Hollywood Celebs to Obama: Please Save the 'Cove' Dolphins

Russell Simmons, Sean Penn, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and other stars want Taiji dolphin slaughter tied to U.S. trade agreement with Japan.

(Photo: Fleetham Dave/Getty Images)

Feb 6, 2014· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

The year is young, but it’s already shaping up to be a rocky one for dolphin killers in Taiji, Japan. Hard on the heels of U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy’s condemnation of the slaughter at the notorious cove and a scathing editorial in The Japan Times comes an equally damning letter signed by marquee-name celebrities calling on the U.S. to block a pending international trade agreement unless Japan ends the annual dolphin hunts.

On Wednesday, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons and Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian Simone Reyes, who works for Simmons, sent a letter to Kennedy asking her to “personally deliver this petition to President Barack Obama urging him to not sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) until Japan bans the slaughter and capture of dolphins in Taiji.”

The letter was cosigned by a number of big names in Hollywood, animal activism, and politics, including Sean Penn, Cher, Susan Sarandon, Oliver Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Jesse Jackson, and Ingrid Newkirk, head of PETA.

"I'm glad our letter to Ambassador Kennedy for the president is making the rounds and will hopefully get our own government to do what they can to help stop the senseless, cruel slaughter of dolphins in Taiji," says Simmons.

The idea for the letter originated last November when Reyes traveled to Taiji, whose annual dolphin slaughter was made infamous in 2009 by the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.

“I told Russell all about it, and he was horrified, as was everyone else,” she says. “We were trying to strategize ways to help [after] the whole world started watching around Jan. 17, when 250 bottlenose dolphins went into the cove, including a white baby calf named Angel. We knew the iron was hot, and it was time to strike.”

Simmons began calling his famous friends, and within a week the list of celebrities who eventually signed the letter blossomed.

Neither the State Department nor the White House answered requests for comment on the letter, but Kennedy publicly condemned the drives in a Jan. 17 tweet, writing: “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. [U.S. Government] opposes drive hunt fisheries.”

Her statement, which excited global activists and rattled officials in Tokyo and Taiji, was subsequently backed by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, who told reporters on Jan. 21 that “we are concerned with both the sustainability and the humaneness of the Japanese dolphin hunts. We have been very clear that this is our position.”

Since Sept. 1, 2013, the beginning of this season’s drive hunt, the town’s two-dozen fishermen have killed more than 600 dolphins. An additional 150 have been taken captive, “slated to live lonely, degrading, psychosis-inducing lives analogous to enslavement at amusement parks, as chronicled in the film Blackfish,” reads the letter.

“The world is looking to you, Ambassador Kennedy, and to our government to send a clear message to Japan that this atrocity must be banned NOW,” the letter concludes.

Celebrities were careful not to take a position on the specifics of the trade deal as a whole. “We are not necessarily anti-TPP,” Reyes insists. “We are only pro-dolphin.”

Will the administration heed the admonition of such high-octane stars? “A lot of people listen” to Hollywood, Reyes notes. “A lot of people care about what their favorite actor or singer has to say, and we took advantage.”