A Brief History of Counter Eco-Terrorism Against the Dolphin Killers of Taiji
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
“The act of violently killing wild species, despoiling eco-systems and diminishing biodiversity is the real definition of eco-terrorism. In opposing this destruction we are countering eco-terrorism.”
- Captain Paul Watson
The campaign to stop the slaughter of the dolphins at Taiji has been a Sea Shepherd campaign from the beginning, and like all Sea Shepherd campaigns we will not abandon this issue until we achieve our objective of shutting down this savagely brutal and ecologically destructive slaughter forever.
Since we began this campaign in 2003, we have seen the energies directed at opposing the dolphin slaughter diversified in many positive directions.
At times we have stepped back to allow an alternative strategy to be exercised but we have steadily monitored the situation on the ground, and we have always been ready to step in and fill the breach should other strategies be in a stage of retreat or surrender.
The roots of the efforts leading up to Taiji go back three decades and can be traced to four activists who directly pioneered this campaign beginning in 1980 with documentation of the slaughter by California filmmaker Hardy Jones whose scenes of the horrific slaughter at Iki Island made headlines around the world.
But these headlines were not enough and Hawaiian Dexter Cate of Cleveland Amory’s Fund for Animals flew to Iki Island where he dove into the dark waters at night with a knife to cut the nets. He released the dolphins and was promptly arrested and held as a prisoner for months before finally being released.
The next year, Canadian Patrick Wall flew to Iki Island and repeated Cate’s action, cutting nets and releasing dolphins. He also was arrested and held for months before being released just in time to join the Sea Shepherd crew and the campaign to Soviet Siberia to defend Grey whales.
In March of 1982, I flew to Iki Island to negotiate an end to the slaughter of the dolphins and surprisingly the Japanese fishermen at Iki agreed to end the killings.
In 1983, we sent the first Sea Shepherd team to The Danish Faeroe Islands to begin the long campaign to stop the brutal slaughter of pilot whales killed annually in this Danish Protectorate. In what the Faeroese call the “Grind,” hundreds of pilot whales are driven onto the beaches where they are sadistically slashed, stabbed, clubbed and hacked to death by the Faeroese, primarily for sport.
We sent numerous crews to the Faeroes between 1983 and 2010, bringing our ships into Faeroes waters for four different seasons.
Over the next two decades, Sea Shepherd concentrated efforts on stopping whaling, sealing, and over fishing activities but in the late-nineties a horrific film was sent to us from some young Japanese students who had filmed the gruesome slaughter of dolphins at Futo.
We had to find a way of addressing this situation. The question was how and when? The ‘when’ was based on our resources. I decided that I had to send a team back to Japan when we could afford to do so. I was too recognizable in Japan to go myself.
It was during our first campaign to oppose illegal Japanese whaling activities in the Southern Ocean in January 2003 that I delegated Canadian photographer Brooke MacDonald to head a small team to investigate dolphin killing in Japan. What her team discovered in Taiji, in October of 2003, was the “Cove.” Brooke’s photographs were picked up by Associated Press and made the headlines of newspapers around the world. The video shot by Brooke’s videographer was picked up by CNN.
Taiji’s nasty little Pandora’s Box was opened, and the barrels of dolphin blood spilt that day in the Cove began to inspire a worldwide indignation that would grow steadily and relentlessly into an escalating media hammering of this once quiet and remote Japanese fishing village. The name “Taiji” would become notoriously famous around the world just like its sister city “Minamata” had become associated forever with the unspeakable horror of mercury poisoning.
Brooke was forced to retreat under threats of violence and I replaced her team with an team led by Nic Hensy of California, a team that included Allison Lance, also from California, and Alex Cornelissen of the Netherlands.
Alex and Allison dove into the cove at noon on a November day in an action filmed by Nic. They cut the nets and freed 15 pilot whales and dolphins. Both were promptly arrested and spent four weeks in jail being interrogated by the police for the “crime” of saving dolphins. Both of them said it was a small price to pay for the lives of the cetaceans.
In response to the images captured by Brooke MacDonald’s team and the intervention by Allison and Alex, the Japanese fishermen cordoned off the approaches to the Cove and erected tall barricades of blue tarps to hide the slaughter from cameras and prying eyes.
The people of Taiji knew what they were doing was disgraceful in the eyes of the outside world and there was nothing proud about the fishermen skulking about with knives and spears behind the newly erected walls of shame.
What people could not see, could not expose them any further – or so they thought.
Another member of the team working with Nic was Ric O’Berry, who is indisputably the most experienced dolphin defender on the planet. Ric, who began his career training dolphins for television stunts, decided that as noble an effort that it was, he knew that if he cut a dolphin free, he would be unable to return to Taiji.
Ric decided to implement a different strategy.
Ric was a member of the Sea Shepherd Board of Advisors when he first went to Taiji, but he asked me to allow him to resign from the Board and to disassociate himself from Sea Shepherd so that he could continue to return to Taiji.
Ric also asked that Sea Shepherd step back to allow for a different approach,
And return he did, every year since 2003. And at his request Sea Shepherd stepped back.
We returned in 2007 in the company of surfing legend Dave Rastovich who paddled out to confront the dolphin killers with film stars Hayden Pantierre and Isabel Lucas. Also accompanying them was Dave’s wife Hanna Fraser, a professional model and a mermaid.
The dolphin killers threatened Dave and the women with violence and prodded their boards with paddles and spears.
But most importantly during this time, a film crew organized by Louie Psihoyos began work on a film centered around Ric O’Berry and his crusade to stop the killing at Taiji.
What Louis saw was a challenge to get behind those barricades and demonstrate that the truth cannot be hidden away, and that the obscenity of the killings could, and should not be hidden away from the eyes of humanity.
Louis’s incredible team of Charles Hambleton, Scott Baker, Joe Chisholm, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, Simon Hutchins, Kirk Krack, and John Potter not only succeeded in skirting the police interventions, but also succeeded in capturing the images of slaughter behind the barricades using Hollywood stealth, stunts, and cinematography to drive a story line fully complete with sympathetic victims, admirable heroes, and vicious villains.
What they created was a documentary film they named “The Cove,” and although the conservation community was impressed, it appears that the Academy of Arts and Sciences was also very much impressed and bestowed the highest award in film making to Louis and his team when The Cove won the Oscar for best documentary film.
The winning of the Oscar had not turned the international media spotlight on Taiji. That had been done in 2003 thanks to CNN and Associated Press, but what it did do was intensify the glare a thousand fold. Taiji was now an international household name, and the fishermen of Taiji were now not only notorious, they were downright villainous.
But they were also intensely proud and vowed to continue to redden the waters of the Cove with dolphin blood to express their contempt for outsiders who they saw as assaulting their culture and their way of life.
This is an accusation that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has little sympathy for. In the 21st Century, culture and profit must no longer be justifications for cruelty and slaughter, habitat destruction, and diminishment of bio-diversity.
What the fishermen of Taiji do is simply wrong; it is savagely cruel, grossly inhumane, and ecologically destructive. It is also a threat to their own health and the health and future welfare of their own children because dolphin meat contains very high levels of the debilitating poison called methyl-mercury.
This was an argument that Ric O’Berry and the makers of The Cove tried to convey. It was the message that Allison Lance tried to convey when she stood in the middle of the Ginza in Tokyo in 2007 handing out leaflets warning of the toxic lunch served to Japanese school children.
It could be argued that what the people of Taiji do with their children is their business, and that outsiders have no right to intervene. It can be argued that we have no business telling the fishermen of Taiji what they can eat, nor do we have any right to interfere with the traditions and culture of the Japanese town of Taiji or the people of Wakayama Prefecture or of the nation of Japan.
There are many arguments, but none of them impress us, for the simple fact is that we do not recognize any rights by the Japanese fishermen of Taiji to inflict a grossly cruel death on sentient self-aware cetaceans.
To us, this is murder. Call it cetacide instead of homicide, but it is murder both cruel and premeditated. It is a violent assault upon the culture and society of the dolphins.
The rights of the dolphins to live takes precedent over the “rights” of humans to kill them – for any reason, by any peoples, of any culture, in any place or at anytime.
Our right to hold such views and our right to value and revere life as sacred is more justified than any hominid’s right to slaughter. How dare these men talk and act so disrespectfully with regard to the sanctity of life and so disrespectfully to views that recognize this sanctity.
We see outrage and anger being expressed at the burning of books of paper and ink. How much more outraged must we be to the destruction of sentient self-aware beings for whom we feel empathy and compassion?
We are asked to be respectful and understanding of the culture of Taiji. To us this is like being told to be respectful of the culture of serial killing. Such requests are insulting and grossly disrespectful.
The killing of these magnificent beings, these armless Buddha’s of the sea, is an abomination and we could no more accept their slaughter than we could except the slaying of our own family.
We do understand how this perspective may not be understood or appreciated, but it is this view of reality that lies as the foundation of our commitment to defend and protect the lives of dolphins and whales.
And thus we have come full circle as we begin to plan a new circle of strategy now that we have achieved the objective of making the world aware of the slaughter of dolphins at the previously obscure fishing town of Taiji.
Taiji is not reflective of the broader national culture of Japan. The average Japanese citizen does not condone cruel slaughter or senseless killing of wildlife. Taiji is not a reflection of Japanese culture or the Japanese people. This slaughter is as abhorrent in Tokyo as it is in London, New York, or Sydney.
The first season at Taiji since The Cove won the Academy Award opened with a Sea Shepherd volunteer crew on the ground led by Michael Dalton ofBrisbane, Australia. A week later a second team arrived with Scott and Elora West from Seattle, and Matt Smith from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Sea Shepherd plan is a call to volunteers around the world to come to Taiji, to be on the ground at The Cove and to demonstrate that the world cares about these dolphins and condemns this bloody slaughter.
Further to our posting titled, “Brief History of Counter Terrorism at Taiji,” I received an update from Hardy Jones informing me of omissions in the article. We apologize to Hardy of course. I wrote the article based on the information I had in my own records. I was not aware of Hardy’s other accomplishments other than what had been mentioned.
To clarify: Hardy Jones was in Taiji in 1980, where he was able to secure the release of 200 Mellon Head whales. He returned in 2001 and began filming and testing dolphin meat for toxics. His film about this work in Taiji appeared on National Geographic channels worldwide and on PBS. His test results led to publication of the toxic levels in dolphin meat in a major Japanese newspaper.
Hardy has worked on this issue for the last nine years with Blue Voice and at one time was unlawfully restrained by the fishermen at Taiji.
There is no question that Hardy Jones and Blue Voice were the pioneers of exposing the dolphins’ slaughters both at Iki Island and Taiji.