After years of declining visitor numbers, Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium closed its doors in January 2018. At the time, it was not known what had happened to the hundreds of animals that called the attraction home. However, two months later, activists made a disturbing discovery.
Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium is located in Ch?shi, Japan. The coastal town lies to the northeast of the capital, Tokyo, and the aquarium was once a popular tourist attraction. The tsunami of 2011 changed all of that, though.
You see, the almighty waves that were sparked by the T?hoku earthquake severely affected the region in which Ch?shi is situated. And the consequences of the natural disaster were devastating. In fact, the damage was such that it led to a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex – where a trio of reactors went into catastrophic meltdown.
The nuclear accidents would have a lasting impact on Japan’s northeast, too. Understandably, the release of radioactive materials in the area made it less of an appealing holiday destination for tourists. And as a result, visitor numbers at the Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium began to dwindle.
So, seven years after the earthquake and tsunami, the aquarium shut its doors for the final time, in January 2018. Prior to this, the facility had been home to hundreds of animals, including fish, reptiles, penguins and a dolphin called Honey.
It had been up to the marine park’s owner, then, to decide the fates of all the creatures in their care. But two months after the aquarium’s closure, it seemed that no effort had been made to relocate the animals at Inubosaki.
Then in March 2017 local animal activists captured footage of Honey floating in a dingy pool on the abandoned site. Later, an observer told welfare organization Dolphin Project, “For two hours, Honey floated alone in a corner of her shallow, shadeless tank.”
And sadly, Honey’s abandonment at the marine park was just the latest in a string of tragedies that had marred her life. You see, the dolphin had been captured from the wild in 2005 during the annual hunt that takes place in Taiji – a settlement on the west coast of Japan.
The port town was, in fact, made infamous by 2009’s award-winning documentary The Cove. The film highlights the brutality of the local hunt, during which dolphins are driven into a small bay where they are more easily caught or killed.
But as awareness of the “inhumane” practices used at Taiji rose, The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums withdrew its support of the hunt. The decision came too late for many dolphins, though, including Honey, who wound up at Inubosaki.
And sadly, by August 2018 it looked like Honey had been left to die at the marine park. Although reports suggested that former aquarium employees were still feeding the animal, it was unclear from where they were sourcing the food and whether this supply would last much longer.
Then, later in August 2018, Akiko Mitsunobu from Animal Rights Center gave an update on the dolphin’s plight. She told Reuters News Agency, “Honey is a symbol of both the problem of marine parks and Taiji’s hunting practices. When we went to check on the facility, she was showing signs of stress, putting her head weakly in and out of the water.”
To make matters worse, Honey was not alone in her fate. There were also nearly 50 penguins and countless reptiles and fish left abandoned at the marine park. And with representatives of the Inubosaki Marine Park maintaining their silence, all the animals’ futures remained unclear.
What’s more, with no word from aquarium officials, animal activists’ concerns were heightened. Sachiko Azuma from Put an End to Animal Cruelty and Exploitation (PEACE) explained, “I get feelings of danger and doubt from the fact that they are so silent about this.”
So, with that in mind, activists decided that they would take matters into their own hands. They started by capturing footage and photos of the aquarium and sharing the images far and wide. And among those to receive the shocking files were the staff at Dolphin Project.
It was actually back in 1970 that activist Ric O’Barry founded Dolphin Project. Interestingly, O’Barry started out as a dolphin trainer on the TV show Flipper. He later changed his stance, however, and became a passionate advocate against dolphin captivity.
And after reviewing the images of Honey and her fellow internees, O’Barry released a statement through Dolphin Project’s website. It read, “The footage we have reviewed demonstrates the need to take action immediately in order to save dolphin Honey from a miserable death. The same is true for all of the abandoned animals at Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium.”
So, in order to help Honey, Dolphin Project began working with welfare groups in Japan. The organization also put forward a proposal to rehabilitate Honey for a potential release or a new life in a reputable sanctuary.
Now if anyone knew how to save Honey and her friends, it was the team at Dolphin Project. After all, over the years, they had rescued dolphins from similar fates across the world. And what’s more, they were confident that they could do the same for Honey.
So with the eyes of animal lovers across the world on the case, there’s plenty of pressure on the representatives of Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium to finally do the right thing. And with any luck, Honey and her fellow animals will eventually get the happy endings that they deserve.