background reports
Japanese Activists Expose Cetacean Slaughter by Nathan LaBudde [From: Winter 1996-97 - Earth Island JournalMARINE MAMMAL PROJECT Earth Island Insitute]

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On October 18, 1997 Japanese fishers from the Futo Fishery Cooperative Association launched their annual "drive fishery" (iruka no oikomi ryo) in the coastal waters off the Izu peninsula, 125 miles south of Tokyo. In a typical drive fishery, fishers herd hundreds of whales and dolphins into inlet shallows, where the animals are beached and butchered. Videos of past drives have documented incredibly gruesome displays of carnage that turn entire bays red with blood.

But this time, the killing did not go unnoticed. The Dolphin and Whale Action Network (DWAN), a Tokyo-based group of marine activists, arrived on the scene armed with video and still cameras. Perched on a hillside overlooking the bay, DWAN filmed the slaughter and alerted both the Japanese news media and the international cornmunity. When TV crews began arriving, local officials attempted to close the only road leading to Futo Bay.

Japanese proponents of drive fishing portray the practice as a traditional "rational utilization" of dolphins for food and contend that reducing the number of marine mammals is necessary to alleviate increasing competition over diminishing coastal fish stocks.

The Japanese Fisheries Ministry authorized the Futo Co-op to take 75 bottlenose dolphins, 75 striped dolphins and 450 spotted dolphins, but the fishers flagrantly violated these quotas. By October 21 - a mere three days into the hunt - fishers had corralled approximately 2OO bottlenose dolphins, 50 pilot whales and 50 false killer whales (pseudorcas) within the confines of Futo Bay.

Fishers placed the best "capture specimens"-- 75 bottlenose dolphins and over a dozen pseudorcas -into a separate holding area where buyers from Japan's rapidly growing aquarium/entertainment park industry could view them. After selling several dolphins, the fishers slaughtered a half dozen adult dolphins deemed "unsellable" since aquariums and marine parks prefer juvenile specimens.

The presence of the buyers signaled that motives unrelated to food and wildlife management lie behind many drive fisheries. There is evidence that some drives are financed partly by the captive marine mammal facilities that supply Asia, as well as a larger global network, with a cheap source of inmates ("Whale Laundering" Exposed, Fall '93 EIJ).

Trade in marine marrmals presents an irresistible economic opportunity to many coastal fishers. At Futo, captive bottlenose dolphins sold for roughly $3,000 each, while false killer whales brought between $5,000 and $6,000. These same animals, dead, are worth $300 apiece. For subsistence fishers, drives are costly and time-consuming, but sales to aquatic parks can guarantee a drive's profitability.

By October 22, buyers had purchased 37 bottlenose dolphins and six pseudorcas. Cranes lifted and loaded aquarium-bound dolphins into waiting lorries.The sales over, fishers moved the 100 or so remaining animals to the slaughter area.

Fubo's slaughterhouse drainpipes began pouring a steady stream of blood, into the bay, where panicked dolphins -- swimming in the blood of their own pods called and whistled. DWAN penetrated the area and videotaped a large pilot whale, flanked on both sides by long rows of dead whales and dolphins, powerfully thrashing on the concrete slaughterhouse floor for several minutes. As the struggling whale approached exhaustion, a fisher wielding a long filet knife cautiously approached and decapitated the whale by repeatedly slicing its neck.

DWAN's barrage of faxes and letters to the Ministry of Fisheries that challenged the drive's legality (specifically the blatant quota excesses, the unpermitted capture of whales and the unauthorized sale of marine mammals) prompted an unprecedented government response. Ministry officials, confronted with the brazen lawlessness of the fishery, ordered the fishers to release the 150 remaining animals. (In the following weeks, activists scored a second victory when they freed six aquarium bought pseudorcas under cover of early morning darkness.)

In the past, when Westerners condemned drive fisheries as barbaric, Japan's fishers could dismiss such criticism as Japan-bashing, pointing out that "killing dolphins and whales for food is no different than killing cattle." But last October, it was Japanese activists who halted the Futo drive.

"The fact that Japanese authorities released dolphins due to local activist pressures is a milestone," declared Michael Bailey, director of Greenpeace Foundation Hawaii (not directly affiliated with Greenpeace USA), who helped coordinate DWAN's efforts.

"Over 21 Japanese organizations signed letters of condemnation regarding the drives' violations and halted a mercenary drive financed by the local aquarium industy. If properly encouraged and supported, this newly forming movement will have tremendous impacts upon the marine mammal conservation efforts within Japan -- and internationally."

It would be wise for the world corrununity to seize this opportunity to support Japan-based marine mammal conservation efforts. Given Japan's salient role in commercial whaling and illegal international whale meat trafficking, and its dismal record on marine mammal and fisheries presentation issues, there is no place where progress is needed more.

What You Can Do: Write to the chief of lapan's Fisheries Ministry, Mr. Miohio Shimada respectfully requesting that he stop issuing new permits for drive fisheries. Ask that he prepare a report fully accounting for small whales killed by Japan fishers for presentation at the International Whaling Conference meeting in Monaco in May. Send the letters to: Michael Bailey, PO Box 277-239, Kihei, Maui, HI 96753, For more information contact: Ms. Yukari Suruki, DWAN, 2-5-5-205, Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 169, Japan.

Reunite the Taiji Orca Pod!
JAPAN - On February 7, the Taiji fishing collective captured a family of 10 orca whales and confined them in Hatajiri Bay on Japan's southeast coast. Within 48 hours, Japanese aquarium/entertainment parks had bought five of them for $250,000 each.

The capture began some 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the Taiji coast. A flotilla of 1520 boats surrounded the pod to conduct oikoimi (the use of noises to entrap acoustically oriented marine mammals). Fishers hammered on hollow metal pipes suspended boatside, driving their prey inland.

Taiji fishers, long noted for butchering thousands of dolphins and whales in gruesome drive fisheries ["Japanese Activists Cetacean Slaughter," Winter '96-97 EIJ], conducted this hunt under the auspices of a five-year-old Fisheries Ministry permit to capture orcas for "reasons of scientific research or academic purposes."

Videotape taken by activists at Hatajiri Bay reveals the orcas huddling, thrashing their flukes and calling out to one another. Fishers gradually tightened a wall of containment nets and forced the whales into shallow water. Staff-wielding boatmen separated and restrained orcas bound for marine parks.

Two young males, two females (one reportedly pregnant) and one calf were lifted by cranes and loaded into lorries for transport to various captive facilities.

Japanese whale and dolphin activists raised an international outcry that resulted in the release of the remaining orcas and created a stir over the captive whales, dubbed the "Taiji Five." Demonstrators in London, Seattle, Boston Atlanta, Portland, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco (at an Earth Island Institute rally at the Japanese consulate) condemned the capture.

Japan is the only nation to condone orca captures. Iceland, a traditional whaling nation, hasn't issued capture permits since 1990 (and has since developed a profitable orca and minke whale-watching industry). In the US, Washington - the only state with orcas off its coast -banned captures in 1978.

"When you think about what an orca pod is, and the fact that lineage and traditions are passed down through key females, it's pretty easy to see that taking certain individuals could have ramifications down through generations," said renowned orca researcher Dr. Paul Spong. "The Pacific Northwest orca population at large still hasn't recovered because so many individual orcas were removed in the '60s and '70s."

"The imprisonment of the Taiji Five and release of the other five members may result in the total destruction of the family," Spong continued. "We know one of those released was an adult male, another was probably a post-reproductive female; a third was a young male. That means the pod's future lies in the hope that the two others were female and can get their lives back together and bear offspring."

For too long, Japanese officials have justified the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins and whales as traditional, subsistence harvesting practiced by indigenous people. In recent years, however, these fishers have discovered the profitability of working with Japans whale and dolphin entertainment facilities.

It is doubtful that the Japanese delegation will convince the International Whaling Commission next October that the Taiji fishes' supply of orcas to Japan's aquariums constitutes "scientific research." Failing this, the delegation might try to produce evidence that marine parks existed in ancient times and were stocked with animals caught by fishermen exercising traditional capture rights.

What You Can Do: Taiji orca pod can survive if its captured members are reunited with the rest of the family. Fax the Honorable Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japanese prime minister, (81) 3-5511-8855, and request that he intervene to release the five orcas.

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