Where Do Performance Dolphins Come From?


This weekend, fisherman herded approximately 250 bottlenose dolphins into Japan's Taiji Cove and selected about a dozen, including an extremely rare albino dolphin, for possible sale to marine parks and aquariums.

Defenders of the drive-hunt method say that the roundup is part of a cultural tradition, but demand for these animals also comes from aquariums and marine parks, which are part of a billion-dollar industry worldwide. Discovery News investigated where US marine park facilities get their dolphins and if any of them have come from Taiji Cove.

Japanese Fisherman Capture Rare, Albino Dolphin in Taiji Cove

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David M Schrader/Veer

Among the dolphins housed at marine parks and aquariums in the United States, 100 were caught in the wild and are on display at 23 facilities nationwide, according to Ceta-Base, a database of captive-held cetaceans around the world.

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums says that approximately 64 percent of the dolphins in its member facilities are not wild, but were born in a park or aquarium.

Some of those dolphins live for decades, such as Toad, who has been with the U.S. Navy for 45 years, and Nellie, who is at Augustine, FL-based Marineland Dolphin Adventure and has lived in captivity for 60 years.

But others do not survive that long. In the 2009 study The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity, co-published by The Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the authors write:

Fierce debate continues over the issue of mortality rates and longevity, especially of whales and dolphins. The mortality data related to live captures are more straightforward -- capture is undeniably stressful and, in dolphins, results in a six-fold increase in mortality risk during and immediately after capture.

Despite this, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), enacted in 1972, makes it legal to capture dolphins from the wild for entertainment purposes, although no permits to do so have been issued since 1989. One explanation, notes the World Society for the Protection of Animals, is the unprecedented number of dolphin strandings over the last couple of decades that have made it unnecessary to take these marine mammals from the wild.

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