The Tears of a Dolphin

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The Tears of a Dolphin

By Ric O'Barry, Save Japan Dolphins Coalition, September 2009

Mr. Ishii, a sixth-generation dolphin hunter, had a change of heart a few years ago. He said it was because of the cries and tears of the dolphins he killed. He could not stand it anymore. So he quit.

Yesterday, I had to say goodbye to Taiji. Our group had to move along to our next stop. We don’t have the money to stay in Japan for very long, and my son Lincoln’s TV production has a very specific purpose – to show what is good in Japan. It is important that this story get out, not only to the world, but to the Japanese people, as well.

So, on the morning of Sept. 4th, we had to leave the Cove behind, hoping that somehow, the publicity and international attention we’ve brought to this town in Japan will result in an end to the killing of dolphins. I don’t know whether we will be successful or not this time, but if we aren’t successful, I promise I will be back.


As we leave the Cove, it is still empty of any dolphins on Sept. 4, 2009.
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

But I left knowing that as of the morning of the fourth day of the dolphin slaughter season, no dolphins died in Taiji. As I said, I’m hoping the killing ends. But we will keep an ear to the ground for rumors of new dolphin drives after we have left. And we have plans to return to Japan shortly.

You can see the worldwide Associated Press video of our trip to Taiji on the National Geographic website.

After leaving Taiji, we drove all day for hours along the beautiful Japanese coastline, heading for another small town on the coast, which is also infamous among dolphin lovers – the town of Futo.

Futo too had a horrific dolphin drive fishery, and you have probably seen some of the footage of that dolphin slaughter on YouTube.

We came to meet a friend of ours, a man by the name of Ishii. Mr. Ishii was a sixth generation dolphin hunter in Futo. His family had been involved in the hunt for years. Mr. Ishii did his duty and killed many dolphins.


Lincoln and Ric interview Mr. Ishii, a sixth generation dolphin hunter who gave up the chase and now runs dolphin-watching trips for tourists.
Photography copyright Mark J. Palmer

But, as he told Lincoln and I, he had a change of heart a few years ago. He said it was because of the cries and tears of the dolphins he killed. He could not stand it anymore. So he quit.

His story and my story are so similar. He thought of dolphins as fish to be caught, killed and eaten; I thought of dolphins as things to catch, train and hold in prison to do dumb tricks for the public. We both exploited dolphins without thinking very much about it.

But something happened to both of us. We both decided what we were doing to dolphins wasn’t right. And we both walked away from dolphin exploitation.

Today, I fight for dolphins to be left alone, free and wild, in the ocean where they belong. Ishii-san is fighting the same fight in Futo – he now runs a whale- and dolphin-watching operation for tourists on the same boat he used to hunt these same dolphins with on the ocean.

At first, his neighbors treated him very poorly. In Japan, you can be shunned if you do not conform, and Mr. Ishii felt that unexpressed anger and chilling silence all around him. It was very uncomfortable for several years.

But today, I’m happy to say, Mr. Ishii told us his neighbors were very happy now. Many of them who hunted dolphins -- and there were thousands of dolphins killed over the years in Futo, just as in Taiji – are now starting to realize that hunting dolphins is far harder than running a eco-tourism program. Many of the dolphin hunters are getting older.

In fact, dolphins have not been hunted out of Futo in 5 years. In 2004, only 15 dolphins were herded into Futo that whole year, all of which were caught alive for captive dolphin shows. (Mr. Ishii told me two died from the stress of the capture, a serious problem that the aquarium industry does not discuss with the public.) Since 2004, the dolphins passing offshore of Futo have been left alone.

So now it looks like Futo is finished as a dolphin-killing port in Japan. The conservative Japan Fisheries Agency, which is the real villain in Japan for whales and dolphins, still issues permits to Futo to slaughter dolphins, but the fishermen don’t use them. The Japanese people need to know this.

The story of Futo and Mr. Ishii has to be told all over the world. We do not want Futo to go back to killing dolphins again, and we do want whale- and dolphin-watching programs, that don’t disturb the marine mammals, to thrive.

There are good stories about Japan and dolphins. Futo is now “dolphin safe”, to borrow a phrase pioneered by my colleagues at Earth Island Institute.

Someday, Taiji will be dolphin safe, too!

As Mr. Ishii asked me today, “Ric, please try to spread the message throughout the world that the dolphin is the symbol of the ocean.”

We can turn around the Taiji situation and protect the dolphins. It will happen, with your continued support.

Expenses are very high in Japan. We estimate our week and a half trip will run about $3,000 per person or more.

But if we had not come here, we would not have gotten worldwide publicity on the plight of the dolphins of Taiji. If we had not come here, we would not have had a chance to see the infamous Cove free of dead dolphins, despite the start of the dolphin slaughter season 5 days ago. The Cove would have been red with blood, but we showed up. It’s almost like the old Woody Allen joke: Half the secret of success is just showing up!

Well, for years, I’ve been showing up. And now, the world is beginning to show up! That is why we will win this for the dolphins and for the people of Japan threatened by mercury poisoning.

This is an historic moment for the dolphins and whales of Japan. I sincerely thank you and ask you to join us in spirit for this return to Taiji and Futo.

The Save Japan Dolphins Coalition consists of Earth Island Institute, Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, OceanCare, In Defense of Animals, Campaign Whale, and the Animal Welfare Institute.

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