Wild dolphins shipped to China from Japan - "The Beijing Six"

Dolphin transport for aquarium-trade. (Photo: Elsa Nature Conservancy 1999)

BEIJING, China. Monday 20th September, 2010

Six dolphins have arrived in Beijing by air from Japan, Chinese state-run television reported Sunday. CCTV said the dolphins—two Pacific White-sided Dolphins and four Bottlenose Dolphins—have passed quarantine examination and been moved to the city’s ocean park to begin a 30-day period of isolation and inspection.

It said each dolphin arrived in a special water tank 3 meters [>10 ft] long  and 1 meter [3 1/4 ft] wide.

Japanese in some remote coastal fishing communities kill or capture hundreds and even thousands of dolphins from September until April each year. Most dolphins are killed for their meat, but much higher prices can be fetched by the selling of live dolphins to aquariums around the world for use in captive dolphin shows as well as for ‘‘swim-with-dolphins’’ programs.

Source: Japan Today


These dolphins are "blood dolphins" as described by Ric O'Barry, former dolphin-trainer turned activist  in the Animal Planet series of the same name. These are animals captured and sold by the same fishing/hunting industry that also slaughters their species. The transport and sale of these animals to a captive-entertainment facility in China financially supports the slaughter of coastal cetaceans in Japan and around the world.

Additionally, transport via truck and air from coastal Japan where these animals were likely captured and held to "the world's largest inland aquarium" in Beijing would take approximately 8-10 hour. This could incur massive stress on a newly-captured wild animal, especially a marine mammal.

Ultimately, these animals now face one of three destinies:

1. Entertainment-captivity at the Beijing Aquarium's 3000 seat Marine Theatre where, according to their webpage, these newly captured wild animals will be trained to perform "wonderful water ballet, the thrilling high altitude jumping, the pleasant singing voice and the original abstractionist-style drawing". These are unnatural behaviors having little to no educational value.

2. Sale or trade to another captive facility for entertainment-display, research, or lucrative swim-with-dolphin programs. They will be separated from animals and trainers they have come to know and incur further psychological and physiological stress, potentially reducing their life-expectancy in captivity. According to the Humane Society of the United States, a "spike in mortality occurs every time dolphins are transported. Each time they are confined and shipped from one place to another, it is as traumatic as if they were being newly captured from the wild. The experience of being removed from water and restrained is apparently so stressful to dolphins that they never find it routine." Note that this trail of blood dolphins is not limited to Asia. As just one example, Canada's Vancouver Aquarium partners directly with the Beijing Ocean Park.

3. Death from stress-induced infections is likely for these animals. In the U.S., the history of each individual marine mammal in captivity must be traced by the National Marine Fisheries Service and cataloged in the Marine Mammal Inventory. This allows marine conservation and animal advocacy groups to monitor the turn-over in animals and the mortality rate in captivity. However, in China, no such information is available. For example, in March 2003 six dolphins were shipped from Taiji to the Beijing Aquarium and in June of that same year a calf was born, for the first time at their facility. No public records are currently available regarding any of those animals. All of these dolphins' futures, alive or dead, may never be known.


The most important action each of us can take is to never pay to visit any institution that houses captive marine mammals, unless they have a proven record and commitment to the three R's, rescue, rehabilitation and release as the sole reason for housing the animals.

Next, contact the following organizations with your concerns about "The Beijing Six": The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums and World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Finally, "Educate.Activate" within your community, school, and with your family and friends about this issue.

Analysis and research -
Samantha Whitcraft
Conservation Biologist 
Oceanic Defense

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