Dolphin Kill Ends Early in Taiji?

By Ric O’Barry


Our newest volunteer monitor, Brian Barnes, arrived in Taiji today, and received a surprise.  The dolphin killers have reportedly quit killing dolphins for the season, ending a whole month early.  Officially, the season lasts through March, although the killing drops off considerably by the middle of that month.  This year, they may have stopped early, but Brian is investigating further.

If the season has ended early, it is likely because demand in Japan for whale and dolphin meat declined last year by 30%, due to our work in publicizing the mercury contamination of dolphin and some whale meat.  However, the Taiji fishermen have been catching more dolphins and small whales for captivity than ever before, so the trafficking in live dolphins will likely bring them more money than ever.

Brian gives us his first impressions of Taiji:

After a few very long days of travel, I finally arrived in Taiji this afternoon.  I really didn’t know what to expect when I got off the train, but found that most people in town are immediately suspicious of anyone who is a foreigner.

I suppose it’s understandable considering this town has for years been able to kill tens of thousands of dolphins for decades without much international exposure, even though Ric O’Barry and others have long since tried, it wasn’t until the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove that the secrets of what happens in Taiji’s killing cove truly gained international exposure.

The first thing that immediately strikes is the town’s iconic whale statues and art.  As I was renting my car I noticed a photograph on the wall of a humpback whale, and even on the office clock was a comic book style cartoon whale.  There does seem to be a disconnect here, but I grew up in the Midwest around cattle ranches, and it reminds me of all the photos I have seen of cattle hanging on the walls of homes and businesses throughout the Great Plains.

I’ve also already been asked by one of the town’s residents: “What is so special about whales and dolphins and not cows and chickens?”  I doubt that I know enough Japanese, or he knew enough English for us to have an intelligent conversation.  But, I’ll be happy to answer the question here as I see it.

There is a difference pertaining to the ecosystem and either farmed animals or wild animals.  When a cow or chicken is removed from a farm, nothing is removed from the ecosystem.  When a wild animal is removed from its natural habitat, not only is that animals life taken, but it’s also depriving possibly millions of others of animals who depend on what has been removed both while it’s alive and after it dies in it’s natural environment.  This is especially a problem when whole populations of dolphins are removed and permanently depressed in numbers in the ecosystem.

That’s my general outlook from a scientific viewpoint with ethics removed.  There are of course many ethical arguments that can be made based on cetacean intelligence, their complex social structures, and the fact that animals who use echo location shouldn’t be in tanks or swimming pools due to the health effects it has upon them.

I plan to use my time here to monitor the daily activities in the killing cove (if indeed any further killing takes place this season!), work on my Japanese language skills and learn about the local culture as much as possible.   It’s already been quite an experience, and I’m just barely settled into the hotel in a nearby town.  But so far, my first impression of the people in this area is that they are good people.  It seems to be a minor few that are at the center of this issue.  I hope that through communication, we can break through this barrier of disconnect and possibly even help this town work out economic alternatives.

I’ll probably make more trips to Taiji in the future, it’s my hope that someday when foreigners step off the train, there will be no killing cove or captive dolphins and the foreigners, including myself, are greeted as friends, or even better – welcomed tourists.

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About Ric O'Barry

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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$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


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