Swim with Dolphins, Then Eat Them? If Taiji’s Marine Park Happens, Tourists Could Do Both

This article first appeared at TakePart.com

On a memorable episode of The Simpsons, Homer, Marge and the kids head to “Marine World,” where a P.A. system announcement is heard: “Folks, we’re heating up the lobster tank, so hurry on over if you want to pet them before you eat ‘em!”

It’s a classic, grotesque, line and one I was reminded of this week when officials in Taiji, Japan—home to the cove, the site of the annual massacre of thousands of dolphins—announced plans to build a theme park not far from the infamous inlet. Visitors are promised the chance to “swim in the water and kayak alongside small whales and dolphins.”

The plan calls for a dolphin and whale safari park to be created by stretching 69 acres of netting across the entrance to Moriura Bay in northwestern Taiji, according to Agence France Press.

With a macabre, life-imitates-art touch, AFP reported, Taiji official Masaki Wada said the park would allow visitors to enjoy watching marine mammals while tasting various marine products, including whale and dolphin meat.”  This in the face of years of international outrage against the hunting, killing and eating of cetaceans. The park would be proof that Taiji is not “caving” to outside pressure, Wada added, telling AFP the project was aimed at “helping to sustain the practice,” of the village’s annual whale and dolphin. “This is part of Taiji’s long-term plan of making the whole town a park,” he said.

I asked Ric O’Barry, star of The Cove and head of the Dolphin Project at Earth Island Institute, what he thought of the announcement.

“The mayor, city commission, dolphin hunting union, and dolphin dealers and trainers lost their moral compass long ago,” said O’Barry. He was quick to note, however, that the city leadership represents a minority in the village, and that most Taiji citizens are not dolphin-killers.

Activists with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which also has an on-the-ground presence in Taiji, were equally appalled.

“It’s all about business, making a yen off the backs of these animals,” says Erwin Vermeulen, a Cove Guardian and Dutch Sea Shepherd activist. “Why sell dolphins around the world if you can enslave them yourself and reap all the benefits?”

Once captured and put on public display, whether around the world or around the bend, the cetaceans are not the same as in the wild, Vermeulen said. “Their family structure has been destroyed. Often they have witnessed the slaughter of family members.” Visiting them in a marine “safari park” will be “like taking a tour of a mental institution; they are severely traumatized.”

Construction of a temporary pen could begin in November as dolphins selected alive from the drive hunts begin to populate the netted-off bay.

Ironically, the idea of a netted-off seapen, where captive killer whales and dolphins could be retired from show business, though still on display is an ethical compromise that anti-captivity activists have long been calling for as part of a gradual phasing out of whale and dolphin shows in small tanks around the world.

There are, however, two enormous differences.

Retirement pens will hold captive animals as an improvement over their prior conditions, not wild animals newly placed in captivity.

And outside of Taiji, Flipper Burgers probably won’t be on the menu.

About David Kirby

DAVID KIRBY is the author of 'Evidence of Harm,' which was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) award for best book, and a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and 'Animal Factory,' an acclaimed investigation into the environmental impact of factory farms which NPR compared to Upton Sinclair’s classic work 'The Jungle.' His latest book, 'Death at SeaWorld,' was previewed by Library Journal, which wrote: “Lives are at stake here, and Kirby can be trusted to tell the story, having won a passel of awards for his investigate work.” Booklist called the book “gripping” and “hard to put down.”
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