On Good Friday we received some wonderful news; Australia for Dolphins won a lawsuit against the Taiji Whale Museum. This cruel museum isn’t just the institution that tore a rare albino dolphin calf named Angel out of the wild. It is also the government broker of the annual dolphin hunts in Japan, acting as the middleman by selling dolphins captured in the hunts to aquariums around the world.
While many were overjoyed at news of the legal victory, some people have questioned what this win means for dolphins.
Unfortunately, it does not mean Angel will be automatically released from the museum – we still have a long road ahead of us when it comes to freeing Angel. However, it does mean we are one huge step closer to that goal, and one step closer to shutting down the Taiji hunts for good.
When AFD CEO Sarah Lucas went to visit Angel at the Taiji Whale Museum back in 2014, she was turned away at the door. In fact, this was routine behaviour. Staff members were afraid dolphin advocates would expose the horrible conditions inside, opening them up to intense public scrutiny. So they turned many dolphin advocates away.
Unfortunately, there were no animal welfare laws in place to help Angel. So AFD knew we had to use the existing legal framework in Japan if we had any hope of helping Angel. That’s why Sarah launched an anti-discrimination case against the museum, under constitutional law.
The aims of this case were:
1. To force the museum to open it’s doors to animal welfare observers, so they could report on the conditions to the rest of the world and expose the animal cruelty inside.
At the time AFD launched legal action against the museum, it routinely turned animal welfare observers away at the door. It wanted to keep what had happened to Angel and other Taiji dolphins a secret, so they could continue to be kept in squalid conditions without public criticism.
Shortly after the lawsuit, the museum reversed this discriminatory policy, allowing many activists entry to check on the welfare of dolphins captured in the hunts – exposing the cruel conditions to the world.
2. Gain worldwide media attention for Angel, further exposing the cruel cycle of captivity and inspiring people to take a stand against Taiji.
AFD wanted to draw media attention to the Taiji Whale Museum, and the plight of Angel, to let the world know about the drive hunts shocking connection to captivity. A lot of people still don’t realise that dolphins are not just slaughtered in the brutal Taiji hunts, but stolen out of the wild and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars to aquariums.
This put an international media spotlight on Angel, publicising her terrible living conditions to millions of people globally.
Importantly, it has also been widely covered by Japanese media, exposing many Japanese people to the cruelty of the hunts and captivity for the first time – which is absolutely crucial if we want to end the horrific cruelty.
3. To gain an important bargaining chip in behind the scenes negotiations to free Angel.
The main aim of the Action 4 Angel campaign has always been to help free Angel from her filthy tank at the museum.
We knew the museum would not let Angel out of her tank without a fight, and have been negotiating with officials behind the scenes to try and secure her release to an ocean pen. What we were lacking in these negotiations was leverage. Now that the Taiji government has been forced to pay damages, we have gained a valuable bargaining chip. We can use this to try to influence the Museum to move Angel out of her squalid conditions. For example, we’re offering to the museum that they could use the damages awarded to AFD in the lawsuit to pay for Angel’s relocation to a humane sea pen. We’re ready to assist the Museum in any way needed to help move Angel.
While AFD’s legal action was an anti-discrimination law suit (as we explained to our supporters via emails, blog posts, and social media updates) the aim of it was always to secure Angel’s release to an ocean pen – and we will not give up on this goal.
4. To test the Japanese legal system, to ensure it would rule against its own government institutions.
This last goal is especially important. The Action 4 Angel lawsuit, while important in its own right, is part of a much larger strategy to end the cruel Taiji hunts that stole Angel from her family once and for all.
AFD knew if we could prove the Japanese legal system would rule against its own government entities when faced with a strong legal argument, we could bring further legal actions aimed at ending the hunts altogether. The dolphin hunting issue in Japan is highly politicised, so securing this initial win demonstrates the legal and justice system in Japan can act objectively, even when faced with intense pressure from the executive arm of government.
The exciting news is, AFD has found a loophole in Japanese law that proves the hunts are illegal.
In order to bring this lawsuit, we needed to know the law would rule fairly in favour of a strong legal argument, and not side with the dolphin hunters. The wonderful news is now we know the Japanese legal system works effectively, and will rule against its own government institutions. This opens the way for our next big legal action – which could end these cruel hunts once and for all.
While our legal win against the Taiji Whale Museum does not mean Angel will be automatically released, we strongly believe it will bring us one step closer not just to freeing Angel, but ending the brutal hunts that slaughter thousands of dolphins off the coast of Japan every year.
We want to take this opportunity to thank our loyal base of supports who made this momentous win possible, and who have supported AFD and Angel all the way. We would not be able to continue fighting for dolphin protection around the world without your support. You are amazing – and we are forever grateful for your kindness and compassion.
Together we will keep fighting for dolphins, and we WILL win again.