In early November 2005, IMMP Associate Director Mark Berman traveled to the Solomon Islands, where he planned to meet with representatives from Soltai, a tuna company owned partly by the Islands’ government. While working with Soltai to increase exports of dolphin-safe tuna, Berman achieved an even greater victory for dolphins.
Berman heard reports circulate that 29 dolphins were about to be transported to the Bahamas to become part of a tourist attraction. With the assistance of local activist and colleague Lawrence Makili Kepangi, Berman lobbied to convince the government to ban the exportation of live dolphins. On November 24, the Parliament of the Solomon Islands’ passed legislation making any future exportation illegal.
The dolphins that were scheduled for sale were some of the approximately 80 dolphins that had been captured in 2003, outraging the environmental and scientific community. Twenty-eight of those dolphins were sold illegally to a dolphin park in Mexico; of those 28, at least six have since died. Twenty-one more may have died during their captivity in the Solomon Islands. IMMP is calling for the immediate rehabilitation and release of the remaining 29 dolphins.
Berman, reporting from the Solomon Islands, said that: “Exporting these dolphins would have brought great shame and economic hard to the Solomon Islands. The only one who would have benefited was the rich foreign businessman who captured the dolphins. The Solomon Islands and Soltai Fishing and Processing Ltd. should be commended for stopping this abuse.”
On October 8, 2005, environmental and animal welfare organizations around the world came together to support dolphins by demonstrating in front of Japanese consulates and embassies. Demonstrations were held in 28 countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Mexico. In the US, demonstrators in Washington DC, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Miami, and San Francisco called for an end to Japan’s dolphin slaughter.
Fishermen kill an estimated 25,000 dolphins a year in Japan’s waters. It is the largest directed fishery against dolphins in the world. Yet most Japanese people do not know it is happening, and are surprised and shocked when informed of the slaughter. Dolphin meat is often sold on the Japanese market mislabeled as “whale” meat. Furthermore, recent tests show dolphin meat in Japan is contaminated by mercury and other pollutants, but the Japanese government has refused to take any action to warn consumers.
Since the demonstrations, however, the Japanese media have begun to take notice. Two feature articles in major national newspapers in Japan have outlined the controversy and brought the horror of the dolphin slaughter to the attention of the Japanese public for the first time.
Tokyo Shimbun, with a circulation of approximately one million, reported October 21 that “[a]quarium dolphins are a popular attraction for city dwellers wanting to be ‘healed’ from the stresses of urban life. But where do these dolphins come from? Richard O’Barry, 66, a dolphin expert visiting Japan with an animal welfare group… said, ‘Dolphins are being captured in roundups in Wakayama Prefecture’s Taiji-cho and Shizuoka Prefecture’s Ito City. Japan is the only country where this cruel practice is carried out.’”
On November 30, the Japan Times reported: “Japan’s annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins began October 8 in the traditional whaling town of Taiji on the Kii Peninsula of Honshu’s Wakayama Prefecture. These ‘drive fisheries’ triggered demonstrations, held under the Japan Dolphin Day banner, in 28 countries. The protests went almost entirely unreported in Japan, where only very few people are aware of what goes on.”
Media attention also included a nationwide broadcast on ABC’s “Primetime” about the dolphin slaughter and attendant involvement of swim-with-dolphins companies and aquariums that come to Japan to pick out a few of the “best” dolphins and then allow the remaining family members to be slaughtered for food. IMMP and other groups placed a full-page ad in the New York Times the day following the “Primetime” broadcast.
Japan Dolphin Day was proposed by activist Richard O’Barry and promoted by One Voice – a leading animal rights group based in France – IMMP, and Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan. O’Barry originally trained the dolphins used in the 1960s TV show “Flipper,” but became disillusioned with the suffering of dolphins in captivity. He now campaigns to rehabilitate and release dolphins from captivity, and to ban the cruel drive fisheries for dolphins.
“Japan Dolphin Day is the just the beginning,” says IMMP director David Phillips. “We are in this fight for the long run to stop the slaughter of dolphins in Japan and protect these marvelous animals.”
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