Monday, September 7, 2009

Captivity in Japan and Goodbye for Now

By Richard O’Barry, Director Save Japan Dolphins Coalition

We spent the day today doing a most depressing, but necessary thing: Lincoln and I and our film crew went around to dolphinariums in Japan to expose the conditions under which beautiful, self-aware dolphins are kept in prison conditions.

Lincoln’s TV program is more than just about the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. He and I want to expose the abuse of dolphins in ways the public can understand. As I said in the film, The Cove, the dolphin’s smile is the most deceptive thing in nature. A dolphin can be lying dead, and it would still be “smiling.”

Japan has 50 dolphinariums, ranging from small pens to larger aquariums, but all of them are inadequate. You cannot take an intelligent animal that depends on sound and ranges for hundreds of sea miles and put it into a small concrete box.

We visited small sea pens in the harbors of Itou and Kamakura. These pens house a few dolphins, and people are charged up to $100 each for a “dolphin encounter.” The pens are open to the pollution that fills any harbor – diesel fuel in particular burns dolphins’ eyes and skin. They also receive the full force of motor noise as ships and yachts steam past them all day long. The mortality rate in these small pens is very very high. The Itou pen is called “Dolphin Fantasy.”

While I donned my sunglasses, a mask, and took off identifying clothing, I was still spotted by security guards who came to escort us while at the Riviera Blue Dolphin pen. Our cameras drew too much attention, I guess, although the security guards were very polite. But they kept a close eye on us until we filed onto our bus and left the area.

We also visited the Enoshima Aquarium in Kamakura, a new dolphinarium with many different tanks, but still too small. In one tank, we could see two Pacific white-sided dolphins had their dorsal fins bent over from swimming in circles in the same direction day after day. These and the other dolphins were separated from the ocean by a concrete wall – they could hear the waves of their home waters, but could not see out. These animals were collected in Taiji from the drive fishery there. Can you imagine what they felt being man-handled from the water while their families’ were butchered?

The public needs to know that behind the dolphin’s smile is an animal under high stress separated from its family, its home, and its physical needs. Lincoln and I hope our TV program will bring the truth out about these dolphin prisons.

I’m leaving Japan tomorrow, heading to France, where the great French Director Luc Besson has bought The Cove film and will promote it there. He told me he did not need the money, but he believes in The Cove and the message it brings to the world about the dirty secret of Taiji. Like many, having seen the movie, he wants to help in any way he can to get the secret out.

I’ll return soon to Japan – we have plans to screen The Cove for the first time publicly in Japan.

What did we accomplish on this trip?

We had a major breakthrough in the Japan media, as TV news covered the Taiji story for the first time. Not all the stories were accurate – too many tried to make us out as the villains beating up on the poor fishermen, when in fact we did nothing of the sort.

The mercury contamination of dolphin meat is the genie that has been let out of the bottle. For the first time, TV news in Japan announced the results of our testing of dolphin meat and the high levels of mercury found. There is no going back on that story; the people of Japan are even more conscious of food safety issues than people in the US are. Mercury is the Achilles heel of the dolphin hunt in Japan.

And we delayed the dolphin hunt, at least by 4 days, maybe longer. And we will be showing up again in Taiji with more media. And soon, I believe, media representatives will bring themselves to Taiji, too. The days when the people of Taiji could go and slaughter dolphins with impunity in the secret Cove are ending.

We documented the positive story of Mr. Ishii, and we documented the poor conditions of several Japanese dolphinariums.

I’m thrilled. Soon I will be on an airplane to Paris. This memorable trip will be over, but new trips are being planned as I write this.

The end of the dolphin slaughter is going to happen.

This is an historic moment for the dolphins and whales of Japan. I sincerely thank you for joining us in spirit for this return to Taiji and Futo. We will keep you informed, of course, of our progress on this important issue. Please take action on our website and help us end the killing of dolphins and whales in Japan once and for all.

Please help us by donating:

Click Here to Donate

The Save Japan Dolphins Coalition consists of Earth Island Institute, Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, OceanCare, In Defense of Animals, Campaign Whale, and the Animal Welfare Institute.

Dolphin Fantasy pen in the harbor of Itou, Japan.
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

"Ric O’Barry and the TV camera crew in Itou harbor. Ric wears sunglasses and a mask to hide his identity."
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

"Japanese tourists in the dolphin pen of Riviera Dolphin Blue in Kamakura harbor, while Ric and camera crew watch from above. We were shortly escorted by security police."
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

"Ric and Lincoln O’Barry examine a tank at the Enoshima Aquarium in Kamakura."
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

"Ric and Lincoln O’Barry check out the large performing dolphin tank in the amphitheater of Enoshima Aquarium in Kamakura."
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

"A small dolphin tank is separated from the sea by a concrete wall in the Enoshima Aquarium in Kamakura."
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

"Dolphins are trained by withholding food from them — they perform because they go hungry if they don’t."
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

Ric O’Barry, wearing our Save Japan Dolphins Coalition hat, is going next to France to promote The Cove movie.
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

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