Swim with whales and dolphins - then eat them
A JAPANESE town that became synonymous with the mass slaughter of dolphins after it was the subject of a harrowing Oscar-winning documentary is to open a marine park that will allow visitors to swim with the animals - and then eat them.
Residents of Taiji, in Wakayama Prefecture on the south-west coast of Honshu, continue to hunt small whales and dolphins after commercial whaling was suspended in 1988.
The town was the subject of the 2009 documentary The Cove, which examined Japan's dolphin-hunting culture and the hunt that takes place in the town annually from September to April. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary the following year.
Organisers in Taiji have now begun preparing proposals to section off a part of the cove to create a marine park, offering visitors the opportunity to swim alongside dolphins and whales, Masaki Wada, a local government official told AFP news agency.
The marine park would span 69 acres and could be open within the next five years. It would be located close to Hatakejiri Bay, where Taiji fishermen corral dolphins into nets before slaughtering them.
Black whales and bottlenose dolphins captured near by would be released into a pool that would eventually be made into a nature park for tourists.
"We already use dolphins and small whales as a source of tourism in the cove where dolphin hunting takes place," Mr Wada said.
"In summer, swimmers can enjoy watching the mammals that are released from a partitioned-off space," he added.
"But we plan to do it on a larger scale. This is part of Taiji's long-term plan of making the whole town a park, where you can enjoy watching marine mammals while tasting various marine products, including whale and dolphin meat."
The Tokyo-based conservationist group Iruka & Kujira (Dolphin & Whale) Action Network (Ikan) called the plan "unfortunate" and warned it could ignite a series of protests.
"The whole plan is based on the concept that they can exploit dolphins and whales freely as their resource, but the mammals don't belong to Taiji," said Nanami Kurasawa, Ikan's secretary general.
"Marine mammals migrate across oceans, and international public opinion is that wildlife should be allowed to live as they are. The plan will only ignite more protests over dolphin hunting."