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Grotesque business as usual: In Taiji, Japan, fishermen in the Cove are still killing dolphins

January 28, 2010 |  5:41 pm

Ric O'Barry has devoted nearly 40 years to keeping marine mammals out of captivity. Animal lovers will recognize O'Barry from last year's much-heralded documentary "The Cove," which tells the story of an annual Japanese event at which dolphins are systematically slaughtered. Recently, he returned to Japan; we're honored that he's chosen to share his observations with Unleashed.

Ric O'Barry

I've been here in Taiji, the small coastal town in Japan with the big secret, since last week. I wanted to get a good idea of what is happening in the Cove, made infamous by the award-winning documentary "The Cove" (now out on DVD). It is imperative that I and my colleagues from Save Japan Dolphins Coalition are here on the ground regularly to judge what is happening and to document the truth that the Taiji dolphin-killers and the Japanese government want to hide from the Japanese people and the world.

Originally, the Taiji dolphin-killers were not catching any bottlenose dolphins for meat, and in September actually released around 100 they had caught after choosing 10 to 15 for captivity. But obviously, this was largely a PR effort on the part of the fishermen to deny the truth shown in the film. They could say they were not killing "Flipper," but they are butchering many of his dolphin cousins -- as many as they can get.

And the dolphin-killers are angry, too. They have physically assaulted several of us, although fortunately there have been no injuries. I was assaulted recently, but I got the assault on video. I brought a copy to the police station and filed a complaint against the dolphin killers. They will not intimidate me or our Save Japan Dolphins team that is here on site.

As depicted in "The Cove," Japan issues 23,000 permits annually to slaughter dolphins. Here in Taiji, boats go out to sea and herd dolphin pods into a local cove, where nets are arrayed across the entrance to keep them captive. The dolphin-killers work with aquariums from all over the world to pick out the best “show quality” dolphins for captivity. The rest are killed in the most horrible way imaginable, caught on hidden cameras in the film. Roughly two to three thousand dolphins are killed here during the dolphin-hunting season, which runs from September to March.

A publicity still from the documentary The Cove

Sadly, in the cove itself, I have found it is business as usual, despite the worldwide publicity against the dolphin slaughter. On a recent Sunday, several false killer whales (a large dolphin) were captured and a few were taken by boat around the corner of the bay to the notorious Taiji Whale Museum’s floating holding cages on the other side. These whales will be trained and then sold for extremely high prices (as much as $150,000 US dollars each or more) to other aquariums for their captive dolphin shows. The rest of the pod, their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, would be slaughtered the next day at dawn. There were also Risso's dolphins and Pacific white-sided dolphins in the cove as well, and they died too. My son Lincoln and I were on hand to record it. My son and I are working on a new TV project, so we will have a way to show the world the reality here in Taiji.

The Cove We will continue to show our presence here, and we will continue to record the brutal dolphin slaughters. By showing "The Cove" around Japan, we will spread the truth that the government has tried so long to cover up.

One of my goals is to change some hearts and minds here in Taiji. It seems to me that this is ground zero for the fight to change the hearts and minds of all Japan. We know there are people here in town who object to the dolphin slaughter, and recently, I had a chance to meet them. We have a Japanese version of "The Cove" DVD with us, and we plan to screen it discreetly for as many local people as we can find who want to know the truth. DVD copies of "The Cove" will also be given to decision-makers in the Japanese government.

"The Cove" was recently honored as Best Documentary by the Critics Choice Awards. It is on the short list of documentaries up for an Oscar in March.

I want to thank all our supporters for their efforts to contact President Obama and other opinion leaders throughout the world, to contact the Japanese Embassies, and to give donations to our cause to help us with our expenses here in Japan. Your support means a lot to me and the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition.

For further information about the Campaign to Save Japan Dolphins and to take action, go to SaveJapanDolphins.org.

-- Ric O'Barry

Ric O'Barry has worked with dolphins for more than 45 years -- the first 10 of them capturing and training dolphins, including the five dolphins that played the role of Flipper in the popular TV series of the same name.  After Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O'Barry decided to devote his life to freeing captive dolphins.  On the first Earth Day in 1970, he founded the Dolphin Project, and he has spent the past 38 years working against the captive dolphin industry.  In 1991, O'Barry received the Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program (US/UNEP).  He is a Fellow National in The Explorers Club and has served as the marine mammal specialist for Earth Island Institute and director of Save Japan Dolphins since 2007. He is the author of two books, "Behind the Dolphin Smile" and "To Free A Dolphin."

Photos: Oceanic Preservation Society

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