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Sea Shepherd and Taiji – a history

In 2003, Sea Shepherd became actively involved in opposing the cetacean slaughter in Taiji, Japan, joining several individuals and organizations working on the issue including friend of Sea Shepherd, wildlife and conservation filmmaker, Hardy Jones who had been following the Taiji drive hunt almost since it began. When in 2003 Sea Shepherd sent a crew in to Taiji to document the issue, one of the members of that crew was Ric O’Barry, a leading advocate for dolphins and opponent of the captivity industry.

Pictures that Shocked the World

sscs-history-01On October 6, 2003, after hiding out for several weeks in the cliffs overlooking the bay, crewmembers of Sea Shepherd's Taiji Dolphin Campaign filmed and photographed fishermen slaughtering dolphins in Taiji Harbor.

The crew were attacked, intimidated, and their lives threatened by local community members for daring to expose this previously unheard of atrocity. Some of the photographs they took are on these pages. You can see that the blood of the dolphins literally turned the sea red. Upon the release of the photos, AP Photo Japan gave testimony that the photos had not been revised in any manner.

The Sea Shepherd crew remained strong in Taiji for a month and a half in spite of growing hostilities directed at them by local fishermen. The crew filmed and photographed at every opportunity, and continued their watch over the harbor. 



Setting Captives Free

On November 18, 2003, two crewmembers, Allison Lance Watson and Alex Cornelissen, dove into the bay and swam out to free 15 dolphins penned in and scheduled to be slaughtered the next morning. 

They swam for over an hour untying and bringing down sections of the net creating escape routes for the dolphins. A passerby onshore called the Taiji police who contacted several fishing boats out in the harbor. After a valiant struggle in the water, they swam to shore and were immediately arrested. They were held in separate jails for 23 days without bail or communication with the outside world. With the help of other groups, protests were organized by Sea Shepherd supporters in 28 cities.

sscs-history-04The world, including many Japanese citizens, saw for the first time the horrendous brutality of this slaughter of beautiful creatures. That imagery made international front page news and stunned the world. Dolphin lovers and conservationists worldwide were outraged, and condemned the Japanese government for condoning this ritual of death.

The Japanese authorities' reaction to this was to post signs in the village and along the cliffs making it illegal to film or photograph the dolphin slaughter. Not long after, the killers began stretching large tarpaulins above the bay to hide what they do, and guards were soon stationed to keep potential dolphin protectors from approaching or photographing the brutality perpetrated upon these intelligent and socially complex animals.

In order to help secure the release of Alex and Allison, Captain Paul Watson wrote a letter to the Japanese police in which he stated that Sea Shepherd would not send anyone into Japan with the intention of breaking the law.

Standing Guard


sscs-history-05For the past several years, protestors and reporters have gone to Taiji at the first of September to cover the beginning of the hunt.  The dolphin killers would simply stay in port and wait for the protestors and reporters to leave.  Then the killers went back to their grisly tasks unfettered.  In the fall of 2010, Captain Watson proposed the question, “What would happen if the protestors never left?”  He then turned to Sea Shepherd’s Director for Intelligence and Investigations Scott West and asked Scott to go to Taiji and stay through the primary killing season.  In September 2010, Scott arrived in Taiji with his then 16-year-old daughter, Elora Malama West.

Before heading to Taiji, Scott spoke with Ric O’Barry.  Ric told Scott that if Scott were to identify himself as being with Sea Shepherd, the police would immediately arrest him.  Ric explained that the Japanese police had questioned Ric many times about his affiliation with Sea Shepherd and that if the police could connect Ric to Sea Shepherd, they would then arrest him.   So the first thing Scott did when he arrived in the area was to walk into the main police station in Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture, wearing Sea Shepherd clothing and announce his arrival.  He was not arrested, but the police followed him and conducted surveillance on his and his daughters’ activities.  The other thing Scott did was to inform the police that he is a retired policeman (actually a retired United States federal agent) and that he would not tolerate anyone physically attacking him or his daughter.  The police clearly understood, and must have conveyed this message to the Taiji Fishermen’s Union (FU) because no one accosted Scott or his daughter.

Scott and Elora remained in Taiji through early December 2010.  A number of volunteers from around the world joined them during those three months.  Scott was followed by volunteer Libby Miller and then returned in March 2011.

The dolphin killers shut down their activities at the end of February because their kill had been cut in half by the daily activities and reporting by Scott and Libby.  Scott and other Sea Shepherd volunteers then moved to Iwate Prefecture to document the porpoise slaughter and were caught up in the tsunami devastation of Otsuchi on March 11, 2011.

In early May 2011, Scott returned to Taiji to catch the FU killing pilot whales. Apparently, the FU was upset because they had only killed about half what they wanted during the normal season, so they resumed killing to try and reach their quota.

Operation Infinite Patience

The killing season resumed in Taiji in 2011. Sea Shepherd was there, with volunteer Rosie Kunneke leading the effort on the ground. Each year since, we have had dedicated volunteer Cove Guardians, led by campaign leader Melissa Sehgal, on the front lines monitoring the capture and killing of dolphins throughout Taiji's hunt season.

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