Global Observer

Is it unethical for an airline to transport dolphins?

Is it unethical for an airline to transport dolphins?

Posting in Transportation

HONG KONG -- Dolphins that are likely from "The Cove," that is. Protesters are warning of a boycott over one flight's controversial cargo.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong Airlines is facing an image problem after the company flew five live dolphins from Japan to Vietnam last month on a cargo flight.

The controversy started after the airline circulated a self-congratulatory internal memo that said the flight netted $109,000 in revenue and that the company wanted to further develop this kind of business. The email also included a photo of the dolphins being held in the vessel.

Just a few days after the memo became public via an investigative report by the Hong Kong edition of China Daily, thousands of people had signed an online protest and the company faced a deluge of complaint calls.

The 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove brought to the world’s attention the gruesome annual event of culling and killing thousands of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The film revealed that some of the captured dolphins are sold to aquariums around the world.

The original news article said activists think there was a “strong possibility” that the Vietnam-bound dolphins were from Taiji, and it is suspected that they were headed to a resort area Halong Bay, Vietnam. The airline company has declined to identify its clients.

Hong Kong Airlines issued a statement saying that it wants to have “open dialogue” with the activist groups but defends itself as having broken no laws while following international regulations.

Tim Lam, a marine biologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, calls the outcry a “lost cause.”

“Frankly speaking, someone will transport them,” he said. “It is business. What can you do when it is free enterprise?”

Photo: Flickr/Benson Kua

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure