As the drive hunt season continues, and comes nearer to its end in April, we are still left with the challenge of how to expose these hunts, and work for their end. International protests, embassy meetings, media exposure, on-the-ground negotiations and dialogue, and even an Oscar award-winning documentary seem not enough to change the course and put an end to these hunts. All sorts of creative and inspired ideas have fallen short, as the hunts are a complex combination of nationalism, pride, pest control, food, profit, tradition and most importantly, resistance.
And yet, there has been some response to the pressure, however frenetic and temporary. The reaction we have seen from the fishermen and local authorities ranges from at times releasing some of the dolphins after selecting others for slaughter; developing a ‘new’ killing technique that may actually prolong the suffering of dolphins, but is an attempt to keep blood out of the water; and even trying to round up dolphins offshore, out of view from the killing cove. Ultimately, the only response we will accept is for the killing to stop. And whether the government of Japan will continue to ignore world opinion, and the growing preferences of its people, and continue the hunts in spite of all of us, will define the long road ahead.
Being on the ground in Taiji, being present, is important. Showing the world what is happening in Taiji is necessary, and the spotlight needs to continue to shine on these activities. However, bearing witness is only part of the story, and what is happening behind the scenes is even more important. Video footage of the slaughters has been coming from Taiji for decades, along with direct action. WDCS has been on the ground in Taiji, and continues to be, including most recently through our support of Hans Peter Roth. However, often it is the quiet back story of campaign work not often seen by the public, that is the critical component in the work to change the hearts and minds of Japanese authorities and the Japanese public. Outreach and engagement through our diverse Japanese partners is guiding our attempts to connect with hearts and minds in Japan, to open the dialogue, to instill the love and appreciation for these animals that will bring about change.
WDCS will continue to work for an end to these brutal drive hunts. We have been active in confronting the dolphin drive hunts in Japan on a number of levels, from raising awareness of the hunts, taking part in peaceful protests and visiting Japan to document them. We have worked with the marine mammal scientific community to garner a public statement against these hunts, and helped secure a congressional resolution condemning the practice. WDCS has also worked to secure the acknowledgement of the public display industry of its complicity in fueling the dolphin drive hunts through the demand generated by marine parks and aquaria that either directly, or indirectly, source live dolphins from these hunts. And within Japan, we have developed an educational campaign with our Japanese colleagues to educate the public about whales and dolphins, their beauty, their biology and the threats that they face. And most recently, we contributed to the development of the Beautiful Whale Project, an attempt to bring art, science and communities together in search of common ground in our love and appreciation for whales and dolphins.
So what is the answer? Don’t give up. It will take all of us, and all of our solutions and strategies working in that hopeful elixir that eventually can move mountains and eradicate inhumane practices and traditions that have plagued humanity since its inception. We will continue to expose these hunts, resolute in our call for their end on the grounds of welfare of the animals, the complex ecosystems being devastated by these activities, and the human health implications of consuming mercury-laden meat. These practices wear the cloak of tradition, but ultimately destroy our humanity, and the amazing web of life that sustains us all.
And in the end, the only thing that may stop Japan killing whales and dolphins is the realization and acknowledgement that its people no longer want these practices to continue. The tide will turn when the Japanese policymakers face the full force of international pressure and also look inward to what the people of Japan want and need for the 21st century. And that change must happen in Tokyo, not just in Taiji.
Many of us have had the opportunity to come to know the individuality and character of dolphins, to know their personalities and stories behind their lives, and as campaigners, we are compelled to honor their intelligence and sentience with our humanity and best efforts toward their protection. Because of these videos, and the personal accounts of individuals in Taiji, the dolphins are not just statistics and numbers. It is now not just thousands of dolphins dying every year in Japan, but rather individuals, babies, mothers and families thrashing against the nets, crying out as they are lifted out of the water for marine parks, or as they are separated for slaughter. Dolphins have complex social lives, have families, and science has shown us that they even have culture and traditions, too. The videos and images coming from Taiji provide us with the stories of these individuals, and all of us become campaigners as we continue to call for an end to these hunts.
Albert Schweitzer said that a thinking person must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo. We should not give up, and opposing cruelty on ethical grounds alone does not require an explanation or even justification. Traditions and cultures evolve, and we are hopeful that the hearts and minds in Japan will move towards a kinder and gentler future for dolphins.