save Japan Dolphins
Photo : Oceanic Preservation Society
The Academy Award winning documentary (2010) “THE COVE” has made infamous the yearly mass capture and killing of dolphins at Taiji, Japan, a beautiful small fishing village 300 miles southwest of Tokyo. Through pressure by environmental groups like our Save Japan Dolphins and more media coverage, the killing has been steadily reduced, but continues at a terrible rate. The 2017-18 killing season just ended March 1, 2018 with 610 dolphins killed and 107 captured as reported by Ceta Base. The kill rate had been averaging about 1,360 dolphins killed and 108 captured from 2000 to 2013 according to Ceta Base. But actual deaths run higher than these figures, since some dolphins die in the brutal capture process itself, and then many of the brutalized and traumatized dolphins, including babies and juveniles that are sometimes released and not slaughtered (206 this year) die at sea.
The local fishermen of Taiji remain defiant and determined to continue the killing, and try to cover-up the horrific killing scene with blue tarps. But Dolphin Project Cove Monitors do manage to film, record and publicize the bloody killing. For years, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society “Cove Guardians” also were there, but ended their program this season after many of their staff were detained and refused entry at the airport by the Japanese government. The Japan Fisheries Agency further encourages the killing by issuing permits and quotas – this year’s total was 2,178. The Japanese defend dolphin killing, saying it is “traditional”, but the dolphin slaughter in Taiji only began in 1969.
What really perpetuates the brutal slaughter is the selling of prime young dolphins, (preferably a young female bottlenose dolphin) to buyers from the marine park industry, usually brokered by the nearby Taiji Whale Museum. A trained dolphin may sell for as much as $150,000. One positive development is that after years of pressure, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums agreed to suspend the membership of Japanese Aquariums that bought dolphins from Taiji, which has reduced sales within Japan. But dolphin sales have just increased overseas to places like China, Russia and the Middle East.
After the prime dolphins are sold, most of the dolphins are then slaughtered and dragged by boats to the slaughterhouse. They are sold in local markets, despite the fact that the dolphin meat is known to be highly toxic with methylmercury. In the past, the public was not informed about this, but through the work of environmental organizations, the public is finding out, resulting in reduced sales. The dolphin meat is also used in fertilizer and dog food.
It will not be easy to convince the conservative Abe Government to change this killing policy, but demographics should help the cause, as the consumption of dolphin and whale meat is mostly by only a small group of older Japanese, with the younger generation not in favor of killing or eating dolphin. And for years, it was just western activists that were opposing the killing in Taiji, with only a handful of Japanese environmentalists involved. This year, there were a few demonstrations by Japanese groups outside the Taiji Whale Museum, in Osaka, and in Tokyo. Herein lies the best hope of ending this atrocity, as the most effective force will be the Japanese people themselves. Japanese generally have much national pride, and resent outsiders coming in and “telling them what to do”.
But continued international pressure will utilize the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Our Save Japan Dolphins campaign and other environmental groups will be using the Olympics as a means of focusing worldwide disapproval on Japan’s dolphin killing, and making an appeal for Japan to end it before the Olympics begin.
We got some recent good news out of South Korea in March, 2018, when the Ministry of Environment of South Korea banned all importation of dolphins captured in the brutal drives in Taiji, Japan. This was reported by the South Korean dolphin advocacy group HotPinkDolphins.org. It would be a great help to curtail the financial gains from the Taiji dolphin trade, if other countries would follow suit and ban importation of these dolphins.
After “The Cove” won the Academy Award in February 2010, our Save Japan Dolphins team made a trip to Japan to support our campaign to stop the slaughter, including rallies in Tokyo with the presentation to the Japanese government of a worldwide petition with over one million signatures requesting Japan stop the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. Despite an angry and violent backlash to “The Cove” by Nationalists Japanese groups, some of us decided we must go to the cove in Taiji to monitor and bear witness, and report to the world the horrific dolphin captures and killing which was to begin again September 1, 2010. This included myself, and Ruth Chavez from Albuquerque New Mexico, who was one of several young women who had seen “The Cove” and was so moved to help stop the killing, that she flew to Tokyo to join us. Another young woman so moved by “The Cove” was Leilani Munter, a NASCAR racecar driver and her husband Craig, who joined Ruth and I in Taiji, along a few others who came down from Tokyo. We went to the cove which was quiet as the drives of dolphins into the cove had not started yet. The cove was patrolled by Japanese police and coast guard, who were very polite and professional and provided us some protection from the angry Nationalists who drove around Taiji in cars with loud speakers spewing hatred against us westerners for opposing what they considered their “cultural” right to kill dolphins. A few times, we were subjected to the verbal abuse, but were not physically attacked, but we definitely feared that could happen.
We walked around town and saw the “banger boats” tied up in the harbor ready to go out and drive the dolphins into the cove. The fisherman go out in a fleet of about 12-13 boats to find the migrating dolphins off the coast of Japan, and bang on the metal poles put into the water to create a “wall of sound” to terrify the sound sensitive dolphins, and drive whole pods of dolphins and other small cetaceans into the cove. They put up a string of fishing nets to trap the dolphins, then bring in the buyers to sell the prime young ones into a life of slavery to be performing dolphins in marine parks. Afterward, the remaining dolphins are brutally slaughtered alive with lances on poles, turning the killing cove within the larger cove red with blood. The fisherman use blue tarps to try to hide the killing from the eyes and cameras of our “Cove Monitors.” But the cameras have recorded many horrific scenes of dolphins in the agony of death, thrashing and trying to escape, and near dead dolphins gasping their last breathes, with babies nearby witnessing the horror. They then drag the dead dolphins with their boats to the slaughter house in town. Sometimes, they will not kill all the dolphins, but release a few remaining dolphins including some babies, and drive them back to sea, where we know many will die from the trauma, and babies will not survive without their mothers. Much of this horrific scene was shown in the documentary “the Cove” as captured on hidden cameras placed in the killing cove by the team that went undercover to expose the truth of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji.
It was on September 6, of the 2010 killing season, that the first drive of dolphins into the cove happened. Leilani and Craig and most of the others had left Taiji, and Ruth and I were just getting ready to take the train back to Tokyo to fly home. During our time there, we had befriended the police at the cove, who had allowed us to go into the water providing no dolphins were there. It was a very eerie feeling to be in the cove where all that horror takes place, so we decided to make a “sacred circle” in the water to honor the suffering and dying of the dolphins there. I could not stay in the water very long thinking about what happens there! Ruth and I also placed some sacred objects around the cove, along with saying some ceremonial words to try to offer protection to the dolphins. We were ready to leave, when Ruth looked up and saw a line of boats out at sea heading toward the cove, and we knew that was indeed a dolphin drive! We were filled with emotion and horror, but I said that this is what we came here to witness and document, so we need to keep our cool and do it! The Japanese press also arrived to report on the dolphin drive, which was a new development since the publicity of “The Cove” had turned it into a major story.
Read my report from that day in Taiji, Japan, Sept. 6, 2010: