The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums said Wednesday that it will no longer be buying dolphins from Taiji, banning its members from supporting the annual hunt the town is well known for.

JAZA arrived at the decision after an emergency board meeting called for a vote on the issue of dolphin hunting in Taiji from its 152 members. Out of this number, 149 cast their votes, 99 of which were in favor of the ban as a means of keeping JAZA's membership in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Which zoos and aquariums voted which way was not disclosed, but 43 voted against the move.

WAZA had earlier warned JAZA that its membership will be suspended if it didn't stop supporting the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji.

"WAZA requires all members to adhere to policies that prohibit participating in cruel and non-selective methods of taking animals from the wild," the association wrote in April.

It is unclear just how many of the dolphins in JAZA's member zoos and aquariums were from Taiji, but it is estimated that about 20 dolphins are bought from the town each year by Japanese aquariums, according to Naonori Okada, JAZA's secretary-general.

"JAZA board decided that JAZA will prohibit its members to acquire wild dolphins caught by drive fishing in Taiji and to take part in their export and sale," said a statement from the association addressed to WAZA.

Aside from halting procuring dolphins acquired from drive fishing, JAZA is also looking at improving cooperation among its members to facilitate dolphin breeding.

Kazutoshi Arai, JAZA chairman, however, clarified that the association's decision to adhere to WAZA's protocols to stay a member of the organization is not tantamount to condemning drive fishing in Taiji. In fact, JAZA's official position on the drive hunt is that the practice is not cruel.

JAZA remaining a member gives it access to the global database WAZA keeps on rare animals. Without this database, JAZA will have a difficult time finding breeding partners from overseas collections.

Taiji is a small fishing town in central Japan. Fishermen have defended the dolphin hunt as tradition, claiming that eating dolphin meat is just the same as eating chicken or beef in practice. However, many Japanese are against the delicacy, horrified at how the dolphins are killed. Over the last five years, observers estimate that over 5,000 dolphins have been killed for their meat in Taiji, while 750 were sold to aquariums.

Photo: Alessandro Caproni | Flickr

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