Tuesday, 8 January 2013

(Not) Leaving #Taiji

It is now 72 hours since I left Taiji, the first 30 of which were travel from Japan back to Scotland via France and Wales. I found it both interesting and very pleasing to note that 4 nations is still not as internationally diverse as an average Cove Guardian group.

In the just over a day since I got "back," I've been home, I've been to work, I've met some friends and I've even been to a funeral though thankfully as a work duty rather than through any personal connection. It should have felt like a slightly busier "normal" day. It didn't. It felt like I had abandoned the most important task of my life so far. It felt like unfinished business. It felt bad.

Watching Taiji Dolphin Defense on Livestream TV has not helped as there have been 3 hunts since we left, one where all the dolphins escaped, one where a mother and 2 babies were captured and one which is happening as I type this.

Those hunts and the dreadful aftermath will be future blog material for sure but they are just too raw to write about tonight.

There are three tasks facing me now:

Firstly making sense of the last month most of which was spent in Taiji. There have been some incredible high points, there have been too many desperately low points.

Secondly, I need to develop and implement a plan to engage with individuals, agencies and corporations who will be motivated both to ensure the best interests of Japan and to end the dolphin killings and captures in Taiji. Those dolphin killings and captures in Taiji clearly do not serve the best interests of Japan. If you are reading this blog and think you can help with that then please contact me via my Google+ page.

Finally I need to work out I can get back out there to continue this "unfinished business" and make sure that Cove Guardian is not just a nice slogan on a t-shirt, it is who I am.

Cove Guardians Anna Oliver and Nicole McLachlan
Perhaps I should have said 3 tasks facing us and used "we" instead of "I" for those 3 tasks because I have no doubt that my best friend and fellow Cove Guardian, Anna, will be as instrumental in helping to bring all this to fruition as she was amazing defending dolphins in Taiji over Christmas and New year. One thing that did make sense from the minute we got involved with this campaign was the need for mutual support on every step of the journey.

The emotions triggered by the experience of Taiji are so very strong and the impact so very personal though that I will keep my blog mostly about my impressions for the time being. Having said that, if my experiences have inspired you to get involved then you should recognise that the Cove Guardians are a growing and strengthening "we" and so there is no reason why you cannot also become a member of that amazing team of ocean champions. Cove Guardians come from every corner of the globe including Japan, could you be the first from your part of the World as Anna and myself were from ours?

In today's blog I am going to try and make some kind of sense of my initial thoughts regarding my Taiji experience, a starter for ten if you will because I do not think there are enough words to describe the full experience in a single attempt. Proof reading this I realise I have not managed it at all, it's going to take a long time to exorcise these demons if it can even be done.

I arrived thinking that the "story" was of some poor, impoverished fishermen claiming tradition as an excuse to murder what they reputedly describe as "big fish" with the occasional bonus of a live dolphin being sold to a dolphinarium generating a welcome cash windfall.

The truth was the exact opposite.

The Taiji dolphin drive hunt is an extremely well organised and ruthless, profit-driven and demand-led, live capture business with those dolphins not deemed worthy of being sold into captivity being butchered to squeeze every last penny out of that day's evil activities with no thought whatsoever to the morality of those actions.

The evil men who lead this programme are amongst the wealthiest individuals in this part of Wakayama whilst most of the rest of the town has an obvious and significantly lower standard of living than is generally evident throughout the rest of the prefecture.

This raptor is flying wild and free above the Dolphin Base
sea pens where live dolphins are held prisoner and forced
to turn tricks for spoilt tourists
Ignoring the poverty and ignoring the dolphin captures and slaughters (although it really is an impossible thing to do) we would have to view Taiji as a small, traditional fishing village with very impressive eco-tourism potential, not just from marine eco-tourism but also from the diversity of birds and land wildlife in the area.

The wildlife is amazing whilst the scenery is spectacular and, to me as a businessman, the ethical commercial opportunities are as obvious as it is staggering to see them being ignored.

As the fishermen of Taiji seem hell-bent on hunting dolphins to extinction whilst also wiping out every other species of fish in the surrounding oceans the end seems as inevitable as the end already experienced by countless similar traditional fishing villages the World over.

I spent my teenage years living and working on west coast fishing boats during the late 1970s and early 1980s at a time when we (Scotland) were fighting Iceland, Faroes and Norway over who had the most "right" to fish cod to extinction.

Juvenile hammerhead shark landed at Taiji butcherhouse
Of course we didn't know that is what we were doing then but it is now so very hard to understand why those same nations, my own included, are repeating exactly the same arguments and behaviours in the 2010s over mackerel.

I suspect if I had not escaped that lifestyle that I would still be on the boats, still too blind to see what should be plain to all but I have escaped and I now know the issues so there is at the very least a moral obligation on me to face those issues and do what I can about them. 

If I was still on the boats I also have no doubt that I would be amongst the poor fishermen wondering how a very few of our community had managed to get so rich whilst the rest of us just got poorer and more and more tied up with regulations. I would almost certainly have been trapped in the "us against the World" mentality that seems to be gaining the Taiji dolphin exploiters support which they absolutely do not deserve from their harbour neighbours.

Governments say it is all about jobs but it has seemed to me for some time that a combination of licensing more and more super-trawlers whilst also issuing licences to murder marine megafauna (cetaceans in Japan, pinnipeds in Scotland) to solve the problem of coastal community employment  is the marine equivalent of fighting a house fire with gasoline and that is what I spend most of my time lecturing about to anyone who will listen.

More wildlife at Dolphin Base, Taiji
In any case, it is clear that tourism - especially wildlife tourism - is the really easy, minimum investment solution to coastal community employment but it does require an element of "cleaning up your act" before it can be most heavily promoted.

That may explain why it is the most overlooked potential net contributor to GDP for my country, or at least the most under-recorded, or possibly it is simply because it is too hard for a politician to take credit for stuff that existed before the politicians started interfering with it to begin with.

I cannot help reflecting that in Scotland our Police would prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who harmed a dolphin or pilot whale or any other wildlife, marine or land - although admittedly not licensed seal killers, see this blog for more info CLICK. They would prosecute both deliberate and accidental harm and that is only right and proper. In Taiji, the Police are obliged to protect those whose deliberate intent is to harm these magnificent animals both by lethal injury and by enslavement with all the subsequent harm which goes with that.

I thought that I was fully prepared for the experience of actually being a Cove Guardian but I now know that nothing prepares you for Taiji, there is always going to be a surprise around the corner. One pleasant surprise has been the warmth and pleasantness of the Japanese people we have encountered and I have no doubt that as more and more Japanese nationals become aware of what is going on in this village of hell that we are approaching the start of a credible solution for this solvable problem. I will explore that much more fully in a day or two when I am in a calm place and able to focus on the positive. For now, please accept that there is a lot of positive and it does give great hope for the future.

For now, thank you for reading.