Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Japanese Media Breakthrough

By Richard O’Barry, Director
Save Japan Dolphins Coalition

I must admit I was a bit taken aback when we heard about the first story on television in Tokyo concerning my return to Taiji. It has been so hard to get any attention in Japan to this issue, because of the media blackout at the behest of the Japan Fisheries Agency.

Imagine my disappointment when I heard that this one TV station news two nights ago completely ignored the issue of mercury poisoning, and instead presented our story as a confrontation by Western activists, “who shut down the town of Taiji”, against the poor fishermen. None of the things I said that were good about Taiji were covered.

But last night I must say how delighted I was, because, for the FIRST TIME, the major TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting Service) prime time news program told the story about mercury contamination of dolphin meat from the dolphin slaughter at Taiji.

At last, the dirty secrets of the Cove are getting out to the public in Japan. And there are several other Japanese TV station news teams following me around Taiji, along with our international cast of journalists. This morning I spent hours doing TV interviews, an exhausting yet exhilarating process involving complicated translations.

This is a major break-through for Japan’s media and a major headache for the Japan Fisheries Agency and the dolphin killers.

Yesterday afternoon, we contacted the office of the Mayor of Taiji. He has, for too long, been a strong proponent of the dolphin slaughter. We offered to meet with him to talk about the issues in a strictly non-confrontational way. We even offered to present him with our questions ahead of time, so he could formulate his answers and have them ready for us. But the Mayor refused to meet with us; his office refused to give us their fax number so we could send our questions to him.

What does he have to hide?

But of course, there are many good stories on this trip, too. Today I met a young Japanese man at the Cove. He had seen the TV news the night before, where the leader of the Taiji Fisherman’s Union had yelled at me on camera and refused to allow me into a store to buy some bottled water and drinks. Now this young man drove 5 hours to Taiji and spent the night at the Cove sleeping in his car. He was looking for me. He made it plain that he did not agree with me on the dolphin killing, claiming it was Japanese culture, but that he did not want me to think that Japanese people were like the head of the Fisherman’s Union. He even offered to buy me water!

My colleague Mark Palmer from Earth Island Institute walked over to the Cove this morning in the rain and wind to shoot another in his series of photos of the Cove still empty of any dolphins. He was astonished to see a man in a blue slicker cleaning the beach! He was picking up trash, pieces of wood, and plastics littering the beach. Mark walked down and began picking up plastic trash himself around the beach to help. It was a simple gesture of respect: respect for the beautiful Taiji beach, respect for the whales and dolphins and other sea animals that could be harmed by the plastics and pollution, and respect for the Japanese man, diligently cleaning this beach in the rain and wind.

I vowed to come back to Taiji, as I have for many years, to be here when the dolphin slaughter season began on Sept. 1st. And I am going to keep coming back. I can’t stay here for all six months of the killing season – Japan is too expensive, and we have very limited funds for the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition. But I will be here for as much time as I can and I will be back, bringing with me more journalists, camera crews, and celebrities to show the world what is happening in Taiji.

I want the world to focus on Taiji. I want the world to see what is right about Taiji and what is good about the people of Japan. But the people of Japan have to make their government end the slaughter of dolphins and whales.

So far, on Sept. 3rd, another day has gone by without any dolphin drive hunt taking place. I am hoping the Japan Fisheries Agency shuts down this dolphin slaughter permanently.

Please help us by donating:

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By very simple acts of kindness and dedication, we can stop the slaughter of dolphins and whales in Japan and other places around the world. Our success will be incremental, and requires our patience and our passion.

Your support for our work is an inspiration to me and my friends here in Japan and all over the world.

This is an historic moment for the dolphins and whales of Japan. I sincerely thank you and ask you to join us in spirit for this return to Taiji.

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.

"Ric O’Barry interviewed by Japanese TV in the back of our bus in Taiji."
Photograph Copyright Mark J. Palmer

"Kiki, our excellent and indespensible translator and coordinator in Japan, talks with Ric."
Photograph Copyright Mark J. Palmer

The Cove, still without any dolphins, for the third day in a row, Sept. 3, 2009.
Photograph Copyright Mark J. Palmer

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