We Arrive in Taiji
By Mark J. Palmer
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
We arrived in Taiji this evening, 32 people from 5 continents, all dedicated to stopping the dolphin slaughter that officially begins tomorrow on Sept. 1st. (In fact, while the season “officially” begins, the dolphin killers know enough not to start the hunts until the media has left town, so we are unlikely to see any hunts right away.)
We have eight Japanese nationals joining us this year, which is quite an achievement. We know many people in Japan who dislike the dolphin hunts and want them to stop, but it is very difficult for Japanese to take a stand. They risk the wrath of the Japanese government, of the fishermen’s unions, and of some extreme nationalist groups that have seized upon the issues of whaling and dolphin hunting as “pro-Japan tradition” issues.
So we are very grateful for the support and help of our fellow Japanese on Sept. 1st in Taiji. They are very brave and have become very good friends.
One friend we will sadly miss this weekend is Ric O’Barry himself. As you read this, he is on a plane from Miami headed to Taiji, but won’t arrive until Sunday, Sept. 2nd.
For three years, Ric and Earth Island have been sued by the captivity industry in a frivolous lawsuit meant to break us (we are being sued for $450 million in Florida state court!), all for opposing the import of live Taiji dolphins to a dolphinarium and casino. This past week, Ric has been in court working with our pro-bono lawyers to end the lawsuit, and he could not break away from the trial proceedings in time to join us at the Cove on Sept. 1st. But he will be here, as soon as he can.
Several people with us are veterans of these annual trips to Japan, including Tim and Carrie Burns, who have coordinated our volunteer Cove Monitors for the past two years, and Becca Jurczak, who joined us last year and went on to work at the Cove as a Monitor.
Whale meat for sale in store along the road to Taiji.
Another veteran of the Cove, but joining us for the first time on Sept. 1st is Russ Ligtas of the Philippines, who has come to perform a Butoh dance, a Japanese art that he has perfected. Leah Lemieux, who has also been a Cove Monitor and author of Rekindling the Waters, her book about the cruelty of keeping dolphins in captivity, is helping Earth Island support Russ’s expenses in Japan so he could join us. Our deep thanks to Leah, who will be coming back again as a Cove Monitor later in the year.
Singer/songstress and bad-ass guitar player Arielle is with us to sing some songs she wrote about the dolphins, We have other new friends from South Africa, Hong Kong, and Australia.
We are very grateful that these volunteers have spent their own time and money to come join us. We could not all fit in our 25-seat bus, so we rented additional vans to bring the whole group and luggage down to Taiji from Osaka.
It is a long but very beautiful bus ride from Osaka to Taiji. We pass through hills and valleys covered in bamboo and cedar forests. There was also evidence of destruction from last year’s typhoon that hit directly on Taiji and the Wakayama Prefecture – we were able to gather on the beach of the Cove in the wind and the rain for only a few minutes for a moment of silence before scurrying back to Osaka or to the hotel where Ric and others waited out the typhoon. In three days, as much rain fell on the area as normally falls all year.
As in past years, we stopped at one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, the Kumano Hongu Taisho shrine. It had started raining, so we were quite wet as we climbed the steps to the main shrine. There, a Shinto priest performed a special ceremony for us, in which we ask for a wish to be fulfilled. The shrine is more than 700 years old, imbued with the spirit of the Japanese people.
Tomorrow, we drive the short way to the Cove, where we expect quite a show, between police, extreme nationalists, dolphin hunters, and the Japanese media.
Photographs by Mark J. Palmer.