From large mammals like manatees to small crustaceans like shrimp, people enjoy learning and interacting with the otherworldly creatures who live in the watery deep. Aquariums satisfy that curiosity, letting the general public look inside the world’s most unexplored habitat — the ocean.
Even the biggest marine life enthusiasts might forgo their aquatic curiosities, however, if they knew the story of a dolphin named Honey. After hardships hit her aquarium, video footage of the dolphin revealed an unfortunate reality that’s forever changing the way people see marine parks…
The story of Honey the dolphin began in 2005 during the annual dolphin drive in Taiji, Japan. This controversial event is when fishermen trap dolphins in the “killing cove” by banging on boat hulls to create a confusing sound wall.
Once the dolphins are trapped, fishermen handpick the most “attractive” dolphins to be sold to marine parks around the world, while the other dolphins are killed for their meat. Honey was deemed attractive, so her life was spared.
Adrian Mylne / Reuters
The specific details revolving around that fateful day and the days following are unknown. It can be assumed that Honey was most likely put through 6-to-12 months of training where she learned circus-type tricks before she was sold to an aquarium for some serious money.
What is known is that Honey ended up at the Inubosaki Marine Park near Tokyo, Japan. For years she spent her days performing tricks for guests of the park with several other dolphins in a small enclosure.
Since then the other dolphins have passed away and the park fell onto hard times due an earthquake and tsunami that hit the area in 2011. The two natural disasters lead to a nuclear meltdown, which ultimately deterred tourists from visiting northeast Japan.
Due to low ticket sales and visitors, the Inubosaki Marine Park was forced to close their doors. The owner of the park was tasked with the responsibility of finding new homes for the animals with little to no regulatory guidance over the relocation of its residents.
The public paid no mind to the closure of the marine park — that is, until one activist group, Put an End to Animal Cruelty and Exploitation (PEACE), captured an eerie sight from inside the abandoned marine park.
Video footage, a screen capture shown below, showed Honey the dolphin floating in her small enclosure months after the abandonment of the aquarium. She was showing signs of stress, appeared weak, and exhibited behavior not normally seen in dolphins.
Honey, who was estimated to be around 20-years-old, also didn’t have any shade to protect her skin from the sun. It was clear that her small, shallow tank left her skin exposed, which resulted in Honey developing skin issues. But activists were horrified to see that Honey wasn’t alone.
Also visible were 46 penguins cramped into a small holding area with an even smaller swimming pool. The only other sign of life at the abandoned marine park was one lone car in the parking lot of the facility.
Activists later discovered that hundreds of fish, reptiles, and other small marine animals had been seemingly abandoned inside the facility. It was also uncovered that the car belonged to a trainer who was solely tasked with feeding the abandoned animals.
Angel Aquatics and Reptiles
Activists grew increasingly worried because it was unclear the quality and quantity of food available for distribution or how long their supplies would last. When they tried to reach out to the aquarium owner for comment, they heard nothing.
Sachiko Azuma from Put an End to Animal Cruelty and Exploitation (PEACE) stated, “I get feelings of danger and doubt from the fact that they are so silent about this.” Honey and the other animals’ fates were looking grim, so PEACE knew they needed to do something.
PEACE captured more video and photos of the animals trapped at the abandoned facility and spread the news online. They hoped to cause enough online commotion to alert other organizations, so they could all join forces and get justice for Honey and friends.
They were able to get the attention of Ric O’Barry, founder of the Dolphin Project, who released this statement online, “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.”
Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP
From there, word quickly spread to animal welfare organizations. As of 2018, a proposal for Honey’s rehabilitation and release to the wild/animal sanctuary had been drafted and Ric O’Barry’s team had been working hard to put pressure on the marine park to release Honey from their custody.
Although Honey remained at the park by 2018, under the close watch of multiple animal welfare organizations, Ric stated, “There’s definitely a bigger awareness about captive marine mammals in Japan that’s just starting to grow.”
Indeed, Honey’s story brought the long-debated topic of captive animals in aquariums back into the public eye. Now, aquarium goers must ask: were the animals purchased strictly for commercial use and gain, or were they rescued from a life-threatening situation?
Many times, the travelers who visit aquariums are unaware of the conditions animals live in; footage of Honey and the rest of the critters at the Inubosaki Marine Park might change that.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Honey shed light on a larger issue and helped make a change from the top down. In fact, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums withdrew its support of the annual dolphin hunt. Akiko Mitsunobu stated, “Honey is a symbol of both the problem of marine parks and Taiji’s hunting practices.”