Activism: New documentary “The Cove” on dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Wakayama Pref


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Hi Blog.  A tangent in terms of rights for humans, less a tangent in terms of successful activism in Japan regarding rights for sentient beings.

I heard on NPR Fresh Air July 30 (podcasts available here) a review and an interview on upcoming documentary “THE COVE”, regarding a town in Wakayama Prefecture named Taiji famous for its whale hunts.  It’s also going to become famous for its periodic dolphin slaughter, the subject of this movie.

Ostensibly, the activists claim, for “pest control”, the slaughter of entire schools (if you consider the dolphin a fish, like the fishermen apparently do) of dolphins is apparently due to the dolphins having a taste for the fish that they catch (sorry, but dolphins gotta eat too).  It’s a frequent event that takes place in a national park that is otherwise off limits to public eyes.  The documentarians (one of whom trained Flipper — seriously — and realized the error of his ways) actually put cameras in rocks and other submersibles to capture first hand the footage of the slaughter the GOJ denies is happening.

The movie comes out in spring.  That and a number of other documentaries — SOUR STRAWBERRIES (about abuses of migrant workers and immigrants), FROM THE SHADOWS (about Japan as a safe haven for child abductions), and TOKYO UNDERWORLD (about the relationship between the GOJ and organized crime, based upon Robert Whiting’s non-fiction book; incidentally the best book on Japan I’ve ever read) may bring out sides of Japan that the GOJ largely denies exists as a problem.  Pity the domestic media doesn’t do its job and get to the bottom of these issues itself.

Especially since, the interviewees make clear, there is a public health issue.  The meat from the killed dolphins are often given out as school lunches etc.  Even though they have mercury levels higher than the fish at Minamata which caused the famous poisoning disease.

Quite a PR time bomb being exposed here.  This is what activism can do.  Bravo.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


More about the issue here, with preview of the THE COVE (Japanese, English, German)

JAPAN FOCUS article on Taiji and the “Clash of Cultures”, by David McNeill

THE COVE in the news:

An interview with one of the activists, Flipper’s reformed trainer, Richard O’Barry:

Lot and lots more information:


25 comments on “Activism: New documentary “The Cove” on dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Wakayama Pref

  • One thing I will never understand is how a nation that apparently respects so much all kind of living nature, including insect life, could be so insensible to the slaughter of a higher animal species, mammals, who are so unique and yet so similar in intelligence with us human, simply uncomprehensible.

  • Pardon the expression, but this is a real red herring of an issue next to the humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that comes from killing and eating LAND mammals. If millions of cows and pigs in similar circumstances are of no concern at all, why the outrage over a few thousand dolphins?

    The activists probably have their hearts in the right place, but I fear most people watching this movie are going to do so with their blinders on re their own similarly inhumane and similarly needless activities.

  • Another effort by the ‘pick an animal (as long as it’s cuddly and we don’t eat it) and fight for it’ brigade. It might make us feel morally superior but it’s totally arbitrary. Is there a world dolphin shortage? No. So apart from the vegan/vegetarians out there, no-one has any genuine cause to grumble. But they will…

  • Putting all other arguments aside except for the economic one. What I can’t figure out about the whole whale/dolphin hunting thing is this: If you can’t sell it at all or at a reasonable price, why spend the time/effort/money to capture and kill them?

    It has been documented that they often give the meat away or it is stored because there is no market for it. The trailer to the movie even says they give it away to the school system.

    All other arguments aside, why do something that would actually take money out of your bank account? Is the gov’t subsidizing this?

    Oh, and one more thing I don’t understand, if what they are doing is legal and justifiable, why are they worried if someone takes pictures?

  • JP: “Oh, and one more thing I don’t understand, if what they are doing is legal and justifiable, why are they worried if someone takes pictures?”

    Well, it’s also legal to go out with a mistress while married, but I wouldn’t want a picture of that for the same reason I wouldn’t want a picture of myself legally slaughtering dolphins: legal or not, it doesn’t look good.

    Personally, I think that eating any form of life is horrible. Couscous is murder! I subsist on a diet of salt, water, and wild honey.

  • D.B.Cooper. says:

    Although lacking enough outrage for me I recommend this documentary to all the non-vegetarians out there..
    Section relevent to this entry starts at 42:45.

    To JP I would say it makes no sense to me either but the whole business seems corrupt. This is about whale meat..
    Goodness only knows what the dolphin meat version looks like, but it might be one reason why the locals don’t want to be photographed.

  • Hey Joe,
    See I cannot still comprehend the whole thing cuz my wife never complains when she sees me with my mistress! 🙂

    Point taken. (but already understood)

    Mr. Cooper,
    I was trying to avoid other arguments because I am wholly unprepared to argue them. I will take a look at the article.

    I listened to the trailer carefully and it mentioned that they KILL dolphins not for the meat, but because they are in competition for the same fish. So overfishing’s result is to kill other predators so that they can completely kill off the whole species? What is the ultimate goal?

  • Is Tokyo Underworld an upcoming film? Is there a DVD available? I could find the book but very little info on the film …

  • Those animals are being killed for all the wrong reasons, and with unnecessary cruelty. Stop the damned slaughter and stop the stupid justifications for such a horrendous practice Period.

  • Sadly, slaughter of animals for mindless reasons is not limited to Japan.,23739,25886970-952,00.html

    Australia is killing camels, using similar illogic that we see in Taiji. Yet, nobody makes documentaries when white people massacre animals these days. This “Cove” document may have some racist undertones, since it is filmed primarily by white people to discredit yellow people? Hope not, but it can be taken that way.

    — And it would be nice if you couched your criticism a bit better so that it is not taken that way.

  • “– And it would be nice if you couched your criticism a bit better so that it is not taken that way.”

    Yes, quite true. Activism involves ruffling a few feathers, as you know. Look forward to seeing this film.

  • “Why don’t you ask the dolphins?”

    Why don’t you as Ric O’Barry, who made a living from exploiting dolphins by training them, and now is in the dolphin activism business instead? Better yet, ask the locals who do perceive this activism as racism.

    — Why don’t you two knock off this line of rhetoric? It’s getting nowhere.

  • The dolphins are the ones being slaughtered, not the locals, so go and ask the ones suffering the abuse and not the ones trying to prevent this to happened. As Debito says, let’s knock off this stupid rethoric, stone hard heads are not going to change.

  • Racist or not, it is at minimum culturally imperialist. When one culture decides some practice is morally repugnant and attempts to enforce that moral judgment on another culture which does not share this view, those enforcers logically must act on the belief that their culture’s moral views are superior to other cultures. That belief strikes me as arrogant and offensive, and quite possibly grounded in a racist subconcious. I find it particularly suspect in the context of treating mammals of the sea, which just happen to be eaten by yellow people. If Japanese activists attacked US meat processing plants for slaughtering cows with neither a massage nor a beer, surely they’d be mocked and thrown in prison. The US wouldn’t tolerate this attack on the American way of life. The US government launches a protest whenever the Japanese politely insist that US beef for export not be fed other beef, risking BSE. This is why I am upset whenever I see this kind of story. This is the kind of Western hypocrisy we should get in trouble for but don’t.

    — Logical fallacies abound here, but the biggest is that cultures decide other cultures are repugnant based upon cultures. Doesn’t work that way anymore.

    Bad ideas are bad ideas, gotta point them out. Focus on the bad ideas here, and leave out facile arguments about “cultural imperialism”. Or else nobody can criticize anyone on the international stage.

  • This is for Bob—quite an ignorant guy. The dolphin massacre is not about culture or tradition. If it was tradition they wouldn’t conduct the dolphin hunts secretly, before daybreak. It’s about an anachronism that might have been necessary after the war when protein was scarce in Japan. But the real culprit is mercury. The mercury levels in Japan’s coastal small cetaceans is higher than the levels found in polluted fish in Minamata bay during the Minamata mercury pollution disaster of the 50s. This tragedy caused the death of hundreds of adults and children, many babies were born deformed, and thousands of people were affected with life long health problems. The “matanza” or slaughter is a major health problem covered up by the health ministry. No health warnings are posted on dolphin meat.

    Japan’s top medical scientists have condemmned dolphin meat as
    being highly toxic and not suitable for human consumption.
    The cove movie is objective and the protagonist, Ric O’Barry,
    former flipper trainer turned activist does a comendable job explaning why the slaughter should be abandoned. One supermarket chain in Wakayama already banned the sale of dolphin meat after
    conducting their own certified lab tests on dolphin meat. A
    government official in Taiji, Junichiro Yamashita, also conducted tests on samples of dolphin meat given to school children at sschool whale lunches and called it toxic waste after
    readouts revealed ballistic levels of mercury and methyl mercury. Here history repeats itself and one wonders how many people are suffering from mercury poisoning after eating this
    toxic substance. And Japan’s harping on culture—Es mas viejo que la luna,—-that crap is older than the moon.

  • Bob

    If it is “cultural”, this would be occurring all day everyday all over Japan for centuries…if it ain’t, it ain’t cultural, simple!

    Events that occur in “secret” one hardly calls cultural…..unless you equate killing Jews as cultural, or massacring Kurds, as cultural, or …well, one can go on….but nuff said!

  • Still waiting for Debito-san to weigh in with his list of documentaries about Japan that I suggested before! A great one is “Promises to Keep,” about Sydney Pollack’s trip to Japan while making “The Yakuza.” It’s on the special edition DVD, check it out. Some great shots of 1970’s Japan.

    “Tokyo Underworld” is one of my favorites and I’d love to see a documentary about Zapetti, Rikidozan, and all the unsavory characters they were associated with. I’ll be on the look-out for that. I always crave pizza after reading that book…

    — TOKYO UNDERWORLD is now a greenlighted movie (not a docu), so wait for it. As for lists of documentaries about Japan, the list is pretty small, so to sate, here’s an old list of Movies on Japan I did more than a decade ago.


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