Problems around the keeping of Orcas at Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium

Mr. Fumio Tawara
Director of The Fisheries Agency

Mr.Shuya Nakatsuka
Far Seas Fisheries Whaling Section

Dolphin & Whale (Iruka & Kujira) Action Network
Secretary General Nanami Kurasawa

Problems around the keeping of Orcas at Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium

I would like to thank you for all the hard work, from the perspective of biodiversity conservation, and I would also like to congratulate you for your critical reaction towards the Russian caught wild orca captivity plan.

However, I have several concerns with regards to the ongoing plan to relocate the orca from Taiji Whale Museum to Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium.

It is prohibited to capture wild orcas although this orca was captured in 1997 as an exemption for the special academic purposes. I believe that not only trainers and researchers but also the general public should bear some responsibility and have the right to follow the fate of the captured animal. I request that my open letter be reflected in the discussion scheduled in 28th July and the answer to my questions along with the discussion contents be opened.


The new facilities of Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium(PNPA) opened in 2001, with plans to own several cetacean species. During that same year, the aquarium purchased 16 bottlenose dolphins and six belugas but their main goal to keep several orcas failed, as the capture in the Russian water ended unsuccessfully. In the following year the aquarium attempted to get orcas from the same area, but it failed again in the planning stage.

The research on the orca population found in the target region of Russian waters started in 2000, and still not much is known about the population to this day.

PNPA, upon suspended the plan to capture wild orcas, is now proposing to purchase and transport the female orca (captured in 1997) kept at Taiji Whale Museum.

The Fisheries agency noticed to prohibit the capturing of wild orcas is since 1993. The captures that took place in 1997 had many uncertainties including the uncredibility of the prior meeting, and scientific approval and research results that drew international attention and criticism. Consequently, the aquarium and the fisheries agency held the meeting after the capture and decided on the following matters. (The notice from the Fisheries Agency was given to the public on 28th of March, 1997.)

Submitting of research plan and immediate commencement of the following, based on the research objectives:

  • With regards to the orcas captured this year (1997), one aquarium (Shirahama), in general, will not display the animal (except the cases where display tank is needed for the research purpose), two aquariums (Mito, Taiji), because of their nature of the tanks where the inlets are fenced off to make a semi-open aquarium, will be allowed to display the animals.
  • With regards to the orcas captured this year (1997), the three aquariums are allowed to train the animals for the research purposes (ie, for blood sampling and body temperature taking and such), but will not train the animals for shows.

Along with these regulations, they also stated that research on reproductive system, ecology and ethology necessary for breeding of the whales will be conducted conjointly with other national aquariums and universities, and the results will be reported via the prefecture of Wakayama to the fisheries agency. Furthermore, they prohibited the selling of the whales to other facilities.

Concerns and questions

1. According to a newspaper article, Taiji Whale Museum will be renting out one of the orcas mentioned in the above regulations for several ten million yen per year. This seems to contradict with the reason given by Mr. Mitsutomi , formal person in charge,explaining, the tank at Taiji are now old and damaged that we have to rent a newly built facility of the PNPA, and move the whale there to continue the research. If this is the case, Taiji is supposed to be paying to PNPA, not making millions of money. The relocation of the orca seems to be more commercial oriented than the original study purpose.

2. Taiji open pool seems to be a more preferable facility for the orcas. Also, although separated from each other, Taiji has other orca, and consequently the trainers have more experience around the whales. PNPA, on the other hand, does not have any experience with raising or keeping orcas, and does not have any other orcas at the facility.

3. PNPA states its objective of keeping an orca as breeding purposes. Promoting artificial insemination experiments with their breeding loan using frozen sperm is stretching the objective. Accepting of such broad and vague objectives is dangerous to the situation in Japan where no legal laws regulating zoos/aquariums exist, and is likely to increase inappropriate operations.

4. In the research proposal submitted by Taiji Whale Museum, the objective of keeping orcas is to test interspecies communication, but if the orca is moved to PNPA, what will be the next objective of their research, and who will be responsible? How will research be possible?

There are already 11 captive orcas in Japan and Japan has succeeded in breeding and also artificial insemination experiments of dolphins. To study whale biology, what would be more superior to the field research? If proactive and sustainable research were to be made from the relocation of the orca from Taiji Whale Museum, it would be the release of the orca into the wild to reunite the whale with its family.

Lastly, I would like to point out that the orca population in Japanese coastal waters is hardly studied, and even its population estimate is made by using similar cetacean species; the short-finned pilot whale. Interest in environmental protection and biodiversity conservation has increased inside Japan, and the New National Strategy for Biodiversity now includes protection and regulation of marine organisms and moreover, the Revised Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law now applies to all the mammal species. Taking such changes into account, please seriously consider the best orca research and study methods, and give appropriate directions.

Thank you for taking time.