About Taiji – Real Horror, Real Hope, and Lessons I’ve Learned
I do not post on social media – and now here – about situations like Taiji because these stories matter more than any other struggle or suffering humans endure. I post about Taiji because these days my soul relates to God through the beauty and sometimes even the savagery of nature and the creatures therein. Humanity’s ever-increasing callousness towards the creatures of this earth for financial gain and “amusement” is deeply troubling. We lose a piece of ourselves and the good of our humanity with every one of these transactions. As I think about situations like these, my struggle is to not allow them to turn me into an ugly, hateful person. This does nothing to affect hunters or poachers and only makes me bitter.
“It is not just that animals make the world more scenic or picturesque. The lives of animals are woven into our very being – closer than our own breathing and our souls will suffer when they are gone.”
– Gary Kowalski, The Souls of Animals
Please note that I do not post pictures of slaughtered dolphins in Taiji. They are all over the internet. If you need to see those pictures to process the information, please do Google them. Generally speaking, I think most people know without looking at them that what would turn the water this red is brutal and stomach-turning.
- Dolphins are hunted in Taiji from September 1st through March 31st.
- Dolphin drive hunts are defended by the hunters as “tradition.” In reality, the hunts began in 1969, have nothing to do with “tradition”, and have everything to do with money.
- In the 2015/2016 season, capture or slaughter of 1,873 dolphins is “allowed.”
- The typical fate of dolphins who are victims of the drives is as follows:
- CAPTIVITY for the “pretty” dolphins (dolphins with no scarring, etc.). These can be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars to entertain humans at marine parks similar to SeaWorld. SW claims that there is no link between the captivity industry and Taiji. This is a lie. Those who are not sold elsewhere (such as Angel the albino bottlenose) will spend the rest of their lives at places like the Taiji Whale Museum where they float listlessly in small tanks with dirty water while the public gawks at them. As of the end of the 2014/2015 season, the Taiji Whale Museum held three albino dolphins with a combined potential sale value of approximately $1.5 million USD.
- SLAUGHTER for those not selected for captivity. Every year the meat is tested and the mercury levels are high. At the Taiji Whale Museum, you can gawk at dolphins and eat dolphins in the same location. Other mercury-laden meat will be sold and consumed by the Japanese public – including school children.
- ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH for the youngest dolphins (who aren’t “rare” like Angel). They will be dumped back out to sea where they will no longer have the protection of their pods.
- The Taiji dolphin drive hunt was documented on film in the 2009 movie The Cove. Activities continue to be documented by Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project and the Cove Guardians.
- In April 2015, WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Council members voted to suspend JAZA (Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums).
“The basis for the suspension is a determination that JAZA has violated the WAZA Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare. Moreover, WAZA Council re-affirmed its position that members of WAZA must confirm that they will not acquire dolphins from the Taiji fishery.”
- To avoid suspension, in May 2015 JAZA informed members that they were were no longer allowed to acquire dolphins caught in dolphin drives.
- August 2015: JAZA “made new internal rules about dolphins, which stipulate punishments for facilities that violate the rules.” (The Japan News)
- September 4, 2015: The Taiji Whale Museum formally withdrew from JAZA after confirming to JAZA that it will continue to acquire dolphins from the drive hunt. JAZA asked the Museum to leave and the Museum did so. Side note: I feel that the part of JAZA’s plan to breed dolphins in captivity is wrong; however, this does not negate the fact that at least there was some effort (ineffective as it was).
- A few details you may or may not know about a few people fighting this battle in Japan:
- Ric O’Barry (Dolphin Project): Long-time warrior in the anti-captivity battle and the fight to save dolphins from human cruelty. Previously, he was a dolphin trainer and trained the well-known “Flipper.”
- Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians: individually not as “famous”; yet as a group they are a formidable force in ensuring that no one ever forgets what happens in the Cove. Some have been denied entry into Japan but Japan is unable to keep them all out. This year’s campaign is entitled Operation Henkaku.
- Save Japan Dolphins (An Earth Island Institute Project): News and Action
- Izumi Ishii: Former Taiji dolphin hunter. You can read Dolphin Project’s article about him here. Some quotes from this article:
“After slaughtering dolphins for decades, Ishii had a change of heart after seeing the scale in which the animals were being killed during the drives. He said they were highly intelligent creatures and never attempted to bite him even as he slit their throats.”
“Proving that it’s never too late to make the right decision, Ishii now not only speaks against the dolphin drives but runs eco-tours for tourists so they can see the beauty of dolphins up close and understand what amazing creatures they are.”
- Taiji began the 2015-2016 season with a streak of days of unsuccessful hunts and bad weather. However, the hunters and police still managed to prove that the ground volunteers are human and that those involved in the dolphin drives are becoming less so as they continue to sear their consciences. Ric O’Barry was arrested on an alleged passport violation (he was never charged.) Technically, foreign visitors must carry passports at all times and Ric’s unfortunately turned out to be in his car. For this, he was held and tortured until the Taiji police were forced by the US government to release him. Following his release, he continued to be harassed.
When the harassment abated somewhat, Ric posted the following thank you note.
- From a conservation viewpoint, the shocking carelessness of humans is responsible for enough dolphin deaths without people being given license to purposefully kill thousands every year.
- The Japanese public in general is not yet aware of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. This is slowly changing due to increasing publicity and social media outrage. Japanese people who are aware are mostly against the drive. One person stated on Ric O’Barry’s Facebook page, “The government does what it wants. Many Japanese have protested and shown that they do not agree with this. All they can do is put pressure on their own government.”
- On April 17, 2015 Ric O’Barry and others presented a petition in support of dolphins to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador of Japan to the United States. The petition was signed by over 1 million people.
Hope in the midst of darkness is always a hard-fought gain.
A monster built by financial profit does not fall in day. Knowledge helps. Pressure helps. The “squeaky wheel” helps. Every person who refuses to buy a ticket to a dolphin show helps. Results may not be occurring as fast or in the way our cultures of instant outcomes prefer. But if anyone has the right to give up, it is the people on the ground who face the hideousness up close day after day after day – year after year. The emotional price of keeping the faith is more than any of us who have never stood there can truly understand. Yet they are not giving up.
To feel the tragedy is natural, if you have any heart at all. To feel hope takes digging down inside of ourselves – or seeking it out elsewhere if we find that well is empty. To hope is to dare to believe that one day the dolphins might have Blue Cove forever.
There are a variety of actions that every person who wants to can take to speak for the dolphins and support those who are now standing on the front lines. These actions include volunteering, providing financial support, writing authorities, using social media to spread awareness, and more. Many care deeply but cannot physically volunteer or provide much financial support. As valuable as these two things are, everything counts. For more information and ideas, visit the following pages:
In 200 years people will look back on this particular period and say to themselves, ‘how did these people at that time just allow all these amazing creatures to vanish?’ But there would be very little use in me or anybody else exerting all this energy to save the wild places if people are not being educated into being better stewards than we have been. If we lose hope, there is no hope. Without hope, people fall into apathy.”
-Dr. Jane Goodall