Celebrities are urging US President Barak Obama “to refuse to sign an international trade agreement until Japan bans the capture and slaughter of dolphins in the fishing town of Taiji.”
So, thanks to endless tweets and emails and facebook messages, the horror of Taiji is finally filtering through. That can only be a good thing. Right?
Well, actually, yes and no. Becoming Taiji-aware is obviously good, but it is not just Taiji that needs to be under the spotlight.
Ever heard of Iwate Prefecture? It’s 500 miles north of Taiji and they kill thousands of Dall’s porpoise every year. The major differences are three-fold:
1) All the slaughter happens off-shore in Japanese coastal waters; therefore there is very little documentation and no intervention is possible
2) None of the porpoise are taken for captivity; Dall’s do not survive well in captivity
3) Nobody knows about it; primarily because of point 1.
Iwate prefecture has a licence to slaughter over TWELVE THOUSAND dolphin and porpoise. That’s over 6 times more than Taiji’s paltry 2,013. Best-selling author David Kirby highlighted the plight of the porpoise and documented the (rare) coming together of two of the driving forces in cetacean protection; Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project and Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/09/19/porpoise-iwate-japan-hunt-bigger-than-cove-taiji-japan
It is the hunt you never see
Of an animal many have never even heard of
Sean Penn, Cher, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Hudson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Ellen DeGeneres and William Shatner “and many others” have all signed Russell Simmons letter but what they are asking for simply isn’t enough. Like all hastily arranged actions it falls over because it only targets Taiji. There is no mention of Iwate. There is no mention of what would happen to the people of Taiji who rely on the drive hunt. The Taiji fishermen are on record as saying that they might consider stopping the hunt IF they had something else that would provide them with an income. The obvious solution is presented in the case of Izumi Ishii, a former dolphin hunter who now runs a whale-watching business. But is there enough tourism for 12 “banger boats” to be employed as whale-watchers in Taiji? How are these men and their families supposed to survive? Would the celebrities (none of whom seem to be living on skid row) pay to keep the fishermen fed and clothed? Or send their children to school? Of course not. I highly doubt that either side would find that solution acceptable.
If the trade in captured dolphins were to be banned, there is a high probability that the Taiji drive hunt would cease. We are told that the sale of dolphin meat is sluggish in Japan and many other countries simply don’t have a market for it. Additionally, of course, a live dolphin commands a much higher price than a dead one and so may keep the impetus for the hunt alive.
But that has little to no impact on Iwate, 500 miles away. Except for the possibility that live capture might become a viable option if Taiji were to end the drive hunt. So if you want to end the slaughter you have to end ALL dolphin slaughter, not just the one in the news. Otherwise, just like any other business, it just relocates to better and more suitable premises. Taiji cannot hide behind the curtain of “tradition” regarding live capture, simply because it isn’t traditional. That also means of course, that theoretically, live capture could happen anywhere Japan has coastal dolphin populations…
So, will President Obama end the drive hunt?
He has much to gain from the TPP and then there is the rather sticky point about the drive hunt being a legal activity. It is, without doubt terrifically cruel, violent and barbaric but illegal? No. There is also the mildly awkward “Case Of The Russian 18”. Yes, America is being urged to end the activities at Taiji while attempting to import 18 wild-caught Russian Beluga. Isn’t that a clear case of “do as I say; not do as I do”? No country is innocent when it comes to animal cruelty, but it is gross hypocrisy when a country that treats its wild horses in almost exactly the same manner as Japan treats its dolphins, calls for the cessation of the hunt.
I am grateful to these celebrities for turning their immaculately groomed heads towards Taiji, for they raise awareness and that can only be a good thing. But this attempt at gaining publicity for “the cause” is naive and ill-thought out.
I leave you with the 2nd best* PSA ever made, which sums up Taiji far better than any letter.
*The 1st being the one made for Free Lolita.