Activist against dolphin slaughter visits Taiji to show its nice side

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — The central figure in “The Cove,” a controversial and shocking documentary about the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, is back in Taiji on the first day of the annual dolphin hunt with a film crew.

But this time he says he wants to show the world what is right about the seaside town.

Dolphin trainer-turned animal rights activist, Ric O’Barry arrived in Taiji on Tuesday afternoon with a film crew that is making a new documentary for the Discovery Channel. O’Barry told The Japan Times his purpose is to introduce, not condemn, Taiji in front of an international audience.

“We’re not doing covert filming like we did for ‘The Cove.’ We want to show the world how nice the town really is, that you can do things like leave the keys in your car,” O’Barry said.

“It’s only 13 boats, 26 fishermen total, which are responsible for the dolphin slaughter seen in the film,” he said.

“Ninety-nine percent of Taiji residents have nothing to do with the slaughter,” he added.

Hunting dolphins is legal under agreements signed with the International Whaling Commission.

Taiji claims coastal whaling and dolphin hunting have long been part of its culture and the town has a museum dedicated to the history of whaling in Japan. It aims to become a nationwide center for whale education and research.

O’Barry is in Taiji just a few months after the international release of “The Cove.”

The film, shot covertly, includes graphic scenes of dolphins being herded into nets and slaughtered.

It won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and has drawn mostly positive media reviews in the United States and Europe, where it recently opened.

But it has yet to be shown publicly in Japan and O’Barry says there are no plans for it to appear in local theaters anytime soon.

“We’ve shown it to a few distributors, but I think there is pressure on them from the Japanese government and other quarters not to show it,” O’Barry said.

The film created an uproar in Australia, leading the town of Broome to suspend its sister-city relationship with Taiji last month.

That was followed by pressure to cancel events related to a local Japanese pearl festival this month, while media in Broome reported that headstones in the Japanese cemetery there were recently vandalized, with posters of dolphins being placed atop them.

While praising Broome for suspending its ties with Taiji, an action O’Barry and other activists had lobbied for, he condemned the cemetery vandalism.

“That’s wrong, we don’t support it, and we told the Broome council it was wrong,” he said.

While in the Taiji area, O’Barry plans to take his film crew and environmentalists to a number of places, including the Okuwa supermarket, which stopped selling dolphin meat after company representatives were shown that tests on dolphin meat sold throughout Japan between 2000 and 2003 indicated high levels of mercury.

The test results were published in the Aug. 1, 2005, edition of Environmental Science and Technology magazine. After two assembly members learned of the high mercury levels, they forced the town of Taiji to take dolphin meat out of school lunches. But the meat continues to be sold in other parts of Japan, O’Barry said.

But it is actually live dolphins that are more valuable. O’Barry says dolphins from Taiji can be sold for up to $154,000 to aquariums or theme parks, where they are often trained as show dolphins.

O’Barry plans to be in Japan for about 10 days shooting for the Discovery Channel and will film the Taiji area and wild dolphins in and around Mikura Island. He said he plans to return to Taiji later in September.