For dolphin lovers, one of the most disturbing places on Earth is a tiny cove in the southern Japanese fishing village of Taiji. To a casual visitor, the community appears to celebrate intelligent cetaceans. There’s a whale museum and images of whales and dolphins in the sidewalk tiles. But in a little body of water surrounded by cliffs, more than 20,000 dolphins and porpoises are massacred every year.
Leah Lemieux, an Ontario-based educator about dolphins, has been to Taiji and witnessed the slaughter with members of the Earth Island Institute. “We climbed up the mountain and hung on the cliffsides and filmed what was happening,” she told the Georgia Straight in a recent phone interview.
She said that yards of plastic tarp are used to shield the cove from being photographed from above. But on one of the days she was there, some of the covering blew away, exposing what she described as a “hideous slaughter”.
“The stuff I shot was picked up by media all over the place,” she said.
Lemieux, author of Rekindling the Waters: The Truth About Swimming With Dolphins, spoke to the Straight shortly before embarking on her third trip to Taiji in three years. Her first visit came a couple of months after the release of the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove. It focused on former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry’s attempt to stop the carnage. The film showed how mercury-loaded dolphin and porpoise meat was being marketed as toxin-free whale meat.
Lemieux, who describes O’Barry as a mentor, said that even after the release of the film, she met people in Taiji who had no knowledge of the dolphin slaughter. Part of her work involves talking to people in Japan about what’s taking place.
The film suggested that Japanese organized criminals were involved in the slaughter. Lemieux said that this is why there’s a heavy police presence in town when the dolphins are being killed, because that’s when environmentalists show up to document the massacre.
“Basically, the yakuza—the Japanese mafia—don’t care about a scandal, but the police do,” she stated. “They don’t want an incident with a westerner there.”
Lemieux recalled speaking with a Japanese businessman and a Japanese journalist who “knew the names and faces of the dangerous people”. And when they were spotted, “they got into their cars and left the whole prefecture when they saw who was there.”
She will be in Vancouver next Thursday (September 22) for a free screening of the film at SFU Harbour Centre at 6:30 p.m. Lemieux will discuss the differences between dolphins in captivity and in the wild, and she plans to focus attention on how The Cove has connections to Canada.
“The most important thing to talk about is actually the fact that the Vancouver aquarium—which I know is a very beloved institution by many out your way—has Japanese dolphins,” Lemieux said.
When The Cove was released, Vancouver aquarium president John Nightingale told the Straight that the film wouldn’t undermine public support for his facility. He claimed that the movie was designed to end the “drive fishery” of dolphins in Taiji. Nightingale emphasized that Pacific white-sided dolphins at the Vancouver aquarium were not captured in the drive fishery, so there wasn’t even an “indirect” connection to his institution. On many occasions, he has said that the dolphins at the aquarium were “rescued”.
Lemieux, however, claimed that dolphins are not “rescued” in Japan. She said they are captured and sent to Japanese facilities, where someone determines if they can perform tricks for an audience. “The process helps to obscure what’s going on,” she alleged. “The fact of the matter is money for tickets sold at the Vancouver aquarium has trickled its way into the pockets of men who kill dolphins in Japan.”
Watch the trailer for The Cove.