by Ric O’Barry
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute
Today was our big day to make a splash in the media in Tokyo about protecting dolphins. And we succeeded.
We have kept our presence fairly quiet up until yesterday, Sept. 1st, the start of the bloody dolphin hunting season. We needed to keep a low profile in order to avoid pulling out the extreme nationalist groups in protest. While the threat of violence is very low here in Tokyo, the major problem would be us all getting kicked out of our hotel. The nationalist groups make a lot of noise with bullhorns and trucks with loudspeakers, and they basically make life unlivable for Japanese people. They could cause a lot of grief to our hotel, and the hotel would in turn blame us. (Indeed, we already have run into several problems with our hotel. For example, we had planned on having interviews with media in my room, but that was canceled when the hotel staff found out what we were doing. Now I have to go to TV studios or do press interviews in coffee shops around the area, rather than stay in my hotel)
So today, we began by bringing all our international volunteers to a plaza near the US Embassy. The Japanese police, charged with protecting the Embassy, would not let us get too close with our crowd, but we had TV cameras and print journalists from all the major Tokyo media outlets, so our message went out nationally today to the people of Japan. Our volunteers from around the world, holding flags representing the 151 countries from which we garnered 1.7 million signatures on our online petitions, were lined up. Several held strands of origami dolphins prepared by artist Peggy Oki, and we also had several inflated dolphin balloons for the cameras. I unfurled our long petition — about 15 feet long — for the cameras.
I told the dozens of reporters that we were here to ask the Obama Administration to help end the killing of dolphins. The Obama folks can talk to their counterparts in the Japanese government, telling them just how damaging the dolphin hunt is. I urged President Obama, when he comes to Japan in November, to talk to the new Japanese Prime Minister about dolphins and mercury. The government of Japan must take care of its natural biological heritage as well as the health of its people.
(The government in Japan is in flux now with elections coming in two short weeks. For this reason, our partner organizations in Japan advised us to hold off trying to present our petition to the Japanese Ministry of Health (which handles issues of food contamination) and the Ministry of Fisheries. We will go to them when the time is right, and we will have many more signers on our petitions by then.)
I was then escorted by the Tokyo Police, with media following along across the street, up to the US Embassy, along with volunteers Alyson Richards and Melissa Carbonne (who work with Hollywood celebrities in support of environmental issues), NASCAR driver Leilani Munter (who only accepts green sponsors for her winning race cars), and my colleague from Earth Island, Mark J. Palmer, with his ever-present camera.
With me went our beautiful “nobori” (a traditional Japanese banner) with dolphins and the name of our campaign in Japanese. It really stood out. Earlier we had asked supporters to help us come to Japan and get their name printed on the nobori so they could come with me in spirit. For all of you who donated, I thank you for your support and wanted you to know that your names went with me up to the gates of the US Embassy in Tokyo. Someday, hopefully soon, your names will go with me to Japan in celebration of the end of the dolphin hunts.
In front of the gates of the embassy, I met Mr. Bruce Howard, Counselor for Science, Environment and Health, representing the American Ambassador. He accepted our petition, as I urged him to see that it gets to the President. (We plan to follow up with a similar ceremony in Washington DC, to present the petitions to the White House and the Japan Embassy.)
Our three volunteers each then talked with Mr. Howard. telling him their own story of why they had come half-way around the world to be here with me in Tokyo. We are here to protect the lives of dolphins and to protect the lives of the people of Japan from mercury poisoning.
Afterwards, I was whisked away by a cab to do an hour interview with CBS News.
Was it worth it? I think it was. We educated millions of Japanese people who read the papers and watch the television news. With “The Cove” still showing in theaters in Japan, more and more people are learning the truth about the dolphin hunts.
There’s more. We just heard from our Japanese friends that the extreme nationalist groups, that had been building up to confront us in Taiji this year and who almost blocked “The Cove” movie from being screened in Japan, have announced on their web page that they will no longer actively protest “The Cove” or Ric O’Barry in order to focus on other priorities in Japan.
And while the dolphin hunters of Taiji failed to find any dolphins yesterday, they did reportedly find 20 bottlenose dolphins offshore and herded them into the Cove this morning. But we further heard that, while they kept several (as many as ten?) for the aquarium trade, they released the rest as they did last year. None were butchered for meat. We are working to confirm this claim.
We of course do not want to get our hopes too high — we do expect dolphins and small whales to be butchered in the Cove, and the process of chasing and netting-in the dolphins is extremely damaging to dolphins (they die of capture stress and get entangled in the nets and drown), the news that once again the dolphin hunters decided, in the glare of publicity, to release some dolphins is a good sign for us.
But we cannot give up. This kind of victory is fleeting, and we will not rest until the killing stops for good.
Again, my thanks to all our volunteers who traveled here to be with me on behalf of the dolphins. Thanks especially to Leilani, Alyson and Melissa, who spoke to the US Embassy from their hearts today on behalf of dolphins. We cannot ignore their message — 1.7 million people, so far, have supported their message. Our campaign to Save Japan Dolphins will only grow and grow, and we will stop the killing, that I guarantee.