Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dolphin Slaughters: Asking Tough Questions*

Tucked away inside a picturesque Japanese seaside cove, the secret slaughter of hundreds of dolphins takes place each year. Dozens of fisherman herd them in, sell some of them to dolphin trainers, and stab the rest of them to death as they click and scream in panic. Their work is done when the waters are still and blood red.

Even if you don’t care that these dolphins are being killed, you should care that this is going on, because if it’s going on in Taiji, it’s most likely going on in other places too. Maybe not with dolphins, and maybe not with stabbings. The point is, we should all be asking questions about what goes on in secret, tucked away places, especially when it later emerges as “food.”

The gripping documentary “The Cove,” is a masterfully told story about the secret slaughter and selling of dolphins in Japan. What this film brings to light is the reason behind the annual slaughter and evidence that these dolphins are ending up packaged as “fish meat” in local markets. (Honestly I thought we put a stop to this when canned tuna had to have the “dolphin free” seal of approval.)

As states on their web site:

“It is commonly assumed that Japanese fishermen hunt dolphins to supply a small minority of Japanese people with dolphin meat. But unlike the expensive whale meat, dolphin meat is not considered a delicacy in Japan, and the real reason the Japanese government issues permits to kill dolphins by the thousands every year has nothing to do with food culture. It has to do with pest control. As shocking as it sounds, some Japanese government officials view dolphins as pests to be eradicated in huge numbers. During a meeting at Taiji City Hall, the fishermen of Taiji admitted this to us. "We don’t kill the dolphins primarily for their meat. We kill them as a form of pest control," they told us. In other words, killing the competition is their way of preserving the ocean’s fish for themselves.”

The truth is that they are actually hurting a delicate eco-system that actually helps support their food chain. There is little to no chance of re-educating these Japanese fishermen. Their misinformation goes back decades.

Film, however, can be an influential factor in pop culture. Now that these men have been “caught on tape,” it will be interesting to see how much influence it will have on preventing the slaughters this September. Much like the 1978 move “Faces of Death,” which shows seals being clubbed to death and the realities of a slaughterhouse line, “The Cove” leaves nothing to the imagination.

Since cows and seals are not as highly adored around the world as dolphins are, I would imagine the reaction to this film will be just as severe. Perhaps, together with the power of Social Media, we can find another job for these fishermen in Taiji.

In the meantime, hopefully there are others asking the question “hey, what goes on back there?” – and hopefully, they are bringing cameras. The next time you order fish, you might want to ask where it came from.

*Follow up today 9/1/09 from an email from Ric O'Bary:
oday is September 1st, the first day of the dolphin slaughter season in Japan. But when I arrived today by bus from Kansai Airport with media representatives from all over the world, the notorious Cove from the movie was empty. There were no dolphin killers in sight....You have to understand that this is SO IMPORTANT. These TV stations have REFUSED to cover the story in Taiji for years and years. NOW, for the first time, they have shown up, with cameras rolling. The head policeman talking with me even said, for the cameras, that the police are not there to support the dolphin killing fishermen. We shook hands, and they left.