Saturday, September 4, 2010

Earth Island Volunteers in Taiji -- Dolphins Released; None Slaughtered!

by Ric O'Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute

We have several small, but I think, significant victories today to report.

I chose not to go to Taiji this trip in order not to inflame an intense situation and give the Japan media an excuse to focus on the controversy rather than the true issues. The first part of our mission was to make the world and especially the Japanese people aware that the annual dolphin slaughter has begun once again. After all, the media is based here in Tokyo, not in Taiji. It is very difficult to get the media, especially Japanese media, to travel to the remote, isolated location of Wakayama Prefecture, about a 7-hour train ride from Tokyo.

Ric at a Shinto Shrine near Tokyo.
Photo (c) Mark J. Palmer

Our strategy has proven extremely successful, as our efforts in Tokyo have been featured on international wire services. Every major media outlet in Japan covered our presentation of 1.7 million signatures to the US Embassy on Thursday. Just as important, the Japanese media reported our work as respectful of the Japanese people, building the foundations for our Campaign's success. In the past, they have emphasized confrontation rather than our very careful approach to the issues. Our fight is not with the people of Japan. We have turned up the heat in Japan and turned another corner in getting positive media coverage, thwarting the Japan Fisheries Agency's efforts to paint us as the enemy.

Now, millions of people in Japan are hearing, most for the first time, about the dolphin slaughter, precisely what the Japan Fisheries Agency has successfully covered up in this country for decades. (But we are still having trouble conveying the dangers of mercury poisoning, which is a major part of our Save Japan Dolphins Campaign opposing the dolphin killing in Japan. So far, the media in Japan has done little to convey this important information to Japanese consumers.)

Impromptu demonstration to Save Japan Dolphins at Shibuya Station, Tokyo.
Photo (c) Mark J. Palmer

If enough people around the world and in Japan learn about this barbaric and anachronistic dolphin slaughter, we can stop it once and for all.

Canned whale meat in our hotel vending machine in Tokyo.
Photo(c) Mark J. Palmer

But, despite our Tokyo focus, we have not neglected the dolphins in Taiji. On Sept. 1st, the first day of the hunt season, the dolphin drive boats went out, but returned without any dolphins. On Sept. 2nd, though, the fishermen herded 20 dolphins into Taiji. It looked like another tragedy was unfolding.

Fourteen of our volunteers here with us in Tokyo went down to Taiji, and are still there on the ground, watching and walking around town. The decision was their's to go -- we did not encourage them and informed them of the dangers and advised them of their best steps. We will have other watchers down in Taiji during the seven-month hunt season this year.

Once our volunteers arrived on the afternoon of Sept. 3rd, Taiji was oddly like a ghost town. At the notorious Cove, several of our volunteers were questioned by police who showed up in minutes. But, as usual, the police were very professional and, once questions were answered and they warned against breaking any laws, they left our volunteers alone. Several volunteers asked if they could go up to Tsunami Park, which overlooks the killing Cove from the movie. At first the police said no, but finally agreed to let them go. Our volunteers, up on the overlook of the killing Cove, saw no dolphins nor was there any blood around. Several friends arrived a bit later and reported the same thing -- polite police, no dolphin killers, and no dolphins.

What happened to the dolphins caught the day before?

We learned later that apparently our Campaign and the intense media scrutiny was too much. Several dolphins were kept by the fishermen and the Taiji Whale Museum for captive purposes. They will be condemned to a life of imprisonment away from their families. But the fishermen released the majority of the dolphins on Sept. 3rd.

There was no dolphin slaughter, and no blood was shed in the Cove.

The drive boats went out this morning, but again came back without any dolphins.

If you wil recall, the Taiji fishermen did the same thing last year in the two months or so of the dolphin-hunting season. Our Save Japan Dolphins Team were in Taiji, and the fishermen caught a large number of bottlenose dolphins and then released them, after keeping several for captivity.

Now, we know that last year the fishermen eventually returned to killing and butchering other species, such as pilot whales, Risso's dolphins, false killer whales, and others, including some bottlenose dolphins. We believe our Campaign pressure reduced the total number of dolphins killed in the Cove that year, but we are not sure. The kill statistics are held closely by the Japanese Fisheries Agency, which has so far refused to release them to our Japanese partners. But the killing still continued last year, and we believe the killing will continue again this season, likely once the interest of the media dies down.

We also had a nice little victory for whales yesterday. One of our volunteers, Craig Davidson (whom we all call "Kiwi" from New Zealand and husband of the lovely NASCAR driver Leilani Munter), found canned whale meat for sale in the vending machines in our hotel lobby. On Thursday night, we bought two cans and gave them to Boyd Harnell, a reporter with "The Japan Times", to have them tested. Then on Friday morning, Mark Berman of our Save Japan Dolphins Team went to the hotel management to tell them about the whale meat, complain about its presence, and that it was a potential problem if American visitors tried to bring some back to the US (a violation of the US Endangered Species Act). A bit to our surprise, the hotel management immediately took out all the remaining cans of whale meat in the machine and said they would talk to the vendor who owned the machine. Hopefully, the meat will be rejected in the future by the hotel! One of our volunteers here in Japan will be checking back periodically to make sure the whale meat stays out.

It is a small step, but shows that individuals can have an impact, even in whale-eating Japan!

My deepest thanks to all our volunteers, including those who went down to Taiji under difficult and potentially dangerous conditions. They are a brave bunch, and I love them all.

And thanks again to all our donors who made this trip possible. You have really helped with these crucial next steps in our Campaign. We have a couple of small victories here in Japan -- we hope you share our joy in them, and that you are with us in seeing this Campaign through to the end.

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