Film spotlights Taiji dolphin killing
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2009:
TAIJI, Japan–The Cove has not stopped the annual Taiji
dolphin massacres– not yet, anyhow. But the award-winning film did
appear to slow down the killing at the start of the 2009 “drive
fishery” season, and–even before release in Japan–is bringing the
massacres to the attention of the often shocked Japanese public as
nothing before ever has.
“Moviegoers who have seen The Cove, directed by Louie
Psihoyos, said they were stunned by the cruelty of the killings,
captured by concealed cameras. Many newspapers have blasted the
traditional coastal whaling practice in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture,
which is not subject to the International Whaling Commission’s ban on
commercial whaling,” summarized Toshihiro Yamanaka for Asahi
Shimbun. The second largest newspaper in Japan, Asahi Shimbun
reaches about 8.2 million readers daily.
“When I found out, I cried,” Osaka resident Keiko Hirao
told John M. Glionna of the Los Angeles Times.
Director Louis Psihoyos, a former National Geographic
photographer, has pledged to keep the spotlight on Taiji by making
The Cove available in Japan as a free download, if he fails to
secure a commercial distributor. The Cove has won more than a dozen
awards, including the audience award at the 25th annual Sundance
Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and has aired widely in other
parts of the world, but despite much media notice in Japan, has not
yet been screened there.
The Cove star Ric O’Barry, 69, first visited Taiji in 1993
at invitation of the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan. Founded in
1976 by Japanese animal advocate Sakai Henni, the Elsa Nature
Conservancy was the first organization to oppose the Taiji dolphin
killing, but tends to be overlooked when defenders of the massacres
assert that only non-Japanese object to it.
O’Barry has returned often to Taiji ever since, including
for the scheduled opening of the 2009 Taiji dolphin slaughter on
September 1. “But when I arrived with media representatives from all
over the world,” O’Barry e-mailed, “there were no dolphin killers
in sight. I have often been here alone, or accompanied by a few
environmentalists,” O’Barry continued. “Sometimes I was able to
talk a major media organization into sending someone. But the people
of Japan never learned about the dolphin slaughter, because none of
the media in Japan, with the exception of the excellent Japan Times,
have ever sent reporters. Until today!
“We would not have had a story,” O’Barry added, “except for
the police. Nine policemen came to talk to us. Unlike the fishers,”
O’Barry stipulated, “the Taiji police have always acted
professionally, courteously, and fairly. I have never been
mistreated or threatened by the police here. I think they are a
microcosm of the people of Japan–the very people I am trying to
reach about the dolphins! As I was talking with the police, as the
international journalists stood around listening, suddenly a camera
crew arrived from Japan! And then another! And then still another!
For the first time, they showed up, with cameras rolling. The head
policeman talking with me even said, for the cameras, that the
police are not there to support the dolphin-killing. We shook hands,
and they left.”
Estranged sister city
Japanese media first took an interest in The Cove in March
2008, when photography web sites and Japan Times took notice of the
advanced cameras Psihoyos used in making the film. The coverage
crossed into main news sections after the city council of Broome,
Australia on August 21, 2009 advised Taiji that it will be “unable
to fulfill its pledge as a sister town of Taiji while the practice of
harvesting dolphins exists,” Broome council president Graeme
Campbell told Japan Times staff writer Minoru Matsutani.
“The Broome sister-city story is getting big play in Japan,
one of the first real breaks we have seen in the wall of silence over
there by the media,” exulted Mark J. Palmer, International Marine
Mammal Project director for Earth Island Institute. Palmer visited
Taiji with O’Barry for the opening of the dolphin-killing season.
The first Taiji dolphin roundup of 2009 came on September 9,
after more than a week of delay that Taiji spokespersons attributed
to bad weather. In the interim most of the outside media left Taiji,
and so did O’Barry and the most recognizable activists.
About 100 bottlenose dolphins and 50 pilot whales were driven
into the killing cove for which The Cove is titled, wrote Kyoko
Hasegawa for Agence France-Presse. The pilot whales were killed and
“They plan to sell about 50 dolphins to aquariums and release
the remainder back to the sea,” Hasegawa reported. “Officials said
they would not slaughter any of the dolphins, but denied it was due
to international pressure and did not say whether or not they would
hunt or cull more of the animals this season.” The season will
remain open through March 2010.
Taiji has a federally awarded coastal whaling quota of 2,300
dolphins and small whales this winter. Taiji fishers reportedly
killed 1,484 dolphins and small whales in 2008-2009.
Representatives of the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition said
that they witnessed and filmed 70 bottlenose dolphins being released
on September 13. The coalition, formed by O’Barry, includes Earth
Island Institute, the Elsa Nature Conservancy, In Defense of
Animals, Campaign Whale, Ocean Care, and the Animal Welfare
“An official at the Taiji fisheries association, who spoke on
condition of anonymity because the town abhors the publicity its
dolphin-killing has drawn, said that the decision [to release the
dolphins] was made partly in response to the international outcry
created by The Cove,” reported Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama.
“From the viewpoint of resource control, we’ve been
occasionally releasing them on our own judgement in the past,”
another official anonymously told Kageyama.
O’Barry said his aim in visiting Taiji this year was “to
show journalists the good things about Taiji. With The Cove movie
out, we don’t have to show the bad things about Taiji. Soon the
whole world will know about the Taiji dolphin slaughter,” he said.
“And all Japanese will soon know about the cover-up by the
government in refusing to stop mercury-contaminated dolphin meat from
being sold to unsuspecting Japanese consumers and children,” O’Barry
“But Taiji can change this image of shame,” O’Barry
emphasized. “I am telling them that Nantucket used to be the capitol
of the whale-killing industry in the U.S. Now it uses its history
of whaling combined with whale-watching to market tourism very
successfully. Taiji can do this, too. But the killing has to stop.”
Whale-related tourism is already Taiji’s main summer
industry, reported Glionna of the Los Angeles Times. Whale Beach,
where freshly slaughtered dolphins are dragged ashore, was in the
summer of 2009 an “aquatic petting zoo,” Glionna wrote, featuring
“two playful dolphins swimming alongside tourists.”
Recounted Glionna, “The local catch once was mostly large
cetaceans, a practice that goes back centuries here. Taiji prides
itself as the birthplace of Japanese whaling. But ancient scrolls
show that dolphins were also hunted here, say officials at the Taiji
Whale Museum. The town is dominated by whale statues, whale-tail
fountains, and a dolphin-themed resort. Public buses are promoted
by cutesy whale cartoon figures.”
Taiji has a dolphinarium, where O’Barry “was outraged that
the dolphins were kept in tiny tanks,” wrote Kageyama of Associated
Press. The dolphinarium is a tourist attraction too, but appears to
make money mainly from brokering dolphins captured during the
roundups for slaughter. “Meat from one dolphin fetches about $500,
but dolphins can be sold to aquariums for 10 to 20 times that price,
with some kinds going for as much as $150,000,” said Kageyama.
The Cove “is putting would-be amusement park visitors in an
ethical bind and park owners on the defensive,” observed MSNBC
travel writer Brian Alexander.
“The captivity industry keeps the slaughter going,” O’Barry
charges in The Cove, and has told anyone who would listen since his
first visit to Taiji.
“They know who the dealer is: Ted Hammond in Taiji,” O’Barry
told Alexander. “They could get him under control by isolating him
from the rest of the community! Sea World and these other parks know
who traffics from Japan and the Solomon Islands. They should see what
they could do to stop them.”
Noted Alexander, “Hammond has been instrumental in brokering
Taiji sales and has consulted for the Solomon Islands capture
operations. But he remains a member in good standing of major
international organizations. For example, a 2008 Proceedings of the
International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine, edited by Sea
World’s chief vet, lists him as both a founding member and an
honorary life member.
Alexander “contacted Hammond for comment on drive hunts, his
role in brokering animals, his relationship with a new aquarium in
Beijing which has made Taiji’s infamous Whale Museum its sister
organization, and the issue of capturing dolphins for tourists. But
after first promising to respond, he later declined,” because
Hammond is a primary witness, he said, in a lawsuit between O’Barry
and one of his clients.
“We stopped [buying from drive hunts] and have not resumed,
not because we are ashamed, but it was not something that we cared
to be involved with any more,” Busch Entertainment spokesperson Fred
Jacobs told Alexander.
“Sea World, part of Busch Enter-tainment, is a division of
Anheuser-Busch, which itself is owned by the Belgian beer giant
InBev,” Alexander explained.
“I do not know how to answer what our position is,” Jacobs
continued. “At one point, we collected animals from one of these
hunts. We do not want to be accused of being disingenuous. If we go
to an aquarium in China and say ‘You guys should not be involved,’
the first thing out of their mouths will be ‘Well, you did it,’ and
we cannot argue that point.”
But O’Barry first won celebrity capturing and training
dolphins for the Miami Seaquarium. He trained the dolphins used in
the Flipper television series (1964-1967). That history is precisely
why he turned to campaigning against dolphin captures and killing in
1970, and has pursued the effort through many ups and downs ever
Gerald Dick, executive director of the Swiss-based World
Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told Alexander that WAZA is now
“in dialogue” with Japan “to sort out the relationship between the
takes for aquaria and the slaughter.” A WAZA representative said
similar to ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1995.
“We are not the only nation that kills dolphins,” Japan
Fisheries representative Shigeki Takaya told Glionna of the Los
Angeles Times, mentioning the similar dolphin slaughters conducted
annually in the Faroe Islands, a possession of Denmark. “Why not
report about that?” Takaya asked.
Animal advocates have in fact documented and protested
against the Faroe Islands dolphin killing almost every year since
Two Japanese sources who spoke to Psihoyos about the high
mercury content of dolphin meat served in school lunches objected to
how their comments were used on camera, they told Kyoko Hasegawa of
Agence France-Presse, but one of them seemed to have misgivings
about the dolphin killing even while claiming he supported it.
“It’s a betrayal. I thought the film was about marine
pollution, but it’s about anti-whaling,” said Taiji assembly member
Hisato Ryono, 52.
However, wrote Glionna after interviewing Ryono earlier,
Ryono “first had doubts about the practice [of killing dolphins] on a
kayak trip when he paddled alongside the highly intelligent mammals
and felt what he called a sense of peace and healing.”
Asserted Tetsuya Endo, of the Health Science University of
Hokkaido, “The overall tone of The Cove is an insult to the Japanese
people and the people of Taiji.”
“The Cove is not an attack on the Japanese people,”
responded Psihoyos. “I believe stopping the killing of dolphins is a
win-win situation for both the dolphins and the Japanese people.”