Dolphin hunting town defends tradition as international criticism intensifies - By SON YUMMIN/ Staff Writer

July 15, 2014

Sea Shepherd will ensure that every dolphin killed will have the eyes of the world watching the horror in TaijiSea Shepherd will ensure that every dolphin killed will have the eyes of the world watching the horror in Taiji
Photo: Sea Shepherd
Captain Paul Watson: This is an important article by Son Yummin in a Japanese newspaper – The Asahi Shimbun. It is good that the story is being reported in the Japanese media and that the town of Taiji acknowledges the ever-growing criticism of their town’s brutal indulgence in the slaughter of dolphins.

AS: TAIJI, Wakayama Prefecture--Kiyoko Isoda fondly recalls a whale meat dish that has been a special treat since she was very young. When her classmates came to her home, her mother served them boiled and salted whale organs.

“One of my favorite foods since childhood is whale meat sukiyaki,” said Isoda, 77, who runs a guest house in Taiji.

Her husband worked on a whale fleet in the Antarctic Ocean, leaving every September and returning in March. To celebrate his homecoming, the family had a feast of the whale meat he brought back.

“A whale meat dish was a symbol of a happy home,” Isoda said.

Captain Paul Watson: The cost of a “happy home” meal in Japan is the diminishment of whale populations and the continuation of the horrific cruelty of whaling. Whales and dolphins have families also, and why should a hominid family be allowed to continue a tradition that is based on slaughter and cruelty?

AS: But such joy in this town has been replaced by concerns, anger and bewilderment that international protests over whale catches and the town’s now-famous dolphin hunt could lead to the demise of Taiji.

Captain Paul Watson: We are indeed happy to see that the “joy” is being taken out of the practice of killing dolphins. We are happy to hear that the people of Taiji are concerned. We are not so sure why they would be “bewildered” by the fact that other humans find the slaughter of dolphins to be unacceptably cruel and a threat to diversity within marine eco-systems.

AS: Townspeople insist that whaling is a centuries-old tradition that has saved Taiji during tough times and is a key source of income to keep families afloat. They also note that they are hunting dolphins and whales under a legal framework.

Captain Paul Watson: The International Court of Justice disagrees that the hunting of whales is legal. Tradition cannot be a justification for slaughter, cruelty and ecological degradation.

AS: “We have never done anything that violated the law, and we do our job with a sense of appreciation for the harvest,” said a fisherman involved in the dolphin hunt. “Why do we have to become the target of criticism for toiling to make ends meet?”

Captain Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians are not violating Japanese law by opposing the slaughter of the dolphins.

This is not a question of making ends meet. The dolphin killers are extremely wealthy from the sale of dolphins to marine aquariums. This is not a subsistence hunt; it is motivated by greed. You harvest wheat; you don’t harvest dolphins.

AS: Ever since Taiji’s dolphin hunt was portrayed in an unflattering light in the Academy Award-winning 2009 documentary “The Cove,” this small seaside town has been on the radar of international conservation groups.

Captain Paul Watson: We salute Louie Psihoyos for his contribution to this cause with the making of this wonderful Academy Award-winning film. However, Sea Shepherd brought this to world’s attention in 2003. It has been a long process to make it into an international cause.

AS: Members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society regularly show up in the town, often with video cameras, to closely monitor the activities of local fishermen and give online reports.

Captain Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians will continue to be on the ground from September 1st until March 1st every year. The campaign is called Operation Infinite Patience and Sea Shepherd will not allow the slaughter to return to being out of sight and out of mind. Sea Shepherd will ensure that every dolphin killed will have the eyes of the world watching the horror in Taiji.

The incorrect statement here is “often with video cameras.” The correct statement is “always” with video cameras. The video camera is to a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian what a rifle is to a soldier.

AS: Wakayama prefectural police set up a makeshift station in the town following a flurry of complaints by fishermen about what they described as harassment by the activists.

Captain Paul Watson: This has greatly increased the cost of supporting this atrocity. The fishermen say they are harassed yet the Cove Guardians will leave when the fishermen stop harassing and killing the dolphins.

AS: Entry to the area around the cove where the drive hunt of dolphins is conducted has been banned since late 2010 under a town ordinance. Town officials cited risks of mud- and rockslides in the area.

Captain Paul Watson: Try as they will to censure the hunt from the eyes of the world, they continue to fail to do so.

AS: But the ordinance has done little to stem the increase in hostility toward the dolphin hunt, and international opinion has since gone against the views of Taiji and Japan’s whaling industry.

Captain Paul Watson: Every year the Cove Guardians get stronger and every year the pressure on Japan and Taiji to end this bloody slaughter gets stronger. International opinion has been against whaling and dolphin killing for centuries.

AS: After U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy voiced her government’s position against dolphin drive hunting on Twitter in January, the Taiji fisheries cooperative office was inundated with 200 to 300 faxes daily denouncing the hunt. Some were written in English.

Captain Paul Watson: They actually get more than that. 

AS: The office changed the fax number but has not disclosed the new number.

Captain Paul Watson: We will soon have the new fax number.

AS: In March, the International Court of Justice in The Hague handed down a ruling that effectively banned Japan’s “scientific” whaling off Antarctica, citing a lack of evidence to justify what Japan calls “research.”

“Anti-whaling organizations may intensify their protest activities by exploiting the court decision,” Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen said.

Captain Paul Watson: No s___ , Sherlock. Do you think? Sea Shepherd is not exploiting the court decision; Sea Shepherd is working to uphold the court verdict.

AS: Some fishermen in Taiji also take part in research whaling off the Sanriku coast in northeastern Japan under a program sanctioned by the International Whaling Commission.

Captain Paul Watson: Research whaling is now officially illegal.

AS: When a fishing vessel returned to Taiji with a catch of two 5-meter-long pilot whales on May 17, the port was instantly galvanized.

“I am happy we were able to catch big ones,” the captain of the vessel said of the first harvest of this season, which runs from May to August.

A senior official with the local fishermen’s cooperative said many townspeople eagerly await the harvest each year.

Most of the whale meat is shipped out of the town, although some of it is sold at a Taiji supermarket run by the cooperative.

Taiji, with a population of about 3,000, is known as the original site in Japan for whale hunting that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867).

Captain Paul Watson: How this history translates into justifying the killing of whales in Antarctica and the selling of dolphins to marine aquariums is mysterious.

AS: Wedged between the sea and mountains, Taiji residents turned to fishing and hunting dolphins and whales for revenue because the land was unsuitable for farming. In the early Edo Period, local fishermen devised a collective method to catch whales by using banners and signal flares.

Many of their descendants became crew members of Japan’s whaling fleets in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Captain Paul Watson: In other words, they became criminals.

AS: The meat from the marine mammals became a precious source of protein and helped the town ride out the serious food shortages in the years after the end of World War II.

Captain Paul Watson: That was over 60 years ago. Japan is not, today, a protein-starved nation.

AS: Today, the locals are allowed to catch whales measuring up to about 10 meters long in Japan’s coastal waters without a license from the IWC. But they are required to gain permission from Japan’s agriculture and fisheries ministry, which sets the nation’s annual quota at 162.

Taiji fishermen can catch two kinds of whales--pilot whales and false killer whales.

Captain Paul Watson: In other words, the government authorized them to commit 162 murders.

AS: The harvest of the mammals accounts for about 20 percent of the town’s fishing industry, which is worth an annual 300 million yen ($2.94 million) to 400 million yen ($3.92 million).

Captain Paul Watson: Groups including Sea Shepherd have offered to compensate Taiji for their financial losses if they quit killing. The offers have been consistently refused.

AS: “The town’s history has revolved around the whaling industry,” a Taiji resident said.

Captain Paul Watson: There are towns in the world where the history revolved around the trade in slaves, opium, cocaine and ivory, and towns that once whaled like Albany, Australia; New Bedford, USA; etc. They have kept the history but have stopped the atrocities. A history of atrocity does not justify the continuation of an atrocity.

AS: The locals also resent the protesters’ portrayals of Taiji as a town of bloodthirsty butchers with no respect for the lives of dolphins and whales.

Captain Paul Watson: We resent the fact that the town is full of blood thirsty butchers who have no respect for the lives of dolphins and whales.

AS: Residents point to a monument dedicated to caught whales that was built in 1979 on a hill commanding a grand view of the sea. Buddhist priests perform a memorial service at the monument every April.

Captain Paul Watson: Wow, erecting a monument to those you murder seems to be yet another bizarre justification of sociopathic behavior. The Buddhist priest may very well perform a ceremony for the whales and dolphins slain but no self-respecting Buddhist can condone the actual slaughter of whales and dolphins.

AS: The Taiji Whale Museum, built in 1969, exhibits an array of devices that were used to hunt whales from bygone days. The museum also shows the evolution of the town as the center of the nation’s whale hunt.

Captain Paul Watson: It is not a real museum because it discriminates as to who can enter to view what is inside. It operates as a private club and openly practices discrimination based on race and culture. There are museums in New Bedford and Nantucket in the USA and Albany in Australia where people can see the evolution of the towns from barbaric whaling activities to civilized townships today. 

AS: Takumi Kyuhara, a 65-year-old resident of Taiji, buys several kilograms of whale meat from research whaling each year to send to friends who have left the town.

“When they have dishes of whale meat, they will think of their hometown,” he said. “Whales serve as a reminder of me and their hometown.”

Captain Paul Watson: Not much of a heritage for the town if the only reminder is a feast of whale meat. 

AS: Katsutoshi Mihara, 76, former head of the town assembly, also laments how Taiji has become a target of international criticism.

Captain Paul Watson: Taiji has earned its reputation as a ruthless town without pity and a barbaric community of dolphin murderers. The international criticism will continue to grow.

AS: “When I hear critics shout ‘anti-whaling,’ I feel like all aspects of our lives are condemned,” he said.

Captain Paul Watson: Not all aspects of their lives. That is certainly overly dramatic but there is no question that the majority of the world’s people condemn the slaughter and the horrific cruelty of the dolphin drives.

I do not condemn the people of Taiji for anything other than their continued infliction of death and suffering to dolphins and whales.

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