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Aquarium in Tokyo to discontinue dolphin shows after renovating facility

A dolphin show is seen at Shinagawa Aquarium in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward on May 28, 2022. (Mainichi/Haruka Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- The Shinagawa Ward Government in the capital has decided to cancel dolphin shows and exhibits at an aquarium it operates after the aging facility is renovated in the near future.

    Shinagawa Aquarium was the first such facility in Tokyo to start dolphin shows, which have continued for more than 30 years and have entertained many visitors. So why is the aquarium ending its popular attraction?

    The dolphin shows began with the opening of the aquarium in October 1991. At the time, the facility was the only place in the capital where people could see dolphins perform. The aquarium featured dolphins as part of its logo and for its official mascot. In 2018, dolphins were also used in the design for the ward's original license plates for scooters.

    The ward office had been considering renewing the aquarium since fiscal 2020, as the facility had become deteriorated after nearly 30 years in operation, and what to do with the dolphins then became a major topic of discussion. The number of visitors to the facility, which was about 1.65 million in fiscal 1992, dropped to some 380,000 in 2019 before the spread of the coronavirus. The operators felt that there was a limit in the effectiveness of the dolphin shows in attracting visitors.

    Stuffed toys featuring Shinagawa Aquarium's official mascot are seen in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward on May 28, 2022. (Mainichi/Haruka Kobayashi)

    Initially, the performances were rare, but with the opening of Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in 1993 and Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium (now Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa) near JR Shinagawa Station in 2005, both of which offered dolphin shows, Shinagawa Aquarium's originality faded.

    Tomoyuki Takanashi, section chief of the ward's parks division, explained, "We decided that as a public aquarium, we did not need to compete (with other facilities) by offering entertaining shows."

    In addition, the aquarium keeps five dolphins in three pools. Since it is very cramped, a larger pool than the current ones would be needed to continue the shows after the renovations. However, this will likely cost a lot for the construction and will place a heavy financial burden on the ward office.

    Other factors that also influenced the decision were a decline in visitors when exhibits and shows cannot be held during calving season, and the growing worldwide trend of advocating for the protection of dolphins.

    The aquarium's future schedule has not yet been determined, but a new facility is expected to open by the end of fiscal 2027. The timing of when the dolphin shows will end and which facility the dolphins will be entrusted to have not yet been finalized. In addition, no decision has been reached on the dolphin mascot character and the handling of the local license plates.

    After the renovations, the aquarium will apparently seek to offer an original theme, such as exhibits that incorporate the culture and history of the ward.

    (Japanese original by Haruka Kobayashi, Tokyo Bureau)

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