Another reason that US-based facilities may not need to capture wild dolphins is that it's legal to import them from other countries, as long as those dolphins were caught according to US regulations.
“A provision in the MMPA requires that imports cannot come from inhumane capture methods or unsustainable populations,” David Phillips, executive director at Earth Island Institute and director of the International Marine Mammal Project, told Discovery News. But, he said, record keeping is not very good, making it possible for other countries to justify their methods even if they may not be meeting our standards.
Even the phrase “unsustainable population” is loaded when applied to animals such as bottlenose dolphins. These marine mammals are not listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
“But bottlenose dolphins are classified as ‘data deficient’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List and population trends for U.S. stocks are currently unknown,” Ric O’Barry, campaign director of the Dolphin Project, told Discovery News while monitoring the weekend's dolphin roundup at Taiji Cove.
Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and his team were also observing the Taiji event. Their team reports that, based on information from previous years, many of the Taiji dolphins get shipped to Mexico, Turkey, Dubai, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and other parts of Japan.
But aquariums in the United States still attempt to import dolphins from places like Japan and Russia, where reports of inhumane treatment of animals are common. In 2012, for example, SeaWorld attempted to obtain a permit to import a Pacific white-sided dolphin from Japan that was identified to have been born in captivity.
It can't be confirmed whether or not this dolphin or others being imported from Japan come directly Taiji Cove. Lisa Agabian, a Sea Shepherd spokesperson, said to Discovery News, however, "Documents in other countries can be falsified as to the marine mammal's true source of origin. It is then difficult for anyone to prove otherwise."
The increased publicity of the drive-hunt methods such as those used at Taiji Cove is increasing awareness of the plight of dolphins taken from the wild to serve in the entertainment industry. Even the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, sent a tweet over the weekend about her concern at the Japanese dolphin hunt.
For now, the billion-dollar-per-year marine park industry seems to have the upper hand.