TAIJI, Japan – An unprecedented meeting between conservationists and leaders of the dolphin-hunting village depicted in the Oscar-winning film “The Cove” ended in bitter disagreement Tuesday.
The carefully organized meeting in Taiji was jolted beforehand when the film’s star, Ric O’Barry, said he would boycott because severe restrictions had been imposed on the media covering the talks.
Taiji’s hunt each year draws a range of protesters who videotape the slaughter and occasionally scuffle with local fishermen. This season — the first since the Oscar was awarded — the attention has been particularly intense, and the usually unresponsive town leaders agreed to a discussion at the town’s community center.
But the two-hour meeting was acrimonious from the start.
“There’s no compromise to be made. There will be no stopping of our activities until the harassment, capture and slaughter of both dolphins and whales on this planet ends,” said Sea Shepherd member Scott West, who has been in the area for nearly two months to monitor the hunts.
Village fishermen defended the hunt as part of a centuries-long tradition, pointing out that Westerners kill other animals for food. Activists countered that the killings are barbaric — and that dolphin meat is laced with dangerous toxins.
“It’s not right for you to force your values on us,” said Town Council chief Katsutoshi Mihara.
O’Barry said he was upset over restrictions that included the banning of some major news outlets and accepting only pre-submitted questions selected by a Japanese moderator from a right-wing organization.
“I’m more upset with the trainers than I am with the men who are killing the dolphins,” he said.
His actions angered the moderator, who had a phalanx of bodyguards, to the point that local authorities were called in and O’Barry left the town under police protection.
At the meeting, the activists were nearly all foreigners, including West from Sea Shepherd, a strident conservation group that has repeatedly clashed with Japanese whalers at sea, and other anti-whaling groups.
They sat opposite the stage from Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen and other town officials, many of whom are proud descendants of whalers in Taiji, the small town of 3,500 that was the birthplace of Japanese whaling centuries ago.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told a news conference that dolphin hunting “is part of Japan’s long-held cultural tradition” and that he hoped the meeting would “promote understanding.”
The hunts are legal under Japanese law. The village fishermen kill up to 2,000 dolphins a year, about 10 percent of Japan’s total.
The town has long drawn the ire of activists. Unlike in other parts of the country, entire pods are chased into a sheltered cove, where some animals are picked for sale to aquariums and others are slaughtered close to shore.
Activists say about 100 have been killed so far this year, and West said several dozen more have been sold as show animals. The town does not release exact numbers, although the national Fisheries Agency publishes yearly figures by region — in 2008, the prefecture caught 1,857 dolphins.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: The following text about dolphins captured and sold in Taiji, Japan that end up in captivity is from Blue Voice:
You walk down a long ramp as though you were going into a hockey arena. In the distance is gleaming blue water. In the background lights flash and a cacophony of maddening sound reverberates off the walls.
It’s Japan’s World Ranch swim-with Dolphins program. As you enter the circular confines of this grotesque arcade you see a circular tank 5-foot deep circling a kind of stage area. It’s a bit like a race course only smaller. Closer still you find there are two dolphins in this hallucinatory situation. They press close to the glass, desperate for something – contact? food? entertainment? I stand eye-to-eye with one of them. I cannot penetrate its mind and perhaps that is a good thing. The situation is conducive to madness.
We videotape the location. As we work, two Japanese young adults in wet suits are led by a pair of trainers into the central part of the tank area. They don snorkels and masks and enter the water. Two trainers with fish buckets lead the dolphins around the circumference of the tank with the snorkelers paddling along with them.
For the most part the dolphins pay no attention to the snorkelers – only the trainers with the fish buckets. At one point during the swim-with program one the young men reaches for one of the dolphins. The dolphin swats its tail with awesome power sending a geyser of water into the air. One trainer races to the edge of the water and starts throwing fish to the dolphin in a near panic. Eventually she is able to get the dolphin to the side of the circular pool. The diver swims on oblivious. He is, no doubt, thinking that he is communing with nature and having a life-changing experience with these dolphins.
The two dolphins at World Ranch were taken from Taiji. Most of their pod mates were butchered and left to bleed to death on the beach. The rest were shipped to aquaria and swim-with programs around the world.