By Hardy Jones
The first awareness of dolphin slaughters in Japan came at Iki Island, located in the Straights of Tsushima, off southwestern Japan. In 1978 a news photographer from Mainichi Television took helicopter shots of a bay whose waters ran red with the blood of hundreds of dolphins. The pictures caused widespread outrage as they were transmitted around the world. I saw those photographs and vowed to do something about it.
In 1979 and 1980, I led Howard Hall and other filmmakers to Iki to attempt to bring an end to the killing by exposing the barbarity on film. These efforts are recounted in my book, The Voice of the Dolphins. What was not included in the book was what happened in the years that followed.
In 1979 we filmed interviews with the islanders, particularly Mr. Harada Susumu, president of the young fishermen’s cooperative. But we did not witness a slaughter – only the grim aftermath of dead dolphin bodies
In 1980 Howard Hall and I filmed the unspeakable slaughter of hundreds of dolphins at Iki. I jumped the first flight off the island to get the footage to CBS News in Tokyo where it was satellited around the world. After the huge international uproar caused by broadcast of the film we had taken of the butchery of bottlenose, pseudorca and Risso’s dolphins, Nagasaki prefecture withdrew the permit for the Iki Islanders to hunt dolphins later in 1980. There is an individual who claims he negotiated the end to the Iki Island dolphin massacres in 1982 but that was long after the permit to hunt dolphins had been withdrawn so there was nothing to negotiate. The people responsible for shutting down the dolphin hunts were those who stood in the bloody waters of Iki Island and filmed the killing; and Dexter Cate who kayaked into the killing zone at night and cut nets in an attempt to allow dolphins to escape. Dexter was arrested and spent months in a Japanese jail before being declared persona non-grata and expelled from Japan permanently. But his trial kept the world focused on the deadly events at Iki for months.
But for two occasions, one in the middle 1980s and one in 1994, the killings at Iki ended. In those two years special permits were issued to hunt dolphins at the request of the dolphin captivity industry. Dozens of dolphins went into captivity. Hundreds died.
In 2004 I returned to Iki and learned the full story of what had happened after I released the slaughter film. I tracked down Mr. Harada, whom I’d met in 1979. He told me that in the day after I left Iki in ‘79 (to get the film footage safely to CBS News in Tokyo) more than 200 journalists had descended on the island. Iki Island became infamous worldwide – a symbol of brutality to animals and shame for Japan. This massive media turn out was part of what caused the permit to capture dolphins to be withdrawn in 1980.
During my 2004 visit I videotaped an interview with the former head of the Katsumoto Fishing Cooperative, the organization that carried out the dolphin hunts, I learned a perverse irony – where once thousands of dolphins migrated by the island, today there are none. More perversely still, the fishermen who had once attempted to eradicate dolphins now wish they had could find and catch them for the lucrative aquarium trade. But there are none. Dolphins have vanished from the waters off Iki. And why is that?
Is it because the fish stocks that constituted dolphin prey have been decimated forcing the dolphins to seek food elsewhere? Is it because warming waters around the island have changed prey distribution and thus moved the dolphins elsewhere? Is it possible the dolphins learned to avoid the waters off Iki Island? Or is it because the dolphins that once migrated past Iki were simply wiped out? Any or all of these is possible.
Another shocking revelation came from the union official Sakae Hemmi and I interviewed in 2004. Standing in a room whose shelves and tables were covered with every imaginable form of dolphin statuette, plate, cup, kite or statue, he said the true reason they stopped hunting dolphins was that it was too costly to bury them. “Burying hundreds of dolphins is not cheap.” My mind chilled at the words. So the tale of what really ended the killing at Iki mimics Rashomon. Everyone sees the story through their own lens, the focus defined by memory or loss of it, ego, and fund raising strategies. And in some cases the pursuit of the truth.
My purpose in writing this blog is to illustrate the complexity of westerners trying to bring about change in Japan. More than a year after the tsunami of protest brought about by the film The Cove, dolphin hunts are still carried out at Taiji. After countless petitions and calls for boycotts the killer boats still sortie after dolphins.
Where I am putting my efforts and those of BlueVoice is into testing dolphin meat and publishing the results in order to drive down the market for the meat and make the drives financially unviable.
The story of our work at Iki in 1979 including lessons for those fighting to end the dolphin hunts in Japan is in The Voice of the Dolphins. http://hardyjonesdolphins.com/