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Ripples from ‘The Cove’

March 15, 2010

As someone who loves dolphins, I’m encouraged that ‘The Cove’ won an Oscar and is creating so much chatter about protecting whales and dolphins. But I’m dismayed at all the anti-Japanese sentiment that has been stirred up, particularly because I’m afraid this antagonism will not help the dolphins.

That the ‘ripples’ of the movie are wide is no surprise – ‘The Cove’ is an incredibly compelling and strong film, and I am grateful to the film makers for bringing international attention to an issue near and dear to my heart. I commend their courage and recommend ‘The Cove’ to everyone, particularly if you care about dolphins. I also want to make a statement here about how the goals of this movie can be strengthened. Reaction to ‘The Cove’ has alienated many Japanese people. This is unfortunate, because the people of Japan are in the best position to effect the change that ‘The Cove’ seeks to achieve. We need some voices that inspire Japanese people to the cause.

If you’ve seen ‘The Cove,’ you easily understand why the lines have become drawn as ‘good guys’ against ‘Japanese whalers’. By the end of the movie when you finally witness the cove red with blood – you are rightly enraged and ready to jump into action on the side of the technology-wielding modern-day heroes of the movie. But what is that action? Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS, who made the film) urges viewers to sign petitions to pressure Japan to stop the dolphin hunt.

On its face this may seem appropriate, but increased pressure has only hardened Japan against international opinion. On the heels of Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, threatening to sue Japan in the International Court of Justice over whaling practices, two Greenpeace activists (one of them Japanese) were arrested in Japan. Is it any wonder? Japan is a democratic country. Why would any elected official – in Japan or anywhere – step up to say, “Let’s give in to international pressure!”? On the other hand, if the constituents – the Japanese people – were inspired and spoke up…the results would, no doubt, be powerful.

But ‘The Cove’ misses the opportunity to inspire Japanese people. There are no Japanese heroes, hardly any Japanese protagonists. Most of the Japanese people in the movie rudely do awful things or stupidly try to cover them up. There is a lone brave citizen who speaks out against serving mercury-tainted dolphin meat in school lunches. But he is a minor character, not  portrayed as a hero. The brave councilman is a true-life, Japanese hero. But the protagonists of the film are the American/Canadian team that exposes the dolphin slaughter. I wonder whether having a Japanese person on that team wouldn’t have helped – not only in getting ‘behind enemy lines’ within the movie – but also in achieving the bigger goals of the movie.

The Japanese trailer for ‘The Cove’ focuses on the mercury issue, and I think this is a bit strange, because almost no one in Japan eats dolphin meat. The ruse (exposed by The Cove) to sneak the dolphin meat into school lunches occurred precisely because of the lack of consumer demand for dolphin meat. Also, I’m afraid that pitching ‘The Cove’ as a ‘mercury’ movie might only alienate Japanese audiences further. Mercury poisoning syndrome is called ‘Minamata disease’ because it was first identified and addressed as an environmental disease in the 1950s in Minamata, Japan. Japanese people are well-aware of the dangers of mercury poisoning and might think it ‘arrogant’ for Americans to try to ‘educate’ a nation which has already suffered with it. For a person who knows about mercury, it will seem bizarre to frame the mercury issue around dolphin meat when the threat is much more widespread with tuna, which is also increasingly tainted with mercury and is eaten in vastly greater amounts. In so far as the goal of ‘The Cove’ is to protect dolphins, focusing on mercury seems off-target because, given the vanishingly small market value of dolphin meat, banning dolphin meat sales will do nothing to eliminate the economic incentives of the Taiji fishermen.

As ‘The Cove’ clearly states, the powerful economic incentive for the Taiji fishermen is the hundreds of thousands of dollars that live, captive dolphins fetch from international buyers who want to use dolphins for entertainment in their marine parks. To destroy the economic incentive for the dolphin hunt, no one needs to ‘gang up’ on Japan. Rather, countries need to make a multilateral agreement to ban the capture and sale of wild dolphins around the world – and invite Japan to join.

“Let’s give into international pressure!” will gain no votes, but I believe a Japanese politician could say, “Let’s join the international community in preserving and protecting wildlife!” and expect support. Japanese people have a profound reverence for Nature. The simplicity and purity of the natural form is central to the arts of Japan as in no other culture. To find a voice that resonates with Japanese values in this way, we should call on passionate and talented Japanese artists who can fulfill this role, giving them center stage in the dialogue about protecting dolphins and other wildlife. I would like to include my own voice in this, of course – my Dolphin Dance Project. But while I am Japanese, I live and work in the US. To stop dolphin slaughters in Japan, it is critically important for Japanese people and especially artists in Japan to raise their voices and be heard. I believe that with the right inspiration, Japanese people will act to change their own laws to prohibit cruelty and protect the Natural world. Perhaps they would even inspire the rest of the world.

For the world has been inspired to action by pure, simple natural form in Art before…

In 1967, scientists Roger Payne and Scott McVay reported that humpback whales did not just make sounds – they actually sang together, repeating themes that changed from season to season. At that time, data were already beginning to accumulate about the dwindling numbers of some whale species. Hearing the sound of the humpbacks as ‘songs,’ people appreciated their haunting, almost dirge-like quality and were called into action to protect them. ‘Songs of the Humpback Whales’ was released as an LP in 1970, and in 1979, 10.5 million copies of the CD were distributed in an issue of National Geographic. Due to the change in people’s attitudes about whales, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) which was originally formed to make sure there would be adequate whale stocks for hunting around the world became increasingly focused on conservation in the 1970s and eventually declared a moratorium against most whaling in 1986. This did not happen just because of a single LP. Yet, it is well recognized that ‘Songs of the Humpback Whales’ was critical to the changes that have occurred in our feelings about whales since the 1970s.

In our goal to protect the dolphins, we need to appeal to everyone’s humanity – not just people in Japan – but everywhere in the world where the use of captive dolphins and whales for mere entertainment is so wrongly considered to be OK. There are many people in countries, including the US, who think it’s fine to capture dolphins for our entertainment. There are many Japanese people who love dolphins and know that exploiting them is wrong.

In addition, we need to stop poisoning our oceans with mercury by decreasing the burning of coal and controlling industrial emissions. Mercury in the ocean is like carbon in the atmosphere. Avoiding eating dolphin meat is not much of a challenge – not even for Japanese people. But the high levels of mercury in food fish are a problem for humans and dolphins alike. Our large fish (like tuna) are increasingly too toxic for us to eat. And dolphin babies are dying from drinking mercury-tainted milk from their mothers who have eaten mercury-tainted fish. We need messages that remind us that our fates are connected.

‘The Cove’ is a remarkable movie that has innovated documentary story telling. I highly recommend it, and I support OPS in their goal to end the hunting of dolphins in Japan. I also want to encourage us not to act only in reactive anger. Instead of ganging up on one ‘bad’ country, let us create international consortia to achieve environmental goals together. Instead of railing against the horror, let us find the inspiration for positive, inclusive action. Some of will find inspiration in whale songs or other Art – others in time spent in Nature: a walk in the woods, a swim in the sea. Whatever our own way may be, let us deeply feel our connection to the Earth again, that we may be moved to protect its beauty.

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43 comments

  1. This is a very well-written, thought-out and intelligent post.

    I wrote a post that, while not about “The Cove” or dolphins, is on a similar topic…

    http://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/sea-shepherd/


    • Thanks for reading and commenting…and for writing about Sea Shepherd!


  2. Wow, that is one excellent and insightful bit of analysis of the issues and possible ways forward.


    • Thanks for your support! I hope it will be helpful. Please forward to your friends and feel free to link from your website. Best, CH


  3. Thankyou for this well researched article. Very much sums up my own views. The Cove I take offense to for the reasons you explain. What is needed is education of the public in Japan to ask the government for change and pressure around the world to stop the sale of live dolphins.

    Tokyo, Japan


    • Thanks so much for reading and for leaving your supportive comment! Please keep me posted about any progress in Japan. Best, CH


  4. What a great article! I sense that many Japanese people feel alienated when Westerners point their traditions as “bad things to do”. Since Japan is a group of islands, fishing is the most traditional and the main industry to feed people. It is hard to convince them not to fish wild fish and animals in the oceans, especially while Westerners are hunting deer and wolves.
    The best way to approach is to condemn the illegal act (selling the contaminated meat) and wild animal captivity as the global issues, not the Japanese issues.


    • Thanks for your response, Akiko. Yes, I hope that we can help wild animal captivity be addressed as a global issue. Best wishes for your dance project! CH


  5. Bravo, Chisa! You make some excellent points in this well written and intelligently researched article. I especially love the way you recommend we appeal to the Japanese people’s deep reverence for Nature as a way to inspire solutions that will protect the beauty of the wild dolphins.


    • Thanks, Deborah. Really appreciate your comments. Thanks so much for reading! CH


  6. Excellent post. I live in Japan and I agree that, though ‘The Cove’ is a great movie and a nice piece of investigative journalism, it is bound to fail in its main mission of ending the Taiji dolphin hunt because it ignores Japanese opinion on the topic.


    • Like you, I live in Japan, and I agree with you up to a point. But if the Japanese public have a chance to watch the film, I think significant numbers of them will grasp the fact that the film is not actually an attack on their culture, that there are important facts they need to be aware of but which are being withheld from them by a cowardly media.

      And I doubt that the filmmakers believed that the film itself would achieve their aim. The film is a flashpoint, something that has clearly caused (as Chisa succintly puts it) ripples. If only all the anger and activist energy that it has stirred up can be coordinated and focused in a positive way, it can achieve something significant. But that’s a big IF…


    • @California_Dreamin: Thanks reading my blog and leaving a comment. The point-counterpoint arguments at your squidoo site are excellent.
      http://www.squidoo.com/the-cove
      I hope my readers will look at your writing, too.

      I hope I did not make it sound as though the makers of The Cove were bound to fail. They have missed some opportunities, but I hope that with the support of people like you and others who are posting here and elsewhere that understanding will grow from within Japan and an appropriate solution will be found.

      @Japan Zone: Thanks for joining the debate

      To all – I hope that more focus can be put on banning the purchase of live dolphins all over the world, rather than only blaming the fishermen of Taiji. I hope that the mercury issue will become more widely known as an issue of all large fish and the entire ocean – not a ‘dolphin problem’.


  7. Sadly, all fish are contaminated with mercury, not just dolphins. The number one way humans ingest mercury is through the consumption of fish. An easy way to estimate your mercury exposure from eating fish is to check out the free online mercury calculator at http://www.gotmercury.org. Based on the current U.S. EPA and FDA guidelines, the mercury calculator is an excellent way to know your potential mercury exposure risk.


    • thanks for commenting.
      yes, as I mention in my blog, the ingestion of fish, like tuna, are much more dangerous with regard to mercury poisoning compared to dolphin, which is eaten by only a few people, and not in great quantity. although many fish are tainted with mercury, which accumulates in the ocean due to human industrial emissions, it is the large fish that eat other fish (like tuna) which are the most dangerous, because as top predators, they have accumulated the most mercury in their bodies.


  8. Great post. It’s good to have conversations about these issues where no one is shouting or comparing people to Hitler. And thanks for commenting on the review of the Cove on my site:

    http://www.theinductive.com/culture/2010/1/21/the-cove-and-the-self-righteousness-of-activists.html

    One quick thing: Minamata Disease and what we call “Mercury Poisoning” or hydrargyria from eating too much tuna are two completely different syndromes. Minamata Disease is the result of large levels of exposure to elemental mercury and manifests like traditional heavy metal poisoning. Hydrargyria is the result of chronic exposure to trace levels of organic mercury compounds: usually mercury works its way into amino acids, gradually deteriorating them, which are them mistakenly used by our bodies, which can’t tell the difference. The two are totally different diseases, so I think it’s important that the Japanese don’t just take a “been there, done that” attitude towards mercury poisoning. I’m waiting for this movie to come out here in Japan, but I think it’s going to be really neutered.


    • Thanks, Chris…and thanks for pointing out the difference between Minamata disease and hydragyria. I do know the difference between the syndromes (I’m an MD)…my point was more that marketing the movie in Japan as if mercury were the focus could backfire, particularly as people in Japan have had previous experience dealing with mercury in the environment and also because it is obvious to anyone watching the movie that it is not primarily about mercury, but about dolphins.

      I have heard the movie will be released in Japan in June or July. I hope that it will have a positive impact. Perhaps the delay will help, as the ‘shouting or comparing people to Hitler’ – as you aptly describe it – is severely negatively affecting the positive messages of the movie.

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my post!


  9. Hi, a voice of support from Malaysia. The more people focus on this issue, the more it will help the cause. I hope it will have a positive effect this September


    • Thanks, for reading and supporting, Taikor! Wonderful to know that people around the world are paying attention! Cheers, Chisa


  10. Hi, thanks for an interesting post. Although I do agree that ‘The Cove’ has a strong message, it contains quite a few inaccuracies – so does your post. I just point out major inaccuracies.

    1. You suggest that two Greenpeace activists (one of them Japanese) were arrested in Japan because Kevin Rudd is threatening to sue Japan in the International Court of Justice over whaling practices. Actually both of the activists arrested were Japanese, and they were arrested well before the Rudd’s threats.

    2. The fact that the dolphin meat was served in school lunches was not ‘exposed by The Cove’. It was exposed by the Japanese councilman in 2007. The fact that some kinds of whale/dolphin meat on market have high level of mercury was well known by the scholars in Japan (like one appeared in the film) and the government has issued warnings since 2003.

    3. You also misses some points about mercury. Not all types of mercury are dangerous to human, but Methyl-mercury greatly affects human nerves; the fish/whales/dolphin accumulates mercury which is mainly created in natural environment; mercury of any type evaporate from human hair or other parts of human body, so if you eat dolphin meat once or twice in a month it doesn’t affect you.

    Further, I do not see in your post the reason why we should stop hunting dolphins. I would like to know your opinion on this point.

    I’m afraid the film won’t have much support in Japan. Just as you say the film depicts a very simple picture – Westerners are good guys, Japanese are bad guys. It will be sufficient for alienating the Japanese. Like Sea Shepherds in the Antarctic, the film will only harden the Japanese stance on contrary to its agenda.


    • Hi, thank you for reading and for commenting!

      Sorry if I was not clear. I did not mean to suggest that the arrest of Greenpeace activists was a direct response to Kevin Rudd’s threats. I just meant to illustrate the dynamic of ‘Western’ pressure versus Japanese resistance to it.

      Also – i did not mean to imply that The Cove was the first to report that dolphin meat was being put in school lunches. The movie shows how the councilman reversed it – so obviously, the Taiji people knew of it before The Cove was made. I only meant that The Cove is publicizing it – when I said ‘expose’

      Finally – I certainly understand that there are different types of mercury poisoning. I was not making a direct comparison between Minamata disease and eating dolphin meat. I only wanted to point out that positioning The Cove as an ant-mercury movie may not be the best way to getting a better reception, as many Japanese people are already aware of the dangers of eating food that is tainted with mercury.

      What were the other inaccuracies that you found in The Cove, I wonder? I would be interested to know, and I think my readers might be interested, as well.

      My reasons for supporting the end of dolphin killing are completely personal. As you can see from my website, I work with wild dolphins for a creative project. I dance and swim with them in the open ocean. They afford me great joy and inspiration. For that reason I want to protect them.

      I realize that the fishermen in Taiji have a very different relationship to dolphins than I do. I understand that for coastal fishermen, dolphins are competitors, not artistic collaborators.

      I hope this can change. In Brazil, there is a long tradition of dolphins and humans fishing collaboratively.

      Even if that kind of human-dolphin collaboration is not possible in Taiji, I hope that the people in Taiji can develop a different relationship with dolphins than they have now. I believe that a more friendly relationship would be beneficial, not only for dolphins, but for humans. I believe that the fishermen might actually feel happier, if they did not have to depend on government subsidies and on slaughtering thousands of dolphins for their living. I cannot believe that even as they do it out of pride or duty, that it could possibly feel good or enjoyable to scare and stab and kill so many of any animal.

      Like you, I am also afraid that The Cove will not have much support in Japan. It is a very powerful call to action for many international viewers, and I think the movie has done a great job increasing awareness of this issue globally. However, opportunities to reach out to Japanese people in Japan and inspire real action have so far been missed. Hopefully, as we continue these conversations in response to the movie, relationships and attitudes can change – not only of people and dolphins – but also of humans communicating across cultures.

      Thank you again!


      • Ok, I may have misunderstood some nuances of your argument. But if you say you ‘meant to illustrate the dynamic of ‘Western’ pressure versus Japanese resistance to it’ it means you are still suggesting some kind of link between the two incidents. I do understand what you are trying to say, but you are doing it in a wrong way.

        I’m glad you admit that the film was not the first to point out the dolphin meat served in a school, coz people tend to forget about it. As the main theme of the film was to pretend ‘revealing facts which are hidden from the Japanese people’, the film is inaccurate on this point.

        The points I raised about mercury was actually supporting your argument. As eating dolphins is not necessarily dangerous to the people, there’s no point in saying ‘dolphin meat is contaminated, so better be avoided’. The Cove is inaccurate on this point, too.

        I think what we need is a better argument to stop hunting dolphins. Personal preference in this case won’t do good. If you don’t have persuasive reasoning, nothing will change. Stressing the mercury poisoning was the Cove’s tactic, but it won’t work on the Japanese.

        For other inaccuracies, and misleading editing, I am now making a list.


      • Thanks for continuing the conversation.

        I would not expect to persuade anyone to protect dolphins simply because they give me joy and inspiration. But I do hope that my project will lead audiences to feel the same kind of love and respect I have towards dolphins and that through such feelings, they will start to want to protect the dolphins, too.

        The Taiji fishermen kill dolphins because they receive a subsidy from the Fishery Ministry to do so, and because they believe that dolphins are ‘pests’ – competitors for the fish that humans need to catch and eat. They feel they are serving the country by protecting coastal fisheries.

        For the killing to stop, the Taiji fishermen would have to have a different relationship with the dolphins. Perhaps they would be inspired if they saw that fishermen in Laguna, Brazil fish cooperatively with dolphins? Clearly, the argument that dolphins are smart and have feelings is not persuasive, because no matter how intelligent the dolphin is, he is still a competitor to the fishermen. Because of the government subsidy, the Taiji fishermen likely feel they are doing something good, by protecting coastal fisheries when they kill dolphins. I think education would be helpful here…to teach both the Taiji fishermen and the Fishery Ministry of Japan that killing dolphins will not restore fishing stock.

        Also, for the killing to stop, the two ‘sides’ of the argument will have to change their relationship with each other. The anti-whaling people will have to stop seeing Japanese whaling culture and Japanese people as the ‘enemy’. Anti-whaling activists must reach out to befriend Japanese whalers if they want cooperation. And people in Japan will have to stop feeling that they are being forced to ‘give in’ to foreign pressure – and begin to feel that they are being ‘invited’ to join a global community of people who want to protect dolphins, oceans and all marine life.

        As a Japanese person, I know that our traditional culture is deeply steeped in a profound love and respect for Nature. I hope these old feelings can take on modern meaning in the context of global environmental action.


      • I agree that we need a better argument to stop dolphin killing. You asked what my reasons were, so I gave my personal point of view. I hope that through my work, I can inspire people to share my point of view. But I realize that there are other important approaches to the problem, and that finding a good argument that can be embraced by Taiji fishermen and the Fishery Ministry of Japan is important.

        The argument (of The Cove) that dolphin meat is tainted with mercury will be weak, because too few people enjoy eating dolphin. The dolphin meat market is not the main reason dolphins are killed.

        The argument (of many people in the US) that dolphins are intelligent and self aware is also not effective – because Japanese Fishing Ministry and Taiji fishermen regard dolphins as pests. They believe that killing dolphins protects the coastal fisheries. The possibility that dolphins may be intelligent is irrelevant in this context because a wiley pest is still a pest.

        I think the best argument will be something that helps the Japanese Fishery Ministry and Taiji fishermen understand that killing dolphins is not the best way to support coastal fishing in Japan.

        Also, I think we need to make dolphin capture less of an economic incentive by banning the international trade of live dolphins.

        I think that people in the US feel angry that people in Japan do not seem to value the lives of dolphins based on their intelligence and self awareness. I believe this anger prevents people from wanting to understanding the point of view of Japanese whalers and Japanese people in general.

        I think in Japan there is a sense that all life is precious – not just intelligent life. So I think people in Japan feel offended when ‘ousiders’ try to impose their values about dolphins. I believe this feeling of being offended prevents people from wanting to work with Americans.

        All of this needs to change. And it will once we can all understand that dolphins and every creature in the ocean and especially the ocean itself is precious. I think we all know this already – Americans and Japanese. We just need to look for common ground so we can work together.


  11. Are you saying that people should be positive with the whalers and dolphin fishermen, make them feel nice and have faith that they will change?

    Getting the Japanese people to join this cause is important. At the same time, opposing the killing is also important. We can’t sit there and make friends with the killers. We can convince them of ways to give up slaughtering dolphins. But not telling them we can’t do anything much about their action. We have to give a very strong message that we’re against it. It is terribly wrong about what they’re doing.

    Be assured that opposing the dolphin fishermen and whalers is not an act of hating Japan. I also oppose the sealing in Canada


    • I am saying that we need to be positive. But I am not saying we should just ‘have faith’.

      We need to try to understand the point of view Taiji fishermen and Japanese Fishery Ministry so that we can offer arguments that will seem reasonable and appealing to them. If we want to convince them to change, we have to understand what arguments will be convincing for them.

      Many people in the US feel that dolphins should be protected because they are intelligent and self-aware. I personally embrace this view.

      However, I also understand that for Taiji fishermen and Japanese Fishery Ministry, this argument is likely to be irrelevant. Japanese Fishing Ministry considers dolphins to be ‘pests’ that need eradication to protect Japanese coastal fisheries. The fact that dolphins are intelligent does not change that relationship. A wiley pest is still a pest. However, if we can show that killing dolphins does not protect the fishery – or that there are other better ways to protect coastal fisheries than killing dolphins, perhaps opinions could change in Japan.

      Positive change will come from cooperation. We need mutual understanding. Many antagonistic conversations are going on now about dolphin killing. We need to find a way to create alliances.


  12. I am obliged to point out some incorrect assumptions again. Sorry for continuing conversation in this way, but please understand I just want to set the facts straight.

    You are wrong in assuming the ‘Taiji fishermen kill dolphins because they receive a subsidy from the Fishery Ministry to do so, and because they believe that dolphins are ‘pests”. You also wrongly assume that the Taiji fishermen don’t have ‘love and respect’ towards dolphins.

    In fact, the Taiji fishermen are not receiving subsidy for killing dolphins. It was the practice temporarily adopted in other whaling towns. They sometimes claim that dolphins are ‘pests’ to counter international accusations but it’s not the sole reason for hunting dolphins. The eco-activists tend to minimise the demand for hunting dolphins to mislead people into a belief that the dolphins are hunted for no good reason and it can be stopped without causing much stress on fishermen. Such claims are bogus.

    Also, the Taiji fishermen have ‘love and respect’ for dolphins and whales. As you rightly pointed out, the Japanese ‘traditional culture is deeply steeped in a profound love and respect for Nature’. The Taiji people are no exception here. They commemorates dolphins and whales they killed along with humans in temples and shrines, and dedicate series of ceremonials to thank the dolphins and whales for feeding humans. If you assume the townsmen need ‘education’ you are just as arrogant as the maker of the film.

    On the contrary to your argument, dolphin meat market is still a major part of the reason dolphins and small whales are killed. Part of the dolphins captured are sold to marine parks for aprx. 50,000 dollars each. But the rest are released to the market for 3-4,000 dollars each. This is obviously an important source of seasonal income. There are people who buy those dolphin meat from fishermen, and the meat will be sold at markets. You cannot deny dolphin meat has a healthy market.

    The best way to reduce quota or stop hunting dolphins in Taiji is, I think, very simple. Allow the Taiji to hunt minke whales in Japanese waters. The dolphin hunting was not the major source of income until the ban of commercial whaling was enforced in 1986. The fishermen were forced to find a new source of income which was found in small whales and dolphins.

    The argument that dolphins are intelligent and self aware is, again as you rightly point out, not effective. Not because the Taiji fishermen regard dolphins as bests, but for different reasons. The Japanese do think that they are intelligent to some extent. But they also think that other animals we usually eat are intelligent as well. Why can you differentiate only dolphins and whales from other animals? Are they more intelligent than other life forms? How can you prove it?


    • Thank you for the continuing conversation.

      There is a large scientific body of evidence showing the superior intellectual capacity of dolphins. One researcher whose work is well known is Diana Reiss, PhD. However, other scientists have also published many papers.

      I do understand that some people will not find their proven intelligence a persuasive reason to protect dolphins. I think this is very important as a lack of understanding between Japanese and American people in this area has led to great dismay on both sides.

      Japanese people need to understand that some Americans believe that dolphins should be treated almost like humans because dolphins have similar capacities to think and feel as humans as assessed in scientific experiments. For some Americans, killing a dolphin is like killing a human person. That is why Americans are so offended when they see dolphin slaughter. Even if Japanese people don’t agree with this, they need to understand this.

      At the same time American people need to realize that while Japanese people do not support this view of dolphin intelligence – it is not because Japanese people are lack understanding or compassion. It is exactly the opposite. From a Japanese point of view, killing something helpless and innocent (like a cow) is as bad – or worse – than killing dolphins. From a Japanese point of view, all life is precious and the intelligence of an animal doesn’t make it’s life more precious. American people need to understand that this is a DIFFERENT moral value from American values – but it is a HIGH moral value nonetheless.

      As for the dolphin meat market, I have a hard time believing it is very big – at least not in Japan. It has been years since I was in Japan – but as a child I never saw dolphin meat in the supermarket and I don’t know any Japanese people who eat dolphin now. Where did you find that figure of $3 – 4000 per dolphin? Is that published somewhere? I am very curious to know. Is the meat exported?

      As for what the Taiji fishermen believe – I think we would have to ask them directly – or anyway, give them a chance to speak – before we could know what they really believe about dolphins. My comment about pest control is based on past reports on dolphin killing in other towns such as Iki, where journalists reported that the killing was done as a form of ‘pest control’ and subsidized by the government.

      I have read elsewhere that the dolphin hunt increased after the international whaling ban in 1986. I know that ban was highly problematic for Japanese whalers, and that bad feelings still exist between the US and Japan over the 1986 ban.

      But to a person like me who loves dolphins, your idea to reduce dolphin killing by increasing minke hunts does not really make sense because dolphins and minkes are equally precious. I think it would be best if neither were killed or eaten.

      I think it is understandable that Japanese whalers want to continue their tradition without foreign meddling. At the same time, I wonder if the poor reputation Japan has gotten over this issue is really worth it? Should Japanese people continue to put up with looking like that bad guy in the US and Australian press every time a Greenpeace boat comes around? Is whaling SO important that it is worth being seen as a country that does not want to cooperate in a global effort to preserve marine life in general and cetaceans in particular?

      It is a similar situation with The Cove. No matter what the dolphin hunt may or may not mean to the Taiji fishermen, do YOU really think it is worth continuing to support it despite the bad reputation they bring on Japan? This is not a rhetorical question – I’m really curious what you think about this. Because right or wrong, the international audience of The Cove is passing judgement on Japan for this activity and that is a fact that cannot be made to go away no matter how many arguments are made about Japanese culture or tradition.


      • There is a large scientific body of evidence that disputes the superior intellectual capacity of dolphins. Paul Manger is one of them. The intelligence of dolphins is not ‘proven’ as you claim. It is still a loaded topic among scientists of various fields.

        I think the Japanese do understand that some Americans believe dolphins are as intelligent as humans. The belief is widely known in Japan, because when the whaling issue is reported the Japanese are reminded of their belief. So I think the dismay is not on the Japanese side, at least on this matter. For religious reasons Hindus don’t eat cows, while Muslims and Jews don’t eat pigs, but they don’t force their belief onto other nations. If Americans don’t eat dolphins/whales, that’s fine, but they should try to understand other nations which eat them.

        It is indeed a local food culture, but you can find dolphin meat in supermarkets in Shizuoka, Iwate, Wakayama, Yamanashi, Tokyo (though very rare), and some parts in Kyusyu as well. If you were brought up in other parts of Japan, it is very likely that you’ve never heard about dolphin meat. I’ve never heard that the meat was exported to other countries. So there’s a big market in Japan, which the Taiji fishermen can rely on. To be exact, the price is for pilot whales which are referred to as dolphins in The Cove. You can find the source if you google ‘Taiji no Oikomiryou’ in Japanese.

        I knew that you were referring to the practices not adopted in Taiji. People are misled by eco-activists to believe such things. This is not so honest, don’t you think? If you read Japanese news, you’ll find some comments from Taiji fishermen. Also I recommend you to read an article on a weekly Japanese magazine, FRIDAY 2010/3/26, which seems to gather voices of Taiji fishermen on The Cove.

        It’s a pity that Japan has been accused by misinformed audience who don’t appreciate cultural difference. Remember that US and UK governments are now accused of invading Iraq and Afghanistan on the false claims that Iraq had WMD and Afghanistan had close relations with Al-Qaida. Both claims were supported by the public then, and now they are accusing their governments for misguiding them. Look at how Toyota was accused by misinformed public recently. The public, especially in the age of internet, are inflammable. Humans, supposedly the most intelligent animal on the planet, should be capable to doubt biased information by trying to understand others, not blaming others.

        I support what you are trying to do – explaining the Japanese view. Personally I believe more explanation is needed, and this is one of the reasons that I am commenting on this topic. Japan has been one of the leading countries trying to preserve oceanic environment, while US has been one of the staunchest opposer to the fight against climate change (well, until recently of course). Anyway, I think it is not time to stop whaling or dolphin hunting. Surely we’ll seek for a non-violent solution through talks, which is how the international diplomacy works.

        Lastly, let me remind you that accusation of dolphin hunting is not necessarily a global movement. As you may well know, some European countries hunt dolphins and Asian countries as well, even though it is in some case illegal. This is not an excuse for the Japanese doing the same, but still the picture you draw about Japan vs international community looks less plausible.


      • Thank you for continuing to support my blog with important information from Japan.

        I think it would be very interesting for American readers to know what the Taiji fishermen have said in the Japanese news. If possible, would you share the information at this site? I would be interested to know what they have said.

        Previously, you asked me why I thought it was important to protect dolphins. I am wondering if you would be willing to discuss why it is important for you that the dolphin hunt continues? I think what I understand from your comments so far is that you would like for the dolphin hunt to continue so that you can continue to eat dolphin meat, and that you would argue that eating dolphin meat is safe. Am I understanding you correctly?

        The work of Paul Manger that has to do with dolphin brain anatomy. He has not studied the actual cognitive capacities of cetacean brains – only what the brains look like. His suggestion that dolphins are not so intelligent are not based in observations of behavior. I am not criticizing his science. However, even in the area of dolphin brain anatomy, there is also evidence that dolphins are probably quite intelligent (for example, the work of Lori Marino, PhD)

        I think the question of dolphin intelligence is not so relevant to the discussion – at least from the Japanese perspective. Am I correct about this? From what I know of traditional Japanese culture, people tend to believe all life is precious – and intelligence does not make life more precious.

        You are certainly correct that Norway, Denmark and Iceland continue to hunt whales, perhaps in greater numbers than Japan. However, the majority of European countries and also the US, Australia and NZ do not support whaling, so I believe across the world more nations are against whaling than for it. In fact, Iceland is under pressure to stop whaling if it wants to join the European Union. I hope Japan will also stop whaling and join the international majority that are against whaling.

        Thank you very much for enriching my blog with a true voice from Japan.


  13. Well, personally I have never eaten dolphin meat, but I am willing to eat it. I always try to eat local foods whenever I visit a place new to me. So eating dolphin meat is not the main reason for supporting dolphin hunting. Dolphin meat is safe as long as it is not consumed everyday and internal organs (where mercury shows exceptionally high level of concentration) are avoided.

    I support dolphin hunting because I think nobody has the right to force others to stop eating something, or to quit their work, based on his/her own beliefs. It becomes imperialistic when you do this with the guise of ‘we can enlighten you’. You can have different values, but you shouldn’t force them to others. I know Americans don’t think in this way but this I believe is the main reason why they are not popular in the world.

    From your comment I gather you put behaviour observation above brain anatomy. In fact, brain anatomy and behaviour observation are complementary. People had been arguing that dolphins are intelligent because the size of their brains is comparable to humans’. People assumed that their brains developed into this size because the dolphins acquired cognitive and communication skills over centuries. If, as Manger argues, dolphin brains developed to counteract heat loss to the water, the widely held belief of a correlation between brain size and intelligence in cetaceans will have to be reviewed. Behaviour observation has weaknesses as well, one of them is we, the humans, interpret dolphins’ behaviour. The following link shows, I think, a balanced views on research methods of dolphin intelligence, though a bit outdated in its references.

    http://www.highnorth.no/library/myths/br-be-an.htm

    You may know that US, Australia and NZ allows natives to hunt whales and dolphins, because it’s part of their culture. You may also know that neither of Pro- and Anti-whaling parties have majority in IWC. When Taiji has asked for allowance to hunt whales on the basis that whaling is an important part of their lives and culture, the vote was split between 30 (for) and 31 (against) in 2006. If you want Japan to stop whaling/dolphin hunting, asking the Japanese to surrender to the majority is not the way. You should ask IWC to include small whales dolphins based on scientific evidence that they are endangered species, or simply set up an international convention to discuss the preservation of such species and ask Japan and other countries to join. There’s no easy solution on such matters.

    The following is a news which brings a lot of local voice. You’ll find many more if you google ‘Taiji’ or ‘Irukaryou’ in Japanese.

    http://www.asahi.com/national/update/0308/OSK201003080097.html


    • Thank you for this post. I hope that readers on both sides of the arguments can have more compassion and understanding of the other’s views. Thank you in particular for the link to the Asahi newspaper article. It seems clear to me in this article that while the people in Taiji and Japan in particular are upset with the movie, that many also support the end of dolphin slaughter. In particular, a fisherman from Futo where dolphin slaughter has now ended (due to previous exposure in the foreign media) agree that the time for eating dolphins is past. I think it will be very important for American viewers to read this article and to understand that many Japanese people – including some fishermen – honor dolphins and also oppose the dolphin slaughter. The Cove did not represent these people, and in not doing so, they missed an opportunity to gain support in Japan.


      • Actually, Futo has not ended dolphin hunting, but the fishermen did quit from this business. Dolphin hunting has not been an annual business in Futo, it was recently carried out in 1996, 1999, and 2004. Other fishermen are for the hunting so it seems you cannot say ‘many’ oppose the dolphin hunting or Futo ‘has ended’ dolphin hunting.

        Apart from that, I quite agree that there are people who have been trying to stop dolphin hunting for years in Japan. If the film maker was making a truly honest documentary, he could have included them and the Japanese might have received the film differently. He was capable to do this because he met the Futo fishermen (who opposes dolphin hunting) before – but he deliberately chose to present western activists are the heroes.


  14. This is such a well-written analysis. I especially appreciate your raising the effectiveness of the arts in raising awareness. I hope your dolphin dance project is able to do just that.


  15. How wonderful to hear a Japanese voice on this matter…straight from Taiji! Thank you, BBC!
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8599723.stm


  16. […] of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins live and play with visiting humans. Having written about The Cove on a previous post, I had been planning on traveling to Japan. Instead, I returned to my favorite dolphin trip – […]


  17. Thank you for such a balance article, I’ve just viewed The Cove on DVD and immediately wanted to find the balance which you provided.


    • Thanks for the comment, Jono. It’s an important issue and The Cove did a great job of raising awareness. If I can help make it be a bit more palatable, that would make me feel like I’m making a difference.


  18. One sticking issue is the cruelty that dolphin were subjected to in the cove. Sure, we eat cows, chickens and many other animals. As humane human beings, we aim to cause as little suffering as possible in the process of killing animals for food. There are recommended and appropriate ways to kill a cow, a pig, a bird etc. In ordinary circumstances, we don’t purposefully cause them immense amount of stress and then spear them to death while the big animal flipped and flapped in pain, and struggled indefinitely.

    Another issue that begs understanding is that if most people and Japanese people alike, do not normally consume dolphin meat, is there a necessity to kill all the remaining dolphins which are not suitable for shows? Or, are the fishermen preventing dolphins which have gone through the experience from escaping and communicating to their kind about danger in the waters near the cove?


    • Thanks for the comment ‘Abetterplace’
      Yes – cruelty is definitely the biggest issue here. As much as I might criticize The Cove for lack of cultural sensitivity, the slaughter of dolphins IS cruel and horrible. The dolphins are self aware creatures with strong family bonds. To kill them en masse is not much different from killing humans in a similar way. It really needs to stop – and that is precisely the reason that it was such a shame that The Cove missed the opportunity to reach out and connect with and inspire Japanese people to act.

      As for your question about the few who eat dolphins. No – there is no necessity to kill dolphins. The income for the fishermen comes primarily from the live sales, and in this modern age, Taiji residents have access to plenty of food despite not being able to grow produce locally. In previous attempts to stop dolphin slaughters in the ’80s and ’90s in other villages, fishermen and the government claimed that these were ‘culls’ – a way to keep down the number of dolphins, who supposedly competed with the fishermen for fish. Fishermen may actually believe this – but there is little scientific evidence to support that claim. I have also read that due to lack of market value for the dolphin meat, the hunts nearly died out…except that in the early 2000s the live trade became very lucrative.

      It is hard to imagine for us – but we have to remember that the fishermen do not ‘like’ dolphins like we do. I suspect they see them as fish, even though they know that dolphins breathe air. I believe that education would go a long way in helping to resolve the situation.

      Thanks so much for your comments.


  19. I just got through watching The Cove, and I’m appalled. I’ve heard enough about this movie to know that dolphins were being slaughtered, and that’s terrible. I don’t think dolphins should be slaughtered, of course. I also don’t think dolphins should be tortured by jumping through hoops at Epcot.

    I never thought about that as being torture, but according to Ric O’Barry, the thing that inspired him to start activism in the first place was his beloved dolphin committing suicide in his presence. Of course, he tried freeing a few dolphins here and there, but Americans treated him much like the Japanese are treating him, with hostility because it’s culturally okay in America to go to Sea World and watch dolphins doing flips. So, instead of handling the American dolphin torture problem, he goes and harasses a bunch of fisherman, which is admits is a very small group of people, instead of actually helping the dolphins domestically.

    In the end, this film is a direct attack on Japanese values, the ones that the Americans hate, to get a rise out of people. This movie is actually detracting from the real issue of dolphins dying and being tortured by humans. Even after they shut down the Cove, it won’t shut down the industry that wants to torture dolphins, the industry that O’Barry helped start.

    In its aggressive efforts at getting people mad about the Japanese dolphins and the Japanese, this movie has failed to address the real problems, which will just be strengthened because all the attention is placed on a little cove in Japan.

    There will always be a supply, when there is a demand, and the supply come from the Cove and a number of different places in the world, including Denmark and America. Ask O’Barry where they originally got the Flipper dolphins to torture. It surely wasn’t from Japan.

    I’m beginning to think these animal rights activists really have no interest in saving the dolphins, as they seem more interested in looking like heroes and getting their 15 minutes of fame rather than addressing the real issue. Along the way, they’ve recruited the racist public to zealously go after the Japanese for being dolphin killers. Racists make strange bedfellows, and judging by the comments all over the internet, they have already taken over this heartbreaking issue of dolphin slaughter and torture, and now it’s a we hate the Japanese issue.

    Sad…


    • Thanks to ‘wrong way’ for your comment. I agree that the antagonism that has developed between foreign pro-dolphin activists and Japanese people generally is very regrettable for all kinds of reasons, not least of all the dolphins. I hope we can find a way to work together on behalf of dolphins.



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