Posts Tagged ‘independent film’

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One Dolphin Day On Earth

April 9, 2012

‘One Dolphin Day On Earth’ is our contribution to the One Day On Earth project which gathers videos from around the world, shot on the same day, to chronicle life on our planet.  On this year’s date, 11/11/11, the Dolphin Dance Project was engaged in an extended period of rehearsals with wild Pacific Spinner Dolphins, and so by fortunate coincidence, we can offer a glimpse into a typical morning of their daily lives.

If the video does not play smoothly, please watch on Youtube

The One Day On Earth project reaches out to every country of the world (with help from the UN) to gather video contributions, all of which are made available online in a giant searchable database.   The filmmakers then sift the materials into a powerful feature length portrait of a typical day on earth.  Their first film, made from footage shot on 10/10/10, will premiere at the UN and around the world in every country on Earth Day (April 22) this year.  We met one of the organizers, Cari Ann ShimSham* (at the Dance on Camera festival in NYC), and we were honored she invited us to contribute the video we shot.

Of course, we thought it would be important to use the opportunity to represent the dolphins’ perspective.  Like us, they have rich cognitive and emotional lives expressed through all kinds of relationships with other members of their pod, their close friends, their family and even other species (primarily other dolphins and whales, but occasionally a Homo sapiens or two).  Each dolphin has a point of view as meaningful as any of our own to the story of each day on earth, and as we consider it, we are reminded of all the creatures of the ocean who live their lives in parallel to ours.

For the Pacific Spinner dolphins in our video, the daytime is when they rest.  After an active night of catching fish in deep water miles off shore, they return to shallow coves in the early morning to socialize and then to rest during the middle of the day before rousing each other in the late afternoon for the next foray.

As you see in the video, they can have a lot of energy after filling their bellies all night.  Because dolphins are so well adapted to their environments and catch fish so efficiently, they have plenty of leisure time in their daily activities in addition to finding food and sleeping.  Their social time is very important: they invest in their friendships, workout conflicts, provide safe play and learning time for the young, and all the other things that allow a pod of individuals that are completely dependent on each other to remain close knit.

Leaf Game

This social time is also generally the polite moment for us to ask for a dance.  If someone is interested, we will begin a movement conversation, which builds as an improvised dance.  On this particular day, we were introducing a new dancer, Jillian Rutledge, and the dolphins spent most of their time showing us how to play with leaves.

It is easy to refer to ‘the dolphins’ as if they all resemble each other, but each one is uniquely individual.  Although it can be hard for us to distinguish them visually, their distinct personalities express themselves in different styles of playing with leaves, or degrees of interest in meeting humans. Fortunately, some have distinguishing features that are easy for us to identify underwater.  One dolphin, featured in the video and recognizable by the two white marks on his flank near his dorsal fin, we call ‘Sirius‘.  As you can see in this short portrait, he has a passion for leaves and engaging his friends in leaf play (which even includes the camera person).

By the late morning, it is time for the dolphins to rest, and they settle in for 6 to 8 hours of drifting together (well, it looks like drifting, but they are still going faster than any human can swim), coming up for occasional breaths.  Dolphins sleep with only one half of their brain at a time, so you can see in the video that even while resting, they may say hello to the camera person as they rise to the surface.  Mommas watch their babies, friends keep an eye on each other, the pod stays connected almost silently, as they flow together in beautiful, peaceful harmony.

Joyful and lovely dolphin days like this are under constant threat from our ever expanding impact on the environment and the oceans in particular.  On the one hand, boat traffic and noise and eager tourists can make it difficult for dolphins to get the rest they need.  On the other hand, industrial fishing depletes the fish stocks on which dolphins depend.  The decimation is not just to the fish we eat, since bycatch (fish that are killed but not kept) can amount to 25% of the haul.  What is worse, dolphins are often part of that bycatch, as much in carelessly discarded nets and fishing lines as in working gear.  The World Wildlife Foundation has estimated that as many as 1,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises die each day in nets and fishing gear.

These are just a few of the many ways that our societies impact the lives of dolphins. To learn more about the threats they face, and what we can do about them, please visit our Protect page.

When we take into consideration our impact on the dolphins, and make even small changes in the choices we make, we can make a positive difference in the life of a dolphin.  Like us, each dolphin has his or her own, unique, irreplaceable experience of each day on earth:  every dolphin life matters.

Posted by Benjamin Harley

Dolphin Caress

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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

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Popping the Cork on an Exciting New Year!

January 6, 2011

We’re ringing in the New Year with a sneak preview of things to come…more human dancers! Here is a lovely moment caught in an exceptional single shot last summer in Bimini by producer Ben Harley:  a sweet young Atlantic Spotted dolphin dives directly towards Kathleen Fisher and me and leads us, with a clear intention, in a basic dolphin ‘figure’ that we call the ‘corkscrew’.

Has the dolphin noticed that we were practicing moving with each other like dolphins?  Does he intend to show us?  Has his interest simply been piqued to join in?  One thing is certain, there is an attempt to engage in a moment of meaningful, shared movement – we are all listening to each other, we are all working hard to be connected.

Kathleen is a beautiful dancer, whom I met years ago, when she lived in NYC, dancing for the Trisha Brown Company. Kathleen has been living in Bimini for several years in order to spend more time with dolphins.  Following my week with Diana Reiss’ research trip last August, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her as the Dolphin Dance Project begins to explore the possibilities for composing dances with multiple humans.

In 2011, our goal is to develop this work and for several humans to dance with each other like the dolphins dance amongst themselves – fluid groupings of synchronous members gliding and twirling, often in unison, sometimes in tender physical contact. I am  eager to experience the dolphins’ reactions. How will they dance with us if we can show them that humans can be cooperative and harmonious underwater, just like them? Will it mean something to the dolphins? As dancers, we can also explore the emotional impact on us of moving this way together.  We will be asking questions like these and documenting them on video as we develop the material for the feature length dance film and documentary we aspire to make.

As we work on the next phase of our project, we will offer more of these previews … and we will continue to let you know about additional screenings of “Together,” our award-winning debut film. In January, we have a few screenings in NYC:

On January 15 between 4 and 8.30 pm, “Together” will screen during the Japanese American and Japanese in America (JAJA) New Year’s party at the Japanese American Association (JAA) Hall at 15 West 44 Street, 11 floor. Admission is free and you will enjoy many performances and exhibits by Japanese and Japanese American artists living in NYC.

On January 27th at 6 pm, our festival tour continues with a screening of  “Together” on the Big Screen Project, a huge new outdoor screen near 6th Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets in NYC as part of the 39th annual Dance on Camera Festival. The best viewing will be from Bar Basque, which will be hosting the Dance on Camera short film celebration that evening; but “Together” and the other short dance films in the program will be visible from the street, the Eventi Hotel plaza and Foodparc.

If you can’t join us on the 27th, the Big Screen Project will show “Together” and the Dance on Camera shorts program several times following the celebration. For specific dates and times, please check their calendar.

As always – thank you so much for continuing to support us through your Facebook ‘likes,’ Tweets, word-of-mouth and your attendance at our screenings.

Happy New Year!

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Thanks to a stellar 2010, the Dolphin Dance Project is well underway!

December 23, 2010

The Dolphin Dance Project has enjoyed an amazing first year.  We look back on 2010 with deep gratitude, and forward to 2011 with much excitement.  The next phase of our project is just beginning – a feature length dance film and documentary with multiple human and wild dolphin dancers and interviews with leading scientists, the dancers themselves, and more to give viewers a deeper appreciation of these profound and beautiful interactions.

Chisa with a Spotted dolphin...Spotted dolphins will star in "Sharing the Dance"...photo by J. Rutledge

In January 2010, we spent a week shooting our first footage of dolphin and human dancing… and after many months of work, in late October, we released our first film, “Together: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins,” which won ‘Best Experimental Film’ at its world premiere at the Big Apple Film Festival! At two more festivals, the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and the International Underwater Film Festival of Beograd, the film was an audience favorite; it was given extra screenings due to popular demand!

Online, the trailers – in four languages on Vimeo and Youtube – have been viewed over 3000 times already (and all our clips combined have been viewed more than 15,000 times)!  The film itself can be downloaded and watched from our website – a higher quality (HD) version can be ordered as well, and received on a DVD, for a more substantial donation. There is even an option to send a download of the movie as a holiday e-card for Christmas, New Year’s, or whatever occasion you want to celebrate with a gift.

Thank you for helping us spread the word by continuing to forward the link for our trailer to your friends, tweeting it, facebook sharing it, liking it etc ….  or sending the movie itself as a holiday gift.

In 2011, there will be more screenings of “Together”. On January 27th at 6 pm, it will screen at the Big Screen Project, as part of the Dance on Camera Festival. The Big Screen Project is visible from the street between 28th and 29th Streets near 6th Avenue or the FoodParc or Eventi Hotel. The best viewing will be from Bar Basque, which will be hosting the Dance on Camera short film celebration. We will also have screenings at Ocean Inspiration, a celebration of Jacques Cousteau’s 100th birthday, and at Moviehouse (Brooklyn) in March. We are also on the program for the 25th anniversary of Performance Mix in April. We will continue to submit to other festivals – so please stay tuned for screenings in your city and/or country!

For the next phase of our project – the creation of a feature length dance film and documentary ‘Sharing the Dance‘ – we need a substantial amount of financial support.  We are actively seeking major donors – so please let us know of anyone who might be interested in supporting this important project.  They will not only help to create a uniquely beautiful work of inter-species artistic collaboration but also contribute to the conservation of wild dolphins and to a sea change in how humans think of their relationship to the natural world.

Over the next year, we will be publishing clips related to the development of this new work.  You will see clips of more human dancers, introductions to Spotted dolphins, interviews with scientists and dancer/choreographers, and insights that enrich one’s experience of watching human-dolphin interactions.

As this year comes to an end, we want to say ‘Thank You!!’ to everyone who contributed to the Dolphin Dance Project in its first amazing year, to all of our supporters and to the small but dedicated team that made “Together” happen.  And we express our deepest gratitude to all to the dolphins – on camera and off. The more I learn about our cetacean friends, the more I am awed.

Wishing you wonderful holidays…and a healthy and happy new year!

P.S.  As a holiday offering to our supporters, we have published a short children’s story about a lovable and adventurous dolphin who likes to go dancing everywhere.  ‘Can a Dolphin Dance There?’ was written originally for my little dancing friend Ari, but now you can read it online and share it with any little ones you think will like it.  You can also receive a printed copy (dedicated to whomever you would like) as a thank you for donations of $100 or more.

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‘Together’ wins Best Experimental Film award at BAFF

November 11, 2010

At our world premiere screening at the Big Apple Film Festival, “Together: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins” won the award for Best Experimental Film!

From left: Chisa, Jonathan Lipp (festival director) and Loui, at Big Apple Film Festival where Together won Best Experimental Film

At the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, where we (coincidentally) premiered on the same day, we received a second screening at the closing night session due to popular demand.

At both events, our film was recognized for its beautiful cinematography and moving images. We enjoyed responses like ‘very cool!’ and  ‘amazingly beautiful’ from our fellow filmmakers.

One Danish dancer/actor and his director said, “It is a really brilliant idea for a film, so interesting to have dancers and dolphins creating something together.”

We are more inspired than ever to share more dances and more of the context that illuminates how profound these interactions with wild dolphins are.

Thank you so much for your support!

And remember…if you didn’t catch it on the big screen, “Together” is available for download and on DVD – http://dolphin-dance.org/together

Please forward the link to any of your friends who might enjoy this award winning short.  Every download is a meaningful contribution to our future work.

Congratulations as well to our cast of Spinner Dolphins!  They are the real stars. Let’s work together to make sure all dolphins continue to thrive in the oceans we share with them!

P.S.  There were many excellent documentaries at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.  Award winners, with messages that we support, include ‘Play Again’ about how important it is for children to experience the natural world in order to care for it and to be healthy, and ‘Milking the Rhino’ which explores conservation strategies for encouraging local communities in Africa to protect the wild life that lives among them.

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Moving Together

April 26, 2010

Holding each other’s gaze, we twirl. Keeping his eye on mine, my dolphin partner swims in excited circles, leading me around and around and down. Never taking my eyes off his, I undulate, twist and corkscrew to show my enthusiasm for our interaction by mimicking him as best I can while adding a bit of my own ‘flair’. ‘Let’s twirl and twirl  together some more!’ is what I mean. I have forgotten about breathing for a moment…but once I feel the urge to breathe, I realize I am already ascending, following my dolphin partner who is now spiraling around and up. Somehow, we ‘decided’ to turn up towards the surface at the same moment…how exactly is obvious in a way…we just started to ascend when we felt like it. At the same time it’s marvelously mysterious. It is as if he magically knew when I would need to breathe…and I magically sensed that we needed to finish our short dance so he could rejoin his family, who were doing twirls and swirls of their own as they traveled past beneath us.

This blog is about the power of dance to unite…to help us move together. In part, it is my response to ‘Why Dance Matters,’ a virtual celebration of World Dance Day.

But before I get into that…I want to thank the many of you who read my previous blog post on The Cove and who have added comments of your own. The protection of dolphins and their habitat is, of course, exceedingly important to me. So I’m really thrilled that some of the conversation about that is happening on my blog! This post doesn’t focus on the movie directly, but I hope the ideas I’ll discuss – synchrony and empathy – will have resonance – particularly with regard to improving communication between American and Japanese people about protecting dolphins.

It is a beautiful coincidence that dolphins and humans share the ability and inclination to communicate through synchrony – actions like mirroring and imitation.

Watch wild dolphins and their synchrony is stunning. Bonded pairs – whether mother/calf or life-long buddies – often swim together side by side – making the same arc, turning at the same time, even taking simultaneous breaths – as they express their close relationship with each other. Larger groups of dolphins are even more amazing, moving effortlessly in a kind of unison that is wonderfully fluid…at times absolute…but easily accommodating the youngster who needs to take a breath sooner than the rest…or a pair who twirl off for a ‘quickie’…a group who veer off momentarily for a swirling game of ‘chase’…but then return to a synchronously moving pod.

Humans also use synchronous movement to express relatedness. We are masters of imitation and this ability is related to our capacity for empathy. For example, when we are in agreement with each other, we often take on similar postures, gestures, facial expressions and speech cadences with our conversation partner (a tendency well-described by sociologists and psychologists). Often, we do not even realize that we are acting so similarly…yet if we don’t…if the other person doesn’t take on a similar tone or posture, we are likely to have the feeling that the other person just ‘didn’t get it,’ or that maybe they were just ‘going along’ with the conversation and really didn’t agree with us at all.

Some neurobiologists believe that the presence of ‘mirror neurons’ explains the connection between mimicry and the feeling of empathy (references at the end of the post). First discovered in monkeys, ‘mirror neurons’ are brain cells that fire both when we do an action as well as when we see someone else do an action. It is believed that when these ‘mirror neurons’ fire, we sense what it might be like for ourselves to act in the same way that the person we are watching is acting. In our minds, we ‘walk in the other person’s shoes’ – and through that experience, it is believed, we come to understand the other person’s point of view, motivation or feeling – we develop empathy.

There is evidence to suggest that humans and dolphins have ‘mirror neurons’ but science wasn’t the basis for me to approach wild dolphins through synchronous movement…rather, it was DANCE!

Most of you know that I’m an avid and long-time practitioner of Contact Improvisation, a form of dance that depends heavily on the kind same of ‘magical’ connection with one’s human dance partner as I describe in ‘twirling’ with a wild dolphin. In Contact Improvisation, dancers we connect through touch and sharing weight (partnering) as well as seeing or even hearing our partner move. The connection allows us to discover the dance between us – a ‘place’ where shared movement seems magically to occur – as if neither dancer were leading, but both are following some enchanted Dance that arises from and guides both dancers.

Synchrony is definitely one of the ways through which we develop a sense of connection in improvised dance. When someone approaches me at a dance jam moving in a manner similar or complimentary to me, I understand immediately that this person is interested in dancing with me. In the simple act of imitation, they not only say, ‘I want to join you,’ but also, ‘I understand what you are doing, and I like it!’ Having left some of his own ideas aside in order to bother to dance like me, he also communicates respect – even deference for my dancing. A measure of trust is generated. We are doing the same actions – our bodies must be experiencing similar sensations. I know he knows very viscerally how I feel.

So, I reply, ‘OK, let’s dance!’ – not in words, but in my movements. I might continue in an imitative mode – so now I’m imitating him imitating me. We might just actually laugh about the absurdity of that (there’s plenty of spontaneous laughter at Contact Improvisation jams). Or maybe I elaborate by adding new movement elements or even contrast – theme and variation. As we play back and forth, the lines between leader and follower blur…until we both become participants in a shared collaborative dance whose creation seems to come from both of us and neither of us. When we start in synchrony, on common ground, it often seems easy to get to such a ‘magical’ dance.

With Contact Improvisation jams as a reference, it was easy to recognize the synchronous motion that goes on during wild dolphin socialization as a kind of expression about their relatedness. And it was easy to sense that synchrony would be an appropriate way to approach wild dolphins – that wild dolphins would likely understand what I ‘meant’. It seemed obvious that wild dolphins and Contact Improvisers use synchronous motion to express similar things: I like you…I respect you…I understand you and want to join you…

My dance ‘investigations’ are completely (and delightfully!) unscientific…so it was great to find some ‘real’ research that corroborates my experiences. In a recent publication, Denise Herzing, PhD reported mirroring, imitation and synchrony in the interaction of wild Atlantic Spotted dolphins with human researchers in the waters around the Bahamas. Attempting to use a simple keyboard to try to establish communication with the wild dolphins, she found that cooperative use of the keyboard between humans and wild dolphins was most likely when there was synchronous movement (and eye contact) between human and dolphin.

I’ve danced with the very dolphins in Dr. Herzing’s report on several delightful past trips (including a very memorable one with friends last August). And…I’m excited to announce that I will be going on a research trip to this area with Dr. Herzing’s mentor, Diana Reiss, PhD in August this year! Dr. Reiss is a professor of Psychology at Hunter College, director of Marine Mammal Research at the National Aquarium. She is the researcher who used mirror recognition studies to show that dolphins express self awareness. As you can imagine, I’m very excited to be making the trip with her…stay tuned for some ‘real’ dolphin science coming your way on this blog soon!

Meantime, I am wondering…if we can use dance to reach across species – from human to dolphins…can we also use it to bridge a cultural gap?

Since I wrote my blog on The Cove, I’ve ‘met’ (mostly online) quite a few Japanese dolphin enthusiasts…and I’m beginning to understand that dolphins (and whales) raise difficult issues in the relationship between my two home countries – Japan and America. There is controversy and politics, strong emotions and unfortunately, lots of misunderstanding. How can we work together? How can we help American audiences understand that Japanese people are not ‘anti-cetacean’? That mostly, the antipathy to western pro-cetacean activism is less about dolphins and whales per se and more a retreat from potential embarrassment due to ‘outside pressure’? How can we help the many many Japanese people who love whales and dolphins to speak out and let the Japanese government know that holding on to whaling is not the way in which they want to assert Japanese sovereignty?

I am dreaming about working on Mikura Island…a place in Japan devoted to dolphin study, protection and eco-tourism. According to researcher Justin Gregg, PhD, who worked there for several years as part of the Dolphin Communications Project (DCP), ‘encounters with the dolphins there can be quite spectacular’. An American (DCP) and Japanese research group (formerly, the ICERC; now the Mikura tourism office) already work in collaboration there. I would love a chance to create a work of inter-species dance there through the collaboration of wild dolphins, Japanese and American people to inspire mutual understanding and cooperation in the efforts to protect dolphins and their environment in Japan and around the world. Are you an underwater-and-improvisational dancer, underwater cinematographer, composer, funder or cetacean-and-dance lover? Would you like to join in helping to realize a project like this? If so, please contact me!

[ For more on ‘mirror neurons’ start with…this NOVA show…or this article ]

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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.