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.

Video Interlude: The Dolphin Debate In Germany

We often get pre-occupied with SeaWorld, partly because of the killer whales. But dolphinariums, even without the orcas, are big business all over the world. This 30-minute program takes a look at dolphin parks in Germany, and the protest movement against them (in German, with English subtitles).

The Fisherman And The Dolphin

Because you can never see enough examples of the complex and moving relationships dolphins can choose (that’s a key word) to develop with humans, I want to point you toward a fascinating documentary series that depicts the complex bonds that can form between wild dolphins and humans.

Here’s a summary from the press release:

Blue Velvet In Sinai shows the remarkable relationship between a wild solitary female dolphin in the Red Sea named Olin, who in 1996 initiated a close relationship with a Bedouin fisherman called Abdullah, from The Mezzeina Tribe in the Sinai desert, Egypt.

This tribe is deaf due to inter-breeding, and communicate via sign language. In late December 1996 Olin, after mating with a dolphin from a passing school, gave birth to a male calf named Jimmy (by the Bedouin). Jimmy’s arrival heralded a massive tourism wave that changed the area and the lives of the Bedouin.

The programmes also highlight many aspects of Bedouin life and culture against the vast landscapes of the Sinai Desert. We will catch fish with Abdullah and members of his tribe, and compare differing life styles between the traditional and modern Bedouin..

An extract from a story by the ancient Roman writer Aleian, about a tragic love affair between a young boy and a female dolphin, will show that human and dolphin interaction is not something new. Dolphins were abundant in classical times, though now their species are declining.

Before discovering Olin, Abdallah had difficulty with speech. Now Abdallah is able to talk freely, and his hearing is said to have improved. A remarkable achievement, almost miraculous, though it can be partly explained scientifically.

Footage of pregnant woman swimming with dolphins, and interviews with women who have undergone water births, are examples of how close we are in nature to these playful creatures. Including the first birth with dolphins in Israel, which hit major headlines.

Dolphin healing is an area that makes me very, very nervous, because it is so ripe for commercial exploitation. When humans think dolphins can give them something they tend to take (and someone always has a way to make money from that dynamic). But the series at least helps show how remarkable dolphins are, which can only help humanity change the way it sees dolphins and the many ways in which human culture exploits them.

Here are some trailers from the Blue Velvet In Sinai website, and for a small fee you can watch the whole series online here, or buy a DVD.