Dolphin hunters, activists set to hold parley in Taiji

by Yuri Kageyama

The Associated Press

A town whose annual dolphin hunt was bloodily depicted in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” is hosting the first-ever meeting between antihunting activists and its fishermen to try to find common ground between the two sides.

The film portrayed the fishermen from Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, who herd dolphins into a cove and stab them to death, turning the waters red with blood. It led to international condemnation of the hunt, but the people in Taiji defend the slaughter as a tradition and livelihood that will continue.

The participants in the Nov. 2 meeting will include Ric O’Barry, former trainer for the 1960s “Flipper” TV series and star of “The Cove”; Kazutaka Sangen, the mayor of Taiji; other city officials; and members of the fisheries union, both sides said.

Both sides will air their views at the meeting, which will be open to the media but not the public, organizer Atsushi Nakahira said Wednesday.

Nakahira, leader of a prohunt group Nihon Yonaoshikai, said an immediate solution to the divisive issue was unlikely, but he wanted to create a place where a dialogue could begin.

He said he was growing impatient with Taiji and other Japanese officials, and accused them of failing to stand up to defend their position to the media.

“There are always going to be people with different viewpoints on this Earth,” he said in a telephone interview. “We have to first start by recognizing that these conflicting views coexist.”

Scott West of the Sea Shepherd conservationist group, who has been in Taiji to monitor the dolphin hunt, and other activists seeking to protect the mammals will also take part, Nakahira said.

West has offered to buy those dolphins captured alive from Taiji fishermen, raising money through global donations.

Taiji’s annual dolphin hunt begins in September and continues through March. The town has traditionally sold the best-looking animals to aquariums and killed the rest.

Taiji fishermen have said eating whales and dolphins is part of their culture and the area is too rocky for other ways to make a living, such as farming or raising livestock.

They are continuing with the dolphin slaughter this year, but there has been a quiet standoff between the protesters and the fishermen.

O’Barry’s group, Earth Island Institute, says it has succeeded in helping other dolphin-hunting communities, including the Solomon Islands, give up the tradition and develop fishing instead. The group is also helping to provide power and clean water, it said.

“It’s Earth Island’s hope that we can find a similar spirit of collaboration in Taiji,” it said.

The Japanese government allows about 20,000 dolphins to be caught each year, and argues that killing dolphins and whales is no different from raising cows or pigs for slaughter.

“There is a bright future for Taiji without the killing of dolphins,” said O’Barry. “We hope Mayor Sangen has an open mind during this meeting and will see that we can work together for a better future for the dolphins and the people of Taiji.”