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PHUKET: A direct connection between five wild caught dolphins bound for Phuket’s dolphinarium and the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins at the Taiji cove in Japan has been confirmed, the Asia Director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society told the Phuket Gazette by email today.

Initial reports said that a total of six dolphins would be transported to Phuket via the Ukraine. However, the CITES* permit issued by the Ukraine Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources identifies eight dolphins and two South American Fur Seals to be exported to Thailand.

Three of the dolphins, two Pacific Bottlenose dolphins and one Black Sea Bottlenose Dolphin, were born in captivity in 2012 and are being directly exported from Ukraine, said Shepherd Conservation Society Asia Director Gary Stokes.

In addition, five more Pacific Bottlenose dolphins are being re-exported from Ukraine; and all five were originally caught in the wild in Japan, he explained.

“The only place in Japan that catches wild dolphins is Taiji. We had 20 Bottlenose [dolphins] shipped from Taiji to Nemo [representatives] in Ukraine a few years back. Nemo has not imported any other dolphins from Japan except these,” Mr Stokes told the Gazette.

“This is why I can confidently state that these are Taiji dolphins from the infamous killing cove… The same cove where we currently have a team of Cove Guardians on the ground watching and updating the world every day of the hunt season.”

The Taiji dolphin-hunting season started on September 1 and will end by the end of March.

“So far we have had 12 ‘blue cove’ days, as we call them. A ‘red’ day is when they catch and slaughter dolphins,” Mr Stokes explained.

Also, the two South American Fur Seals being imported for the Phuket tourist attraction were allegedly caught in the wilds of Uruguay.

“Two of the permits expire on October 24, so they may be arriving very soon, or they may already be somewhere in the country, being held until the dolphinarium is ready for them,” Mr Stokes said.

“With only one small pool and no additional side pens where animals can be isolated if needed, Nemo [operators] are literally cramming these animals into a goldfish-bowl-sized tank. Throwing in two South American Fur Seals for good measure.”

Renown dolphin trainer turned animal rights activist Ric O’Barry, well-known for his role in the Academy-award winning documentary The Cove, recently spoke to the Gazette in an exclusive interview, voicing his warning that Phuket officials allowing the import of animals directly associated with the massacre at Taiji would tarnish the island’s reputation on an international scale (story here).

“Most of the [captured] dolphins today are coming from the cove in Taiji, Japan. An extremely violent process has to take place to get them to Phuket,” Mr O’Barry said.

“If Phuket actually imports dolphins from Taiji, it’s going to be a blemish on tourism in Phuket on an international scale, because Phuket will be supporting this dolphin slaughter.”

Mr Stokes shares Mr O’Barry’s concern about the damage that could be done to Phuket’s reputation.

“Any dolphins in captivity in Phuket would be disastrous for the international image of Phuket,” he said.

“With the global awareness of the cruelty of captivity-raised animals from movies such as The Cove and more recently last year Blackfish, many will view Phuket in a bad light if this should go ahead, and may choose to vote with their feet and visit an alternative destination in Southeast Asia for their vacation, such as Malaysia.”

Last month, students from the Prince of Songkla University Phuket campus handed Governor Maitri Inthusut a petition with more than 400 signatures to protest the nearly-complete Nemo dolphinarium in Chalong.

The student’s protests promoted a representative of Phuket Aqua Project Co Ltd, the operator behind the Nemo dolphinarium, to hold a closed-door meeting with Phuket Vice Governor Sommai Prijasilpa concerning the opening of the facility (story here).

With the debate raging on the island, the Gazette put the question lingering on everyone’s mind to the people: “Should Phuket have a dolphinarium?”

Responses available in the poll are:

1) Yes – Phuket should have a dolphinarium; many other global tourist destinations have dolphin parks and shows that are very popular with tourists.

2) No – Phuket should not have a dolphinarium; they are cruel and it has long been known that captivity kills dolphins.

To have your say in this poll, vote at right.

* CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli