Rare white dolphin snatched from wild for controversial exhibit

Drone video shows a pod of 19 dolphins captured. The white one is taken away and the other 18 are slaughtered.

“Shocking” video shows a rare white dolphin being snatched from the wild by Japanese hunters and confined in a shallow ocean pen.

Witnesses say it is the only survivor of a pod of 19 animals that were chased into a notorious killing cove on Sunday in Taiji, 129km south of Osaka.

Details of the incident were shared with Yahoo News Australia by Japanese animal advocate Ren Yabuki who filmed with a drone as the hunters singled out the highly-prized animal. “Many people in Japan like white-coloured animals, so the hunters captured only this one,” he said.

Left - the white dolphin swimming in its pod. Right - the dolphin in captivity.
A wild white-striped dolphin was singled out and then taken into captivity. Source: LIA/Dolphin Project

The chase began at 8.50 am, local time. Less than 30 minutes later the white dolphin was separated from its pod, lifted into a boat and ferried towards a maze of intersecting ocean pens.

Moments later, the remaining 18 dolphins were herded under a brown tarpaulin. Within 15 minutes, the water around them began to turn red as blood gushed into Hatakejiri Bay. "The dolphins were struggling. I could hear their tails bashing on the water," Mr Yabuki said.

Concern for welfare of white dolphin being held in captivity

Mr Yabuki runs the animal advocacy group Life Investigation Agency which partners with US-based Dolphin Project to live stream the hunts and advocate against captive dolphin shows.

He said he’s “angry” at yesterday's events, and he now fears for the white dolphin's survival. He's particularly concerned because it is a striped dolphin. Of the 39 dolphin and porpoise species, they are particularly difficult to keep in human care and often quickly die.

While striped dolphins can live close to 60 years in the wild, they usually die in three to nine years in captivity.

Men on the back of a skiff hold down the white dolphin (left). A tarpaulin hides the slaughter. The water in the cove is red (right).
While the white dolphin was ferried into captivity (left), its family were slaughtered (right). Source: LIA/Dolphin Project

Dolphins captured at Taiji are ordinarily sold to aquariums across Asia and Mr Yabuki believes the Taiji Whale Museum, where it is currently housed, could receive a number of bids to purchase it. Alternatively, because of its species' high mortality rate, it could go on display at the museum itself.

Activist begins court action against Taiji

Taiji’s annual dolphin slaughter and capture remain controversial. In December, the cast and director James Cameron of Avatar 2 made global headlines after controversially watching and then praising a dolphin show in Japan.

Japanese hunters maintain they are taking part in a tradition, but critics say the hunt's main financial driver is the multimillion-dollar supply of captive animals to aquariums.

Many dolphin parks in Japan and China lack the ability to successfully breed and maintain a healthy captive animal population, so are reliant on wild animals to keep their pools full.

Mr Yabuki was sent highly redacted documents following previous attempts to gather information about the dolphin drives. Source: Supplied
Mr Yabuki was sent highly redacted documents following previous attempts to gather information about the dolphin drives. Source: Supplied

To better understand the decision-making that allows the hunts to continue, Mr Yabuki, a resident of Taiji, filed a lawsuit against the town.

He’s seeking information about the number of dolphins held at the Taiji Whale Museum, the number of mortalities, as well as data about the sale of live animals to other aquariums.

The legal action follows an attempt at a freedom of information request that resulted in him being sent highly redacted documents, with many pages entirely blacked out.

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