One day after Japan's zoos and aquariums announced that they will no longer buy dolphins captured during an annual hunt that gained international infamy through an Oscar-winning documentary, the mayor of Taiji declared that the traditional fishing village will not stop the annual hunts.
“We are hunting under the permission of the Japanese government and prefecture, and so we will continue to protect our fishermen and the methods. We will not quit,” Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen said Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums voted Wednesday to stop purchasing dolphins from drive-hunts in the waters of Taiji, where fishermen in boats round up dolphins in a cove and slaughter most of them. Some live dolphins are sold to aquariums, where activists say they can fetch as much as $100,000 each.
The hunt was featured in an award-winning documentary, "The Cove."
Animal activists heralded the decision as a possible turning point in their long crusade to end the practice, but the vote didn't necessarily mean zoo and aquarium officials in Japan condemn the practice.
The association's vote came after pressure from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which has described the drive-hunts as "cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild." In April, WAZA suspended Japan's association for violating the global organization's code of ethics.
Being cut off from the world group could have prevented Japan from acquiring other animals via a global animal database, the Guardian reported. Before Wednesday's vote, Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka described the situation as “bullying from all over the world," the Guardian reported.
"I'm not sure if the words 'foreign bullying' fit, but without question, there was a lot of campaigning by foreign anti-whaling groups behind the scenes," Kazutoshi Arai, head of Japan's association, said during a news conference, Reuters reported.
"We don't think taking the dolphins from the wild is cruel, we aren't criticizing the hunt and we don't expect to change our stance," Arai added. He also said that the organization suggested "gentler" methods of dolphin capture that WAZA rejected, according to Reuters.
Sangen, the Taiji mayor, said Thursday that "WAZA gave in to the anti-whaling activists that turned dolphin hunting into an international problem. I believe there was a better way to handle the issue."
While Japanese officials have long defended the hunt as a tradition and a sustainable fishing method, activists have waged a public relations and legal battle against what they deem a cruel practice.
The high cost of live dolphins has become a major economic driver of the hunts, according to the conservation group Sea Shepherd, which monitors how many dolphins are killed during the hunt.
"While not yet an end to the drive hunt, this announcement brings great news for the dolphins in Taiji, because the captive trade represents the true money behind the slaughter that turns the waters of the cove red with blood," the activist group said in a statement. "With the elimination of the demand for Taiji dolphins from Japanese aquariums, Taiji’s hunt is one huge step closer to being sunk economically."
Sarah Lucas, CEO of Australia for Dolphins, told the Associated Press that "this momentous decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan."
The Japanese association represents 89 zoos and 63 aquariums, and a majority of members voted to stay with the world organization, the Japan Times reported. From the paper:
About 30 JAZA members have a total of roughly 250 dolphins in their facilities. While it is not known how many of these came from Taiji, Japanese aquariums have bought an average of 20 dolphins from the town every year, JAZA Secretary-General Naonori Okada has said.
The vote could mean a big drop in the number of dolphins in Japan's facilities, Nisaka said. The zoo group said it will focus on domestic breeding, the Guardian reported.
During the 2014-2015 hunt season, dolphin hunters drove an estimated 1,084 animals — 751 of which were killed. Eighty were sold to aquariums. The rest were released.
[This post, originally published on May 20, has been updated.]