Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Taiji Ground Zero Detonates on Nov. 2nd

By Leah Lemieux
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute
Author: Rekindling the Waters

I think this has been the longest and most insane, dangerous and fraught day of my life.

At the appointed time this morning, Ric O’Barry arrived at the Taiji community center where he would be joining a number of other people representing the interests and protection of the dolphins (and all the innocent people unknowingly eating mercury tainted dolphin meat) for a meeting with the Taiji Mayor and the fishermen’s union.

But suddenly everything detonated as Ric announced at the door that he was refusing to participate in the Taiji meeting, because the Mayor had placed such heavy restrictions on the media, going so far as to bar any media from participating that might ask unwanted questions of the Mayor and fishermen’s union. Ric also stated the Mayor had been holding secret meetings with the extreme nationalist groups that opposed screening of The Cove movie in Japan. To everyone’s astonishment, Ric announced that he would be hosting his own free dialogue open to all questions and press at the cove, where the Taiji Mayor would not muzzle discussion. Chaos ensued immediately.

Ric and Media crush at the cove on November 2nd.
Photography by Leah Lemieux.

Outraged officials began screaming, as Ric headed off to the cove followed by a divided media hoard. I’ve never been in something like this before – a media riot, where cameramen were actually trampling each other to get close to Ric! I was washed and squashed embedded amid this sudden unruly tide, keeping close to Ric, to try and lend the support of a friendly face in a place where dangerous hostility could erupt from any direction at any time.

At the cove, Ric addressed the press about the issues so close to our hearts and unrolled a banner representing the signatures of two million people around the world who oppose the killing and capture of dolphins in Taiji.

Ric at the cove with the scroll representing 2 million online signatures against the killing and capture of dolphins in Japan.
Photography by Leah Lemieux.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest… Inside the Taiji community center the other half of the press (those who weren't barred by the Mayor) were attending the meeting. On one side were the Taiji town Mayor and representatives of the Taiji fishermen’s union, the people who slaughter dolphins. And among those in the other corner were representatives of organizations speaking for the dolphins and the oceans.

Taiji Mayor Sangen (far right) and other representatives of the dolphin killers at Nov. 2nd meeting.
Photography by Leah Lemieux.

Many media representatives were present, but the questions they were allowed to ask were very tightly controlled, and no dolphin sympathies were allowed to be voiced by press – those had already been weeded out and barred from the meeting!

Despite the orchestrated attempts to bias the meeting in strong favor of dolphin hunting, the press heard our voices. Various representatives and volunteers for the dolphins spoke with calm assurance and never lost their cool.

After this meeting, everyone who was not there already headed to the cove, and that’s when it got really crazy.

Death threats were uttered, and the local police were out in force to protect Ric, who had earned the wrath of officials he had defied by refusing to participate in their jury-rigged meeting.

Later this evening, Ric got on a train out of here heading to Tokyo. We had a heavy police escort. There were some very VERY angry characters about, tons of media, and there were loud public threats made against Ric's life and Lincoln O’Barry’s life, too. Police everywhere--thankfully. There were some VERY scary moments!

With the different groups and individuals here, there are many different approaches to this issue. Nature shows us there is strength in diversity. Today was an event – a crazy event that threatened to get out of hand. But stopping the dolphin kills is a process that will take time. Despite the chaos, much good came of this by bringing the issues and opinions of those who value dolphins alive and free to so much Japanese media. Ric O’Barry and other representatives and volunteers present gave the Japanese people much to think about, and that can only be for the good.

The issues in Taiji are complex, to say the least. It is of course important to find ways for the dolphin hunters to work and feed their families, but not by killing dolphins.

For additional Taiji blogs by Leah:

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