Three Japanese animal advocacy groups have called out the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the largest regulatory body for captivity in the world, for its connections to the brutal dolphin slaughter happening in Taiji, Japan. The organization acts as an umbrella for national organizations in different countries -- one of which is the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA).

Last week, three Japanese conservation groups put pressure on WAZA, demanding that they condemn JAZA for not complying with WAZA’s code of ethics. The Japanese groups -- Elsa Nature Conservancy, Help Animals and Put an End to Animal Cruelty and Exploitation (PEACE) -- say that many JAZA facilities house dolphins captured by fishermen during the drive hunts in Taiji. One of these, according to JAZA’s website, is the Taiji Whaling Museum, where the albino baby dolphin dubbed “Angel” that was rounded up in the cove this month is still held.

Digital Journal took a sampling of other drive-caught animals in JAZA facilities:

Enoshima Aquarium Marineland in Fujisawa has at least five wild captures from Taiji along with several captive born mammals. There is also one wild caught false killer whale and some Risso's and Pacific white-sided dolphins of unknown origin. Yes, Enoshima is a member of JAZA which is in turn of course, a member of WAZA. Niigata City Aquarium displays animals that are 100% wild caught. This aquarium too is a member of JAZA which is in turn, a member of WAZA. The same goes for Kamogawa Sea World which displays a mixture of rescued marine mammals, captive births and wild caught animals.

After the Japanese advocacy groups initially petitioned WAZA in December to condemn Japan’s dolphin hunts, WAZA claimed to have no connection to the Taiji Whale Museum. But it’s clear from the JAZA website that the aquarium is listed, and JAZA is listed as a member of WAZA’s website. According to WAZA, “more than 250 zoos and aquariums are institutional members of WAZA, while about 1,300 zoos and aquariums are linked to WAZA through their membership in a regional or national association member of WAZA” -- meaning that the Taiji Whale Museum falls under the category of a “linked” institution due to its membership in JAZA.

When pressed on the matter by Elsa, Gerald Dick, Executive Director of WAZA, said, "As you know, in some Japanese communities these drives have been part of the culture for centuries." Elsa met Dick’s comments with a scathing rebuttal:

In fact, the history of dolphin hunting in Taiji is short. According to The History of Taiji, edited and published by Taiji town in 1979, the first recorded dolphin drive was in 1933, with subsequent hunts occurring in 1936 and 1944. It was not until 1969 that dolphin drives have been conducted on a large scale.

In a statement published by WAZA regarding dolphin capture in Japan, the organization says that it is working with JAZA to implement new rules and improve conditions. But in the same document, WAZA says, “The only WAZA member institution to have taken wild caught dolphins from the drive fishery has now left the association” -- a statement that has been called into question by the inclusion of the Taiji Whaling Museum as a “linked” facility.

Now, conservationists in Japan and abroad are calling for WAZA to cut ties with JAZA, writes activist Ric O’Barry in The Huffington Post:

WAZA should stop making claims based on the false assertion that the dolphin hunts are somehow part of "Japanese culture." This is just a lame excuse for the lucrative captures and killing to continue. Instead WAZA and ALL its members should be condemning the dolphin hunts in no uncertain terms. If JAZA members continue to acquire dolphins from the drive hunts in Taiji, JAZA should be expelled from WAZA.

WAZA has not responded to requests for comment.