Sunday, 30 December 2012

Taiji, a town in trouble

If you saw the most recent livestream from Taiji where we took you on a walking tour of the town (link) you may have noticed something peculiar; we didn't feature any people from the town. Indeed, we went to great efforts to make sure we did not deliberately film anyone who was not there as a Cove Guardian.

Welcome to Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

There were a number of reasons for this:

Firstly, straightforward courtesy. It is true that the dolphin killers themselves as well as their close associates treat us with absolute disdain but they number fewer than 50 in total out of a town population of around 3,500, a Prefecture population of around 1 million and a Country population of more than 127 million. So we are only talking about the tiniest of tiny minorities and everyone else in the town either pretends not to see us or else is friendly and polite towards us. We are happy to be polite and courteous in return as long as nobody expects us to compromise on our principles. We will not.

I am not naive enough to think that there will be any genuine friendships springing up in the near future but at least we have the basis for dialogue whenever the townspeople become sick enough of the killers in their midst to seek a new future for their town. Taiji has so much obvious potential if only it can stop the slaughter whilst also turning its back on capture for the despicable captive dolphin industry, aquatic circuses testimony to misery beyond human endurance and beyond dolphin dignity.

Secondly, we have been specifically asked not to photograph people directly without their permission by the Police who watch our every move.  Killers going about the business of killing are fair game for any camera that can see them - and wow do they ever go to extreme lengths to avoid that happening! - but general pics which others (not Cove Guardians) might use out of context to spread the "wrong" message are not.

Thirdly, there are simply not enough ordinary people around to take pictures of.

Taiji is in real danger of turning into a ghost town and that has nothing to do with Sea Shepherd's presence, it is to do with the nefarious business this town has been engaged in for the last 35 years or so, a timeline coinciding with the explosion of "Seaworld type" resorts in the USA and around the World. Please do not try and tell me that 35 years activity represents a generations-long tradition that has to be preserved at all costs, it is not.

Those people we do see are mostly old, many of them working well beyond sensible retirement age adding to the obvious signs that, apart from the very few extremely wealthy dolphin traders, this town is in desperate economic trouble. Towns in desperate economic trouble do not hang onto their young people. A vicious circle kicks in whereby the brightest and best escape to a better world elsewhere making it even less likely that the original problems can be solved from within and ensuring that the next year's school-leavers also follow in their big brothers and sisters' footsteps, leaving Taiji never to return.

No wonder; there is hardly any employment in this town not directly connected with the 2 dolphinariums neither of which would ever pass the welfare standards we take for granted in the UK.

Of course, we no longer have any dolphinariums in the UK for exactly that reason - it is simply not possible to construct an aquatic prison which successfully replicates the limitless world of freedom outside those prison walls. Human prisons offer their inmates greater social interaction, mental and physical stimulation than any dolphinarium could conceivably offer one of its inmates. Remembering also that these inmates were not guilty of any crime, they were simply unlucky enough to swim too close to Taiji where men in search of easy profit were waiting to pounce.

Employment for Taiji's young hopefuls in whaling is not an option, nor is membership of the fishermens' union which has exclusive rights to hunt dolphins unless they had the good fortune (for want of a better description) to be born into one of the controlling families who govern that vile pastime.

So for 35 years the ruling elite of this town has gambled its entire future success on an unlimited supply of live dolphins to a constantly expanding, worldwide, captive dolphin industry. And the currency they used for that gamble was a future for their youngsters.

If they had not attempted to hedge their bets with massive scale dolphin slaughter as a by-product, they might have got away with it, but as soon as the World became aware of that happening here the original gamble started to look shaky. As soon as volunteers from all over the World started to arrive here to protest the dolphin hunt, exposing both slaughter and captive trade  that gamble looked shakier still. Now that the word is spreading throughout Japan about the cruelty involved in both the gamble must surely be lost.

And the word is starting to spread throughout Japan.

School leavers from Taiji may be too deferential to their parents to openly criticise their choices but it is clear that they are "voting with their feet" and choosing to pursue a future which does not involve staying in this town to suffer the taint of greed and the symptoms of slaughter as their parents are. They are adding significantly to Japanese awareness of this issue from wherever they find themselves that isn't Taiji.

Even the police who follow our every move must be feeding back to their own friends and families (none of whom are from Taiji) just what is happening here. They are none of them stupid. They are all excellent judges of character and I have no doubt whatsoever that every one of them can tell the difference between right and wrong. The incredible embarrassment they must experience defending obvious wrong in the full glare of disapproving World opinion can only be another black mark against this town of shame.

I have commented in other blogs about how wonderful I have found the rest of Japan to be and how comfortable I am becoming around Japanese people. I have no doubt whatsoever that Taiji's problems can be solved by Japanese people when the dolphin drive hunts stop. I have even less doubt that Taiji's problems can never be solved by anyone - Japanese or not - unless the drive hunts do stop. Stop for good.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, 21 December 2012

New Traditions are NOT Traditional

This blog should have been written 24 hours ago but I couldn't see the keyboard for tears.

Yes, it does say Glaswegian at the top of my blog. Yes, I am tough. But I'm not tough enough to see mums and babies being driven into a killing zone; I'm not tough enough to hear the death throes of those same mums and babies being slaughtered directly below our vantage point; I'm not tough enough to then hear the bodies of those mums and babies being loaded into the killers' barges; I'm not tough enough to see the bodies of those mums and babies under the tarpaulins as the barges emerge into plain view; and I'm not tough enough to see the meat sale after those mums and babies have been delivered to the butchering shed in Taiji town. I'm not tough enough to experience all of that without emotion. So I cried.

I'm not ashamed and I'm damn sure not going to apologise even though I am clearly not as tough as the big, brave, hard, macho men of the Taiji Fishermen's Union who laughed and joked as they slaughtered those mums and babies.

I am not as tough as the male and female dolphin trainers from the Taiji Whale Museum who were present throughout the slaughter and who I am convinced are aiding and abetting some kind of grand scale "dolphin laundering" so that the captive industry can claim that "their" dolphins did not come from Taiji.

I am not as tough as those trainers who must have known what the outcome was going to be when they decided not to purchase any of those dolphins for their captive dolphin slave trade.

I am not as tough as the trainers who watched the barges being loaded with the bodies

I am not as tough as those trainers who then rode the same barges back to Taiji harbour with the killers and disembarked at the butchering shed calmly walking past the bodies of those mums and babies who they had condemned to slaughter and had seen transported a matter of minutes earlier.

I never want to be that tough.

I am not weak though and I am aware that the more my heart aches, the stronger my resolve is becoming. I have faced significant physical challenges and many moral tests in my life, this is simply a mental challenge without any moral test whatsoever. You see, I already know the difference between right and wrong and what I saw yesterday was as wrong as it is possible to be.

Let me describe Thursday 20th December 2012 in Taiji to you.

The banger boats left as normal at first light and scattered to the horizon in search of dolphins.

We now know that they had a specific order for the live capture of at least one striped dolphin (Stenella Coeruleoalba), a beautiful animal: sleek, graceful, fast.

Within a couple of hours they were back in view, clearly in drive formation: they had found their prey and were chasing it back towards the killing cove.

From around 5 miles out we could see through our long-range lenses that they had found a very large pod and waited in fear lest they had found another super-pod of 200+ bottlenose dolphins as had happened last week. (See the chilling end to that horrible capture in my last blog 101 Damnations.)

The tell-tale puffs of black smoke appeared as killers on the helm slapped engines from full ahead to full astern and back again, chasing the pod and creating walls of sound to drive the dolphins ever onward to their certain doom.

Whether by accident or design, by the time they got closer we could see that the pod had split, a large group ahead of the southernmost banger boats and a smaller group seeming to draw the hunters close attention at the Cove end of the line of death.

With more experienced Cove Guardians amongst us we were warned not to rejoice too quickly when we saw that one of the groups had escaped. These hunters were not chasing for food, as they claim they have been doing traditionally for centuries even though the dolphin drive hunt was never a tradition, indeed as practiced by the Taiji dolphin killers it would be impossible without modern technology, powerful engines and long-range communications equipment.

No, these hunters were chasing the big cash prize - live dolphins for sale to the entertainment industry. Live dolphins to be sold into a life of slavery, made to dance for and swim with human parents and children who must not know the horror which produced that experience for them and the ongoing misery which accompanies it.

Surely no parent could allow their children to participate in this international web of death and exploitation firmly tied to the evils of Taiji if they were aware of the evils of Taiji, could they?

Could you? Could you still give money to dolphinariums now that you know what is going on?

The boats got closer and closer and eventually we were able to identify their intended victims: a group of around 25 to 35 striped dolphins many of which were very young juveniles.

The murderers drove them ever onwards, no longer needing to hammer the metal tubes which produce that sickening taung, taung, taung, taung sound interfering with dolphin senses, stopping them communicating and chasing them to harm. Instead they were now throwing slap-sticks from the smaller skiffs which had joined the banger boats.

And so the pattern continued all the way into the killing cove where we watched them drop net after net to confine them ever closer to the beach, hidden from our cameras under tarpaulins erected each morning in anticipation of a capture.

So desperate are the authorities to keep us from viewing what is going on and exposing it to a still mostly unaware World that they commit a Coastguard cutter to the operation as well as an onshore police deployment which would not be unimpressive at a full scale riot involving an aggressive mob of hundreds.

All this to monitor our slack handful of vegan pacifists armed with nothing more deadly than a camera, carrying nothing more offensive than a bottle of water and a packed lunch.

We don't break laws here but it is very obvious that no-one has any fear of us breaking any laws, they are just terrified that we get the one picture which horrifies the World into action.

The Taiji fishermen know that if the World becomes fully aware of what is happening here that they will be forced to stop. They also know that, like Governments the World over, the Japanese Government is scared to stand up to them, a minority for sure, but a powerful and vociferous minority in the fishing community.

These men are the controlling kingpins who have the biggest boats, the biggest houses, the most expensive cars and the greatest unfair influence on how funds are distributed amongst a community which claims to offer fairness to all who go to sea but which patently fails to deliver on that promise. These men pander to the captive entertainment industry who are the main source of BIG income for them, not the dolphin meat sales which they claim as their "traditional" raison d'ĂȘtre.

I don't have that iconic image yet but if a picture paints a thousand words then I hope and pray that my thousand words paint a picture and that you will share them far and wide. Share them with anyone you think does not yet know about this. Share them especially with any Japanese friends you have because even a few miles away we are aware that Japanese people are simply unaware, they just do not know what is being permitted in their name.

But we are aware, and, like my fellow Cove Guardians I already have impressions of the most awful horror represented by images like this:

When the dolphins were eventually brought all the way into the Cove and herded under the tarps, we were told that the trainers from the Taiji Whale Museum had rejected them all as unsuitable for their dolphinarium. Very simply, the babies were too young to survive without their mothers and the mothers were no use to these evil people.

So the slaughter began. Their way of dealing death is by using a spike t-bar to stab through the dolphins spine. The death throes are lengthy and horrific to listen to. Again and again and again.

The photo above shows the last dolphin which tried to escape that slaughter by throwing herself onto the rocks lining the cove. She was dragged off and sent back to her death.

This photo shows a youngster leading a mum and two babies from the same family group and was taken less than 10 minutes before that slaughter began, less than 20 feet from where that slaughter took place. There was no escape, there was no mercy. They were not wanted by the dolphinarium so the fishermen had to kill them.

These evil men could not let them go or else people would question their "traditional hunting to feed their families," although no-one seems to question why so many of the actual "fish" fishermen in this town are having to scratch a desperately poor living while the dolphin salesmen get rich beside them.

Despite the horrors of Taiji I am nevertheless falling in love with the rest of Japan. It is a beautiful country and her people are mostly wonderful, friendly, warm-hearted and generous. She also has the most magnificent diversity of marine wildlife and the scenery has to be seen to be believed.

Taiji is a problem though. It must be one of the few regional main fishing ports in the World which doesn't feature in any published English language tourist guide books.

That is insane given the hotels in the town and the potential of this area to compete with the best wildlife tourist resorts in the World. Taiji's negative impact on the entire prefecture, indeed on the entire Kii peninsula cannot be ignored either; nobody wants to be tainted by association with what is happening here but everybody is. So we see a familiar pattern again, a few wealthy men become even more wealthy and the majority have to offset the cost of that wealth with undeserved damage to their own reputations and the obvious impact on their own earnings.

If like me you think this is wrong. If like me you think that killing dolphins in the 21st Century is blatantly wrong. If like me you think this needs to stop then please encourage everybody you know to read this blog and to visit these links:

Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians on Facebook Cove Guardians Page (Official)

Cove Guardians on Sea Shepherd Web Taiji Dolphin Defense Campaign

New traditions are NOT traditional. They are changeable. Changeable for the better.

Thank you for reading.


Apparently the 20th December was International Human Solidarity Day. Not sure what that meant for the rest of the World exactly but I damn sure didn't experience any solidarity whatsoever with the malicious dolphin killers here in Taiji. There are a growing number of wonderful Japanese people who I do feel solidarity with, some of them even in Taiji, but they are people with whom I have a strong common bond - like me, they detest the killing. Like me, they want it to stop as well. Please help their voices be heard.

Monday, 17 December 2012

101 Damnations

This is my first post as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian, having been in Taiji, Japan for just over 24 hours, partnering my very best friend Anna as a team from Scotland in support of this most important campaign.

It has been one of the most emotional full days of my life so far, and I do mean full!.

I had to laugh when I logged onto Facebook this evening and it asked me to review what it thought were "my" top 20 highlights of 2012. There can be little doubt after today's events that my top 20 most memorable events of 2012 will now happen during the next 2 weeks.

No one comes to Taiji under any illusion that it will be a holiday and that was particularly true for Anna and myself having had the benefit of first class briefings on what was happening and what to expect during the first day or so. We also had the benefit of excellent reporting on the Cove Guardians' Facebook Page and knew that in the few days before our arrival somewhere in the region of 200 bottlenose dolphins (the "Flipper" dolphins most prized by the captive facilities) had been hunted and driven into the Cove to await an uncertain fate.

We were told that dolphins netted into the Cove means we should expect one of 3 things: either capture and processing into a life of captivity performing tricks for the entertainment of the unaware, or, just as bad, slaughter to turn beautiful life into unwanted meat or, hope against hope, we might see them being released back into the wild from which they were stolen in the first place.

Today we experience all 3 and I am feeling completely wrung out.

Let me pause for a moment and tell you our experience of the Japanese people since arriving in Osaka and travelling South to Wakayama Prefecture - most famous for the Nachi Waterfall at Kii-Katsuura, a ten minute drive from where we are staying during our sojourn in this part of the World.

I only mention that because people seem to know all about the waterfall and lots of people have recommended that we visit it but nobody knows about Taiji and they find it hard to believe when we tell them.

Regarding the Japanese, we had been told to expect hostility from the outset. We had been told that, "[They] are cruel and callous."  We had been told that they hated foreigners. We had been told that they especially hated Sea Shepherd. None of this came from Sea Shepherd sources of course and I am not surprised because none of it was true.

Without exception we have been met with friendly smiles, pleasantries and courtesy of the sort that makes you feel so uncomfortable because you know you have never been as gracious to perfect strangers as the grace and dignity being offered to you. We have received gifts twice already as random acts of kindness from complete strangers in a land where gift giving is imbued with the greatest significance. We have seen hard-work and effort, courage and citizenship to the highest degree. We have even had our first interview with the police by torchlight on a cold and windy dockside in the small hours of the morning and that interview ended with smiles and laughter and best wishes for the day ahead.

I love Japan and I love her people. Well, almost all of Japan and almost all of her people, there is, after all, still the issue of Taiji and the Dolphin Drive Hunts. Not tradition, just a bloody, an oh so very bloody, excuse for extreme profit from extreme disregard of the difference between right and wrong. Not a Japanese trait, not an any nation trait, just a sad and all too common trait amongst evil, selfish and greedy men the World over, in this case they just happen to be in this country where I am still just a temporary visitor.

The evil men (and women) capturing and killing dolphins in Taiji have surpassed themselves in diabolical design this week, cynically attempting to win a propaganda coup with the release back into the wild of between 80 and 100 dolphins, perhaps hoping that no-one would notice the 23 bottlenose dolphins which earlier today they slaughtered for meat.

The full tally for the last week was 25 beautiful dolphins which transferred to the butcher's slab when you add the 2 which had earlier died by horrible drowning trapped in the nets of the Cove.

Most dreadful of all though has been the total of 101 bottlenose dolphins sold into captivity.

101 Damnations

Let me go straight back to the wonderful Japanese people we have met. Kind, generous, hard-working - extremely hard working - and, like kind, generous, extremely hard-working people the world over earning just about enough to cover the bills with not a lot left over.

Contrast them with the wealth that is now plainly evident to me as I have been moving around Taiji today and consider that 101 captured and sold into slavery dolphins could represent as much as $1 million per day for each of 6 days work and that will be shared amongst just 30 or so men and women.

I will be returning to the theme of captive dolphins a lot over the next few weeks because in just 1 single day here it has become crystal clear to me that the dolphinarium industry is THE problem at Taiji, not any kind of "traditional" indigenous means of putting food on the table for an otherwise starving family. That isn't and they are not.

I also need to get my head round the dolphin trainers - men and women from all over Japan and beyond who stood by watching whilst 23 dolphins were ruthlessly, bloodily and noisily slaughtered.

Dolphin trainers who then dragged their own live prizes through the blood fouled waters to start earning a return on their investment in the marine parks which paid their expenses for this mission of evil.

I can't write about that at the moment, I am still too shocked at their calculated refusal to acknowledge any sort of moral responsibility by the very act of participation in a bloodbath such as the one we were forced to witness.

Following today's events my emotions are still all over the place but I am trying so desperately hard to bottle my anger at the theft from their families and from the wild of those 101 dolphins, temper my rage at the cold-blooded and wholly unnecessary murder of 23 dolphins from that same family, suppress my fury at the pointless and avoidable deaths of 2 more members of that dolphin family in the nets which were used to hold them all in the killing Cove and instead try to ignite the spark of comfort from the remaining 80 or so dolphins who we saw swim to freedom this afternoon.

I think that is the happy thought I would like to end this blog on today.

Thank you all for reading, thank you all for your support.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Haiku for Taiji

Evil men killing
My heart bleeds as dolphins die
Stop it. Stop it now!

More Haikus for Taiji at the end of today's blog.

The blood of a pilot whale slain in Taiji, Japan
Picture courtesy of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardiians

Taiji, Japan, is a place of horror. A place where they butcher several thousand dolphins and small whales every single year.

If you are reading this then you probably know that already. Therefore, the task for us all now is to spread the word as far as we possibly can because as anyone who has seen The Cove knows, the one thing the dolphin killers of Taiji fear most is exposure, "If the World finds out what we do here, we will be shut down..."

Every day this task becomes easier as Sea Shepherd's amazing Cove Guardians discover more and more innovative ways to get the message out to those of us who are desperate to offer support of our own, providing videos, pictures and commentaries for us all to share as far and as wide as we possibly can.

Here is a great example of just that:

Regularly our onshore volunteers and other supporters come up with other innovations of their own so today's blog is dedicated to Steve Jack (follow him on Twitter here) who came up with #Haiku4Taiji (clickable link) as another string to the ocean defender bow.

There is never going to be "THE" solution to the problem of raising awareness about the horrors taking place every day in Taiji but there are many, many "A" solutions. This one got popular, it got popular real quick and its popularity continues to grow. I hope this blog will help it grow again and I truly hope that between us all we manage to open even more eyes amongst a disbelieving public about just how awful Taiji really is.

I can't copy all of the Haikus for Taiji, there are many hundreds but do please click on the link above and see for yourself how powerful this initiative has been. And do please tweet some of your own adding the hashtag #haiku4taiji  If you have never written a Haiku before here is a useful guide How to Write Haikus

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourites from the last month on Twitter:

Peace now dolphin souls
Still and deep, flying from those
Who bring harm; deal death

When they've gone, what then?
Oceans die slowly leaving
A blue cove ~ bereft

Tonight it's too hard
Tears and words spilled and dried yet
Guardians endure

Dolphins wild and free
Exactly where they should be
Not dead in Taiji

The Taiji Livestream
Keeps me awake at night
But I have to watch

They watch and mourn
Breaking hearts make stronger wills
Brave guardians of the Cove

Hunters on the prowl
Death and murder on their minds
Conscience they have none

Dollars for dolphins
Children squeal; audience claps
They don't know the truth

Skiffs in formation
Early morning procession
Taiji's wake of shame

News reports protests
War, injustice, poverty
Dolphins need your voice

Dolphins need your voice.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Risso's No More

Today's blog is dedicated to the beautiful Risso's Dolphin (Grampus Griseus), the largest Dolphin species with the word "Dolphin" in its name.

I haven't been blogging this last week. I have wanted to. Day after day I have logged in ready to pour out my heart but day after day I have logged in and gone straight to the Cove Guardians page on facebook to see what has happened in Taiji while I have been sleeping. This week I have wanted so much to pour out my heart - this week my heart has been ripped from me.

Cove Guardian Nicole McLachlan
Nicole, who is actually on the ground in Taiji and not just viewing from afar as I am for now, has poured out her own heart in her report of the week up until 5th December here, Operation Infinite Patience: December 5, 2012 and as well as her powerful words, there are videos on that link that you should see.

As I read her report I came to this comment, "It was on December 2nd that the most horrific display of greed played out before our eyes. All of us Cove Guardians, who were present during the three days that followed, will never be the same."

I knew what the rest of the report was going to be about because I had followed it frame by horrible frame on Taiji Dolphin Defense TV. I am sorry for not blogging but no words of mine could soothe that pain, it would not have been therapeutic for me, it would not have been good reading for you.

If this is all new to you then please follow each of those 3 links in turn and make sure you know what is happening in 2012 in the World that we share. If you won't take the time to follow the links then please read my November blog, #Taiji or Head in the Sand instead.

From speaking to close friends, some who have already been in Taiji as Cove Guardians and others who have flights booked and are just about to go, as I will be doing soon, I know that we all read those notes in numb disbelief. Little could any of us have realised that it was about to get even worse.

Photo Courtesy Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians,
Slaughter of 7th December 2012
The Today in Taiji report from December 7th began,

"A pod of 15 Risso's Dolphins were hunted and slaughtered within the cove this morning.. They frantically fought against the dolphin killers' deafening boats and terrifying walls of nets- all were killed for human consumption as none were 'suitable' enough to spend their lives entertaining humans in the captive trade."

Risso's are an amazing species of dolphin and one of the largest if you exclude Pilot Whales and Orcas. They span a wide range of ocean habitats between 60° North and 55° South. In Scotland -  where I spend most of my time - we see them alone or in small family groups of up to 20 although there are reports of mega-pods of Risso's 100+ in number.

These beautiful creatures grow up to 12 feet in length and can live to at least 30 years old. As long as they stay away from Taiji.

Slaughtered Risso's Dolphins
If you have seen the film The Cove you will know that the Taiji fishermen claim that they kill every dolphin caught - but not sold into captivity - as "pest control" because they have been told by their Government that the collapse of wild fish stocks is nothing to do with man and his insatiable appetite for ever larger and ever more effective fishing programmes.

Somehow they have convinced themselves that if you kill every dolphin and whale then somehow, magically, the nets of their pelagic trawlers will be full to bursting on every haul. This "scientific wisdom" coming from a nation which has contributed so much to genuine science!

Even if that was true for some species (it isn't) then it most certainly does not apply to the Risso's which prefers a diet of squid, octopus and cuttlefish which they catch and swallow whole. Have another look at the picture at the top of this blog, those scars did not come from a mackerel encounter!

This diet already puts the Risso's in severe danger from mankind, specifically from mankind's most destructive invention: the plastic bag.

Post mortems on squid eating cetaceans such as Risso's Dolphins and Sperm Whales regularly reveal that the animal had nothing in its stomach other than plastic bags. Not a nice way to go and, although they can dive to depths of over 1 kilometre and can remain below the surface for up to 30 minutes, Risso's are believed to eat mostly at night when squid rise closer to the surface - guess where plastic bags float?

I once had a "half in fun, whole in earnest" dig aimed at me on a facebook post asking why, if whales and dolphins were such hyper-intelligent creatures, how could they not tell the difference between a squid and a plastic bag? My response was even simpler:

If we are such hyper-intelligent creatures how can we not tell the difference between right and wrong?

To all those Risso's Dolphins who lost their lives yesterday in Taiji's killing cove I am sorry my fellow man lacks the humanity that you should be entitled to take for granted. We will remember you swimming wild, swimming free, swimming far and swimming deep.

Thank you for reading.