A Risso's dolphins tries—but fails—to escape the netting of fishermen in Taiji, Japan's infamous Cove on October 27, 2011. (Save Japan Dolphins)
On November 1, Japan’s annual dolphin drive-hunt season will reach the 60-day mark. In Taiji, the tiny fishing village made infamous by the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, 137 dolphins from four species have been captured since the killing began on September 1. Of this total, 98 were killed, 28 were released, six were live-captured and approximately five have an unknown status, according to Ceta-Base.com.
I’ve noticed there is what seems—to an outsider—an almost unreasonable level of fear from Japanese citizens about daring to voice their disapproval of the killings.
To shed some light on these sad slaughter numbers, TakePart caught up with Leah Lemieux, the current Cove Monitor for Earth Island Institute's Save Japan Dolphins, Ric O’Barry’s anti-drive hunt organization. The longtime dolphin advocate, author, and lecturer has been in Taiji since mid-October.
TakePart: What’s a typical day like for a Cove Monitor from Save Japan Dolphins?
Leah Lemieux: I wake up between 4:45 and 5:30 a.m., head out to Taiji harbor to check for signs the hunters are readying banger boats, and see weather conditions. I drive up to the vantage point on the road overlooking Taiji to wait and count the banger boats heading out to sea and note the directions of their trajectories.
Once the boats are out, I head to lookout point with cameras and binoculars to wait until the banger boats come back over the horizon, with or without dolphins, and send out updates on the progress of the hunt—if there is one. Then I root for dolphins to escape. If it looks like the hunt will be successful, we whisk over to one of the vantage points around the Cove to document the drive as best we can through the latest efforts of the hunters to block our cameras. We try to count the dolphins and verify species, amid the chaos of activists, police, coast guard and fishermen.
I will never get used to the terrible spectacle that is the Taiji dolphin drive and the suffering that ensues. They cannot hide everything from our cameras, though they try. We are also on the lookout for any dolphins being taken captive and either loaded onto trucks for shipment or put into holding pens in the Taiji harbor.
Later in the afternoon, I process the day’s photos and film, make short videos where required, deal with between 100-200 emails daily, write blogs, have meetings with any Japanese or international colleagues in our area, and welcome newcomers and see off those departing. Food happens somewhere in the chaos. Then I plan next day’s activities and I’m off to bed somewhere around 11:00 p.m. to do it all again.
TakePart: What is the most hopeful moment you’ve experienced since you’ve landed in Taiji?
Leigh Lemieux: Maybe it was actually glimpsing some dolphins leaping back out to sea from the boat at sea after the hunters gave up and went back to shore, or maybe it’s been talking to some Japanese citizens who really do oppose the dolphin hunt and who are working quietly to educate others on these matters.
TakePart: And the most depressing?
Leah Lemieux: Looking down into the Cove as a pod of Risso’s dolphins were being killed the other day and watching a mother and her baby fighting so hard to escape as the boats, nets, divers, and hunters converged to drag them under the tarps to their deaths—while right beside me stood one of the hunters, just staring forward impassively. I stared at him, wondering how human beings lose their humanity and compassion to such a degree and wondering if there is much hope for change in people like that. It was very sad and very disturbing.
TakePart: Have you interacted with any locals? If so, is there a story that stands out?
Leah Lemieux: I try to interact in a courteous and friendly way with pretty much every local I pass. The police have told me this has actually been noted and are very encouraging about this approach. A few days ago, I was approached by an old man on the Taiji pier and he actually said he is against whaling and dolphin hunting, but he was fearful of all the authorities around and soon left. I’ve noticed there is what seems—to an outsider—an almost unreasonable level of fear from Japanese citizens about daring to voice their disapproval of the killings. Everyone is afraid of being targeted by authorities or hostile pro-whalers. That tells you something, I think. There is a very oppressive air directed at the Japanese people themselves to conform to a public pro-whaling stance. Most locals seem to find the middle ground and simply avoid any comment at all on the topic.
TakePart: Describe for me the level of engagement you’ve had with the fishermen?
Leah Lemieux: They mostly keep away from everyone—on their boats, behind barricades, and in and around their slaughterhouse central hangout. On some level they are very much ashamed of what they do, as greater and greater efforts are made to hide their activities. When I work in the Faroe Islands, I am able to converse and engage in discussion with the whalers in a very civilized manner, which I really appreciate. I wish I could do the same in Taiji, but so far, this has not been possible. One of my greatest wishes is that these people could see the dolphins through my eyes—then the hunt would end forever.
TakePart: It is my understanding that Save Japan Dolphins has offered to donate blankets, bedding, and heaters to Taiji locals who are still suffering from the effects of the early September typhoons. Can you talk about this?
Leah Lemieux: We were really amazed and alarmed when we saw the degree of destruction and ruin that parts of this area have experienced from flooding and mudslides during the typhoon in September. We had first approached authorities in Taiji to offer bedding, blankets, and heaters as a gesture of good will. But we were told these items were not needed and we should make inquiries in Nachi-Katsuura—the next town down the coast—where most of the destruction happened. We did this, but were surprised to learn that rather than bedding, what was topping the “most wanted” list was actually tea! While this might sound strange, in Japan tea is very important culturally and also something very comforting.