Ric O’Barry Op-Ed: A Return to the Dolphin Hunts

‘We continue to push educational efforts to inform the Japanese people about the dangers of mercury contaminated dolphin meat,’ says ‘The Cove’ star.

Ric O'Barry holds a copy of Solomon Star newspaper as he speaks before the press in Tokyo on September 6, 2010. O'Barry, star of The Cove, handed a petition with 1.7 million signatures from more than 150 countries to U.S. embassy officials, a day after the dolphin season started in the town of Taiji. (Photo: AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO)


Aug 29, 2012· 3 MIN READ

Our Dolphin Project Team and I are returning to Taiji once again to oppose the killing of hundreds of dolphins and to warn the people of Japan about the dangers of eating mercury-contaminated dolphin meat.

I’ve been coming to Taiji since 2003, when we first got the idea for our campaign to Save Japan Dolphins with the Earth Island Institute. I’m arriving for this trip on September 1, the official start of the dolphin slaughter season, with more than 25 activists from five continents, who are spending their own time and money to join me. It is that kind of dedication that will see an end to these terrible hunts.

The hunts must end, and the people of Japan will be the ones to end the hunts.

MORE: Countdown to 'Cove' Killings: Ric O'Barry Ready for Return to Taiji

I believe that strongly. That is why our mission is a peaceful one, to educate the people of Japan about the dolphin hunts—most people in Japan don’t even know the hunts exist. The Japan Fisheries Agency, which also runs the bogus “scientific” whaling expeditions to Antarctica each year, and the dolphin hunters are hiding the truth from the Japanese people. As the Japanese government controls the media, the truth about Taiji and the dolphins has been hidden for years.

That all changed when the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove was released in 2009. The Japanese media could not ignore the impact of this spectacular film, and we have been able to get the attention of the media and get the word out: Dolphin meat is poisoned by mercury and other contaminants.

We have made some progress. The number of dolphins being killed in Taiji has gone down for the past four years of our Save Japan Dolphins Campaign. Take a look at the figures:

In the 2008-2009 season, 1,484 dolphins died.

In the 2009-2010 season, 1,336 dolphins died.

The 2010-2011 season saw 1,190 dolphins die.

Last season (2011-2012), we estimate less than 800 died.

We know this is due to our non-confrontational, educational approach to the Japanese people, as we have made many friends in Japan who agree with us, even people in Taiji. And they pass along information to us. We are told that the dolphin hunters of Taiji are killing fewer dolphins because they cannot sell the meat. In Japan, an estimated 5,000 tons of whale meat is in cold storage because, thanks to our Save Japan Dolphins Campaign and The Cove, people simply are not buying the stuff. The Japanese people, being warned about mercury and other contaminants in dolphin and whale meat, are buying less and less of both dolphin and whale meat. (Dolphin meat is often mislabeled as whale meat, because it sells for a higher price.)

The hunters, of course, are still going out this season to kill, and even 800 is still too many dolphins. The dolphin hunters also continue to catch dolphins alive for a life of misery in captivity.

The involvement of the captivity industry is appalling. SeaWorld and other dolphinariums in the U.S. were involved in catching dolphins in Taiji for display in the United States for many years. It was Earth Island’s volunteer lawyers in the mid-1990s who informed the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service about this trade in blood dolphins, which led to an informal ban on the practice of importing dolphins to the U.S. caught in drive fisheries. (SeaWorld and other aquariums in the U.S. now piously claim to oppose the hunts, but they subsidized them for years and only stopped when they could no longer legally import the dolphins.) Japan itself has more than 50 dolphinariums and houses more captive dolphins than any other nation except the U.S. And Taiji dolphins are still sold into slavery in the Middle East and Asia, especially China. The captive dolphin industry subsidizes the dolphin slaughter, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) refuses to take action to prevent it. A Taiji dolphin will bring to the hunters around $600 for its meat; a trained Taiji dolphin commands a price as high as $150,000 each on the international market.

Our goal is to end the hunts once and for all.

There is still much to do. We continue to push educational efforts to inform the Japanese people about the dangers of mercury-contaminated dolphin meat. We conduct testing of dolphin meat, which now includes checking for radiation as well as mercury and PCB’s.

With us in Japan on September 1 are several veterans of our Cove Monitor program, and several new people who will be trained to be Cove Monitors. Our Cove Monitors volunteer to come to Taiji, often for weeks on end, to observe and record the dolphin hunts, so we can get the word out to the world. They also have made many contacts with Japanese people to tell them the truth about the dolphin hunts. They pass out copies of The Cove DVD in Japanese.

We also are promoting alternatives—such as promoting eco-tourism and whale/dolphin watching programs in the wild, which is happening in several locations in Japan. We are planning a concert, Tokyo Celebrates the Dolphins, to promote dolphin-watching trips in the Mikura Islands, for example, where the local people have actually named the dolphins and protect them.

Our Dolphin Project Team and I can guarantee you one thing: We will never quit. We know from past experience that the secret to protecting wild dolphins and the wild oceans they inhabit is to never give up and always fight for what is right.

For those of you who have joined us, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

For those of you who are just learning about the dolphins, you are welcome to join us. The dolphins need every one of you to help!

How will you be protesting the start of Taiji, Japan's dolphin-hunting season? Tell us in the comments.