What Will Be the Fate of Another Rare Albino Dolphin Captured by Japanese Hunters?

The white dolphin, the second taken this year at the cove, could be sold to an aquarium for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Angel, an albino dolphin catured at the cove in January. (Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)

Nov 26, 2014· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

Albino dolphins are extremely rare, yet fishers at the cove in Taiji, Japan, have somehow managed to capture two of the exotic creatures in just one year. Each of them may be worth up to a half-million dollars.

On Sunday, fishers rounded up a pod of 16 Risso’s dolphins and drove them into the killing cove, the subject of the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. Three young calves were released, and all but two of the others were slaughtered, their meat destined for domestic and foreign markets, according to members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

One of the captured animals was the albino, a juvenile of unknown gender whom volunteers from Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians named Shiro, Japanese for “white.”

Shiro is now the second albino dolphin held captive in Taiji. The other, a young, pinkish-white female bottlenose dubbed Angel by opponents of the dolphin drives, was captured last January after witnessing the killing of her own mother.

Opponents were quick to denounce the latest capture.

“It is truly a crime against nature that Taiji has taken a second albino dolphin for the sake of captivity and profit,” Melissa Sehgal, Cove Guardian senior campaign coordinator, said in an email. “This is carnage not culture.”

Japan insists that the annual dolphin drives, which last roughly from September through February, are an integral part of the country’s cultural tradition.

Sehgal said the Risso’s dolphin is being held in the Taiji Harbor holding pens. “These pens are where dolphins are conditioned to eat dead fish, a ‘transitional stage’ for captive dolphins,” she said.

Cove Guardians observed trainers trying to force-feed Shiro on Tuesday, Sehgal said. “This is a sign that the dolphin is not adapting well to his/her prisonlike environment,” she said. “The sale of this dolphin will depend on how soon Shiro adapts and starts responding to human interaction.”

Ric O’Barry, founder of The Dolphin Project and star of The Cove, blamed the aquarium industry for fueling captures of live dolphins in Taiji.

“The general reaction is anger,” O’Barry said in an email. “Angry because the zoos and aquariums of the world won’t step up to help stop these violent captures. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) have failed miserably to take any sort of action to police their own industry.”

Critics note that the sale of live dolphins to aquariums is far more profitable than selling dolphin meat to consumers. Live dolphins have brought up to $150,000 each, while slaughtered animals fetch about $500 to $600.

Statistics show that, while the number of dolphins slaughtered is decreasing, the number of animals captured for live display is going up.

Both Sehgal and O’Barry estimated the albino dolphin’s value at up to $500,000.

“That’s what they are asking for Angel,” O’Barry said, noting that it was possible that the Taiji Whale Museum, where Angel is being held, might decide to put both albinos on display.

“Whatever makes the most money will be the deciding factor,” he added. “They do not share their plans with us, so there’s no way to know if there are any offers on the table.”

Angel is kept in a small pool on the museum grounds. “The tank is boring her to death,” O’Barry said.

So what can be done? “The Dolphin Project is calling on the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and all captive facilities around the world to immediately condemn the capture of this dolphin and to refuse to consider purchasing this animal,” O’Barry said.

Meanwhile, activists hope that Shiro’s high-profile capture might backfire on the captors.

“The attention that is being brought to Taiji because of this second rare capture is vital to the hundreds of dolphins that continue to be heinously murdered during the drive hunt season,” Sehgal said.