Japan’s Swim-With-Dolphins Programs: A Paradox

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(Photo from Tamagide)

While researching the possible effects of nuclear contamination on coastal bottlenose dolphins in Japan, I happened to stumble across websites that promote eco-tours to swim with wild dolphins offshore of Tokyo, and also a program to swim with a captive Risso’s dolphin in Taiji.  At first glance this seems paradoxical, given Japan’s reputation for viewing dolphins as food, and Taiji’s documented cruelty (savejapandolphins.org).
Yet in many ways that is not so different from our own country – we have only to look back forty years or so to find an era when whales were killed for dog food and plant fertilizer, orcas were shot or driven away with underwater explosives by fishermen who saw them as pests, and all marine mammals were considered fair game.  At the same time we watched episodes of ‘Flipper’ on TV, and the navy started to use dolphins in underwater work.  And now, even with public sentiment against it, we allow government officials to kill the sea lions that lurk near dams and eat “our” salmon. We allow for native “subsistence” whale hunts with modern equipment.
Nope, the Japanese are not so different from us, really.
What is different is what we have learned from observing dolphins and whales in the wild, either through field research or  whale watching excursions (as well as other eco-tours), and Japan is just beginning to encourage these interactions. When there is more profit in tourism than in selling the meat, dolphins  and whales will enjoy more protection worldwide.
Location of swim-with-dolphins (wild) in Japan.

Here is a sampling of the Japan tours (they take place in a region that is safe from long term radiation contamination – more on that soon) followed by a video of the Taiji experience:
Diving with dolphins in the Izu Islands “There are around 150 dolphins living in the area,” Taguchi explains on the choppy boat ride to Mikura. “Most of them we can recognize by scars or the shapes of their fins.” My guide, as it turns out, is both an animal lover and a passionate conservationist with an informative blog and educational children’s book to his credit. He became hooked on Mikura’s dolphins after a diving trip in the 1990s with the late Jack Moyer, a leading American marine ecologist and former resident of Miyake who pioneered efforts to protect the fragile ecosystems of the Izu Islands.”
Swim with Wild Dolphins in Japan “Mikura’s dolphins are the species of Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins but they are different from the bottlenose dolphins that are widely known in some points.(For example, they are smaller than bottlenose dolphins and their beak is relatively longer and more slender.)
About 200 dolphins inhabit around Mikura island.
And 160 dolphins are identified.
They generally live in groups.
You might see three kinds of groups of dolphins.
1.Group of mothers and children. In this group, young females often join them.
2.Group of young males.
3.Group of adult males.
But the each groups are loose and could have dolphins of the other groups in it.”
The Taiji experience borders on Fellini-esque (Fellini made films that were bizarre, in a normal way)-


swim with whale by daysinjapan
“The dolphin is usually kept in an enclosure by the Taiji whale museum/aquarium. However, for two times a day in the summer, they enlarge the enclosure to include a beach area, allowing tourists to get into the water and swim alongside the big dolphin.”

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