By Frank Zeller (AFP)
TOKYO — Japan’s dolphin-hunting town of Taiji, put under the spotlight in the Oscar-winning eco-documentary “The Cove”, will host a meeting with environmental activists next week.
Every year fishermen in Taiji herd about 2,000 dolphins into a secluded bay, select several dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks and slaughter the rest for meat, a practice long deplored by animal rights campaigners.
Dolphin activist Ric O?Barry, the central character in “The Cove”, said Wednesday he had accepted an invitation to join a public discussion on the issue with Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen and the local fisheries union.
Japanese fishermen, who also hunt whales, have defended killing the sea mammals as part of a centuries-old tradition in the island-nation.
“It is obvious that a large gap exists between the town officials and the fishermen of Taiji, Wakayama prefecture, and anti-whaling groups now,” said the organiser, called the Association to Contemplate Taiji’s Dolphin Hunt.
“We recognise that there are various cultures, religions and beliefs on Planet Earth, and we would like to begin slowly, by acknowledging each other?s stance,” the group said in a statement announcing the November 2 event.
The group added: “A debate on dolphin hunting will likely be unproductive at this juncture, so we have decided that this meeting will be a forum to exchange relevant particulars in the first instance.”
The meeting, which will be open to the media but not the wider public for security reasons, will also be joined by representatives of environmental groups Sea Shepherd, the Whaleman Foundation and the World Ocean Fund.
The talk comes during the annual September-April hunting season, for which Taiji town has been allowed a catch quota of 2,241 small whales and dolphins.
O’Barry, an activist with the Earth Island Institute, who has suggested Taiji promote ecotourism instead of dolphin hunting, said in a statement: “There is a bright future for Taiji without the killing of dolphins.”
“We hope Mayor Sangen has an open mind during this meeting and will see that we can work together for a better future for the dolphins and the people of Taiji,” said O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer for 1960s TV show “Flipper”.
“The Cove”, directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary this year, and has been followed up by a series on cable channel Animal Planet called “Blood Dolphins”.
The team that shot “The Cove” over several years often worked clandestinely and at night to elude local authorities and angry fishermen, setting up disguised cameras underwater and in forested hills around the rocky cove.
Right-wing nationalist groups in Japan — known for their ear-splitting street demonstrations using megaphones — have attacked “The Cove” as anti-Japanese and tried to stop its screenings by harassing movie theatres.
This forced the film’s distributor to scrap screenings in June, but it managed the first commercial showing at a police-guarded Tokyo theatre in July, despite a brief skirmish between right-wingers and supporters.
The association that is setting up the dialogue added in its statement: “We do not know how many years it will take, but we sincerely hope that this meeting is a positive first step for both sides”.
“In order to foster communication among the concerned parties, we are considering having regularly scheduled meetings.”