By Ric O’Barry
Our volunteer in Taiji, Brian Barnes, reports that the Taiji dolphin hunters are back to hunting fish, not dolphins. It remains to be seen if they will go back to hunting dolphins. The normal dolphin hunt season is Sept. 1st through the end of March. Brian’s latest report:
The Taiji fishermen once again spent the day fishing. The good news is that they’re not out hunting for dolphins. The bad news is that there are a lot of captive dolphins in the holding and training pens, destined for a life in prison. Even more bad news is that they are still preparing their two local ships, Katsu Maru No.7 and Sumitomo Maru No. 31, for whaling in Japan’s coastal waters, a part of Japan’s phony “scientific” whaling operation.
I did some research today on these two whaling ships that each carry a harpoon gun. In 2009 from April 22nd to May 21st, these ships killed 60 minke whales and from Sept 5th to Oct 17th they killed 59 minke whales. I was shocked when I learned that these two Taiji ships have killed so many minke whales in a single year.
Fishing, whaling, and capturing and killing dolphins is claimed to be a way of life in Taiji for a handful of people. However, driving dolphins onto a beach and capturing them to sell to amusement parks is not a traditional practice of Taiji. Nor is selling poisoned whale meat to the unknowing public.
In the Faroe Islands in the mid-Atlantic there is a similar type of dolphin hunt involving pilot whales, which are driven onto a beach by boats and greeted by awaiting villagers who hack them apart. It’s called “grindadráp” locally, and it’s also claimed as a “cultural tradition.” But a local physician, Dr. Pal Wiehe, says: “Health issues are more important than tradition.” The health issue that Dr. Wiehe is referring to is methyl-mercury (MeHg), found at extremely high levels in coastal cetaceans.
Methyl-mercury is introduced to the atmosphere as a by-product from various industries worldwide, especially the burning of coal. Much of these toxins find their way to the sea in coastal areas where they are absorbed by marine plants and smaller organisms. Since the food chain works from the bottom up, each time an organism containing MeHg is consumed by a bigger predator, the predator receives bigger cumulative dosage of MeHg. Dolphins are apex predators, thus they receive some of the highest values of MeHg in the oceans. Dr. Roger Payne says it best: “Dolphins are swimming toxic dumpsites.” I’d add that Taiji residents are “walking toxic dumpsites,” since they are the top of the food chain here.
The testing of 1,137 Taiji residents in 2009 – prompted by our work for Save Japan Dolphins – revealed that average MeHg levels were 11.00 parts per million (ppm) for men and 6.63 ppm for women – compared to an average of 2.47 ppm for men, and 1.64 for women at 14 other towns in Japan. 43 Taiji residents tested above 50 ppm of MeHg, with one having a level of 139 ppm.
In the 1950s, Minamata Kumamoto Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu, experienced the worst MeHg poisoning in history. At least 1,787 residents died from eating seafood contaminated by mercury in Minamata Bay. Thousands more were affected by what became known as “Minamata Disease”.
It is possible for Taiji to change and generate a healthy economy. I’ve been studying the infrastructure since I’ve been here. I’ve never see a more beautiful coastline in my life. The entire coast was formed by volcanic lava flows, and if it looks anything underwater as it does above – it must be magnificent! Divers, whale watchers, birders and outdoor enthusiasts could help transform this town.
This area has so much potential to be a hotspot for tourism, and being from Florida, I know a thing or two about tourist hotspots. The infrastructure for supporting a healthy tourist economy is here as well – there are hotels, restaurants, and lots of boats to shuttle tourists around. Really the only thing the area needs is the tourists. I can envision dive shops, clothing shops, postcards and more when I drive through the town.
The United States of course was once a whaling nation. Nantucket, Massachusetts, once approached whaling in the same manner as Taiji – men rowed out in canoes upon a sighting from shore to hand harpoon the leviathan, and later built ships that crossed the world’s waters. Today, Nantucket has a whaling museum that is dedicated to the history of whaling. Today, Nantucket is a tourist hotspot – during the summer months the population doesn’t just double or triple, it expands five times over due to the tourist arrivals! It’s the ideal model for what is waiting for Taiji.