Archive for July, 2011


A Pod of Spotted Dolphins and Three Human Dancers

July 21, 2011

As I dance eye to eye with one dolphin, a second dolphin will often be dancing with us, in perfect unison with the other dolphin.  Sometimes even more dolphins join in, always in beautiful synchrony with the rest.

Sandy Dance

The precise coordination of the dolphins movements never ceases to amaze me, not only because it is so thrilling to experience, but because it speaks so clearly of the intentionality of the dolphins’ participation and also of the cooperative relationships between the individuals. Amid a group of beautifully synchronous dolphins, I wonder – can humans join together in this way? Can humans be harmonious and unified enough so that a second, even third human dancer could join in the swirl as elegantly as two or three dolphins might join in?

This was the challenge for Kathleen, Ben and me during a recent rehearsal week.


Working with a resident pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, we explored how to move in synchrony with the dolphins and with each other. We were fortunate to be on this trip with talented photographers Yukiyo Sakai and Takaji Ochi, a highly regarded nature photographer in Japan.

Kathleen, Ben and I all have experience dancing with dolphins. Yet joining another human dancer in a swirl of dolphins was not always easy…or even possible. Just keeping track of each other in the water was often difficult, with masks limiting our view. How do we keep our bodies aligned with each other when we are too close to see the other person fully? or when the other person is above, to the side, or otherwise out of view?

As we worked, we experienced what we already knew – that the dolphins are much more expert in this dance than we humans are. With eyes on the sides of their heads, their field of view is much, much wider than ours…their bodies are streamlined with no arms and legs to dangle this way and that…their skin is exquisitely sensitive to the flow of water all around them. For them to stay in sync seems much easier than it is for us.

Momma and Baby

For dolphins, it seems, unison is not only a skill for which they are anatomically and physiologically well-equipped, but an activity that is necessary for survival and full of social meaning.

Young Dolphin TroupeThe smallest calves are expert at following their mothers’ every move, maintaining ‘baby position’ under mom’s belly everywhere she goes. By necessity – mother can’t hold the baby’s hand or strap him on her back or in a stroller. Slightly older, juvenile dolphins tumultuously swirl around but then suddenly transform into an orderly unit as one of the moms or older siblings –  a babysitter – rounds up the troops.No doubt that moving in synchrony helps keep the pod – and especially its youngsters – safe from harm amid the ocean’s vast expanse. Perhaps through its lifelong practice, synchronous movement even becomes an expression of unity that gives the dolphins a sense of belonging or safety.

Three is Company

Quartet w/ Chisa and Kathleen

To think that the dolphins willingly invite humans into this dance of inclusiveness seems incredibly generous and trusting. It is hard not to feel grateful, being allowed to join the dolphins in this intimate way. It gives us motivation to learn to communicate through this important ‘dolphin idiom’ of synchrony as we work towards an ever-more communicative interspecies dance with them.

[To see more of our rehearsal photos in a Flickr slideshow, click here.]

To support the development of future dance films and an upcoming documentary, please visit our Donate page, download our first film “Together“, and share our project with all your dolphin loving friends and family.

Dolphin Dancers - Ben, Chisa, Kathleen
Dolphin Dancers – Ben, Chisa, Kathleen

Advocating for Dolphins at the IWC

July 8, 2011

The Dolphin Dance Project is supporting an international effort at the International Whaling Commission – whose annual meeting begins July 11th in Jersey, UK –  to raise awareness that small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) deserve the same protections we grant their larger cousins.

Chisa Hidaka, founder of the Dolphin Dance Project, translated and edited a report on the 2010-11 dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan that will be distributed at the IWC. Researched and written by Sakae Hemmi of the Elsa Nature Conservancy, the report challenges the degree to which dolphin hunting can be described as “traditional” and documents the government’s failure to supervise it. The English summary of “The Dolphin Drive Hunt: Appropriate Management?” is posted below; the full report (Japanese) can be found at the Elsa website.  Hardy Jones of Blue Voice, a long-time advocate for dolphins and whales, will distribute the summary at the IWC and give a press conference on the Japanese dolphin hunt.

Representing 89 countries, the IWC has been in the past and could continue to be a powerful force for protecting all cetaceans. It is time that its members recognized that, given all the human activities imposing severe survival pressure on cetaceans (oil and radiation spills, mercury and other pollutants, fishing, boating, sonar, ocean acidification and more) commercial whaling is now environmentally and economically unsustainable. We urge the IWC to shift its focus entirely to conservation. On this year’s IWC agenda is a proposal to create a South Atlantic whale sanctuary – we hope this will be passed and rigorously enforced.

We are proud to support cetacean conservation efforts through our films and other efforts. For more information on protecting dolphins and their habitat, please visit our Protect page and related blog post.

Thank you for your support of the Dolphin Dance Project!

Dolphins are our friends. Let's protect them! photo: Connor Cassidy

The Dolphin Drive Hunt: Appropriate Management?

Observations from the Emergency Extension of the Hunting season of the Dolphin Drive Hunt in Taiji

The following is a summary of the report of Sakae Hemmi of Elsa Nature Conservancy (ENC) investigating the circumstances of the unusual suspension and resumption of the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji this year (2011), as well as ENC’s assessment of the current state of the dolphin drive hunt in Japan. The major findings were as follows:

Irregularities in the dolphin drive hunt season were found to have occurred due to a severe decline (to zero) of the pilot and false killer whale catches in February. The extension of the hunting season through May to attempt to fill the quotas for those species was found to be legal and within the regulation of Wakayama.  Pressure from foreign pro-cetacean activists was likely not a significant contributing factor in the suspension or extension of the hunting season.

Inquiries to the Japan Fisheries Agency and the fisheries section of Wakayama prefecture regarding the regulation of hunt seasons and catch quotas revealed systemic deficiencies in the management of the dolphin drive hunt. Catch quotas were calculated and administered in a manner that systematically responded to the needs of fishermen but ignored the biology and ecology of dolphins, making them irrelevant as a mechanism for supporting the sustainable use/consumption of dolphins as a marine resource. Oversight was lacking, with all catch data reported by fishermen in the absence of independent or scientific verification. Enforcement was weak, with no penalties in place for the mismanagement of quotas. In Futo the quota system failed to prevent or explain the depletion of striped dolphin stocks. A similar trend in Taiji is not unlikely.

Despite previous appeals from ENC to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the Consumer Affairs Agency and other relevant agencies, toxicity information was still missing from the labels of packaged dolphin meat. In some of the samples tested for this investigation, levels of PCBs were 19.2 times the allowable national limit.(See the table attached.)

Glaring inconsistencies in the official position of the Japanese government with the realities of the town of Taiji were found. Records showed that while whaling does date back 400 years, the “traditional” whaling actually ended in 1878 after a whaling disaster that decimated the Taiji whaling fleet. Regular dolphin drive hunts date back only 42 years to 1969 when pilot whales were captured on a large scale for display at the Taiji Whale Museum. Currently only 8.5% of the people in the town  are employed in the fisheries and only about 100 people at the most depend on whaling or whaling-related activities for their livelihood. Historical records and demographic data do not support the contention that “Taiji is a ‘Whaling Town’ that cannot survive without whaling.”

By supporting the dolphin drive hunts, the policies and position of the Japanese government harm not only dolphins but the health and well being of Japanese people, particularly in Taiji. We are hopeful for a change that will bring our nation closer to those of other ‘modern’ countries and with contemporary, global views about the appropriate treatment of wild animals and natural resources.

Table 1. Toxic Substances in Dolphin Meat, Taiji 2011

The Elsa Nature Conservancy was established in 1976 with the aim of global nature and environmental protection across a broad spectrum, from one’s own doorstep to the sky. Elsa always looks for the blind spots of the conservation movement — things others have forgotten about – and has campaigned for the protection of animals that are going extinct unnoticed, such as the Japanese reed bunting (Embriza yessoensis). Furthermore, the organization was campaigning for dolphin and elephant protection before the media took up these issues. It has also continued the debate in opposition to vivisection, as well as criticism of safari parks, zoos, and aquariums. Additionally, Elsa has from the very beginning used recycled paper for its publications, and makes its own stationery and note-pads out of paper with only side used, and from computer printing scraps, in order to save as many trees as possible. Elsa’s basic approach is “Each person practices nature/environment protection in whatever way is personally possible.” While the organization sets forth grand ideals, individual members carry out their own modest but diligent activities.

Elsa Nature Conservancy: Box2, Tsukuba Gakuen Post Office, Tsukuba 305-8691, Japan