The Cove comes to downtown Vancouver

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      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.




      Sep 15, 2011 at 7:29am

      Chilling film; valuable for showing what's behind the cover-up.

      "For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Who sows the seed of murder and pain, cannot reap joy and love."
      -- Pythagoras

      "If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."
      -- St Francis of Assisi

      Simon Varnam (resident in Japan)

      Sep 15, 2011 at 6:53pm

      This misunderstood figure of 20,000 has crept in again. This figure is for the WHOLE of Japan.
      Taiji's quota is about 2,000, though they rarely fill it.
      The rest (14~16,000) were formerly caught in the NE of Japan, but the tsunami has disabled most of the boats used, so the harpoon hunt there has collapsed. For the moment.
      Let's pray they don't re-allocate the quota to Taiji....

      You can help end the slaughter by NOT supporting facilities with dolphins shows. Taiji is not the only place in the world they come from of course..... google a little and see..

      Terry S

      Sep 16, 2011 at 5:40pm

      The quota numbers Do Not Matter . This senseless, cruel slaughter has to stop NOW. Numbers just mask the evil brutality occuring in this so-called 'industry'. Cruelty to animals must stop now--we have other options for food...and purging our oceans of life must stop now. This has been in danger for a long time. Time to stop talking and arguing about numbers and do the damn right thing.

      Devil is in the detail

      Sep 16, 2011 at 6:17pm

      Can anyone be specific about these "dangerous people"? It is all very vague and sensationalistic ... sensationalism O'Barry has been keen to exploit, exaggerating stories about assassins.

      There are big differences between organized criminals, yakuza syndicates, buraku and so on. They are not all one and the same, and the subtlety is lost on do-gooder westerners who have little experience of crime worlds in their own country, never mind a foreign one whose language they cannot speak and culture they know little about.

      So please, folks ... put up or shut up on this one.

      Name some names or be specific about which syndicates you are talking about, and let the rest of us check the facts out.

      There is too much hyberbole surrounding this issue and it is distracting from the bigger picture..


      Sep 17, 2011 at 12:54am

      I agree with Terry S. The quota numbers Do Not Matter! However still too many people in the world don't even concern about animal rights and welfare. Mohandas Gandhi said "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated." We all should remember that.

      Tamura Masakazu

      Sep 17, 2011 at 5:24pm

      It sounds funny when the author mentions yakuza. As far as I know, yakuza has nothing to do with anything in this picture. It was only a few eccentric right-winger groups eager to draw public attention tried to block the showing of The Cove in Japan. A journalist interviewed bosses of yakuza on the issue, surprisingly they criticized such act and supported showing of The Cove.

      Activists are actually good friends with a local right-winger group called Yonaoshi-kai, which held a conference between activists and fishermen in 2010.

      Charlie Smith

      Sep 19, 2011 at 7:11am

      This letter came from Clint Wright, who is senior vice resident and general manager of the Vancouver aquarium:

      September 15, 2011

      Dear Editor,

      I wanted to take the time to clarify inaccurate statements in the story, “The Cove Comes to Vancouver”, published today in the Georgia Straight.

      The Vancouver Aquarium is recognized worldwide for its high standards of animal care and, in particular, our expertise in caring for marine mammals. Our 400+ staff and 1,000+ volunteers at the Aquarium care immensely about our animals, which is why it is important that we clarify inaccurate statements regarding our three Pacific white-sided dolphins.

      The Vancouver Aquarium is a member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, an international organization that condemns the inhumane killing of dolphins and other cetaceans in the Japanese drive fisheries. The message of “The Cove”, that drive fisheries must stop, echoes our position and that of like-minded, credible institutions.

      Members of the Alliance do not support, fund, or acquire animals from drive fisheries. Unfortunately, there has been and continues to be a great deal of misinformation being circulated about where the animals from the drive fishery end up. It is completely false that any of these animals are being exported to North America. There is not a single dolphin from the drive fishery in any aquarium that is accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (International).

      Our three Pacific white-sided dolphins did not come from the Japanese drive fishery nor were they purchased. They were rescued as badly injured animals from fixed fishing nets along the East Coast of Japan, and would not have survived in the wild. Those same dolphins are now helping Aquarium researchers understand how dolphins perceive nets — a study we hope will lead to the development of dolphin safe nets, ultimately protecting other wild dolphins from a similar fate.

      The stories of our three rescued dolphins help to inspire personal action to conserve our natural world. Our dedicated staff and volunteers are proud of the excellent work we do every day, from wildlife rescue to shoreline cleanups. And it’s the reason we are supported by our 60,000 members who are passionate about the diverse and impactful work we do at the Aquarium.

      Clint Wright
      Senior Vice-President and General Manager
      Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

      The Daver

      Sep 24, 2011 at 4:17am

      What’s really sad is that people are distracting themselves from real pelagic conservation issues with this obsession for cute dolphins.

      Yes, the slaughter is ugly to watch, but so is any American slaughterhouse. It’s not like the dolphin slaughter is cruel (anymore) and it’s not like dolphins are endangered, so frankly, most people need to just get over it.

      John Dineley

      Sep 24, 2011 at 5:38am

      It is such a pity that these groups don't concentrate of the huge numbers of animals killed in the drives rather the handful that end up in captivity.

      The fact is if they banned these small number of animals going to aquariums that would not stop the slaughter of the thousands of dolphins every year in Japan. Moreover as Clint Wright said these animal did not come from a drive fishery and this is mischief making by Lemieux etal.

      They are basically using a brutal and horrible hunt practice which as been condemded by many zoos and aquaria to allow them voice their bigotry against animals collections. Sadly most of these people are animal rights ideologs and have little interest in animal welfare.