The main purpose of the notorious hunts off the town of Taiji is to capture live dolphins and pilot whales for sale to aquariums. Each year, over 1,000 dolphins and whales are herded by powerboats into the shallows of Taiji's cove. Around 150 are captured live and sold to aquariums around the world, mostly in Japan, China and the Middle East. The live dolphin trade is a multimillion dollar industry, with trained dolphins selling for up to $100,000 each. The remainder are usually slaughtered as by-product and sold cheaply for meat or dog food.
WAZA publically condemns the hunts as "inhumane". However, several of WAZA's own members are involved in the hunts. These include the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA), a regional member of WAZA containing over 30 aquariums that purchase from the hunts. It is estimated that WAZA network aquariums account for up to 40% of total demand for live dolphins captured in Taiji.
While the slaughters conducted in Taiji are largely responsible for the conservation damage, the aquarium takes also play a significant part. The capture of cetaceans through drive hunts, which involves intensive harassment of the animals, not only removes individuals from populations, but can cause extreme injuries or death to other members of the pod released back into the ocean. The marine protection organisation Whale Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has noted that, because aquariums prefer young fertile females, the captures of individuals can upset populations' breeding patterns. They also leave nursing calves without their mothers, and with little chance of survival.