Taiji, the Japanese town made infamous by Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, is to open a marine park where visitors can swim with dolphins, but officials yesterday said its annual slaughter of the creatures will continue in a nearby bay.
Unrepentant organizers say they want tourists to be able to eat dolphin and whale meat as they watch the captive mammals frolic.
The town has begun researching a plan to section off part of a cove and turn it into a place where people can swim in the water and kayak alongside small whales and dolphins, local government official Masaki Wada told reporters.
Wada insisted that, far from having caved to pressure from conservationists who want an end to the yearly hunt, the project was aimed at helping to sustain the practice.
“We already use dolphins and small whales as a source of tourism in the cove where dolphin hunting takes place,” he 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.”
The park will be separate from Hatakejiri Bay, the place into which the fishermen of Taiji corral dolphins, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks, and stab the rest to death for meat.
The plan calls for the creation of a whale safari park stretching about 28 hectares by putting up a net at the entrance to Moriura Bay in northwest Taiji, Wada said.
The 2009 film The Cove brought Taiji to worldwide attention after graphically showing the killing of dozens of trapped animals.
Taiji, in Wakayama Prefecture, is looking to open part of the park within five years, Wada said.
Black whales and bottlenose dolphins caught in waters near the town would be released into the area, which would be developed as a nature park that also includes beaches and mudflats, he added.
Wakayama said the town caught 1,277 dolphins last year and has a license to capture 2,026 this season, which began last month and runs until August next year.
Tokyo-based conservationist group Iruka & Kujira (meaning “dolphin” and “whale”) Action Network (IKAN) said the plan was “unfortunate” for the town.
“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,” IKAN secretary-general Nanami Kurasawa said.
“Marine mammals migrate across ocean, 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.
People in Taiji say dolphin-hunting is part of a 400-year-old whaling and culinary tradition. They say that campaigns against it are cultural imperialism that neglects the parallels between killing dolphins and killing cattle.
Yet Kurasawa said demand for dolphin meat is dwindling and only 100 of 3,400 residents are in dolphin hunting-related businesses.
“If they want to get more tourists, they can for example exhibit the beautiful whale-hunting ships used in ancient days, that would show their tradition without stirring more controversy,” she said.