Dolphin Day 2011

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Dolphin Day 2011

[Ed. Note: Please also read The Tears of a Dolphin...a six-generation dolphin hunter is redeemed!]

By Bee Friedlander, Animals & Society Institute (ASI)
September 2011

Those of us who saw “The Cove” will never forget the image of the waters around Taiji Japan, red with the blood of dolphins who are captured and trapped in the inlet, destined for captivity or a more immediate death.

(Image courtesy Save Japan Dolphins)

Lest we assume that release of this powerful and critically acclaimed movie (it was awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 2010 Academy Awards) marked the end of the horrors visited upon these intelligent creatures, comes Dolphin Day. September 1 is the beginning of Taiji’s annual hunt which is scheduled to last for six months, until April 2012.

“Drive hunting” is a method born in Taiji, a small (population about 3,000) Japanese coastal town. It involves herding the dolphins into a shallow bay (giving “The Cove” its name). Once driven into the bay and trapped, the dolphins are sold into captivity, or killed for human consumption. The fate of these dolphins – and humans – is very problematic indeed.

As noted in “The Cove,” the dolphin meat has high concentrations of mercury, and studies have shown a high level of the substance in people who consume the meat. One study of Taiji residents who eat dolphin and whale meat showed extremely concentrations high levels of mercury in hair samples.

And what of the dolphins who survive?

A dolphin that has been slaughtered is sold for around $500.00 USD. A dolphin sold to a theme park, or "swim with dolphin" program brings from $30,000.00 to $200,000.00 USD depending on how well trained it is, the aesthetics of the dolphin, and which country it is being shipped to. The captive dolphin industry is driving the Taiji fishermen to capture and kill dolphins. As Ric O'Barry has said, "These theme parks are rewarding Taiji for its bad behavior."

The 2010-11 hunt – which ended a month early due to the constant presence of and pressure by representatives of two organizations, Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians and Save Japan Dolphins – took a terrible toll: 850 dolphins were killed in the Cove, and the 171 who survived the slaughter of their families were sold into captivity.

“The Cove” is a story about dolphins, but it’s also about Ric O’Barry. He began his career five decades ago in the captive dolphin industry. Flipper was a popular 1960s television show starring a dolphin in the title role, and O’Barry was the trainer of the five different animals who played that role. He had an epiphany when one of them, Kathy, died in his arms.

For the past 40 years, O’Barry has worked tirelessly to stop the exploitation – and killing – of these magnificent, intelligent creatures. Now the head of The Dolphin Project, he has motivated, educated and inspired people worldwide, but his work is not done.

Although September 1 came and went without the start of the 2011-12 hunt in Taiji, this reprieve has more to do with Typhoon Talas than with a change of heart among the fishermen. Despite O’Barry’s pleas last week to release the dolphins who were being held in the cove as Talas was approaching, authorities did not act and the trapped dolphins apparently drowned.

And now, word has just come of the first kills, 12 Risso dolphins, on September 7.

But O’Barry and the Cove Guardians and others are there for the duration. This year’s Cove Guardian campaign is called Operation Infinite Patience and upon returning to Taiji for the beginning of the hunt, the Guardians announced: "One of Sea Shepherd’s strategies is persistence. Shutting down the dolphin slaughter requires incredible stamina and patience. We have been actively opposing the killing of dolphins in Japan since 1980."

Nor will Ric O’Barry give up. He encouraged a witness to the slaughter with these words:

Yes, it is a hard thing to witness. It will stay with you forever. Keep in mind that every action has a reaction. This experience will enable you to speak (with credibility) for these departed souls. They did not die in vain. You are now part of their life and they are part of your life. Because you were there for them they now have a voice through you.

There is a moment at the end of "The Cove," when O’Barry says of the Taiji hunt: “I have to see this end in my lifetime.” We all can take comfort in knowing it’s not just a wish, but a promise.