Sunday Tangent: Japan Times columnist CW Nicol (a whaling supporter) on why “The Cove’s” Taiji dolphin culls bother him


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Hi Blog.   As another angle to the subject of the documentary The Cove, here we have Japan Times naturalist columnist (and fellow naturalized citizen) C.W. Nicol offering his view on what’s going on in Taiji. What’s interesting is his take on the matter of animal cruelty. Although he supports whaling as an issue and has no truck with tradition involving hunting of wild animals, what gets him is what the hunt does to the people in the neighborhood. I’m reminded of what goes on at Pitcairn Island (you get a society removed enough long enough from the authorities, they’ll invent their own rules, even if at variance with permissible conduct in society at large, and claim it as tradition). It was another reason for me personally to feel the conduct at Taiji is reprehensible.

The problem is that although Taiji is a small community, once it’s claimed to be “Japanese tradition”, you get one of the world’s most powerful economies behind it.  Then all manner of issues (Japan bashing, economics, a general dislike at the national level of having outsiders telling Japan what to do, fear of right-wing repercussions, and corruption of culturally-tolerant debate arenas overseas) adhere and make the debate murky. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times Sunday, July 4, 2010
A meeting of minds (excerpt)
Last month, dolphin-welfare campaigner Ric O’Barry visited me in the Nagano hills, where we discussed the Taiji dolphin cull and what’s happening to marine mammals worldwide

In 1958, just before my 18th birthday, I went along on an Inuit hunt for seals in the Canadian Arctic. That was the first time I tasted that rich, dark red — almost black — meat, and it was like nothing else I had eaten before. I loved it.

Inuit hunters still used kayaks back then (and so did I) and I felt nothing but admiration for those men who went out into icy waters in such a flimsy craft, risking their lives to bring back food, fuel and the raw material for boots and clothing. In the many trips I have made to the Arctic since then, that feeling has never changed.

Then, in 1966, I first sailed aboard a whale-catcher, with a mixed Canadian and Japanese crew, hunting for sei and sperm whales off the west coast of Canada. Whale meat was on sale in pretty well every fish shop in Tokyo in the early 1960s when I first came to this country, so I had already come to appreciate its taste. Since then I have been on many marine mammal hunts — for seals, beluga, walrus and whales — and I retain enormous respect for the courage, skill and seamanship of those who take food from the sea.

That, however, is a stance that has made me unpopular with many antiwhaling folk around the world.

Nonetheless, in October 1978 I went to Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture to live in the town for a year and research the history and culture of Japanese whaling for a book I aimed to write — a book that turned out to be my novel, “Harpoon.” The anti-whaling movement was beginning to display some nasty anti-Japanese tendencies just then, and I thought it might be mollified by some understanding, through my book, of the whalers’ long background…

What horrified me in Taiji was that the dolphins were not harpooned, and thus secured to be quickly dispatched. Instead, the hunters were simply throwing spears into a melee of the animals swimming in a small inlet they had sealed off from the sea, hitting them here and there. Then they’d retrieve the spear by hauling in a rope tied to it and hurl it again or use it close up to stab with. This was a far cry from the efficiency — and respect for life, and death — of an Inuit hunter or a whaler at sea.

That first time I witnessed the Taiji killings, I saw a dolphin take 25 minutes to die, while on another hunt I saw one that thrashed and bled for a horrible 45 minutes before it succumbed to its wounds. Killing, if justified and necessary, should surely be merciful and quick — yet I even saw an old grandmother laughing at a dolphin’s death throes and pointing out the animal to the small child with her as if it was some kind of joke. That really hurt and shook my belief in people.

In addition to this catalog of horrors, though, as a former marine mammal research technician in Canada, it shocked me that all those dolphins were being captured and killed with no government inspector or fisheries biologist on hand to take data and monitor the kill. I protested about what was going on to the fishermen, and to Town Hall officials in Taiji. I even went to Tokyo and protested to a senior official in the Fisheries Agency, but he just sneered and said, “What does it matter, they die anyway.”…

Rest of the article at

18 comments on “Sunday Tangent: Japan Times columnist CW Nicol (a whaling supporter) on why “The Cove’s” Taiji dolphin culls bother him

  • C.W. Nicol (Nic) is one of the few people in Japan speaking against the dolphin hunt who has the respect and the ear of the people who can actually make a change happen. His position is like that of a tightrope walker, though. As Arudou mentions, Nic is still a supporter of ‘sustainable, traditional’ whaling, which puts him at odds with most dolphin activists and makes them suspicious of his motives. His position of being pro-whaling but anti-dolphin hunt is based on his personal experiences and beliefs, and as such it is a position that I can respect.

    Taiji, though known globally now as the ‘dolphin killing town,’ has whaling deeply rooted in its culture and no doubt many in the town are hoping for a lifting of the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling so that they can return to whaling in their own waters. But the Taiji officials deliberately muddy the waters by referring to what goes on there today as ‘hogei,’ even though the word is correctly translated as ‘whaling.’ Whales and dolphins are both cetaceans and the issue is further confused by such things as: a ‘Pilot Whale’ is in fact a dolphin. When asked how they distinguish between whales and dolphins, the head of the Taiji Fishermen’s Union said, “If it’s shorter than 4 meters, it’s a dolphin.” Such blurring of the lines only adds to the confusion.

    Nic has talked about wanting to provide more education on the actual nature of these various marine mammals, in part so that Japanese people in particular will stop thinking of them as big fish. It’s interesting that the kanji for dolphin (海豚) is literally ‘sea pig,’ while that for whale (鯨) is a combination of the radical for fish and that for ‘capital (city)’ or ‘enormous.’

    And really this, along with so many other environmental issues, is something that needs to be addressed more through educational channels. But in an effective way. Ric O’Barry has talked about the approach of some groups here in Japan and how they focused on educating young Japanese people about whales and dolphins so that they would become their protectors once they grew up. Well, that was 30+ years ago and those kids have grown up. Meanwhile, japan has more than 50 aquariums and dolphinariums, more than all of Europe combined. I don’t think that’s the kind of education we need or the message we should be sending.

  • (株)飛日空 says:

    CW Nicol has another article where he again mentions his prediction and warning of the response by the rest of the world to the Taiji hunt back in 1979:

    Sweet and sour amid the late snow of spring

    Well, I’ll very soon be 70, and I still see a lot wrong with the world, but I try to restrict my rants to subjects of which I have some personal experience. This includes topics such as the need to trim and use the badly neglected and crowded conifer plantations and mixed secondary- growth woodland in Japan; the need to bring our Japanese rivers back to life and to tear out so much wasteful concrete; the need not to let valuable farmland be overrun with invasive weeds . . . and then there is the horror of the annual Taiji dolphin kill.

    I saw the kill for myself back in 1979 when I lived in that small Wakayama Prefecture fishing village for a year. I protested to the fishermen, to the Town Hall, and to the Fisheries Agency. Some years ago I published a book in Japan, with a chapter devoted to that slaughter and its extreme cruelty. I met the prefectural governor and warned him that the media would spread the Taiji kill all over the globe — and that Japan would be despised for it. And now, this year’s Academy Award-winning documentary, “The Cove,” is bringing it home to the whole world. But will the government listen to what the world is saying? And will Japanese audiences have a chance to see it?

    I sailed to the Antarctic in 1980 and observed the whaling there. There were indeed lots and lots of minke whales. I am not against whaling as a traditional source of food, but for the past few years I have spoken out and written about my belief that its Antarctic whaling is not in the interest of Japan as a nation, and only provides the militant conservationists of Sea Shepherd with ammunition. And anyway, how many ordinary Japanese have any idea of what the whaling research is all about?

  • Mark in Kanto says:

    Tradition tradition tradition. What a bunch of bull. Same goes for the “culture.” Just a convenient stick to beat other people with, whenever it is convenient, but conveniently forgotten when it doesn’t serve you well. Read “Moby Dick” and tell me other large countries with big economies don’t have an equal claim to a whaling tradition. Why does the Japanese government believe it has a monopoly on tradition, when even in nearby waters Korea, China, and other countries have just as much a claim on it.

    My answer, in short, is the mass media and the education system. One small, perhaps trivial, example (multiply by a million). The other day, when they were announcing the verdict of the Sea Shepherd man, NHK noted that a “shimin dantai” (citizen group) was protesting against him. Sure: shimin dantai–usually we call them yakuza or right-wing flunkies. But not our dear NHK. You have to show “both sides” of an argument no matter how absurd and worthless an argument is. Indeed they usually do show two sides: the side of reason and that of idiocy and brutality. But the way they present it, both sides appear to have equal validity. The question then becomes, which is our “culture” and “tradition.” Nobody even questions why it is not “kidnapping” to drag a guy from Antarctic waters back to Japan in the first place.

    I’ve spoken to hundreds of people in Japan, and not a one of them knows that the top news on Japan on BBC or CNN and the like is forever NOT about Japanese baseball heroes, or Japanese Nobel prize winners, or how children in Tohoku are planting rice seedlings, or the glories of tradition, but rather another story on the phony “scientific” whaling that has produced not a single decent paper nor any results and at which the whole world laughs.

    Here’s my modest proposal. Slaughter more Japanese ibis (toki). There is a long tradition of eating them. They are, by all accounts, delicious. Toki-nabe sounds as good to me as it did to daimyo forefathers. Go to Sado and catch one! Cut it up, make it into a stew and advertise it as tradition. As culture. Now there is a plan with a real future. Against the idea? How dare you! My shop is dependent on this ancient traditions of my forefathers! Seikatsu ga kakatte iru! So there is no more to be said!

  • (株)飛日空 says:

    Special interests have skillfully flipped the issue of whaling into an issue of national identity and culture. The new logic that pervades the issue is that to side against whaling is to side against Japan and its culture and traditions. This comes at a time where many Japanese feel ever more paranoid from foreign interests and you get the hysterical mess all over the media that we have now. The issue is muddied further by dragging in the miniscule scale whaling of Inuit and other small minorities practicing real, traditional whaling to justify the mass modern commercial whaling that Japan is keen to begin in internationally protected waters.

    If these Japanese special interests are so keen on pushing the smokescreen of whaling as tradition then why not take this to its logical conclusion? If whaling is the preservation of tradition and culture, then go the whole nine yards and put their commitment to tradition to the test. Allow whaling *only* through the use of traditional hunting equipment. This means the use of oar paddled longboats and hand thrown harpoons from periods where no Western technologies were used in whale hunts.

    The Japanese can then continue to hunt to their heart’s content confined within their own waters limiting themselves to catches to numbers that only traditional equipment and those trained to be able to use such equipment will allow. Any problems occurring from overhunting will become their sole responsibility. For the “tradition buffs”, traditional whaling methods and equipment will be actively preserved and practiced. They can even try to turn it into a tourist attraction like 鵜飼 in Gifu’s 長良川. This will be a great win for the “tradition buffs” I’m sure.

    My prediction is that the response will be towards securing a food source that is independent of foreign imports. This can then be countered with showing a lack of commitment to tradition that they themselves have advocated and the fun continues.

    Some environmental groups will undoubtedly oppose such a compromise but at least the major issues of stopping whaling in the Antarctic sanctuaries and allowing some form of whaling for Japan can be resolved. They can be easily held responsible for any problems due to overhunting within their own waters.

  • Need to hit the Brazilians with a version of The Cove too. They are slaughtering dolphins for use as fish bait.

    Nobody spoke up while the Chinese killed the baiji river dolphins to extinction. People are already speaking up against Japan. Time to expand the fight to Brazil, to save the dolphins. Ric O’Barry, where are you? Brazil needs a movie about the river dolphin slaughter in the Amazon.

  • Okinawa has a big dolphin hunt as well. The Nago dolphin hunt does not get as much publicity as Taiji, but it should. Okinawa has been hunting dolphins for a long time. Dolphin meat is available in many Okinawan markets, and local shops sell oden, champloo and curry made with dolphin meat. Activists need to target Okinawa for dolphin killing publicity as well.

  • Yeah, good angle. Killing dolphin or whatever is no problem (or, at least, no bigger a problem than killing anything else for food) but there’s something eerie about people taking a long time – and pleasure, it seems in some cases for the spectators – doing it. It’s a form of animal torture, and any psychologist can tell you what that particular practice reveals about its exponents.

  • Mark McBennett, “And really this, along with so many other environmental issues, is something that needs to be addressed more through educational channels. educating young Japanese people about whales and dolphins so that they would become their protectors once they grew up.”

    I do not understand you. Why would anyone become protectors of whales and dolphins if he knows more about cetaceans? I bet people in Taiji know whales and dolphins much much much better than you do, and see what they do. Would people stop eating cows and pigs if they know more about these animals?

    But my bigger question is why you call whaling “environmental issue”. I do not see it an environmental issue, since those dolphins and whales that get hunt are not endangered. What “environmental” element is involved in here?

    Mark in Kanto, why do we need to stop whaling in the first place? 1986 moratorium was put in place to study if we have enough whales for sustainable whaling in the following 10 years. We know we have enough whales, but anti-whaling countries are frustrating the process to lift the moratorium.

    Mark in Kanto, do you have any reason to continue the moratorium if we have enough whales for sustainable whaling?

    — HO, please speak to the point being raised in this blog entry, about animal cruelty. Don’t just say, “Well, cows and pigs are slaughtered similarly,” because they certainly aren’t slaughtered like this (in public with slow bleeds). It clearly doesn’t matter that “people in Taiji know whales and dolphins much much much better than you do” when this is how they kill them, is the point. Address it.

  • HO is once again completely missing the point of the discussion and article (which is not even anti-whaling – the author supports whaling!). The point of contention of this discussion is about the sadistic cruelty in which these animals are slaughtered. HO often uses the ridiculous “Cows and Pigs” argument without knowing about the differences between the two very different situations. Farm animals (i.e. Cows and pigs) are slaughtered using humane, instantaneous methods – usually one sharp blow to the head). I recommend the book (Fast Food Nation) if you want to know more about how they are slaughtered.
    Dolphins (the main point of this discussion) were being bleed to death slowly by morons who obviously don’t know squat about how to instantly and humanely kill a dolphin. READ the article and watch the actual footage from “The Cove” even if you don’t listen to the commentary. The fisherman were just randomly stabbing dolphins with simple spears.
    In addition, both the author of the article and in “The Cove”; there were fishermen and bystanders who were obviously enjoying the slow and obviously death of the dolphins. If I go to a slaughter house, I would not take any pleasure over the slaughter of pigs or cows and nor would any decent human being.
    One more point of difference is that they don’t discriminate between old, young, big or small dolphins when they kill them. They just kill every single one they can find regardless – now is this the work of professionals? Any fisherman worth their salt would catch only large mature fish and leave the small ones for the future. Again, in farming you don’t slaughter every single pig or chicken or cow – only the ones that are matured enough to be used for meat.
    So, even from a agricutural and fisheries perspective it doesn’t make much sense to slaughter dolphins they way they are doing it and the sheer number of kills also does not justify the cost cause there IS NO market for dolphin meat as most people in Japan do not consider dolphins as food. Just because you can kill things for food doesn’t mean its a sensible thing to do.

  • Anon, the torture of a dolphin may last for 40 minutes, the torture of cattle lasts for life. They are confined in a farm, are fed poultry litter, have no chance to mate, and are killed around 30 months old, which is way before their natural life. I see more ethical problems in farm animals than in hunting.

    “there IS NO market for dolphin meat”
    Cannot you see the contradiction in your statement? If what you say is right, fishermen would not kill dolphins in the first place. Actually, dolphin meat is sold at local supermarkets in Taiji.

  • HO, I was a farmer in Oklahoma for many years and I made sure that the animals(even the ones that were to be slaughtered) were treated with care. Me and my family gave them acres of space and fed them well with quality food and made sure that health problems(if they ever occurred)were treated quickly and we made sure that they did not suffer before they died.

    Also, if you’ve seen The Cove, then you will know about how much mercury is in that meat. Why poison innocent people for “tradition”? The Comanche Native Americans used to scalp people. Should they continue to scalp people who do wrong because its “tradition”? You hardly make any sense.

  • HO, if you wish to expand this discussion to include all domestication of wildlife by human beings for all of history then by all means INCLUDE this in your arguments at the very beginning because I didn’t see you addressing this in your prior statements. But this is not a discussion on that – STAY on TOPIC. We could go on and on debating about the ethics of human activities in general but the main point is that you still haven’t addressed my points about the FOCUS of the discussion being on the SLAUGHTER of animals and NOT being on the moral rights and wrongs of domestication of animals. By your logic we could expand this argument to include all the moral rights and wrongs of every action of every human being in existence or have ever existed.
    My point is to discuss within the CONTEXT of the topic at hand.

    “Cannot you see the contradiction in your statement? If what you say is right, fishermen would not kill dolphins in the first place.”
    What is so contradictory about that? Basically markets are determined by the demand of consumers and there is NO demand for dolphin meat because Japanese consumers do not consider dolphins as food. (As I’ve stated before). If there is a market for it then alot Japanese consumers would know about, would want to and have eaten dolphin meat. A market usually would encompass more than just one town or a couple of villages.
    Taiji is a very small town/village and so does that constitute a “Market”? Would the returns on investment be worth the expenditure? Would it be a profitable venture for a business to just sell dolphin meat in Taiji? If not then there is no market as businesses would go bankrupt.

    “Actually, dolphin meat is sold at local supermarkets in Taiji.”
    Ahh, but what you fail to point out is that as seen in “The Cove” dolphin meat is actually LABELD as WHALE meat and not as dolphin meat – so another half truth from HO. Plus being available in Taiji’s local supermarkets does not mean there is demand for the meat – in the context of the normal meaning of a market.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Kinda with Ho on this, at least in one sense: I’m a farm boy myself and do not think that confining animals is humane, and I’m talking about cows, pigs, etc. Ho is right that mistreating animals for life is probably worse than
    the slow deaths of the dolphins, abhorant as it is. At least the dolphin got to live most of its life free. The ‘cows and pigs’ are different crowd will use any justification for their (our, I’m a meat eater) particular kind of cruelty. Just sayin’. I can see Old Nic’s point about the style of slaughter in Taiji, however. By all means, let’s stop the Taiji cruelty, but don’t try to say that farming is somehow ok because it’s more humane. Animals end up dead in both situations.

    — I think the objection is more with the “both are bad so we’ll justify them both” line of reasoning.

  • One more thing to add about the domestication of animals – I didn’t want to go down this line of argument because it would widen the debate to such an extent that we would go beyond the scope of this forum and the we would end up going around in circles with no end in sight.

  • Anon,
    “Ahh, but what you fail to point out is that as seen in “The Cove” dolphin meat is actually LABELD as WHALE meat and not as dolphin meat – so another half truth from HO.”

    Ahh, you seem to believe in the Cove without healthy skepticism.

    The whale meat label is one of the alleged lies concocted by the filmmakers of the Cove.
    Taiji people also deny that the dolphins are hunted as pest control. They also say that the filmmakers are editing irrelevant scenes to make up a story.

    I do not know which side of the story is true. But I have very low opinion of environmental activists for their long long history of lies and their attitude that cause justifies means.

  • “Ahh, you seem to believe in the Cove without healthy skepticism.”
    You’re putting words in my mouth again – Did I say that I’m a fan of “The Cove”? I merely sighted some examples from the movie. If you’ve got concrete, proven and verified evidence to the contray then prove me wrong. In any case once again I think you’re dodging the debate and questions I have posed to you before and you’re now moving into a debate about the allegations made in the film.

    “The whale meat label is one of the alleged lies concocted by the filmmakers of the Cove.
    Taiji people also deny that the dolphins are hunted as pest control. They also say that the filmmakers are editing irrelevant scenes to make up a story.”

    The link is once again very one sided and unproven in an open forum as you say so it does not add anything new to the debate (neither confirms nor refutes the evidence given in the cove) so I’m not sure what you’re getting at. But I can see the debate being skewed into a discussion on the merits of the film. So lets get back to the topic at hand.

    “But I have very low opinion of environmental activists for their long long history of lies and their attitude that cause justifies means.”

    You are entitled to your opinion but I find your unqualified statements about environmental activists being liers a bit condescending. I could say the same thing about corporations and their deceptions but that’s getting way off topic.

    As I said before and I’ll say it for the last time, stay focused on the debate about the inhumane slaughter of dolphins and stop trying to muddy the waters by throwing in irrelevant stories on animal domestication or the motives of the filmmakers or that environmental activists are liers, etc.
    Also, before you reply, please try and build a convincing rebuttle of my critique, your answers seem to be all over the place.

  • D.B. Cooper says:

    The Inuit have very few options in their struggle to survive. This is the only justification for the killing of other animals. To survive. We in the rich countries are spoiled for choices. There is no justification for the killing of other animals whatsoever.

    Anyone pondering the cruelty in Taiji over a Big Mac might want to think about this..
    ‘The emergence and intensification of agriculture is the basis for human development as we know it. But our path towards a more intensive farming system has made factory farming or industrial agriculture the norm in “civilized” high-tech nations. And in an industrial world where the animals are increasingly seen as a commodity or product to make money on haven’t improved the animals well-being. Rather, the intensification of our agriculture sector has made their life worse. And this cruelty is happening around the world.’

    And finally, how money {amongst other things} has poisoned our relationship with other animals..
    ‘Earthlings’ is an award-winning documentary film about the suffering of animals for food, fashion, pets, entertainment and medical research.

  • I could not agree more with Mr. D.B. Cooper in his opening statement:
    “The Inuit have very few options in their struggle to survive. This is the only justification for the killing of other animals. To survive. We in the rich countries are spoiled for choices. There is no justification for the killing of other animals whatsoever.”

    There is no other excuse, yet we are all spoiled and feel we have a right to anything and everything. Not only do we feel we have a “right” to it, but a right to do as we please – this includes the inhumane torture and slaughter of innocent cetaceans in the cove at Taiji, as well as Okinawa, and Brazil. Let us not forget about the many many places across the globe where these atrocious acts take place.

    Though the justification is not the issue – the manner of killing is the topic at hand…

    The complaint here is the CRUEL MANNER in which these animals die. It is slow, frightening, and extremely painful. Not to mention these so-called fishermen are not trained or certified on how to properly and humanely kill animals so no suffering is involved. I would give my life to see these killings stop, but even in saying that I am aware that should I give my life to these “fishermen” I, too, would die a slow, frightening and painful death. There could be no promise given that would ensure that my assumption of the death I would receive would be any different…they show no remorse, no pity, no compassion for life at all. This is maddening and sickening, and it makes me fear for the future generations that come out of that place. Japanese are supposed to have compassion and love for all life – what happened to that tradition? If you want to claim a tradition, please claim THAT one. Not the heinous and cruel murder of innocent lives.

    I am aware that I am late on the reply to this post, but it is no less relevant now in November as it was in July.

    HO – learn to stay on topic. Changing the subject does not work on those who are well educated and can see through your attempts to distract from the original topic. Answer questions when they are directed toward you, stay on topic, and educate yourself before you speak.


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