President, International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA)
1200 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605-2490, USA
Dear Ms Erb,
Re: IMATA policy on Taiji dolphin hunts
We are writing on behalf of the undersigned organisations, which represent extensive expertise in cetacean welfare. We are hopeful IMATA may have the opportunity to discuss the issues herein at its Annual Conference currently underway in the Bahamas.
We are writing to express our deep concern that IMATA permits its marine mammal trainers to directly participate in the cetacean drive hunts that occur annually from September until April in Taiji, Japan.
IMATA’s “Drive Fisheries Statement” of 2013 outlines that: “A caregiver is welcomed by IMATA even if s/he participates in the selection and collection of live animals (in Taiji)”. IMATA trainers have been photographed participating in the selection and collection in Taiji.
The undersigned organisations call on IMATA to prohibit its members directly participating in the “captive selection” process in Taiji in the future, for the reasons that:
1. The trainers, including IMATA trainers, who conduct the captive selection process do not exercise a high level of respect and humaneness for animals
The captive selection process in Taiji is inherently cruel. It involves the separation of (usually young female) dolphins from their calves and families using force.
The separation of the dolphins is so violent and rough that dolphins may drown or die from their injuries during the process (before the slaughters even begin). This is documented in video footage (which is readily available online) and by eyewitness accounts.
As you would be aware, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has determined that the captures in Taiji – as opposed to only the slaughters – are in violation of its Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare.
IMATA states in its own Code of Ethics that: “As members of IMATA, each of us is committed to exercising the highest levels of respect and humaneness for all animals”.
The trainers who conduct the captive selection process in Taiji do not exhibit high levels of respect or humaneness for the dolphins in their care, and therefore IMATA trainers should not be allowed to directly participate in this process.
2. The aquarium captures in which IMATA directly participates motivate the slaughters
IMATA makes a clear statement in its Drive Fisheries Statement: “IMATA strongly opposes the mass slaughter of whales and dolphins that occur in drive fisheries”.
We therefore implore IMATA not to allow its trainers to participate in the aquarium captures at Taiji.
We note IMATA’s statements that the Taiji hunts are for the purposes of “culture” and “pest control”, and are not motivated by the aquarium trade. We respectively submit that this is a misunderstanding of the issue.
The majority of profit made in Taiji comes from selling dolphins to aquariums. For example, in the 2013/14 season, 834 dolphins were slaughtered and sold for meat, and 158 were live-captured and sold to aquariums in Japan and overseas. The average sale price for a dolphin carcass is around US$500, whereas official trade statistics show that in 2013 live dolphins sold in the range of $41,600 – $47,746. This means that, on a conservative basis, profits from dolphin meat were in the vicinity of $400,000, compared to profits for live sales of $7 million.
In other words, live sales accounted for 95% of profits made from hunting dolphins in Taiji. The aquarium trade clearly provides a financial incentive for the dolphin hunts and, by directly participating in this aquarium trade, it is undeniable that IMATA trainers are helping to perpetuate the hunts.
We call on IMATA to revise its policy such that the Association does not anymore welcome trainers who are directly involved in the captive selection process in Taiji.
We understand that it would be difficult at this stage for IMATA to prohibit its members from training dolphins acquired in Taiji in aquarium settings, as there are many trainers and facilities involved.
However, it would be practical and easily implemented for IMATA to prohibit its members from participating directly in the dolphin hunts in Taiji. If IMATA’s Code of Ethics is to carry any meaning, it is in fact incumbent on IMATA to ensure that its members are not directly involved in a captive selection process which involves animals sustaining injuries and dying from mistreatment.
Finally, we note IMATA’s statement that it welcomes trainers involved in the Taiji hunts on the “premise that those animals will benefit as s/he is exposed to the most current best practices in animal care and training”.
Whilst we understand IMATA’s reasoning here, we do not think this premise makes a good justification for IMATA accepting trainers who participate in the Taiji selection process. In practical terms, the dolphins in Taiji are not exposed by IMATA trainers to best practices in animal care and training.
The fact that there are IMATA trainers working in Taiji’s cove does not in any way improve the treatment of the dolphins. The only effect it has is to give IMATA’s support – both symbolically and on the ground – to the aquarium trade that motivates the world’s most notorious dolphin hunts.
Thank you very much for considering the issues here, and we would of course be happy to discuss this matter with you further if you would wish. Given that the hunting season in Taiji is underway, we would appreciate your urgent response.