Ric O’Barry’s 2012 Resolution: End Taiji Slaughter
The godfather of dolphin activism opens up about the future of Taiji, Japan’s senseless dolphin slaughter.
By Salvatore Cardoni
December 20, 2011
On the precipice of his forty-second year at the vanguard of the dolphin abolitionist movement, Cove star Ric O'Barry has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
"As long as we’re making progress it’s like the carrot on a stick for me," O'Barry tells TakePart, in an exclusive interview. "It just keeps me going. And I see progress in Taiji, despite the fact that they’re still doing it, their circle is getting smaller and smaller and smaller."
The Flipper-trainer-turned-activist’s optimism about ending Taiji, Japan's systematic dolphin slaughter is rooted in basic math. Since 2009, when the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, was released, the cetacean kill count at the infamous Japanese inlet has decreased every year. “It’s a lot less this year than it was last year and last year was less than the year before,” says O’Barry. “So we’re seeing progress.”
Part heist movie, part environmental expose, The Cove depicts O’Barry’s quest to expose tiny fishing village's 50-year-old dolphin drive hunt. After luring the marine mammals from the open ocean into the notorious inlet, Taiji fishermen weed out those worth selling to aquariums in Japan and around the world. The rest are harpooned and then butchered, their mercury-laden meat sold in supermarkets.
Recently, I caught up with O’Barry for a wide-ranging discussion on all things cetacean, including his biggest 2011 dolphin regret and why he never returns to Taiji alone.
TakePart: Do you have a dolphin New Year’s resolution for 2012?
Ric O’Barry: We’re involved in so much. I’m just getting back from the Faroe Islands, and you might know about the dolphin slaughter there. Also, the Solomon Islands, and, of course, the cove in Japan is still going on. There’s also Singapore and Thailand. We’re making headway in some places, and other places it’s like banging your head against the wall.
TakePart: Do you have a personal dolphin regret for 2011?
Ric O’Barry: We wanted to stop the dolphin slaughter in Japan before it started on September 1, and we didn’t accomplish that. But we’re still working on it. I’m hoping 2012 will be the year that it finally ends.
TakePart: The film has been out for more than two years. Is there a result that continues to surprise you to this day?
Ric O’Barry: It surprised me that it hasn’t shut down Taiji’s dolphin slaughter. But it seems that there’s a deliberate attempt to keep the Japanese people from seeing the movie by the government, by the fisheries agency—a concerted effort to stop people from seeing it.
TakePart: Do you have a rough estimate of how many Japanese citizens have seen the film?
Ric O’Barry: No, just a handful of their 127 million people, which live a space the size of California. Getting them to see it is a challenge. That’s been the hard thing because the media is owned and run by the government.
TakePart: Of the 127 million citizens, there’s roughly 3,400 in Taiji. Of this, 50 are registered dolphin hunters. The numbers certainly seem to be in your favor.
Ric O’Barry: I think there is less than 50, actually, that kill dolphins. There’s 13 boats, two guys in each boat, so there’s 26 guys there who are physically killing them. Then there’s another couple dozen working in the slaughterhouse. So it’s less than 50. There are 3,444 people who live in Taiji. The vast majority of them are not involved in the slaughter. That’s one of the reasons we don’t support the boycott. Japanese people aren’t guilty. The people in Taiji aren’t guilty. It’s this small minority of people. But I think there’s a lot of pressure on those individuals now by the people in Taiji. They’re starting to look at that and see how they’re getting this worldwide negative publicity because of this small group of people. So alienating them from the rest of Japanese society is what we’re working on.
TakePart: In different interviews you’ve done since the film’s release, you’ve said that you don’t feel safe going back to Taiji alone. Is there one moment that was particularly scary?
Ric O’Barry: The mayor of Taiji had a conference. Over a hundred media came to it. I was there. The Yakuza was there—the Japanese mafia—and a man was pointing, screaming at the top of his lungs. “I’m gonna kill you,” he was saying. He’s pointing at my son who’s got a camera, and videotaping, saying: “I am gonna kill you.” And his assistant came walking down the stairs with a bag in his hand, I don’t know what was in it, but the police got him up against the wall before he could get to me. And so, you see the real danger there. I mean even the police are afraid of the Yakuza. They’re behind all of this. And once you get them into these little towns, you can’t get rid of them. So, yeah, when I go back there, I have to face these guys, and it’s the young want-to-be Yakuza guy who wants to make a name for himself that frightens me, and that’s who this guy was.
TakePart: But when you go back you’re never alone, right?
Ric O’Barry: I try not to be. There’s over a hundred police stationed there now. So that offers some protection. I have a pretty good relationship with the police, and they’ve been very fair, very professional. They’ve seen The Cove. It’s required viewing for them before they’re assigned there. So yeah, I feel somewhat protected if they’re there between me and the guys who want to kill me.
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Photo of Ric O’Barry surrounded in Taiji by police by Mark J. Palmer.
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