Japanese ex-dolphin hunter says slaughter is not centuries-old tradition

by Boyd Harnell

Special To The Japan Times

Dolphin activist and former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry joined hands with his former rival, ex-dolphin hunter Izumi Ishii, as both disputed the government’s stance that drive hunting is a national cultural practice spanning hundreds of years.

Ishii stressed that his mentors in Futo, Shizuoka Prefecture, taught the Taiji fishermen how to conduct dolphin drives in 1969. He said he believes this was the first time such drive fisheries were conducted in Japan.

Ishii said his early efforts to capture dolphins, using methods to amplify sounds underwater to cause panic aimed at controlling the dolphins, are currently administered in a similar manner in dolphin hunts carried out in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.

Taiji dolphin hunters currently capture dolphin pods by inserting long, metal poles with bell-shaped ends into the water and banging on them to create a wall of sound underwater, causing the dolphins to panic. They are then encircled by the fishermen’s boats and herded into a nearby cove to await their fate.

O’Barry is world renowned as a dedicated dolphin defender and has released scores of captured dolphins worldwide. He was featured in the 2010 Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove,” which highlighted Taiji’s yearly dolphin slaughter. Last Friday, he teamed up with Ishii in a joint presentation to a group of Japanese and foreign residents at Temple University’s Azuma Hall in Tokyo.

Ishii said he had been hunting and killing dolphins for decades, but he later became conflicted about the massive slaughtering aspect of the drive hunts.

He characterized dolphins as highly intelligent mammals that offered no resistance when captured and refused to bite him even while he was cutting their throats.

Ishii said he became compassionate about the dolphins’ desperate plight in Japan. He also said unruly protesters railing over the drives in Taiji would only exacerbate the problem.

Ishii believes he can persuade the government to stop submitting quotas for slaughtering dolphins in the annual drive hunts. He said he will solicit a massive signature campaign and submit the results to the Fisheries Agency in a bid to stop the annual slaughter.

He added that if enough Japanese and foreign residents cite their disapproval, the government will have to re-evaluate its policy of promoting continuation of the drive hunts.

O’Barry and Ishii also discussed the issue of mercury in seafood, agreeing that the government should require warning labels on all small cetacean food products sold in Japan.

Recently, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy voiced her disapproval of the dolphin drives and stressed that the U.S. government condemns the dolphin hunts and is concerned about the health issues surrounding the high mercury levels found in small cetacean food products sold for human consumption.

Dr. David Permutter, a famous Florida neurologist, told The Japan Times that eating dolphin meat is analogous to feeding consumers arsenic.

Ishii said he regrets having killed dolphins and is currently conducting eco-tours in Taiji, offering tourists the sights and sounds of dolphins swimming in the wild.

  • kirstenwrites

    Fantastic to see an ex dolphin hunter, from the infamous Futo, Japan come forward and tell the truth about Taiji! His town originated this practice and taught these Taiji men how to use the banger poles to control and drive the dolphins. Again Futo is ahead of Taiji. They have turned away from the dolphin drive to dolphin and whale watching! Iruka-no-WA is the way of the future. Support Izumi Ishii Bright Sea, a truly brave and passionate hero.

  • http://wetgoddess.net/ Malcolm J. Brenner

    I think that change will only be acceptable to the Japanese people if it originates within Japan. Hopefully Izumi Ishii will be able to convince his countrymen that dolphins deserve a better fate.

  • Y.A.

    problem is….. japanese government allows his countrymen to hunt dolphins….at this point, japanese government has to intervene..

  • https://twitter.com/CornwallsVoice MaryAlice Pollard

    There cannot be a better duo to be the voice for dolphins & small whales, from within Japan and outside. May this be the year for the dolphins ! But remember, if marine parks and swim with dolphin facilities continue to have public support – the slaughtering and enslavement will continue -:( !! We out here have the power to bring those facilities down !

  • Pat Chambers

    Bless them, honor them, for their serene and elevating principles of kindness and showing the way forward from our savagery and cruelty.