The Changing of the Guard at Taiji
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Scott West and his daughter Elora are close to completing their three-month stakeout near the notorious Cove in Taiji, Japan. Their three-month Japanese entry visa expires in early December and they will be forced to depart.
There is no question that Scott and Elora have done an excellent job in coordinating Cove Guardian volunteers who have come to Taiji to take a stand for the dolphins.
As a retired special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott has the experience and the skills to know how far to push the envelope to remain effective, but not to be arrested and thus forced to leave the scene of the crimes of the Taiji fishermen.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is very grateful to the many volunteers who have come to the Cove over the last three months. Each and every one who has participated in the journey to Taiji has contributed greatly to the long campaign towards ending the atrocities at Taiji. We appreciate their patience, restraint, and understanding of our long-term strategy.
To all those who have taken it upon themselves to call the Japanese consulates and embassies and the Taiji Town Hall and fishing cooperatives, you have done more than you may realize. All of your calls are logged and passed onto the Japanese government, and the Japanese government is not happy that a few Taiji thugs are bringing so much attention and shame to Japan.
We will miss Elora’s daily blog once she has to leave Taiji. She has done an incredible job of observing, filming, documenting, and reporting the crimes of the Taiji dolphin killers.
This seventeen year old (she was sixteen when she arrived in Taiji) has fearlessly been in the face of thugs like Private Space, and the other brutal killers of the Cove. She has rightfully humiliated them and reported their craven activities to the world at large much to the displeasure of the Japanese government.
Never before has there been a day-to-day, daily monitoring of the activities at Taiji. We are finding that it is having an impact. Kill numbers are down from previous years, more attention is being focused on the slaughter, and the killers have been under more pressure than ever before.
Scott and Elora will be relieved by a new Sea Shepherd leadership team whose names will not be revealed until they are in place in Taiji. We have every confidence that their replacements, who have already been on the ground and trained by Scott, will carry on the Cove Guardian campaign with the same degree of professionalism that Scott has displayed for the last three months.
Our campaign against Taiji has been a long one. Starting in October 2003, when we first sent a documentary team to expose the atrocities at the Cove to the world, followed by our release of fifteen dolphins from the nets in November 2003, and our participation in the production of the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove.
This has been a Sea Shepherd campaign for seven years, and we will not be deterred nor will we retreat until we see the killing ended and the dolphin drives abolished.
However, we have not been alone in this battle. Hardy Jones has been working on exposing the dolphin killing in Japan for over three decades, first at Iki Island and now in Taiji. Hardy was at Iki way before Sea Shepherd became involved in opposing the killing at Iki in 1982, and he has followed the trail of blood to Futo and Taiji. He is an incredible filmmaker and ocean conservationist.
After Sea Shepherd exposed the slaughter in October 2003, the thugs at Taiji began to cover their grisly work with tarps, and they erected barricades to keep away the cameras. Ric O’Barry came over with our team in November 2003, and our actions inspired Louis Psihoyos to team up with Ric O’Barry to produce The Cove, a movie about what was taking place behind the barricades and the tarps.
This film was the media mindbomb that exposed the slaughter to the entire world in a dramatic and effective assault on the killers when it took the Oscar. Even Japan could not ignore an Oscar-winning film.
This presented us with the opportunity to return to Taiji in an effort to make sure that the killings will not be forgotten. Sea Shepherd will no longer allow a dolphin to be killed at Taiji out of camera’s view.
There are those who are critical of us for not cutting the nets and releasing the dolphins. We are of course the only group that has ever done such a thing, but the security is now so tight with police and Coast Guard patrols that it is virtually impossible to approach the nets to cut them. This has escalated the police and coast guard budgets tremendously of course. The city of Taiji is paying a high price to defend its so-called “tradition” of slaughter.
Also, if anyone were to get by the defenses to attempt to release the dolphins, they would be stopped, arrested, jailed, fined, and deported. In other words, they would be effectively removed without having achieved anything positive.
Our strategy is to keep the pressure on within the limits of strategic practicality.
We cannot control other groups or individuals that have come, or intend to come, to Taiji. They are free to take whatever actions they choose, but unless they agree to work under our guidance at Taiji we will not, and cannot be responsible for consequences they bring down upon themselves, and we cannot allow any actions by others to jeopardize our strategies at Taiji.
However, Sea Shepherd appreciates that the strength of a movement is determined by diversity of approaches. Although the tactics, strategies, and motives of other groups or individuals may be different, the objective remains the same.
Currently, the Taiji Action Group and the Earth Island Institute are the only groups whose motives and strategies are proven and welcome.
Earlier in the season, a US-based group called Oceanic Defense purported to have crew in Taiji, and they made threats of sinking fishing boats and cutting nets. It all looked very ambitious and dramatic on their website, but it turned out to be a charade. The danger of what these people did was they escalated security and put unwanted pressure on our Cove Guardian crew. It’s easy to be a cyberspace warrior, but this kind of irresponsible behavior is a threat to the security of real people on the ground in real time.
Additionally, the European group Blackfish, made up of former Sea Shepherd volunteers, attempted to cut nets to release dolphins. Unfortunately, they lacked the experience to do the job effectively, with the result that not a single dolphin was released and security was further tightened.
Sea Shepherd attracts passionate volunteers, but sometimes passion without strategy can be counterproductive, and sometimes our insistence on strategy disillusions those who impatiently demand immediate results. Unfortunately for them, our campaigns demand equal parts passion and strategy, so they burn out and depart. Thus, it is inevitable that we lose the more passionate impatient activists, but the plus side is that we retain those who are patient and passionate.
Another group of former Sea Shepherd Australian volunteers are heading to Taiji soon. They have chosen to not work with us. They have their own plan, and that is fine, but we cannot be associated with unknown plans, so we need to publicly disassociate ourselves from them. Hopefully, they will make a positive contribution to the campaign in Taiji.
It is a fine line we walk in organizing campaigns designed to not cause injury and to stay within the boundaries of the law. Not everyone agrees with this approach, but it is the Sea Shepherd approach. And it is the reason that after thirty-three years, Sea Shepherd has never had any crew convicted of a felony crime, nor have we ever been sued, and most importantly, we have never caused a single injury.
Like any other Sea Shepherd campaign, we never quit until we win, no matter how long it takes, no matter what the obstacles.
We will win this campaign to abolish the slaughter of dolphins at Taiji. Japan will lose patience with a small handful of Taiji thugs who insist upon bringing shame to the nation of Japan.
In 1865, Emperor Meiji outlawed the Samurai in an attempt to bring Japan into the 20th Century. There has never been a tradition in Japan more sacred and more Japanese than that of the Samurai. Yet the Emperor knew that clinging to the feudal traditions would cripple Japan in the modern world, and thus he abolished an entire class of Japanese and all of their traditions.
Surely, Japan today will not fail to abolish something practiced by a very few fishermen in one little town in Japan so that the nation of Japan can join the 21st Century as a nation that respects and protects nature.
The Japanese people are sophisticated, modern, and enlightened in so many ways. They are practical, and they are proud. It is their pride that is an obstacle to ending whaling and dolphin killing, but in the end, it will be their pride that dictates that they will make the right decision to see Japan end cruel and ecologically destructive traditions and practices.
Sea Shepherd has faith that this will happen. We have faith that patience and steadfastness will achieve what we wish to see achieved, and that goal is a Japan that does not slaughter whales or dolphins in the name of tradition or profit.