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Dolphin, 46 penguins left at shuttered aquarium in Chiba

Honey the bottlenose dolphin swims inside an outdoor pool at the closed Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium in the city of Choshi in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo on Aug. 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

CHOSHI, Chiba -- A female bottlenose dolphin named Honey and 46 Humboldt penguins remain at an aquarium here more than six months after it was shut down, apparently because of stalled negotiations for the animals' transfer to a new facility.

The Chiba prefectural public health center says there is "no problem" in the way the marine animals are being kept at the closed Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium, but the municipal government of Choshi east of Tokyo where the facility is located, has been inundated with more than 800 emails and letters urging that the animals be moved to a different aquarium.

Honey was captured in the waters off the town of Taiji in the western prefecture of Wakayama in 2005, and became popular at the Choshi aquarium as she starred in dolphin shows.

The aquarium originally opened as a city-run facility in 1954 and was sold to a private owner in 1963. It folded at the end of January this year because the number of visitors had dropped due in part to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent nuclear accidents in Fukushima Prefecture to the north. Another factor prompting its closure was the need to make the aging aquarium earthquake-resistant.

According to people familiar with the aquarium's situation, the operating company continues to feed the animals. The former operator was in talks with an aquarium in the Kanto region around Tokyo regarding the transfer of the dolphin and the penguins. The company, however, suddenly severed contact with the other aquarium, and stopped responding to repeated inquiries from the municipal government.

Humboldt penguins stand inside the closed Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium in the city of Choshi in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo on Aug. 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

Officials from the Chiba prefectural Kaiso public health center have made monthly visits to the closed facility. A center official explained that they found "nothing wrong with the way the dolphin and the penguins were being kept" during their July 26 inspection.

Requests for the animals' transfer began to pour in after an animal protection group called for "saving Honey" on Aug. 12. Many of the requests express pity for the animals that have been left alone, and seek their move to a new venue, according to city officials.

However, city officials have no legal authority to enter the facility and cannot make a private company take action, according officials at the city's department of commercial and industrial affairs.

Telephone calls from the Mainichi Shimbun to the operator have remained unanswered. Workers inside the facility have not responded to questions called out from outside.

When the Inubosaki aquarium was closed, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums requested its 151 member facilities to consider accepting animals from the Chiba facility. "We will cooperate if the operator asks us to do so," an association official said.

(Japanese original by Takashi Kondo, Choshi Local Bureau)

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