High-tech cameras help to put the Japanese spotlight on Taiji dolphin killing

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2008:


TOKYO–Dolphin Project founder Ric
O’Barry thought the 2007 discovery that the
mercury content of meat from dolphins killed at
Taiji is 30 times higher than the Japanese
government-recommended limit might rouse enough
citizen outrage to end the annual “drive fishery”
The main reason why Japanese whaling is
not stopped by the Japanese people, O’Barry has
believed since his first visit to Japan in 1976,
is that most Japanese people don’t know about it.
Neither coastal whaling as practiced at Taiji nor
so-called “research whaling” on the high seas has
ever drawn much Japanese media notice, so while
Japanese donors strongly support causes such as
saving koala bears, Japanese whaling opponents
remain isolated and underfunded.

The mercury finding got some attention,
especially after Taiji city council member
Junichiro Yamashita warned constituents that
dolphin meat should be considered “toxic waste.”
What really put Taiji in the spotlight in Japan,
however, appears to be the Japanese cultural
fascination with cameras. The trick was using
technology advanced enough to interest electronic
trade magazines.
On March 1, 2008, a web site called
DigitalContentProducer.com: Film & Video
Production in a Multi-Platform World published
one of the most detailed exposés of the Taiji
massacres yet. But the details were highly
technical. Author Kristinha M. Anding packed in
brand names and model numbers of the equipment
that O’Barry and Oceanic Preservation Society
colleagues used ito make a soon-to-be-released
feature film about Taiji. Japanese camera buffs
were soon informed about Taiji as never before.
Japan Times correspondent Boyd Harnell
told the story behind the story on March 30. Few
people have written more about Taiji over the
years than Harnell, but never previously was he
given so much space at once. The pictures were
worth 3,500 words –chiefly about how they were
“Producers of the OPS documentary are
aiming for a worldwide release in June, ”
Harnell wrote, “including a Japanese version
creatively marketed and circulated to ensure
maximum viewing even if major distributors turn
it down. The narrator will be an actor from
Hollywood’s ‘A list,’ they said.”
Taiji officials have been trying to hide
their annual dolphin massacres since 1978, when
U.S. environmental film maker Hardy Jones first
filmed the killing and brought it to global
activist attention.
Other activists have managed to get some
video and still images from hiding places around
the two coves where the dolphins are trapped and
killed. O’Barry himself brought back video from
Taiji as recently as 2004, sponsored by the
French group One Voice.
But nobody managed to get high-quality,
state-of-the-art visual documentation from Taiji
before, because of the combination of high cost
and difficult logistics.
That changed when Netscape founder Jim
Clark invested $5 million to hire a world-class
crew headed by Louie Psihoyos, assisted by
Charles Hambleton.
“From their base in Boulder, Colorado,
the OPS group made six trips to Wakayama
Prefecture,” recounted Harnell, “where they
were constantly followed by local police and
stalked and harassed by whalers. Despite this,
their high-tech film gear was covertly inserted
in the killing coves and extracted 16 times.
Their hidden, high-definition cameras
successfully recorded the horror that unfolded
behind Taiji’s blue tarps.
“Captured dolphins were filmed writhing
in pain as Taiji whalers speared them repeatedly
or cracked their spines with spiked weapons,”
Harnell wrote. “Stricken dolphins are also shown
thrashing about wildly, blood pouring from their
wounds. Meanwhile, a number of dolphin trainers
and officials from the Taiji Whale Museum are
shown cooperating in the slaughter, some even
“Perhaps the most iconic scene,” Harnell
suggested, “is one in which a baby dolphin leaps
to her death on the rocks after her mother is
Psihoyos and Hambleton used cameras
disguised as rocks, underwater microphones, and
an underwater camera assembled by team member
Simon Hutchins.
Seven-time world free-diving champion
Mandy-Rae Cruickshank and her coach and husband,
Kirk Krack planted and retrieved the underwater
equipment. Cruikshank recently free-dived to a
depth of 88 meters and returned in two minutes,
48 seconds, breaking her own world record. The
killing cove is only about 12 meters deep, but
Cruikshank and Krack had to work in silence and
“Meanwhile,” Harnell wrote, “Psihoyos’
team was embedded in camera blinds on overlooking
hillsides, sometimes for as long as 17 hours a
day. Dressed in full camouflage and wearing face
paint, they looked like military sniper teams.
Black masking tape covered reflective surfaces on
their cameras to avoid detection. When filming
from the camera blinds, they subsisted on energy
bars and water,” while evading security
The yet-to-be-named documentary may
attract an audience in part through the drama of
how it was made. The Japanese edition may
include a lot about the cameras.

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