The videos coming from Taiji, Japan are horrifying. They are posted to YouTube and circulated through our networks around the globe on a daily basis. They are posted by Sea Shepherd, and Leah Lemieux, and through the vigilance of a multitude of other individuals that have traveled to Taiji to bear witness to the activities of a handful of dolphin fishermen, and to spread the images that have disturbed and saddened so many. And they are enough to make even a seasoned campaigner come to her knees again and again. Many of these current videos can be seen on Leah’s YouTube channel, and they are more than difficult to watch.
The dolphin drive hunts occur every year from September through April, and are a brutal reminder that we have a very long way to go towards securing a safe and humane future for all cetaceans. The hunts involve the corralling of dolphins at sea and driving them into the confines of small coves in Taiji and Futo, Japan. They are then slaughtered for meat or kept alive for sale to marine parks and aquaria across the globe. This is not a subsistence kill but a small industry regulated by the Japanese government. Yearly quotas for both villages are in the thousands, where small cetaceans of several species including bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, spotted dolphins, false killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, and others, are taken. Futo has not conducted a hunt since 2004.
Many did not know that these drive hunts were taking place until The Cove brought the issue to the movies and won an Oscar. Almost a year after winning the Oscar for best documentary, it is a natural question to wonder whether The Cove has made a difference, and whether it is making a difference, particularly when the hunts continue unabated. However, in fact, these hunts were first acknowledged by the media in the 1970s when activists and filmmakers shared the killing with the world. Filmmaker Hardy Jones initially exposed the dolphin drive hunts at Iki Island, Futo and Taiji throughout the 1980s and the hunts were the focus of a National Geographic filmed entitled ‘When Dolphins Cry’, shown worldwide in 2004. Although only a part of Japan’s larger hunts that kill up to 20,000 small whales and dolphins annually, the drive hunts are particularly controversial, if only because they can be witnessed so near to shore. What is hard to accept for most of us is that despite the decades of exposure, and despite the recent and intense scrutiny and attention, as a result of The Cove, the hunts continue, and perhaps with more determination than ever.
As a campaigner who has been to Taiji and witnessed the hunts, spoken to the fishermen as they poked their fingers in my direction within inches of my face, and tried desperately to convey the passion and concern for the dolphins, I searched for a way ‘in’ to a common understanding, a way to communicate that there can be another way--and a way out. And I am still searching, along with many, many others. The problems in Taiji are complex. What appeared to be a practice in decline, conducted in only a few coastal towns in Japan, has been revived by the demand for live dolphins for marine parks in Japan and elsewhere. And because Taiji is the birthplace of whaling, it is steeped in the politics of whaling, and the drive hunts are just a piece of this larger political and psychological drama.
What The Cove did do, and continues to do, is catalyze a grassroots movement that has been felt the world over. It has launched thousands of individuals into action, from sending postcards and heartfelt messages to authorities in Japan, to staging protests and peace picnics, to showing up and documenting these heart-wrenching scenes. Local communities are even challenging the construction of new captive dolphin facilities in Japan, such in Kyoto where an aquarium has been approved, and will likely hold dolphins from the Taiji drive hunts. And more importantly, it is not just westerners showing up at the cove in Taiji and questioning the hunts, but the Japanese public, too.