Posts Tagged ‘Japanese culture’

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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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海の友達 (Friends in the Ocean)

July 2, 2010

During the first week of June, I went on my fourth trip on Dolphin Dream – a cruise to the White Sand Ridge of the Little Bahamas Bank, where a friendly pod 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 – Dolphin Dream – and aboard, I met just the people I was seeking: Japanese dolphin lovers.

Dolphin Dream has always taken me on the most remarkable trips – and my ‘Japanese week’ was no exception. The dolphins showed up in numbers…playing with us for hours and creating incredible experiences through which new human friendships were forged. By the end of the week, I had made wonderful new friends – human and dolphin. I also learned a great deal about Japanese attitudes towards dolphins…so much that, now back in NY, I’ve been inspired to make a Japanese video about protecting dolphins. I’m very proud to present it here…not only is it my first completed dolphin project, but the first which I shot myself! I have Amphibico to thank for the new underwater housing – they are a new sponsor of Dolphin Dance. I must also thank Dolphin Dream’s Captain Scott for a ton of expert guidance on shooting the video. Of course, much thanks goes to the Japanese women – Moriko and Kazuyon – whose love and dedication to the dolphins is what provides the whole basis of the video’s message. And not to forget – the biggest thanks goes to the beautiful Atlantic Spotted dolphins who generously share their playfulness and creativity with us! I hope you will enjoy the video and forward it to as many people as you can – especially in Japan.

My ‘Japanese week’ on Dolphin Dream was led by Takaji Ochi, a well-known Japanese underwater photographer who has been facilitating trips on Dolphin Dream for the last 10 years. Sporting the deep tan of a dedicated sea-man, Taka, as the American crew call him, is a true dolphin lover if ever there was one. He has even named a couple of the juvenile dolphins on White Sand Ridge after his own sons, Kaito and Hayato. Taka is very charismatic, so it’s no wonder he has a dedicated following amongst his clients many of whom had returned for their 4th, 5th or even 9th time. Most days Taka dived with us, shooting pictures of dolphins as well as human-dolphin interactions so that many of us had beautifully professional photos of ourselves with dolphins to boast by the end of the week (see the photos at Taka’s blog about this trip). For the many who brought their own (wow! high end) cameras Taka also reviewed photos, offering helpful hints on improving their shots. Yet, for the ladies (and one man) who were on the trip, this trip was not only about Taka or even about photography. For these wonderfully dedicated people, it was an annual pilgrimage – just to connect with the dolphins.

Shot by Takaji Ochi, this is the dolphin named after his son, Kaito

Moriko and Kazuyon are the particularly beautiful ‘dancers’ in the video. But they were not the only accomplished divers; and during the week, I learned that the reason for this was not only the fact of having returned so many times to the Bahamas with Taka. Many of my new Japanese friends had also been to Mikura Island to play with dolphins – but more remarkable – many, including Moriko and Kazuyon – practice weekly in a pool in preparation for their trips. These are truly dedicated dolphin ‘dancers’. They practice breath holding so they can dive down further and longer to be with the dolphins. They perfect their ‘dolphin kicks’ so they can more like the dolphins, to be allowed ever closer to them. And I think it’s obvious to see on the video – the dolphins clearly appreciate the effort, rewarding them with enchanting ‘dances’.

Does it seem surprising that there are a group of Japanese women who are so dedicated to connecting with wild dolphins that they practice weekly in a pool? Does it seem surprising that there is a Japanese photographer who loves dolphins and whales so much that he spends almost half the year leading trips to photograph them? I ask because all the recent media coverage of The Cove and of Japanese whaling could make a person think that most Japanese people wanted only to kill and eat cetaceans.

As it turned out, Taka knew even more about the dolphin slaughters than someone would learn from watching The Cove. He was a journalist prior to becoming a professional underwater photographer and he covered the dolphin-slaughter story when it was exposed in other Japanese fishing villages – Futo and Iki – decades ago. In 1979, Hardy Jones, Dexter Cate, Ric O’Barry and Sakae Henmi (among others) exposed the killing of dolphins in these villages through a series of photographs, and in 1992 Jones made a film for CBS and National Geographic that brought the issue to international attention. Hardy’s photos and films showed scenes almost identical to the horrific ones shown in The Cove…bloodied beaches with thousands of dying dolphins. Taka and other Japanese reporters wrote about the slaughter in Japanese newspapers; and they were largely halted. Indeed, that is likely why the hunts in Taiji had to be carried out in such secrecy.

Taka told me that back then, it wasn’t a move to protect the intelligent, self-aware dolphin that resulted in the end of the hunts in Futo and Iki. He told me that what got a response from the Japanese people – and Japanese government – was the revelation that the fishermen were killing animals far in excess of the government-set quotas. Regulations  were being flouted – but not only that – more animals were being killed than necessary for food. This waste of life was morally reprehensible to Japanese citizens, who were emboldened to support an end to, or at least a severe reduction of dolphin killing.

This kind of reasoning may be unsatisfactory for many American dolphin lovers, who often rant, ‘Why can’t they understand that dolphins are intelligent, sentient beings whose right to life must be protected?’ But I think it reflects an important reality about the international conversations regarding cetacean conservation. Japanese people understand very well that dolphins are intelligent. But that is not what is most appealing or important from a Japanese point of view. To protect dolphins in Japan, messages that speak to Japanese perspectives must be honed. Preventing wasteful killing could be a goal for Taiji, where the dolphins are too toxic (mercury) to eat anyway. And we must listen to what people in Japan specifically love about dolphins…and how that may differ from an American or Western appreciation.

Over dinner I talked about this with Maki Maki, who was on her 9th trip with Taka. Although a hobbyist, she is very serious about photographing the dolphins and whales, having also traveled with Taka to Tonga to photograph Humpbacks. I asked why she was so enamored of the dolphins…why she had been back so many times to Dolphin Dream.

‘Well, it’s impossible to stop, isn’t it?’ she asked in response. And I had to agree I was addicted too. When I pressed her for why that was true for her, she simply said, ‘It’s mysterious, right?’ And I had to agree with that too.

Maki Maki wasn’t being shy or evasive. In a very Japanese way, she was affirming something really important – the mystery. We can’t quite put a finger on why it’s so amazing to be eye to eye with a dolphin. Were the reasons manifest, there would be no reason to return year after year.

I doubt that with an American person, you’d leave the conversation that way…‘It’s mysterious, right?’ The American way is to explain, to self-express. It’s because dolphins are intelligent… they have complex social connections…they are self-aware…because I love them. And while these reasons leave out that critical, subtle internal experience, they make a great platform for why we want to protect dolphins. On the other hand, how do you create an pro-dolphin campaign around ‘mystery’?

That might be one reason there isn’t much of a pro-dolphin campaign in Japan. Despite many people who love dolphins, there is no feeling that that love should be imposed on others. Sadly, what there seems to be instead in Japan is a big mis-information campaign led by the Fishery Ministry trying to convince Japanese people that eating whale and dolphins is some kind of deeply held traditional value. That’s just propaganda. True, small fishing villages have been involved in coastal whaling for centuries; but whale consumption only became widespread in Japan after World War II because of the shortage of other meat during that difficult time. At that time Japanese whaling grew enormously with US support. Prior to that, whales were traditionally protected in many areas of Japan, revered as an incarnation of Ebisu the ocean/fish god. Taka told me that decades ago when Japan did have a ‘grass roots’ pro-cetacean movement, it was indeed focused on spirituality.

My ‘Japanese week’ on Dolphin Dream was amazing…but this is just the beginning. I am still planning to visit Japan. I will see Moriko and Kazuyon in the fall when they will introduce me to Japanese dolphins at Mikura Island. I can hardly wait! And we are also already planning next summer’s reunion in the Bahamas on Dolphin Dream. By then, I am imagining that the human ‘pod’ will be as coordinated as the dolphins…and that will really be ‘Dolphin Dance’!

As I plan for next summer, I am well aware of the uncertainties. Oil from the BP disaster is literally around the corner. Some are hopeful that the oil will not move towards the Bahamas as it passes the Straight of Florida where winds tend to blow in a westerly direction. But others are rightly concerned. It is unknown what hazards may result not only from the oil itself, but from the dispersant Corexit that has been used in untested ways at the site of the leak (rather than on the water’s surface). There is evidence of underwater plumes, much greater than what is visible on the surface that is likely killing everything in its environs. Even if the waters around the Bahamas are ‘safe’…I can’t help thinking about all the dolphins and other marine life along the Florida coast, and of course, in the Gulf of Mexico that are being harmed, sickened and killed. The situation is enraging, disgusting, saddening…how to hold on to hope in times like this? Because we need hope and have courage if we are to keep moving forward and do what it takes to stop off-shore drilling, and discover and develop energy resources that are safer, cleaner, more sustainable.

Wild dolphins reach out to us humans from across a species divide to invite us to play. They invite us to see and experience goodness in ourselves – joy, love, creativity, trust – characteristics we naturally share with dolphins. For this, I am so deeply grateful. As I face all that is difficult – things that are personal or global – I understand more and more how important it is to ‘be like a dolphin’. I understand that I have to nurture my ‘delfin’ qualities – cultivate them – human nature won’t allow them to thrive otherwise. I need to cultivate these qualities because they are my most valuable internal resource – the source of strength and inspiration – that will help me do what I can to make our lives and our world a good and healthy place for all living beings who share planet Earth.

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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.