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Intelligence Of Dolphins Cited in Fight Against Hunt

Japan's annual dolphin hunt, shown in this 2003 photo, has faced opposition for years. A group of scientists and administrators of zoos and aquariums is asking Japan to put tighter restrictions on the government-sanctioned event.
Japan's annual dolphin hunt, shown in this 2003 photo, has faced opposition for years. A group of scientists and administrators of zoos and aquariums is asking Japan to put tighter restrictions on the government-sanctioned event. (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Via Associated Press)

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By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2006

A coalition of marine scientists has launched a campaign to halt Japan's annual "dolphin drive," in which thousands of bottlenose dolphins are herded into shallow coves to be slaughtered with knives and clubs.

The government-sanctioned event, which extends through the fall and winter, has been under fire for years from environmental and animal rights activists.

But in a potentially influential escalation of that battle, mainstream scientists and administrators of zoos and aquariums -- some of whom have been criticized for buying surviving dolphins for use in their shows -- have united to condemn the practice.

The campaign pits the emerging science of animal intelligence against a centuries-old cultural tradition.

In an online statement being released today, the organizers -- including many of the world's leading dolphin scientists and the man who trained the television star Flipper -- say the hunt is nothing less than a ritual massacre of creatures that, according to a growing body of research, are not just intelligent but sophisticatedly self-aware.

The statement calls for the Japanese government to stop issuing permits allowing the hunt and for a halt to the purchase of dolphins caught in the drive. It also aims to get 1 million people to sign an online petition to the government.

Diana Reiss, director of the marine mammal research program at the New York Aquarium's Osborn Laboratories of Marine Science, said in a statement that the hunt is "a brutal and inhumane practice that violates all standards for animal welfare."

With co-worker Lori Marino of Emory University, Reiss showed five years ago that dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, an aspect of cognitive complexity that previously had been documented only in humans and chimpanzees.

Takumi Fukuda, the fisheries attache at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, defended the event as a centuries-old national tradition.

"It is kind of our cultural activity," he said. "We think it is important."

Fukuda said the government has already limited the practice to economic development zones, where fishermen are struggling to get by. And he said the government issues permits for only the number of animals that can safely be culled without threatening the species' survival.

This year 21,000 dolphins can be killed, Fukuda said, of which 15,000 or 16,000 have already been killed.


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