Japanese Activists at the Cove

By Ric O’Barry


Dolphin Project


For the past three days, I’ve been here with two Japanese activists, Sakura and Ryo, and our volunteer Cove Monitor from Hong Kong, Suzette Ackermann. 

And, we’ve seen it all.

Two days ago, there was a bloody slaughter of several Risso’s dolphins. (Yet, for some unknown reason, the dolphin hunters also let some of the Risso’s dolphins go.  This has happened a lot this year.  By one estimate we’ve seen, around 1,000 dolphins have been herded into the Cove this season, yet almost 25% have been released alive, including bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales, as well as these Risso’s dolphins.  These levels of release are unprecedented, as are the numbers being caught for captivity.)

A day ago, the hunters did not go out, taking the day off.  Today, the hunters went out but came back in empty-handed.

So we’ve seen three days with three very different outcomes in the Cove.

Of course, the big news is that Japanese activists are coming to Taiji to find out about the dolphin hunts for themselves.  Sakura has invited many of her colleagues and friends to come to see the hunts.  There is no need for us to tell them about the hunts – they want to see it for themselves and make up their own minds.

These Japanese activists are very involved in ways we cannot be.  They talk to the many Japanese policemen and Coast Guard officials, making sure they stay within the law and don’t give the dolphin hunters of Taiji any excuses to complain.  (That does not stop the complaints, of course, but it puts the activists in a friendly light with the authorities and undermines the efforts to demonize them.)  And they talk with the local people living in Taiji.  Sakura told me of an 80-year-old Japanese resident of Taiji she spoke with recently who is very much against the dolphin hunts.  Many local Japanese are against the hunts, but they are afraid to speak out. 

That can be a problem, of course, for our activists and other interested Japanese as well, who want to come here to Taiji.  They do not want to be seen as puppets of Westerners who oppose the dolphin hunts.  They do not want to be confused with our activists from other cultures, as they are Japanese and very proud of their heritage. 

Communication is our most important job in Japan.  Communication to the Japanese people of the tragedy of the dolphin slaughters in Taiji and the dangers of buying and eating dolphin and whale meat from these hunts.  Communication in the Japanese language.  We want to talk to them, not around them, and work with them.  Who best to communicate to the Japanese people but Japanese activists?

Ryo, Ric and Sakura overlooking the ocean near Taiji harbor.

Suzette too is familiar with these issues.  She lived in Tokyo for many years and speaks Japanese.  She understands the Japanese way of doing things, which can differ from our own.

Over the next months, it will be our intention to “stand down” from our presence here in Taiji in favor of Japanese activists, who can chart their own course for opposing the dolphin hunts.  That is my hope, at least.  It will be the Japanese who stop the hunts, ranging from mothers who refuse to buy poisoned dolphin meat for their children to activists who oppose the hunts for the sake of the welfare of dolphins.

For the moment, I am grateful to be here to share with Ryo, Sakura and Suzette.  They will be the activists of the future.  And, not surprisingly, they care as deeply about the dolphins as we all do.

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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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