[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] "Cove" activists shift tactics


(ABC News)

Year After 'Cove' Oscar, Activists Shift Tactics
A year after 'The Cove' Oscar, activists try to draw Japanese into dolphin hunt debate

In the fervor of the Academy Awards in Hollywood on
Sunday, last year's winners will be a distant memory.
Half a world away in the Japanese fishing village of
Taiji, few will ever forget the film that won in 2010 for
Best Documentary Feature.

A year after "The Cove" received an Oscar for its
scathing portrayal of Taiji's dolphin hunting
tradition, the tiny town is still under siege by foreign
activists. That's created a deep deadlock with Taiji's
fishermen, leading some activists to seek a different

"I'm trying to get a grass-roots movement going in
Japan. I've come to realize, you can't show up with a
big stick and tell them what to do," said Ric O'Barry,
the veteran dolphin activist who stars in "The Cove."

A smattering of foreign protesters has come for years
to Taiji, but since the success of the movie the sleepy
town of 3,500 has been inundated. The
environmental group Sea Shepherd has started a
"Cove Guardian" program that brings visitors, new
groups such as "Taiji Action Group" and "Eyes on
Taiji" have sprung up, and many people have come
on their own.

The influx has had little effect. The town's two dozen
dolphin hunters, most of whom are gruff ex-whalers,
ignore the protesters as unwanted foreign pressure
on their traditions, and have responded with
elaborate tarp structures to hide the gorier aspects of
their work. A rare public meeting between the two
sides in November ended in confusion and discord,
and town officials say the attention is largely a

"We're a small town, we really can't get anything else
done while this is going on," said Masahiro Mukai,
who normally runs the town's volunteer fire
department but now goes on regular patrols to
monitor the activists.

So activists like O'Barry are trying to recruit more
Japanese to their cause, publishing materials in the
Japanese language and holding meetings with those
who show an interest. Longtime Japanese activists like
Masato Sakano have organized crowded forums in
Tokyo to discuss the implications of "The Cove" and
the Taiji hunts.

While many in the country feel the town should be
allowed its traditional ways, others are coming to
Taiji to protest or simply see for themselves.

"A lot of foreigners are helping us, but if we don't do
something on our own, this problem won't be
resolved," said Yoshiko Wada, 33, a hairdresser who
has visited the town six times.

The government permits about 20,000 dolphins to be
hunted along Japan's coasts each year. Only about
2,000 of those are taken in Taiji, but it is singled out
mainly because it uses drive fishing, in which the
animals are herded near to shore and slaughtered in
shallow water, as opposed to being harpooned at sea.

This method also lends itself to capturing live
animals, because they are relatively unscathed and
can be examined up close by aquarium buyers or
dolphin dealers. Those that aren't picked are killed
for meat or occasionally released.

In years past several towns captured live dolphins in
Japan, but now only Taiji remains. So a complete end
to the hunts would be difficult, because they have
become crucial for the popular and lucrative dolphin
shows throughout the country, and captive breeding
is rare.

While killing dolphins for food remains a cultural
touchstone, the hunts generate far more money from
selling live animals. Bottlenose dolphins sold for
meat typically go for several hundred dollars, while
prime live animals sell for about $10,000
domestically and much more abroad. In the year
ending in March 2010, 79 dolphins were exported
from Japan for 277 million yen ($3.38 million), the
government says.

With Taiji's fishermen unlikely to bend to foreign
pressure and the strong ties to Japan's aquarium
industry, a quick end to the hunts looks unlikely.
Some foreign activists have called for protests directly
at aquariums, but others question that approach.

"If we can't shut down aquariums in our own
countries, how do you go to the Japanese and ask
them to do that here?" said Michael Dalton, an
Australian activist living near Taiji.

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