“The atrocities in Taiji make me literally sick”-IMATA President

“Let’s Finally Put An End To Dolphin Hunting”

The headline statement by CEOs Joel Manby (SeaWorld) & Wayne Pacelle (The Humane Society of the United States), in their joint column published in The Tampa Bay Times on September 28th, 2016 gives us hope, but is it believable?

They wrote:

“In addressing this crisis…. It is important to build the broadest possible coalitions to protect the world’s wildlife and the natural environment.”

“By teaming up, we’re not letting other disagreements hinder collaboration. The stain of dolphin hunts should remind environmentally conscious people from every viewpoint and walk of life that we need to find common ground and work together to protect wild species from exploitation and extinction if we’re going to save the Earth and its all its inhabitants, human and animal.”

Inspiring words, yes-but this is the same message that animal advocates across the planet have been imploring SeaWorld and all organisations involved in the business of marine mammal “care” to act upon.

If SeaWorld (and The Humane Society US) are genuinely ready to get serious about tackling the issue of Taiji’s infamous, brutal slaughter and capture of wild dolphins, as well as believe their own words, then perhaps SeaWorld, at the very least, should turn its focus and pressure towards its own association with the world’s largest marine-animal training organisation–IMATA.

Many of Sea World’s employees are members of IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association), and some are current committee members of the Association.

Sea World, in fact, is hosting the upcoming 2016 IMATA conference to be held in San Diego; it appears Sea World condones its peers working alongside dolphin hunters on the killing shores of Taiji, Japan. 

In February 2015, we found out first hand, from then President of IMATA, how willing these organisations are to “work together” on the issue of dolphin drive hunting, and how “hollow” their words can be.

Wild Dolphin Capture in Taiji

Migrating wild dolphins, already highly traumatized, often injured or dying after hours of being driven to the cove, are netted in with no escape-then are subjected to the captive- selection process. Terrified dolphins fight for their lives, sometimes for hours, throwing themselves on rocks, trying anything to escape the clutches of killers and divers who mercilessly and brutally wrestle them onto the hidden shore. The dolphin trainers standing in the bloody shallow waters of the beach are watching and waiting. They work with the hunters to decide which dolphins meet the dolphin dealers’ criteria for a life spent in captivity, and which ones will be pushed back into the hands of the killers to be slaughtered; if too young and small, meaning not worth using for the government-sanctioned quota, they are dumped back out at sea, unable to survive without their stolen family.

The newly-captive dolphins are then dragged in slings, attached to killers’ skiffs, and dumped in pens where they will begin their training, filling orders from marine parks all over the world. This is the reality of wild-dolphin capture for the dolphinarium industry.

They will never swim freely in the ocean again. 

Captive Selection Process Source: YouTube, Albi Deak. Vision: SSCS Cove Guardian LiveStream

IMATA too has spoken of “working together” and “finding common ground,” yet when it comes to the crunch, it staunchly defends its position of welcoming trainers involved in drive hunts as members. It continues to legitimise its actions by reasoning that its members in Taiji are “saving” dolphins from slaughter, and calls those who disagree with this position “extremists.”


In February of 2015, disturbing video emerged showing alleged abuse of dolphins by an IMATA-accredited dolphin trainer working at Marineland Mallorca.

At the time the video was made public, this trainer was due to take a position as Vice President of the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta . Public outrage was immediate; IMATA’s social media sites were inundated with renewed calls for dolphin captivity to end.

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Image: FAADATV Via YouTube

On February 8th 2015 IMATA, in what we believe was an effort to appease the growing furor, took to social media and released  a video statement in which Ken Ramirez condemned these “negative methods” of training as, “awful, unacceptable, and just plain wrong. It’s not who we are, it’s not what we’re about.”

IMATA translated the video from English into four other languages, ensuring that its message was widely understood.

I, as well as many other animal advocates, immediately questioned why IMATA would condemn this one trainer based on this, as yet, unsubstantiated video (according to Georgia Aquarium’s statement of the same date), but have no issue with other IMATA-accredited trainers working alongside notoriously inhumane killers in the killing cove of Taiji.

In reality, it welcomes these people into its membership! 

 “Any individual who believes in IMATA’s mission and who supports its goals is welcomed into the membership. This includes extending membership to individuals who work for organizations that acquire dolphins from a drive fishery. A caregiver is welcomed by IMATA even if s/he participates in the selection and collection of live animals on the premise that those animals will benefit as s/he is exposed to the most current best practices in animal care and training. This helps to ensure the well-being of animals living in zoological settings around the world.” – International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association’s Position
on Small Cetacean Drive Fisheries

IMATA’s video release condemning the trainer proved, it seems, to be an error in judgment, as calls for the organisation to uphold the same condemnation of trainers in Taiji reached fever pitch on social media. IMATA deleted hundreds of comments from its Facebook page and blocked anyone who continued to question the subject of IMATA trainers in “The Cove.”

So inundated was IMATA that its website crashed, although IMATA says their data base was “down due to an activist hacker.”

I respectfully questioned IMATA (as an individual) at the time on its Facebook page, and was one of those deleted and blocked almost immediately. Like many advocates now unable to comment on IMATA’s Facebook Account, I  decided to write to them via its general email address.

February 10th 2015:

Whilst I commend your video statement and verbal stance of the issue of the alleged Dolphin Abuser from Mallorca, I am very disappointed that you seem to think IMATA trainer involvement in the inhumane Drive Hunts of Taiji are ok?
I find it appalling that you not only refuse to act in relation to this but that you also simply block and delete anyone who questions you on this particular issue. WHY?
We are people from all walks of life who like you, love these animals and want the best for them, we are not “extremists”.
I am a single Mum of a 10 year old boy who has been to Sea World in Australia.
I fail to see how you can be so disrespectful of people like me who quite frankly keep you in business!
I have read your stance on your web page in relation to Taiji and also your arrogant opinion of people like me.
Isn’t it time you realised that these issues need to be addressed honestly and openly and transparently?

You can imagine my surprise when I received a response from the President of IMATA that day! This response was the first of numerous emails between myself, the team at Black Cove and then President of IMATA, Ms.Linda Erb.


Throughout our correspondence we believed the IMATA President was genuinely pleased to have the opportunity to work with us, and we were thrilled to be able to work with IMATA. Opening the communication lines between advocates and the world’s leading marine-animal training organisation was an exciting prospect.

The following is a summary of dialogue we had in 2015 with the then President of IMATA, Linda Erb.

February 10th 2015: Linda Erb

Ms. Erb thanked me “for caring and loving dolphins” and said you are so very right, we have that in common.”

She thanked me for supporting IMATA’s comments on the horrible video that surfaced. “What is depicted does not represent the marine mammal trainers that I know, who make up our non-profit organisation.”

She stated, “the atrocities in Taiji make me literally sick” and, “to see dolphins, just like my good friends I spend my days with, driven into a cove and brutally slaughtered is inconceivably horrific.”

Skiff of Trainers and Killers arrive at the cove together to begin Captive selection. Image: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Ms. Erb went on to talk about some history of dolphin meat as food from her understanding, learned from a friend in Japan. “For many years dolphin and whale meat was pretty much their only protein.  But that is no longer the case and hasn’t been for years. There is no longer any need for it, as I understand.”

She continued, “Yet the families of Taiji still have that occupation and the Japanese government is not taking it away.  There has been some success of stopping them from hunting the great whales due to low numbers, but the dolphins are not (yet) endangered, and Japan has not made it illegal.”

Note: report by the Environmental Investigation Agency published in 2013 made it clear that there are “grave concerns” for the sustainability of these hunts. “For many of the species hunted, the last published abundance estimates are based upon surveys conducted more than 20 years ago.”

Ms. Erb said she understood that some Asian marine parks get dolphins that are driven into the cove.

“But the marine parks are not the reason the hunt persists.  Is it wrong for them to support it by taking dolphins from Taiji?  On the one hand they would die otherwise, so some lives are saved.  But arguably by supporting something you help it continue – even if it is not primarily for marine parks that the hunt is done.”

She went on to say, “the trainers that work at Asian facilities can join IMATA.”  Reasoning that they (IMATA) are a training organisation, “with a goal to teach as many trainers as we can the very best way to care for these amazing animals.

“Ending of the hunt is not up to IMATA, or even those trainers.  It is up to the nation of Japan.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 2.54.31 pm
Image: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Ms. Erb finished with the following:

“Some issues cannot be lain at the feet of any one group, and this is one of them.  It is truly unfortunate that we have so many people with real passion on both sides of this, yet so much effort goes to name calling and assigning blame. If together efforts could be made to educate people, both in Japan and elsewhere, about this issue, I believe progress could be made.”

I was excited to receive this response from the President of IMATA.

I thought I had an opportunity here to have some constructive dialogue with IMATA, so with support from the Black Cove team, put together a respectful, educated and challenging response.

February 14th 2015: Me To Linda Erb

Dear Linda,
Thank you so much for your response. I understand that you must be busy so I very much appreciate the time you have taken to respond.

Like you, I agree that people on both sides of the captivity question need to work together to make progress, and I would like to further question some of the points that you raised.  Please understand that I write not as an enemy but as someone who is passionate about trying to make change and I firmly believe that transparency, openness and positive communication with organisations such as IMATA will be the foundation of any positive change.

I agree that the atrocities in Taiji are sickening. I watch the available live streams a lot so am well aware of the operations and just who is partaking in the drive hunt and the slaughters. Watching what happens in Taiji, it never ceases to amaze me just cruel and unnecessary these hunts are. Each season seems to bring a new level of cruelty and indifference not previously witnessed.
Some recent examples of what I have personally seen are:  drive hunts that go on for 4 hours or longer, leaving dolphins terrified, stressed and exhausted;  skiffs deliberately running over dolphins trapped in nets;  dolphins so badly injured and traumatised that IMATA trainers have literally had to hold them afloat for their survival;  dolphins throwing themselves onto rocks trying to escape the hunters;  dolphins stabbed with hooks whilst still alive to drag them to the killing shore and juveniles dumped back out to sea once their parents are either killed or taken by IMATA trainers for captivity. I have even seen a dolphin trainer deliver a dead captive to the butcher house and laugh when it became stuck whilst being dragged up the butcher house wall.

As the president of IMATA I cannot fathom how it can be considered acceptable that IMATA trainers are actually standing in the bloody waters alongside the people killing these dolphins witnessing, as you say, the“inconceivably horrific acts”.

You raise the point that the “tradition remains” even though there is no longer a need for it.  It is a fact that in Japan, younger people are not eating dolphin and whale meat. Statistically (ref. CetaBase) the demand for the meat is declining.
Sadly, the fact remains that the requirement for captive dolphins is increasing. 
A dead dolphins meat commands an estimated US$600 whereas a live captive and trained dolphin, can be worth anywhere up to $300,000. I put it to you that it is a fact, pure and simple, that the captive market is what is driving these hunts.

You state that the Families of Taiji still hunt as a tradition, but again this is not the case. This industry is run and controlled by a small group of around 26 hunters and around two dozen other individuals who are involved and profiting from the sales of live dolphins to the captive industry.  The town in fact has very little to do with these hunts.
You also state that the dolphins are “not yet endangered”.  I refer you to the independent research of the Environmental Investigations Agency who have noted that no abundance studies of dolphin populations in Japanese waters has been undertaken for the last 20 years. They compiled a report based on all the information available dating back to the 1970’s which showed that all 9 species of dolphin and small whales hunted off Japans coast range in status from “unknown” to “endangered” and “some populations locally extinct”.  Even the IUCN’s Red List states “data deficient” for many of the species hunted by the Taiji Fishermens Union.

You mention that “some Asian marine parks get dolphins that are driven into the cove”. This is accurate. They are shipped all over Japan and also to Korea, Taiwan, the Middle East, Russia, Mexico and other countries.   You question whether it is wrong for them to support the hunts by taking dolphins from Taiji and offer the argument that the dolphins would die if they weren’t taken.  I’m afraid I do not understand this logic?

I would suggest to you that given the facts I refer to, that if there was no demand for live trained dolphins to supply these parks, there would be no reason to hunt them. It seems quite obvious to the general observer that the Marine Park industry is perpetuating the hunts.

I believe that your friends’ opinion that education of the Japanese people is a crucial factor in changing things and that change from within Japan is desperately needed.  Do you not think that the international community, many from countries where dolphins and whales are protected under the law and who, as you say, find the drive hunts and captivity trade unacceptable, should also pressure Japan and its authorities to end this inhumane and outdated practice that is undertaken primarily for the objective of making a profit?
This influence and education could begin with organisations such as IMATA by taking a stand and saying NO, we will not accept entering into an agreement with people who actively destroy and exploit the animals we have declared to protect and care for by educating and setting standards for trainers under our wing. 

Given the current breeding programs in marine parks, surely we have progressed scientifically far enough that wild capture is no longer necessary?

Organisations such as IMATA could take the lead and say no more. 
IMATA could appeal to the consumer, who is definitely becoming more educated, yet it continues to turn a blind eye under the guise of assisting these Taiji trainers to be their very best?

Yes IMATA is a trainers organisation and it is the biggest. Surely this puts IMATA in a unique position to actually make positive change?  I feel that by accepting people who deal in the Taiji dolphin trade IMATA is literally giving them the “go ahead” to continue doing what they are doing.

Yes I have taken my son to SeaWorld and I agree our SeaWorld here in Australia is of a high standard.  Sadly, given their expansion plans into Asia, Malaysia, Korea, the Middle East and Russia, (coincidently the countries that receive Taiji Dolphins) it appears they too will be abetting the continuance of these hunts.

Thankfully my child now understands that these animals belong in the ocean and not in some theme park being exploited.  He understands that to protect them means to look after our oceans and allow them to migrate and swim freely as they should and not be ripped out of their home by profiteers.

I agree that IMATA alone can not end this, but I challenge you to take the leap of faith and make a stand. Do you not think others will follow suit?  It is sad to see organisations such as IMATA continue to pass the buck for these atrocities yet reap the monetary benefit from the industry it perpetuates.
I agree that it is very disheartening that we cannot, at this time, work together to find a solution and that too much effort goes into “name calling” and ”laying blame”. People such as myself who work hard, and bring up children to be caring and conservationally-minded are labelled “extremist” by IMATA. They also delete my polite comments from your Facebook page and block me from commenting further.  I cannot see how such actions portray a desire to work together with people of opposing views.

You say if we work together, efforts could be made to educate people both in Japan and elsewhere.  I challenge you and IMATA to put this into action and help people such as myself to educate people about this issue and help end the captivity trade in Japan.  I am in regular contact with many groups advocating for change.  Please help me to convince them that IMATA wants this change, that it is not just another partner in the exploitation of dolphins migrating past Japan.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 5.21.14 pm
Image: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

February 24th 2015:  Me to Linda Erb

Dear Linda,
It appears that you have either not received my return email to you or are no longer interested in discussing this issue any further.
I understand that you are busy, and am sincerely hoping that you simply haven’t received my email, particularly given your assertions that working together is something we should be striving for.

February 24th 2015: Linda Erb

Ms. Erb responded and advised that she was “not avoiding discussion,” but was busy with new dolphin calves. 


On March 7th the dolphin trainer at the centre of the alleged abuse was discovered dead in a suspected suicide.

The video that IMATA had shared on Social Media condemning the trainer was removed and was no longer available for viewing.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 5.52.11 pm

Nearly a month later and after a follow-up reminder I sent another email to Ms. Erb:

March 17th 2015:  Me to Linda Erb

Dear Linda,
I hope the babies are doing well! No doubt keeping you on your toes 🙂
It has been almost a month since your last message and I understand that you are very busy, however I was wondering if you have had the opportunity to have a look at my last letter to you. It would be wonderful if we could keep the lines of communication open and hopefully look at working on this issue together. 
As you know solutions are desperately needed and I really think IMATA could be a leader in this.
Look forward to hearing from you.

March 17th 2015: Linda Erb

Ms. Erb advised that she was still very busy with IMATA work clarifying that she didn’t want to begin this important conversation without being able to focus on it.

“I am not putting you off, just want to be able to move forward to making a difference when I do address the issue of our conflict (Taijii dolphins / trainers who work with them / IMATA membership / how IMATA can help more with the situation in Taijii)  Hoping you understand.  I respect your commitment to the dolphins of Japan”

April 22nd 2015: Me to Linda Erb

I believe that you and IMATA would like to make some real change in Taiji and think a good start would be for me to work on some ideas to present to you.
I will draw on the experience, thoughts and ideas of a small core group of independent women whom I often work with to come up with positive ideas that IMATA will hopefully find acceptable.
I will be in touch soon, however in the mean time if you have any comments or thoughts please let me know.

April 23rd 2015: Response from Linda Erb 

Ms. Erb responded to this suggestion with the following response:

“What you are proposing would be such an asset to me!  You are so right that IMATA wants to be a positive influence for change. She asked us to send her our ideas and again thanked us for our efforts and stated:

“When we have the same goals (whether anti-captivity folks or pro-human care folks) – we will be stronger if we work together. This is how we will be able to help the most animals, in the most timely fashion.  And they desperately need our help.”

WAZA Suspends JAZA

That day WAZA (World Association Of Zoos And Aquariums) announced that it had suspended JAZA (Japans Association Of Zoos And Aquariums).

I wrote to Linda again, this time to question what this news meant for IMATA:

April 23rd 2015: Me to Linda Erb

Hi Linda,
Thanks for your kind words 🙂
I’m really looking forward to working on this.
A quick question if I may.
I just awoke to the news that WAZA has suspended JAZA. Before moving forward, I’m wondering what this action means for IMATA trainers working in JAZA facilities? I don’t want to look at solutions that may be negated by this recent development. Are you able to give me a brief idea of the impact , if any, on IMATA at this early stage?
Interesting times!

April 23rd 2015: Linda Erb

Ms. Erb responded that this was a great decision by WAZA, “another strong message to the Japanese regarding the acquisition of animals from the drive fisheries.”

May 26th 2015: Black Cove to Linda Erb 

We have been working on some ideas to present to you re the Taiji issue.
I’m sure you have seen all the media surrounding JAZA’s decision to remain with WAZA and no longer purchase dolphins from Taiji.
A couple of questions if I may.
1.Are you able to tell me how this affects IMATA’s current position on trainers working with or being involved in the selection of dolphins from the hunts?
2.I understand IMATA membership is voluntary but surely this must beg the question, should IMATA also be rethinking if this is still acceptable for its membership?
At this early stage it’s hard to know what will happen.
3.If aquariums in Japan ditch JAZA in order to still purchase Taiji dolphins (as the Mayor of Taiji has reportedly said), would IMATA still be comfortable with members who no longer work under an organisational umbrella to be
I am sure IMATA is considering its position with this new development, it would be really helpful to us moving forward to have your thoughts on this.
FYI the group working on this with me all bring something different to the table, we are all balanced and understanding of the difficulties involved with making changes.

This email to Linda Erb further explained who “we” all were.

June 2nd 2015: Linda Erb

“I don’t have time to go into everything right now but YES very exciting and great changes in JAZA and as President of IMATA I am looking at it very closely and talking to many of my friends about our next steps.  When I get organized I will let you know.  

Praying that for the dolphins of Taiji this signals the beginning of the end of their nightmares and deaths!”

Divers in water selecting dolphins for trainers to inspect. Image: Adrian Mylne, REUTERS

July 13th 2015: Black Cove to Linda Erb

Its been quite a while since we spoke and as the Taiji drive hunt season is nearing I was hoping to see some sort of response from IMATA in relation to JAZA’s acceptance of WAZA’s stance on members accepting Drive Hunt Dolphins.
Are you able to advise how this has affected IMATA and if any changes have been put or are being put into place?
I was hoping to have travelled a bit further with our discussions and presentation of some ideas to you, but feel we can’t really move ahead until we know what IMATA will be or is doing in relation to this subject.

July 13th 2015: Linda Erb

“IMATA board meets again in Sept prior to our annual conference.  In the meantime we are very pleased that JAZA facilities are choosing to honor WAZA’s requirements.  IMATA stays committed to education of Japanese trainers.  We are an organization of trainers, not facilities.  At this time we have no plans to change our policy on acceptance of individual trainers.  We are working on increasing our presence in Japan. 

 I don’t have details just yet but I have high hopes that within the year we will be making some bold moves to increase the knowledge of those who are currently training or aspire to be marine mammal caretakers and trainers in that country.  Actually our education will not stop with Japan, but I plan to increase it in Europe as well, and other countries where antiquated training techniques may still be in use. 

If the horror of this year teaches us anything, it should be that there is a great need for knowledge and education about how to care for and build relationships with marine mammals – and that is what IMATA is all about.

As our plan becomes more concrete I will touch base with you – I still believe that we can work together, that we have a common goal to educate people, and by doing so ultimately see the end of the drive fisheries.”


We waited, as Ms. Erb had asked, until after the next IMATA board meeting and conference in September 2015 and we hoped that she would come back to us with some further assurance that our discussions had not been in vain. 

On the 1st October 2015, just 3 months after our talks, and one month into the Taiji killing season, we were dismayed to see Linda Erb release the following public message to IMATA members and fans, once again labeling people like us, “extremists.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.33.49 pm

We heard Linda Erb had in fact stepped down as President at the IMATA conference and a new president had been elected.

We tried to contact Ms. Erb and the incoming president Michelle Sousa multiple times, to no avail.

Since our first contact with IMATA and at the time of publishing this blog, 187 dolphins have been taken captive in Taiji and approximately 710 have been killed, countless babies dumped–the real toll will never be known. 

We genuinely wanted to work with IMATA and we believed Ms. Erb was sincere.



What hope do we have of “working together” when the culture of us vs. them,”name calling” and disrespect comes from the highest level within the world’s largest and most respected training organisation?

How can IMATA command the “highest standard of animal care from its members” when it won’t even continue an intelligent dialogue with others who are also trying to work WITH them for the betterment of animals’ lives? Their own code of ethics states: “Fostering respect, understanding, and cooperation among fellow members and others associated with the zoological community in general and the marine animal community in particular.”

Our concern is the dolphins and we feel we owe it to them to speak out and do what we can to protect them and help end their suffering.

But It appears marine-mammal advocacy individuals and groups, fighting every day to try and stop the bloodshed of these animals, according to IMATA, don’t qualify as part of the marine-animal community.


The 2016/17 Taiji dolphin hunting season is in full swing and  IMATA trainers are once more catching their rides on the killers’ skiffs into the cove–where they stand in the bloody water, laughing and playing games to decide which dolphins will be “saved” and receive the “highest levels of respect and humaneness,” and which ones will have a metal rod shoved through their spines.

 Trainers in The Killing Cove just prior to Dolphin Deaths. Vision:Liz Carter, Blue Cove Days Everyday Forever. Taiji, January 2016

No doubt this season, “the atrocities in Taiji” will continue to make us all ‘literally sick” and will be “inconceivably horrific.” They already have and they always are. 

But the Board of IMATA can sleep well at night knowing that it has averted a far more distasteful prospect….to work together with “extremists” like us, and to remove this handful of Taiji trainers from the IMATA membership.

After all…if it did who would “save” a few lucky Taiji dolphins then?

If Joel Manby and Wayne Pacelle truly believe that dolphins taken alive and sold to the aquarium trade from Taiji is “something akin to a black market of organizations that work outside the guidelines of the accredited zoological community,” then we ask…

How can SeaWorld allow its staff to remain associated with an animal- training organisation that continues to allow its members to be complicit in this gruesome practice?

SeaWorld, and The Humane Society of the United States CAN work together with animal rights advocates and send a strong message to IMATA, as well as Japan, that ANY involvement in the taking of wild dolphins is no longer acceptable, and will not be supported or condoned by ANY of us.




*Disclaimer The views and opinions expressed in this Blog  are solely those of the original authors. -S.Taylor 2016

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