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In wake of 'The Cove' winning an Oscar, controversy continues to swirl in Japan regarding dolphin hunting

the cove

The Japanese fishing village featured in "The Cove," which won an Oscar for best documentary, defended its practice of hunting dolphins Monday as a part of a long tradition.

The movie, which mixes stunning underwater shots of gliding dolphins with covertly filmed grisly footage of their slaughter, also claims that dolphin meat is laden with toxic mercury.

Taiji, a quiet fishing village on the rocky coast of southwestern Japan, kills only a small fraction of the dolphins hunted by the country each year. But it has long been a target of environmentalists and animal lovers because it uses a method called "oikomi," in which the dolphins are chased into shore, making the hunt more visible.

Though few residents said they had seen the film, there was universal disgust at its portrayal of the town. Taiji proudly bills itself as "Whale Town" and a main bridge is adorned with dolphin statues, but after years of what locals see as unfair treatment by the foreign press, few are willing to talk on the record. One young dolphin trainer turned and ran away when asked for her opinion.

"This is a close-knit group of fishermen. The more they feel squeezed, the more they will close off to outsiders. They won't stop this hunt because of such pressure," said Hisato Ryono, a local councilman who appears in the film.

The mayor's office handed out a statement that said Taiji's dolphin hunt is lawful and argued that the movie contained statements that were not based on science. Otherwise, most town officials refused to talk.

"There are different food traditions within Japan and around the world," the statement read. "It is important to respect and understand regional food cultures, which are based on traditions with long histories."

Director Louie Psihoyos said "The Cove" isn't meant to bash Japan but that it is "a love letter to the Japanese people."

"Our hope is the Japanese people will see this film and decide themselves whether animals should be used for meat and for entertainment," Psihoyos said backstage after receiving the Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

The town of Taiji kills about 2,000 dolphins every year for their meat. Some are captured and sold to aquariums.

The Japanese government, which allows about 19,000 dolphins to be killed each year, acknowledges that dolphin meat is contaminated with mercury, but denies it's dangerous unless consumed in huge quantities.

In September, amid an international outcry following the screening of the movie abroad, villagers released several dozen dolphins that had been caught. But locals say they will continue with the hunt.

The movie has not yet been released in Japan, but it will start showing here in June at 20 to 30 theaters nationwide. It was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October, where viewers gave it mixed reviews.

Still, most Japanese don't know about the annual dolphin hunt, and dolphin meat is hardly eaten in Japan.

Takeshi Kato, president of Unplugged in Tokyo, which is distributing the film in Japan, said the faces of dozens of Taiji residents are being blurred out for the Japan version to ward off possible lawsuits under Japanese law that protects privacy.

"Our purpose is not to attack the people of Taiji," he said.

"If this movie can serve as an opportunity for people to find out, it would be great," he told The Associated Press on Monday.

He said he hopes the film will help open the debate in Japan on preserving nature, including dolphins and whales.

"Receiving the top award in the movie industry will work as a big plus for our efforts to show this movie in Japan," he said.

Ryono, the local councilman, and Tetsuya Endo, an associate professor at Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, both appear in the current version of the film and say they were interviewed under false pretenses. Both say they have asked the filmmakers to remove footage, and Endo says he hasn't ruled out legal action.

"I feel that they should have declined the award," Endo said.

Psihoyos was unable to get permission to access the cove where the dolphins are killed. Fishermen blocked it with barbed wire and fences. So he and his film team secretly broke into the restricted area -- which is in a national park -- at night to set up cameras that capture the slaughter.

Japanese government officials have defended the fishermen's right to hunt dolphins and called the film unbalanced.

"There are some countries that eat cows, and there are other countries that eat whales or dolphins," said Yutaka Aoki, fisheries division director at Foreign Ministry. "A film about slaughtering cows or pigs might also be unwelcome to workers in that industry."

-- Associated Press

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Photo: Oceanic Preservation Society

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Although I applaud the win for "The Cove" Yutaka Aoki is right when he says "A film about slaughtering cows or pigs might also be unwelcome to workers in that industry." It's so unwelcome that in the US humane investigators also have to go undercover to reveal the truth about how we kill cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and more. In fact, agribusiness doesn't even want us to see how they live -- in cruel confinement and disgusting, disease-producing filth. And every time video emerges of abuse American agribusiness says, "This is an aberration, slaughter isn't really this cruel..." as if slaughter could be anything less than violent and cruel. There's a reason why the word "slaughter" is used in human terms to describe horrific and violent killing. But we somehow think the meaning changes when it's used to describe killing pigs, cows, chickens and turkeys? Or that slaughtering a dolphin is somehow much worse than slaughtering a pig (another highly intelligent mammal)?

There is no such thing as humane slaughter. The concept is the very definition of cognitive dissonance. We can't congratulate ourselves for being appalled about the cruel killing of dolphins yet turn our backs on what happens to animals in our own country just because we don't eat dolphin but we do eat cow. That's hypocrisy, plain and simple.

"There are some countries that eat cows, and there are other countries that eat whales or dolphins," said Yutaka Aoki, fisheries division director at Foreign Ministry. "A film about slaughtering cows or pigs might also be unwelcome to workers in that industry."

This guy is kidding, right? There are films like that all the time in the United States, yet you do not get a whole town trying to cover it up. Yes, we eat cows and pigs and the like, but there are rules that govern how they are slaughtered. I am no vegetarian, and so I am not going to be swayed by the type of argument by LA Voter - we will just have to disagree there. But luring dolphins on land to brutally butcher them? There are far more humane ways of doing this, but this village wants to stick to its barbarian traditions. Why go to such measures to hide what you are doing if you think there is nothing wrong with it? We can criticize ourselves for our "we are right, everyone else is wrong" attitude that we sometimes hold in America, but Japan is far worse when it comes to this. Japan's xenophobia and racism is more deep seeded than even that of the US.

Jeff -- have you ever seen the undercover video at the Hallmark/Westland slaughterhouse (since closed) that led to the nation's largest-yet beef recall? You're right, we will have to agree to disagree that luring (actually chasing) dolphins onto the beach to brutally slaughter them is measurably worse than ramming sick and debilitated spent dairy cows with forklifts or forcing high-power water hoses up their noses to force them to walk, as the law requires, to a brutal slaughter. You're SHOCKED that a town tries to cover up what it does to dolphins, but you think there are rules that cover how farmed animals are slaughtered here. You're right, there are a few videos out there showing brutal livestock handling and cruel, illegal slaughter practices. And every time the industry says, "This is an aberration!" and then another video showing the exact same thing comes out. But you think there are laws...

I am obviously against the slaughter of dolphins. But I think it's hypocrisy of the highest order to say "Oh, those terrible Japanese people!" when we are unwilling to look at the atrocities committed millions of times a year in this country just because we like bacon double cheeseburgers and don't have an appetite for dolphin. It's not more humane simply because you like the taste.

I'm waiting for the day the film that wins the Oscar is one that harshly judges the culture of the people doing the voting. I guess I'm also waiting for the day when people start realizing the consequences of their own food choices.

LA Voter, you completely missed the point of my post, as it typical of the vegan/vegetarian high on his or her mighty horse. Let us begin with taste. I am not criticizing the Japanese for eating dolphin. I have never tried it myself, and would not be opposed to it. But there are humane ways to butcher animals and inhumane ways. As far as factory farming, again, you choose the most extreme example to condemn all factory farming because you have made a moral decision that no one should eat animals. Let us set aside all of the biological and evolutionary science that proves that homo-sapiens-sapiens are natural omnivores. If you want to make a moral judgment about meat eating, fine. But do not pretend that you are better than others. Hitler was a vegetarian, and it did not make him a better person. Besides, one must consume life to live. You set your bar at plant life, me at animal life. But that does not mean that I need to be cruel about it.

Wow -- "Hitler was a vegetarian..." That's almost as cliched as "What about plants' feelings?" Believe me, people who try to be less cruel in their food choices have heard all those tired "arguments."

The fact remains that slaughter is slaughter. If it's cruel when it's done to dolphins and humans, it's cruel when it's done to cows. What few and pitiful anti-cruelty laws there are on the books are hardly enforced. A recent story in USA Today about a Congressional hearing on the role of the USDA in enforcing anti-cruelty laws reports:

"The charges by Dean Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, detail instances in which he and other inspectors were overruled [by the USDA] when citing slaughterhouses for violations such as shocking and butchering days-old calves that were too weak or sick to stand. He also describes being threatened with transfer or demotion after citing a plant for butchering conscious pigs, despite rules that they first be stunned and unconscious."

I have been where you are. I wanted to be outraged about certain kinds of animal cruelty, while still feeling free to eat delicious tasty chicken and cheeseburgers. I loved bacon. But facts are facts and about fifteen years ago I had to face the very simple fact that if I ate bacon I was responsible for pigs dying cruelly. Pigs are routinely reported to be smarter than dogs, and right up there with dolphins. It's just how it is. And inexplicably attacking vegetarians and vegans just because we tell the truth doesn't change the truth. Slaughter is slaughter, and pain and fear aren't more tragic when felt by a dolphin than a cow.

LA Voter,

You attacked me, not the other way around. As for my Hitler reference, it may be cliched, but no more so than, "vegetarians are morally superior to omnivores." Trust me, to use your words, us omnivores have heard it all from vegetarians. Look, you seem to think it is cruel to slaughter animals in any way shape, or form, so you would not be satisfied even if the USDA shut down the few plants that do abuse animals. And being that humans are as natural as fish, sharks, bears, cows, and any other animal, to say that we should some how turn our backs on evolution seems to make about as much sense as trying to convert a lion to a vegetarian diet. The difference between abuse and slaughter is that abuse is merely sadistic and serves no purpose. Slaughter is part of the circle of life to provide food for humans, who evolved as omnivores because of our meat-eating. I do not attack vegetarians for being vegetarians. I do, however, defend myself against attacks claiming vegetarianism automatically places you on the moral high ground (something I refuted) or that vegetarianism is healthier (something not scientific).

I wish I could eat a sandwich with both dolphin and cow meat.

It's pretty common for people to insist that somehow humans are evolved to eat meat, which they seem to imply, somehow obligates humans to kill animals for food. To those people I would suggest you take a look at the teeth of a cat, a true obligate carnivore that only lives healthily on a diet of largely meat and fat. Then take a look at the teeth of a dog, an ominivore that evolved from predators. Then take a look at your own teeth. Not exactly "evolved" for predation, are they?

All of which is beside the point, which is that, as humans -- with cars -- we have a lot of options for our diet. No one ever said humans can survive healthily without protein, but we have a lot of options for getting that protein without killing animals. The fact is, you don't want to. Therefore you deliberately try to equate appetite with evolution. Humans didn't evolve to eat bacon double cheeseburgers, in fact any intelligent human would know that the ingestion of bacon double cheeseburgers is counter-evolutionary. If you want to make the evolution argument you should try hunting down your dinner, without a gun, considering your contention that "humans are as natural as fish, sharks, bears, cows, and any other animal." But I somehow doubt you're interested in working that hard. I suspect your procurement of dinner involves a car, an ATM card, a supermarket, a refrigerator and/or microwave, a restaurant or drive-through window. But you're right, we're totally natural. We have no options afforded us by all that technology.

The fact is you want to condemn the Japanese who kill these dolphins, but at least they have the guts to look their prey in the face when they kill them. They get out there and confront the consequences of their choices. You go to the supermarket and pretend that beef was created in plastic-covered packages, and that chickens "evolved" dead, cold and featherless in the refrigerated section. You attack those who point out that in fact cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys are routinely slaughtered in a cruel and inhumane fashion in THIS country. You attack those who suggest that there is no way to "humanely" slaughter -- but that's why it's called slaughter. It's not a different word, with a different meaning, when applied to animals you enjoy eating.

You even said "There are far more humane ways of [killing dolphins]" and "I am not criticizing the Japanese for eating dolphin. I have never tried it myself, and would not be opposed to it. But there are humane ways to butcher animals and inhumane ways." So I challenge you to describe a humane method for slaughtering dolphins. I challenge you to describe a humane method for killing a pig -- an animal virtually equal in intelligence to a dolphin. Then I challenge you to come up with an agency that will enforce the humane standards you describe because, as previously noted, not only does USDA not enforce existing humane slaughter laws, they actually threaten and demote inspectors who try to enforce their own laws.

You want to eat meat. You have an appetite for it. That is your choice. But you then have no rational basis for attacking the dolphin-killing fishermen of Taiji. You also have no rational basis for attacking me simply because I point out a simple, unassailable truth, which is that the U.S. kills a lot more animals inhumanely than a small village in Japan. There's no doubt that the dolphins in Taiji meet a horrifying, painful and terrifying death. But they at least have a free, wild life up to that point. Cows, pigs, chicken and turkeys meet an equally horrifying, painful and terrifying death, after painful, unhealthy cruel lives in factory farms. I'm allowed to believe that that is worse. I'm also allowed to point out the hypocrisy of people who are shocked -- SHOCKED -- that dolphins suffer, but who don't care about the millions upon millions of cows, pigs, chicken and turkeys who suffer. Is it the fact that it is millions that makes you not care? Is it the fact that you think dolphins are charming, but you have never gotten to know a cow, pig, chicken or turkey? Or do you think only cute animals deserve humane treatment?

Or is it the fact that cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys are so delicious? I've already conceded that I liked meat -- I had the same appetites you do. But for some reason it makes you angry that I also point out that appetite and habit aren't enough of an excuse for adding to the suffering of the world. Why is it okay to slaughter a pig and not okay to slaughter a dolphin? Or a dog?

Jeff - you put quotes around "vegetarians are morally superior to omnivores" which implies that LA Voter wrote that, but I don't see that written anywhere here.


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