A Visit to Otsuchi, Devastated by the Tsunami
By Ric O’Barry
Brian Barnes and our Save Japan Dolphins Team are in the town of Otsuchi, in Iwate Prefecture, on Japan’s northern coast. Brian was in Otsuchi in March when the 9.0 earthquake struck and generated a tsunami that destroyed Otsuchi and other port towns along this coast.
Otsuchi was one of the main ports in Japan that hosted the hunting fleet for Dall’s porpoise in Japan’s cold coastal waters up north. Each year, thousands of Dall’s porpoise were hunted from small boats using hand harpoons, then brought back to ports like Otsuchi for processing and sale as meat. But no more.
The town is still in desperate straits, as Brian reports:
The town of Otsuchi is completely gone, and no one knows how long it will take to recover.
Every single person lost someone close. There are still nearly 1000 people missing in just Otsuchi.
The Otsuchi port was wrecked. Boats cannot use it. It will take months, possibly years to fix. I counted four dolphin-hunting boats that survived. Otsuchi had fish farming operations as well as fishing fleets, but all are of course gone.
Many residents are scared to stay and want to leave the area. They don’t want to rebuild in the low coastal area where future tsunamis may strike again. But Otsuchi is boxed in by steep hills. There is nowhere else to build here.
We met with the town officials today and had a good meeting. They all knew me and, touchingly, had been worried about me. As soon as they saw me, they said: “OOOHHHH” and their next phrase was “You alive! I thought you were dead!”, and everyone laughed. Many locals also had unbelievable survival stories.
There are 35 homeless shelters here, with hundreds of people in each one. Suicides are happening. The town has a functioning government, but is primarily under civil defense control with heavy national defense force presence.
The town officials I spoke with said “Yes, Otsuchi needs help,” including foreign assistance. Japan may be a wealthy nation, but money is not really getting here other than to pay for the national defense force, coast guard, and emergency management, e.g. “FEMA” type operations.
I had been told that one of the town officials, whom I met before the tragedy, learned to speak English by playing a guitar in his youth and singing Beatles songs. So, we decided to bring him a guitar, knowing he had lost his home and everything in it. I gave him the guitar at our meeting. He seemed overwhelmed by the thought if it and was extremely appreciative.
We’ll be in the Otsuchi area for at least another day.
One of the reasons our Save Japan Dolphins Team went to Japan was to see if we could help the people in their time of need. We oppose hunting dolphins and porpoises, but we have a deep affection for the people of Japan and understand that they are hurting. By opening up this dialog, Brian and our Save Japan Dolphins Team have helped us reach out to the town of Otsuchi. We hope to do some things to help them in these dire straits. That will open a path to talking later about dolphin hunts.
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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.
In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.
From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.
Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.
O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.
His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.