Friday, October 29, 2010

I’m Back in Taiji

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

Lincoln and I have returned to Taiji on short notice, planning to attend an interesting (to say the least) meeting with the Mayor of Taiji and the fishermen next week. The meeting is not open to the public, but will be open to the media.

A local activist and nationalist in Wakayama Prefecture organized the meeting, persuading Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen that dialog was important with Westerners. We have sought a meeting with the Mayor for several years, most recently when I returned to Japan on September 1st of this year. The Mayor has continually turned us down.

On one of our first visits to Taiji back in 2004, my wife Helene and I held a meeting with the fishermen (this meeting is alluded to in the film The Cove). We had an open discussion about the dolphin slaughter – I even asked the fishermen to tell us what it would cost us to pay them to stop killing dolphins. They came back with the astonishing answer that they were engaged in “pest” control, convinced by the notorious Japanese Fisheries Agency that the dolphins were eating all their fish! It is remarkably sad when the Japanese fishermen start believing their own propaganda to be true.

Now we will need to convince the skeptical Mayor and fishermen of Taiji and the Japanese media, which is sympathetic to the fishermen, that we want to help, that we are not here to confront the fishermen, and that we believe the people of Taiji will benefit from stopping the dolphin killing.

Joining me in Taiji is author Leah Lemieux and her filmmaker friend, Suzanne Chisholm, visiting Taiji for the first time as volunteer observers and chroniclers. Leah is the author of Rekindling the Waters, a description of what it is like to be with dolphins in captivity and an indictment of the captive industry. I highly recommend it. She has also gone around Canada and the United Kingdom giving talks about The Cove and her efforts to protect dolphins. Now she is here at the proverbial ground zero – I quote from her first two blogs:

“Oct. 27th: I arrived in Taiji today with film maker Suzanne Chisholm around noon. Only a few hours earlier, nearly 60 pacific spotted, bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, including tiny babies, were murdered by the infamous Taiji dolphin killers. Today was their last sunrise. The dolphin killers have been going to increasing lengths to hide this profane practice behind tarps and closed doors trying to keep the blue waters from obviously running red.

Bloody chunks of cetacean meat for sale.
Photography by Leah Lemieux.

“Over and over it strikes you, how beautiful this place is and how the killing of dolphins stains this beautiful place. Our tour ended with a visit to the Dolphin Resort Hotel. We arrived just in time to see a group of school kids, who had all paid to play at ‘being a trainer for a day’. We stood, over-looking the floating pens where around 22 dolphins taken from the cove are held captive to perform and for tourists to swim with.

“Today these dolphins had to listen as others of their marine community were murdered… I was shaking and struck silent, looking at these dolphins, restlessly pacing and circling in the tiny pens and watching all these school children, being fed lies. These dolphin trainers know full well that the families of all these captives were cruelly killed a stone’s throw away. And they must know it’s the money coming from the pockets of tourists that goes straight into the pockets of the dolphin killers and thus perpetuates the dolphin slaughter. Yet with smiles on their faces, surrounded by cartoonish depictions of ‘happy happy dolphins’, they ignore their essential part in this chain of pain and death.

Wild Taiji dolphins condemned to captivity for the rest of their lives.
Photography by Leah Lemieux.

“This natural beauty is shamed and stained and marred by what happens here. This place represents a microcosm of the same battle being fought all over this Earth by those who value life and the living world and those who kill and destroy and turn living beings into dead blood money.

“If there is any hope for the future of all and any of us, this has to change. If we cannot change what happens here, what hope is there?”

Leah and Suzanne and many others are making a difference for dolphins by their volunteer efforts. They deserve our grateful thanks. You can read more of Leah’s eloquent Blogs on her website:

The good news is that the weather today and yesterday is preventing the dolphin-killing boats from going out to sea. Bad weather is good news for dolphins off the coast of Taiji.

There is more to come as we prepare for our meeting next week with the fishermen of Taiji.

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