Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Media Frenzy and The Other Side of the Line

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute

Three years ago our Save Japan Dolphins Team and I traveled to every possible media outlet I could in Japan to try to get them to write about what’s happening in Taiji. Nobody was interested in doing a story. Now everything has changed! Over the last week I’ve done almost 50 interviews. And the Japanese media have all come to us!

The team at Unplugged/Medallion, our Japanese distributor for The Cove, has been working tirelessly to get media to meet with me, and they’ve done a great job. I really can’t thank them enough for sticking with us. Their offices were targeted five times and now they are losing theaters in their efforts to screen The Cove. Some companies would just walk away, but Unplugged is fighting back.

And I have to say it’s an odd fight – for me anyway. I’m not used to being on this side of a protest line. I see the protestors and a big part of me relates to them. It’s their right to express themselves. It’s just very strange to me when a group is using their right to freedom of speech to shut down someone else’s. After the Asahi Newspaper (one of Japan’s largest) printed an opinion piece Sunday saying that they believed The Cove should be seen and discussed (LINK:, the protestors came to their offices!

That might be fine on the surface, but the nationalists’ facts are horribly distorted. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again: The Save Japan Dolphins Campaign and I are in no way anti-Japanese. In fact, I came to Japan the first time in the 70s to help end the “Save the Whales boycott of Japan” movement. At that time several of my musician friends – Jackson Browne, John Sebastian, Warren Zevon, Richie Havens, and Paul Winter – joined with Japanese musicians for a concert calling for an end to the boycott and to whaling.

The protestors are also complaining about how the film was shot and edited. They decry the use of secret cameras and lack of inclusion of the Taiji point of view. I reminded every journalist who asked me that the mayor and fisherman were invited to participate (as is depicted in the film). On the occasion, which I witnessed, they declined. In terms of the “secret” filming, I asked: “Why is it illegal to video tape in a national park?? Shouldn’t someone be asking why the dolphin hunters put up barbed wire and signs in a public park? Technically, they are blocking tsunami access roads.“ (In case of a tsunami hitting Taiji, the park high points around the cove are kept free of buildings to provide high ground for the local residents to escape the floodwaters. The closures with barbed wire to protect the secrecy of the cove killing grounds impede these paths to safety in the event of a tsunami.)

Finally, every journalist brought up that dolphin hunting in Taiji is a tradition, as it is in places like the Faroe Islands and Solomon Islands.

I made it clear that what is happening today in Taiji is not tradition. This method has only been used for the last 50 years. More significantly, the actual tradition in Taiji is to protect mothers and calves. Ancient hunters believed it was bad luck to kill them. As we see very plainly in The Cove, today’s dolphin hunters have no regard for that particular tradition.

I also made sure that every reporter knew that as of last April, tribes in the Solomon Islands met with our Save Japan Dolphins Team and me and agreed to stop killing dolphins. Unlike Taiji, the Solomon Islands are actually very primitive. Isolated and remote, they trade dolphin teeth as a form of currency. This is more of a tradition than what is happening in Taiji, yet they are ready to embrace change. Shouldn’t more be expected in a modern day Japan, the second largest economy in the world?

Below is a copy of a statement, which we translated and gave to every media outlet we met with. I hope it makes our intentions clear.


I’m here in Japan not as a cultural imperialist, but as someone who just loves dolphins. My passion is about stopping what’s happening at Taiji. I am quite proud of the movie The Cove, not because of the tactics, but because it shows the world what is happening. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have used secret cameras. If it were up to me, I would simply tell the story. Many of you in the media have made fun of the tactics. But the truth wouldn’t have come out without those tactics. If certain people feel offended, I offer my apologies. But I make no apologies for my cause.

Many of my friends love the country of Japan, and they all ask the same question. Why do you need to slaughter dolphins? We have worked with other nations in the world to stop the practice, and to jointly find ways so that the economic impact will be minimal. We would like to have that discussion with the government of Japan, with the fisheries industry, and most importantly, with the people of Taiji. But it is difficult to start the dialog when we call each other names.

I am not a Japan basher. The film does not bash Japan. The cause we have is very specific. We believe strongly in our cause. But we understand that many in Japan feel that this isn’t something that foreigners should be telling to the people in Japan. I ask that we start the dialog today. I ask that we start this dialog so that we can ultimately reach the goal of stopping the slaughter.

I hope that by watching this film, the people of Japan will see what is happening, regardless of the tactics that were used. You can make your own judgment, and then you can choose what you want to do. Some of you will side with our beliefs. Others may feel that the fishermen are right. Still others may not know what to do. However, we want to start the dialog.

On September 1, the killing will start again in Taiji. We have started a movement around the globe that will not stop. The world is with us. We hope that we can reach an amicable solution with our friends in Japan. But so long as one dolphin is slaughtered needlessly, we will keep spreading the truth.

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