal, despite the good intentions.

More to the point, there is a respectful discussion to be had about these issues, and my reactions to this paper should have been more considerate and constructive.

I hope, in the future, to be able to reach out to my colleagues and friends as we all work to find ways to combat the abuses all around us – abuses that clearly leave deep marks on all of us.

Thank you,


I personally have no problem with sharp debates over this issue, or any issue. But it is important that debates not undermine the basic collegiality of all who care about dolphin issues, or undermine their ability to work together toward protecting dolphins. So I think this is a classy move on Lori’s part and I hope it succeeds in soothing any hurt feelings or ill will.

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