Cove Cultists?


Yet, it could be a way forward because despite films like 'The Cove' nothing much has changed regarding drive hunts on a local level and animals are still getting killed in large numbers. 



Some time ago, a colleague within the zoological community - who had spent some considerable time on various animal chat forums putting forward considered views on the claims and counter claims of the animal rights movement - declared that surely these people's views can be only described as the mindset of a 'cult'.  This is probably not a wholly satisfactory explanation but certainly spending enough time exposed to these groups and factions one could be forgiven that indeed this is the case.

Of course, one of the prime difficulties when involved in such discussions is the blurring of the term animal-rights and animal-welfare.  There have been a number of interesting articles on this matter but for brevity, animal-rights can be defined as an ideological and/or political position treating animals as humans thus confirming them with human rights.  Whereas animal welfare is the act of ensuring we as humans treat animals humanely and spare them unnecessary pain and suffering.  The two terms are mistakenly interchanged but are in fact very, very different.

Now in the world of zoos and aquariums the animal-rights lobby groups are getting very excited about the film 'Blackfish' a melodramatic documentary that makes various claims regarding the welfare and treatment of killer whales at the US Sea World marine parks. 

However, prior to this in 2009 a film called 'The Cove' generated similar attention and once again parks like Sea World were targeted by animal-rights groups and their supporters. These attacks were even more transparently spurious as regarding the welfare of animals within Sea World and aquaria than the film 'Blackfish'.

'The Cove' was a documentary that featured the cetacean (whale and dolphin) drive hunts in Japan that happen in various parts of this country but the film concentrated on the whaling port of Taiji in Wakayama.

These hunts involve the driving of groups of dolphins and whales into bays and killing and butchering them for their meat.  This has been undertaken for hundreds of years but it was not until around the 1960's that the public became more aware of the hunt via magazines such as the National Geographic and wildlife documentary filmmakers including Cousteau

Most people rightly find the film and video of these animals being driven and killed very disturbing and have campaigned to have them stopped.  But a curious aspect of 'The Cove' is that is seemed to spend a large amount of time focussed on the relatively small numbers of cetaceans spared death to be sold for exhibit in aquariums as zoos in deference to the surrounding carnage of the hunt.

The obtaining of animals for zoos and marine parks as a by-product of drive hunts has been a recent development.  This seems to have began in the late 1970's and involved not only animals from Japan but also Taiwan.  Such animals were supplied not only for far-eastern facilities but also Europe and some to the USA.

That said, contemporarily live captures via drive hunts are now specific to supply animals to primarily new aquaria and parks in the Far and Middle east, Russia and members of the former Soviet Union. 

Mainland Europe and the USA do not acquire animals via drive hunts and captive breeding programmes now are used to sustain future animal acquisitions. 

Background and details can be found HERE.

Nonetheless, animal rights activists continue to make very tenuous claims that parks such as Sea World continue to be associated in the drive hunts. 

The facts are that Sea World (and the rest of the US) do not display animals from drive hunts. 
Only one drive-fishery animal is held in the USA. It is a false-killer whale called Kina originally imported by the US Navy's Marine Mammal Program from Ocean Park, Hong Kong in 1987; it was transferred to the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology in 2000. This animal was used for research and not was not on general public display.  In September 2015 Kina and her two bottlenose dolphin companions were transferred to SeaLife Park in Hawaii. Studies on these animals echolocation and biosonar abilities will continue at the park in partnership with the University of Hawaii.

In mainland Europe, no animals from drive hunts are displayed.  Historically, only two shipments of animals from drive hunts where ever imported into the UK.  In 1979, six animals collected via a Taiwan drive hunt were brought from Ocean Park, Hong Kong, where they had already spent some months in captivity. Two animals went to Brighton Aquarium and the rest were exported out of the UK.  The last animals acquired where from a Japanese hunt and shipped to the UK via a acclimation stop at Ocean Park in 1980.  Their capture and transport was featured in the BBC television show 'Animal Magic' featuring the late Terry Nutkins.



Animal Magic: Wanted Alive Not Dead.  Radio Times 15-12 August 1981.

One of these tenuous associations beloved by animal-rightists that is supposed to show Sea World 'supporting drive hunts' is it association with the above-mentioned Ocean Park.

Ocean Park opened in 1977 and was funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club and is at present managed by the Ocean Park Corporation, a financially independent, non-profit organisation. 

When it opened (and for a number of subsequent years) dolphins and some whale species were acquired as a adjunct to drive hunts in both Japan and Taiwan.  However, since that time the park has acquired animals via captive breeding.  The park was one of the first aquaria to successfully used artificial insemination of bottlenose dolphins, a technique that is also been used in many large zoo animals such as elephants.  The last dolphins to be imported to Ocean Park were a wild caught father 'Domino' and his captive bred daughter 'Dumisa' from Port Elizabeth in South Africa on extended breeding loan in July 2009.

No animals appear to have been imported to the park from drive hunts since at least the mid 1990's and more likely 1987.  See Reeves, R.R., DeMaster, D.P., Hill, C.L and Leatherwood, S. 1995. Survivorship of odontocete cetaceans at Ocean Park, Hong Kong, 1974-1994.

However, such details seemed to be ignored by animal-rights supporters who have jumped upon what they believe is evidence of 'professional relationships' between Sea World and Ocean Park and other marine attractions. 

But, of course, zoos and aquariums do have 'professional relationships' with other  zoological facilities with many belonging to groups and organisations supporting such actions as breeding loans, exchanged of animals, husbandry and veterinary advice.  This is not some form of covert operation and takes place in plain sight and the prime beneficiaries are actually the animals within the zoos and aquariums.  This seems something completely lost to animal-rights supporters. 

In addition, what if 'shock horror' zoos and aquariums have professional relationships with establishments that may display animals derived from a drive hunt?  What purpose would be served by isolating such establishments?  The only result as I see it is that the welfare of the animals being exhibited would be compromised by the lack of support and the communication of knowledge.  Although, I get the impression that many opposed to cetaceans in captivity from whatever source would rather the animals be dead.  This can be seen in the glee which some of these groups and individuals rapidly post news on forums reporting animals dying in aquariums or parks an action that seems depressingly widespread.

Recently, there was an interesting development regarding animals taken from drive hunts in Taiji in Japan.  On 1 September 70 bottlenose dolphins where driven into the cove of which 18 were retained for aquaria with the remaining animals released.   This seems to be an attempt to segregate live capture operation from drive hunts. 

Cynics have suggested that this is a ploy to enable aquaria to state that they acquired animals outside the normal drive hunt season where most of the animals are killed and butchered for meat. They point to a petition from animal-rights activists that soft-target groups such as the World Association of  Zoos and Aquariums  (WAZA) and The International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) as somehow being responsible for the drive hunts.  They state in the petition letter: 

[IMATA, WAZA] Do not purchase, contract for, or accept any dolphins from any hunt in which any dolphins have been intentionally killed.

Nonetheless, this is a fascinating development and on a pragmatic basis to save cetacean lives from the hunts perhaps the way forward would be to abandon hunting for live capture.  Many animal-rights activists would object and fisherman would have to be convinced to allow competition from cetaceans for fish and abandoning whale meat as a food source. 

Yet, it could be a way forward because despite films like 'The Cove' nothing much has changed regarding drive hunts on a local level and animals are still getting killed in large numbers.  As an illustration, early in the hunt season (September 2012 - February 2013) 1486 cetaceans were driven into the cove of which 899 were killed, 247 were live capture and 340 released.  Therefore, it remains that the majority of animals are still being killed.   Consequently, and ironically, it could be that the abandonment of hunting for live capture could be a away forward to save cetacean lives. 


During 2000 to 2012 only 7% of animals were taken for aquaria. CetaBase.

Unfortunately, one stumbling block seems to be a very odd underlying consensus of animal-rights supporters that live capture is the primary driving force for cetaceans hunts and if these stopped then the hunting would stop.  Clearly, looking at the history of drive hunts this is glaringly incorrect and also very naive.  

Although it fits in with the anti-captive position of people like Ric O'Barry who promoted this agenda a great deal in the film 'The Cove' making him probably the enabler of what could be called: covecultism.

Links and Further Information:

Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare?     They're the same thing, aren't they? 

Every Sparrow That Falls: Understanding Animal Rights Activism as Functional Religion


Building a Future for Wildlife: The World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy

Cetabase Drive Fisheries: Capture Results & Information

A View To A Kill

The Cove and animals acquired for dolphinaria.