There seems to be a lawsuit filed on behalf of animals every 10 minutes, but to date none of them have taken on the town of Taiji, Japan, which became infamous for its brutal dolphin roundups following the release of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.
This week, animal advocates from Australians for Dolphins and the Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project and Save Japan Dolphins campaign changed that when they filed the first ever lawsuit on behalf of the dolphins who are rounded up in the cove and killed or sold for captivity every year.
In their lawsuit, they argue that the Taiji Whale Museum, which is owned by the town, has been blocking activists and Westerners from entering – in some cases based solely on appearance – in violation of the Japanese constitution, which bans discrimination.
Reuters reported that Sarah Lucas, the CEO of Australians for Dolphins and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that she was shown a sign saying that people against whaling were unwelcome in the museum and denied entry when she visited in February.
“Taiji is full of activists expressing their opposition to the hunt and to keeping dolphins in captivity,” Taiji Whale Museum’s vice director, Tetsuo Kirihata, told Reuters. “If we let them in, they would disturb our other visitors and interfere with our business.”
Disruptive or not, one of the main reasons dolphin advocates want access now is to check on Angel, a rare albino calf who made headlines after being torn from her mother’s side and taken by fishermen during a violent roundup in January that drew international criticism. She is currently being kept at the museum in conditions that have been described by her advocates as deplorable.
According to a rather gut-wrenching statement, “Angel is now a highly-valuable ‘freak’ show on display in a tiny, filthy tank. Eyewitness’s report she floats lifelessly, or swims in small distressed circles, much of the time with her eyes closed.”
Footage taken by the Dolphin Project’s Ric O’Barry after he entered the museum in disguise earlier this spring shows her being bullied by other dolphins in their tank, where she has nowhere to go to escape from their harassment. It’s heartbreaking to think that just a few months ago she was living in the wild with her pod under the protection of her mother and that now, thanks to human greed, this is her life:
Her advocates hope that the Action for Angel lawsuit will ensure access for those who want to document her well being and the well being of dolphins in aquariums throughout Japan, according to a statement. They also believe that it will, for the first time, compel Taiji’s government to defend its dolphin hunts. Still another hope is that legal action will lead to improvements in Angel’s living conditions, at least with a move to an enclosure where she’ll have much-needed shade and some enrichment.
Although she’s no different from any other dolphin who has been taken, she stands out and has become the poster dolphin for the outrage surrounding the ongoing captures and slaughter, in addition to having become an unfortunate and constant reminder of the role the captivity industry continues to play in the brutal drives that take place in the cove every year.
Some believe that if it weren’t for the profits captures continue to bring in, the hunt would have collapsed already. While the lawsuit alone might not end the dolphin drives, it will certainly continue to raise awareness and keep Taiji in the spotlight.
“Action for Angel ramps up the pressure on the Taiji government to bring an end to these inhumane hunts once and for all,” said O’Barry. “The Taiji Whale Museum is the government institution at the heart of the Taiji dolphin trade.”
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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