Taiji, the infamous Japanese town profiled in the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," just received a gigantic blow to its widely condemned annual dolphin hunt. 

On May 20, the Japanese Association of Zoos & Aquariums (JAZA) formally cut all ties with the hunting town, following a poll of its members that overwhelmingly agreed to no longer purchase dolphins captured during the brutal hunt. The decision came after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) earlier suspended JAZA over its failure to stop the practice, citing a violation of its code of ethics on animal welfare. 

The move by Japan's aquariums is a harsh financial rebuke for Taiji, which largely depends on the sale of live dolphins to make the annual hunt economical. According to the group Australia for Dolphins, each dolphin caught in Taiji can fetch upwards of $100,000. Without this financial incentive, estimated to be 40 percent from JAZA alone, activists believe the hunt's days could be numbered.

"This is a landmark decision by JAZA," said Sea Shepherd founder Capt. Paul Watson. "Will it end the slaughter? We do not know yet. But what it will do is undermine the market for capturing dolphins at Taiji. The captures are where the money is. Killing dolphins for meat alone cannot sustain the dolphin drive. This is a significant blow to the butchers of Taiji and wonderful news for the dolphins in the waters around Japan."

While opposition to Taiji's annual hunt within Japan has paled in comparison to international outrage, JAZA likely felt its commercial ties to the town were not worth expulsion by WAZA, a move that would have left Japanese aquariums without an ability to acquire other marine species through a global database. In a statement Thursday, Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen vowed that the annual hunt would nevertheless continue.

"We are hunting under the permission of the Japanese government and prefecture, and so we will continue to protect our fishermen and the methods," he said. "We will not quit."

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