By Hardy Jones
The story begins on the first day of our finding about 40 pilot whales netted off in Hatagajiri Bay.
I phoned my first report to a voice-mail box at Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). It would be coupled with the pre-staged video and stills and go out on The Animal Channel within a few hours. The first Internet report brought an audience of unique visitors numbering fifteen thousand within twelve hours. In my report, I asked everyone listening to protest to Japanese embassies and the fishing cooperative in Taiji.
Meanwhile, the fishermen were nowhere to be seen. Sakae walked into town and learned from the woman running the dolphin meat shop that they were discussing what to do about us.
Day two was sunny. We monitored the bay against any attempt to kill the pilot whales. If they were going to die, we were going to film it. Watching a large male protectively circling the females and calves was agonizing for me. I had a slim hope that we could force the fishermen to release them but, in reality, knew they would eventually return with their long knives.
Later in the day, the boat used in the slaughter returned to Hatajiri Bay. It moved among the pilot whales, and suddenly, a man on the bow thrust a spear into the body of one of them. It writhed briefly and then went still. Moments later, the process was repeated. Both whales were then secured by rope to the side of the boat and dragged back to Taiji town for butchering. I filmed the entire process from a hidden position atop the cliff on the north side of the bay. What the fishermen were trying to avoid by this time consuming procedure was any grizzly slaughter footage emerging from Taiji.
I continued to file audio reports. The audience built with each passing hour until we had reached three hundred thousand unique visitors. A tsunami of protest faxes and calls pounded Japanese embassies around the world.
And then the typhoon hit with a vengeance. That night I lay on my futon bed on the straw mat floor thinking of the terror of the whales. Sleep was fitful when it came.
On the morning of the third day, I awoke at 4:30 and, carrying my video camera, left the hotel alone. The killing bay was quiet— only the pilot whales’ percussive breathing what I feared would be their last breaths. I walked along the southern arm of the bay to a point where I could see the incoming storm pushing huge waves against the rocky shore. Rain was falling almost horizontally in wind-driven sheets, but the temperature was mild.
As I turned back toward the road, a little white van appeared. It turned and the headlights hit me straight on. They knew I was there. They clambered out of the cab and started removing their implements of slaughter. Without thinking much about it, I walked toward them, camera running on my hip. They didn’t seem to know what to do, but as I passed among them, I said “Sayonara.” I’m not sure why. One of them growled something that Sakae later translated as “Sayonara, my ass. You know what we’re doing, and you’ll be back.”
Back at the hotel, Larry and Sakae joined me, and we went out the rear door and took a coastal path to reach the ocean side of the killing bay. We climbed a steep stone stairway to a vantage point a couple of hundred feet above the bay. By the time we got there, the killing had begun. The fishermen were stabbing individual pilot whales, then roping their tails and dragging them to the beach to cut their throats and let them bleed out. I crawled out on a rock promontory and began shooting video. Rain was intense, and I wondered how long my Sony camera would hold out.
For a moment, I imagined what the pilot whales must be experiencing: held for days in confusion and terror, concerned for their babies and fellow pod members, then suddenly forced into a confined space and stabbed, roped and hauled to the beach to face their executioners. For most of the time, they would be conscious and feeling excruciating pain. The second rank to be killed would be hearing the cries of those first taken. Soon, the taste of the blood of their pod mates would reach those awaiting the same fate.
But I could think and grieve later. The job of the moment was to record the images. Looking through the lens puts distance between the cameraman and the horror. You have to focus and get the light right and make sure you have sufficient battery charge and tape to carry the whole shoot. But the massacre was registering in me, stored in a momentarily remote place from which it would erupt in later days and nights. I had watched these pilot whales for three days, and this felt very personal.
Suddenly we heard a guttural cry and several fishermen appeared behind us. “What the hell are you doing! You people are a pain in the ass,” they screamed in Japanese.
Larry and I tried to continue taping, but our main concern became safeguarding the video we’d already taken. The mission of these men was to get it from us. We demanded to go to the police, but the fishermen laughed and said, “Fine; they’re our friends.” So we decided against that.
The fishermen carried long poles they use to prod the whales and wore hard hats that they swung at us. I decided the best way to get out of this confrontation was to move to a more public area, so I suggested to Sakae and Larry that we agree to accompany the fishermen down the hill toward the main road and the hotel, pretending to be following their instructions. As we descended, Larry and I discussed what to do.
When I got near the bottom of the stone stairs, I looked back at Larry. He made a signal that he would roll tape, and I made a break for the hotel. A young, heavy-set guy hit me with his hard hat, crouched into a sumo-like stance, and tried to block my way. Crossing the several hundred yards to the hotel in wet jeans was like running through glue. The fisherman kept trying to push me backwards. I made slow progress by putting out my arms like a bird drying its wings and then rolling off him to gain a few steps. I felt like an NBA forward working through a tough defense. My adversary smiled and yelled, “Ah, basketball!” We both laughed. What kind of confrontation was this? A few yards farther on, he hit me particularly hard with his hard hat, then apologized. “Gomenasai”—“So sorry.” Only in Japan!
Larry caught up to me at the entrance to the hotel. We went through the front door like a running back and his blocker. Sakae followed. The fisherman ran into the lobby after us, screaming violently but we managed to get into our rooms and lock the doors.
It seemed apparent that no further videotaping could be done in Taiji. Outside our hotel windows, the typhoon howled, and we were not about to walk back into the hands of the fishermen. What was paramount was to get the video material on the Internet as soon as possible. This would not save the pilot whales now dead or dying in Hatajiri Bay, but perhaps we could thwart the next capture. We didn’t know on whose side the police in Taiji would come down. At all costs, we did not want our videotape confiscated.
With today’s technology—an iPod, for instance—I could have shot video and e-mailed it to HSUS in Washington or uploaded to YouTube. But in 2001, we had to get to a Hyatt hotel in Osaka to transmit via an Ethernet connection.