By Dean Jefferys
By now everyone must know about Taiji, ‘The Cove’ in Japan where some people (I can’t call them fishermen) go out on banger boats and drive dolphins and pilot whales to shore. ‘The Cove’ then turns red as they wait their turn to be stabbed or sold into a life of slavery in aquariums. Up to 20,000 dolphins a year have died this way for decades around Japanese shorelines.
Currently a war of words rages on Facebook and the internet against this brutal practice, especially this week after over 100 pilot whales were slaughtered accompanied by the most horrific, heart-wrenching images imaginable. People’s emotions ranged from shock, sadness, tears and helplessness to rage, threats, boycotts, name-calling and worse. Some brave people, usually those who have been to Japan or have friends who are Japanese, make comments like ‘the Japanese are lovely people’, ‘they don’t know about it’, ‘don’t judge a nation by what a few people do’, or ‘it’s not their culture to protest about anything and if they do they are brutally repressed’.
I have heard that you don’t stick your head up in Japan or it will get banged down like a nail sticking out of some wood. Hence nuclear-power companies took over Japan’s energy production unchecked, and the fisheries department became a law and a power unto themselves.
So how responsible are the constituents of any country for what their government does and enshrines in its laws? I know for most of my life in Australia, when I saw something going on that I judged – and probably most of the world did too – to be wrong, I would say so, as loudly and as physically as I could and so did many others, eg whaling, Franklin Dam, rainforest and old-growth forest logging, live-animal exports, war, treatment and rights of refuges and Aboriginal Australians, mining and export of uranium, social rights, dolphins in captivity, drug law reforms, genetic engineering, CSG… and the list goes on.
Maybe we are in the lucky country and we are free to protest, (and pay the consequences) yet I believe it’s the people standing up for what is right that shapes a country and its policies. In Australia, at least, governments fall regularly over people doing just this. If we, the people, don’t stand up to injustice, be it governmental or corporate, then the global community rightly judges us. That judgment and condemnation often helps bring about positive change.
So what has happened in Japan? How can the whole world be so outraged at their treatment and killing of cetaceans and the government and most of its people do nothing, even when their reputation as a nation is taking a global bloody battering. One Japanese person I spoke to about just this said that some Japanese people did protest a long time ago when they wanted to build nuclear power plants like Fukushima. They were beaten down quite strongly and the government-controlled media always supported the government.
Now, probably due to the fact that most of the Japanese population, present and future, will suffer some effects from the nuclear fallout from Fukushima we are seeing Japanese people coming to the streets in the thousands for the biggest rallies against nuclear energy in 30 years. I heard there was even a protest about fur and animal cruelty recently.
The killing of dolphins and whales is no longer a secret in Japan as much as the Japanese media would have liked it. Even though the media and government in Japan try to paint the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as eco-terrorist, films like The Cove, Whale Wars, and the internet have managed to get real information out about these issues to the world and many Japanese people. As well as having around 10 Cove guardians stationed permanently in Taiji during the killing season, taking photos and giving reports, Sea Shepherd now have a live streaming channel broadcasting events in Taiji as they happen to the world. Sea Shepherd have just departed for their ninth anti-whaling campaign in the Antarctic, called Operation Zero Tolerance, with four ships, a helicopter, three drones and over 100 crew to take on the Japanese whalers head on again.
So how will the killing end, many ask as they work and look for the answer. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson’s strategy to sink them, economically, is certainly putting pressure on the government to justify its immense financial losses every whaling season in the Antarctic; boycotts certainly keep that financial pressure on; international court cases may help; all the petitions, writing and sharing info on the internet and info stalls at the markets must contribute; even people’s focused attention and prayers that it ends may help too, yet I believe what will eventually be the nail in the coffin (sorry) for these brutal, outdated and unjustifiable industries will be an informed and empowered Japanese population inspired by the government errors of the past and taking responsibility for their country’s direction.
On 24 November in Tokyo there will be probably the first rally ever organised to protest about the killing of whales and dolphins. Could this be the defining moment where the Japanese people change Japan’s future fisheries policies, clear their reputation globally and evolve their relationship with whales and dolphins?
‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’ – Mahatma Gandhi
Dean Jefferys is currently on a marine conservation campaign in the Great Barrier Reef – Sailing the Winds of Change 2012 and Beyond – on SV Migaloo 2. For more info on the campaign and journey see www.migaloo2.com; also visit www.seashepherd.org.