Standing Tall in Taiji
The Situation on the Ground at the Cove
Strategy. Safety. Security.
Libby Katsinis has taken the reins of the Cove Guardian program from Scott West without a ripple in the discipline and commitment to the overall strategy Sea Shepherd is utilizing in our efforts to end the horrific slaughter of the dolphins in Taiji. The Cove Guardian program is perhaps the most difficult and frustrating project that Sea Shepherd has ever undertaken. Our volunteers must exercise extreme patience, restraint and commitment to the strategy that Sea Shepherd has decided to implement.
Over the past three decades, Sea Shepherd has directly intervened against poachers around the world. We have destroyed equipment, sunk whaling ships and engaged the poachers openly and aggressively. Most of our campaigns have taken place in international waters and this gave us the freedom to intervene against illegal activities effectively and decisively.
Taiji is different. The killing is taking place in Japan and is legal under Japanese law. We cannot legally interfere as we have done on the high seas. But we must intervene in the name of justice. We are forced by these circumstances to do so in a disciplined manner.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society began the campaign to oppose the slaughter at Taiji in October 2003. That year we released images and video that made worldwide news exposing the horrendous slaughter at the Cove. In November 2003, two Sea Shepherd activists cut the nets and released 15 dolphins. To date, we remain the only organization that has freed any dolphins from The Cove. Sea Shepherd’s actions that year led to the erection of barricades and restrictions on accessing the Cove.
The consequence of that action was the internment of Allison Lance and Alex Cornelissen for four weeks, a fine of $8300, and deportation from Japan. This of course was not a bad price to pay for the lives of the 15 dolphins spared. The more serious consequence was the heightened security that has now made it virtually impossible to cut nets and free dolphins.
Since 2003, the most significant development was the production and release of the film The Cove and the fact that this incredible film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2009. This film turned the international spotlight onto Taiji, Japan making it the most notoriously cruel town in the world – a town without pity, a place where thugs viciously stab and slash entire families of defenseless dolphins to death in the killing cove.
Sea Shepherd saw an opportunity to take advantage of the momentum that The Cove gave to this campaign and thus we established the Cove Guardians.
During the first week of September, Michael Dalton, who was formerly affiliated with Sea Shepherd Brisbane, arrived in Taiji to initiate the program. Regrettably, due to a number of factors, Dalton’s time in Japan was short lived, and he is no longer affiliated with Sea Shepherd in any way. Captain Paul Watson immediately mobilized Scott West to take over for Michael Dalton. With the arrival of Scott and his 16-year-old daughter Elora, a solid foundation for the Cove Guardians was laid down. The strategy was simple. We would have a team on the ground for the entire killing season. We would not allow the dolphins to die out of sight and out of mind. The guardians would watch and document the number of dolphins driven into and killed in the Cove, how they were killed, and then report the killings to the world.
Sea Shepherd does not want this issue to die in the public’s mind and the continuous reporting from witnesses on the ground would help keep this issue alive. And that it has! The Cove Guardians in Taiji are backed by thousands of people from around the world writing, e-mailing, faxing and phoning Japanese embassies and consulates. Our mission is to make sure the world does not forget the dolphins of Taiji. We are there to remind the fishermen that the world is watching through us.
We cannot cut the nets and release the dolphins like we did in 2003. The security is overwhelmingly tight and any attempt to do so would be the excuse the authorities need to remove the Cove Guardians and everyone else that comes to Taiji to support the dolphins. Although we have been approached by numerous people willing to go to jail for freeing the dolphins, any such attempt is outside the bounds of practicality and would result in failure and that failure would result in consequences that could remove all foreigners from Taiji. The fishermen would like nothing better than for someone to provide the excuse to eliminate Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians.
It is for this reason that Sea Shepherd has been forced to disassociate ourselves from all individuals and groups that arrive in Taiji with an unknown agenda. We are very happy to work in cooperation with Earth Island Institute and Ric O’Barry, the Ocean Protection Society, Surfers for Cetaceans, Hardy Jones and Blue Voice and the Taiji Action Group. These are all groups that have been involved for some time and have proven themselves effective.
Ironically the people we are having trouble with are those who were originally with Sea Shepherd. Hardly surprising really, because Sea Shepherd attracts some very passionate people. Unfortunately, passion without patience, discipline and focus is a recipe for disaster.
The European group Blackfish is a group made up of former Sea Shepherd crewmembers who earlier in the season failed in their attempt to cut the nets in the inner harbor of Taiji. They had the passion but lacked focus and discipline. The result was no dolphins were released, but increased surveillance and pressure on the Cove Guardians.
Another group calling themselves Oceanic Defense posted misinformation on their website and social network sites claiming to have a large crew on the ground in Taiji. They made threats to sink fishing boats and cut nets. The only problem was that they did not have a single person in Japan although they were raising funds under the pretence that they had crew on the ground. What they did do was bring down more pressure on Scott West and the Cove Guardians. And they most likely contributed to the failure of Blackfish due to the increased surveillance implemented in response to the bogus threats of Oceanic Defense.
Presently there is another group that has just arrived in Taiji called Eyes on Taiji, established by former Sea Shepherd member Michael Dalton of Brisbane, Australia. Sea Shepherd is unaware of Eyes on Taiji’s strategies and tactics. Their agenda is unknown to us and thus we cannot have any association with them. We hope they have good intentions but the security of the Cove Guardians is our prime concern and for that reason, without knowing exactly what their strategy is, Sea Shepherd must make it clear that despite the fact that Michael Dalton was formerly with Sea Shepherd, Eyes on Taiji and him have absolutely no connection presently and there is no communication between Eyes on Taiji and Cove Guardians.
Taiji is not the place for maverick cowboy activism. We understand that people are frustrated, angry and passionate about the slaughter of the dolphins but we also understand that Sun Tzu’s classic book on field strategy is clear on the fact that the terrain dictates the outcome of a battle, and in this case, the Japanese control the terrain and thus they control the situation on the ground. This requires a more complex strategy and thus we have decided to focus on increasing policing costs and an international campaign to shame Japan in the eyes of the world for this despicable slaughter of the defenseless dolphins. In other words, we need to strike from the outside and not from within.
If an individual or group decides that they will make an attempt to free the dolphins or to cut the nets or damage the fishing boats, the terrain and opposition forces will prevent that from happening. Yes, the perpetrators will become heroes for the dolphins and the media attention will shift from defending the dolphins to defending the people who tried and failed to defend the dolphins but in the process the real issue will be buried. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society supports freeing dolphins when it is within the realm of practicality to do so. We do not support recklessness that will threaten the process we have started in Taiji with the Cove Guardians.
We cannot of course prevent anyone not associated with us from attempting to do anything but what we can do in the interest of the security of our team on the ground in Taiji, is to make it very clear that any illegality undertaken in Taiji, Japan is not under any circumstances associated in anyway with Sea Shepherd. The abolishment of the dolphin slaughter can only be achieved through patient, consistent and prolonged opposition and we are confident that this will happen. Slowly but steadily the world is becoming more aware and more angry over this brutal and ecologically destructive slaughter.
It will end but only if our strategy is impeccable and our tactics are effective.