THE BLOG

On the Beach in Taiji for the Dolphins

09/04/2013 01:25 pm ET | Updated Nov 04, 2013

This Labor Day ushered in a lazy weekend for us in the United States, celebrating the last warm days of summer. But I haven't celebrated Labor Day in many years.

You see, we call Sept. 1st. Japan Dolphins Day. It is an ominous date for me and millions of people who watch in horror as another five to six month hunting season commences in the little town of Taiji, Japan, for hundreds of dolphins. The blood bath that ensues was filmed surreptitiously and became part of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove.

We have made some progress in Taiji. When our Earth Island Dolphin Project Campaign started up in 2004, around 1,600 dolphins were killed in the Cove that season. This last season, which ended in February 2013, about 900 dolphins were killed.

We have been told by contacts in Japan that the dolphin hunting is down because the market for whale and dolphin meat is collapsing - Japanese are concerned about the high levels of mercury and PCB contamination found in dolphin meat and the meat of many whales. Our campaign to expose the hunts and the dangers of mercury to the Japanese people is working.

That's the good news, although for the 900 dolphins that died last year, the news obviously is still pretty bad. And more will die come Sept. 1st.

The captive dolphin industry, which has been exposed by The Cove and the new documentary on SeaWorld, Blackfish, continues to be active in Taiji. A dead dolphin can bring about $600 USD on the Japanese market for its meat. But a live trained dolphin can fetch $150,000 or more on the global market from dolphinariums that exploit these wonderful and intelligent animals to do tricks for tourists.

This last season, a whopping 250 dolphins were captured by the Taiji dolphin hunters and put in small, netted pens in Taiji harbor and other captive tanks around town. A recent check by an Earth Island volunteer showed most of those dolphins are now gone. Either they died in captivity or they have already been shipped off to dolphinariums in Japan, China, the Middle East, and other destinations.

Clearly, the dolphin captivity industry and the slaughters are inextricably linked, despite what the industry would have you believe. Each year, thousands of activists in cities around the world have united on Japan Dolphins Day to voice their concern over the hunts. While these events were traditionally held at Japanese embassies and aimed at putting pressure on the Japanese government, these days the events are also about the global captivity industry, with the goal of reducing demand for captivity by raising awareness of the hardships that dolphins endure in these facilities.

In Korea this year, a captive dolphin that I helped to rehabilitate escaped early and headed straight back to her family, even after years in captivity. This shows that captive dolphins likely remember their days of freedom in the oceans, and that, given a choice, they will return to their family members. Japan Dolphins Day is really about dolphin liberation, from slaughters and captivity alike.

I too will be out for this year's Japan Dolphins Day, back on the beach in Taiji on Sept. 1st. I have activists joining me from all around the world: from the US, Bolivia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Australia, South Africa, and Brazil.

I will also be joined on the beach and in Tokyo by a dozen Japanese activists, who have invited us to join them in a flash mob action to help educate the Japanese public about the dolphin hunts - too many Japanese still do not even know the hunts exist!

I will be accompanied by Matt Sorum, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. He was a founding member and drummer of Guns and Roses and founder of the supergroup, Kings of Chaos. Matt is also a the Musical Director for "Tokyo Celebrates the Dolphin", an upcoming musical event which is intended to generate much needed positive international publicity regarding Japan's relationship with dolphins.

The concert and celebration will be about the relationship the people of the Tokyo islands have with wild and free dolphins. Among those islands, the local people have adopted the dolphins and given them names. One island has actually made their dolphins official citizens.

So, I can end this column on an upbeat note. Change is happening in Japan, albeit too slowly and with too much interference by the real bad guys: the Japan Fisheries Agency that promotes the killing of whales and dolphins and a complicit government that allows the trade of these wonderful marine mammals that are so brutally captured.

You can follow our events in Japan on our blog and on our Ustream channel:

If you are interested in participating in the one of the one hundred Japan Dolphins Day events being planned all around the world on Sept. 1st, please register at japandolphinsday.net.

I think the dolphin hunts will end, hopefully sooner than later. It is because of many dedicated volunteers in Japan and around the world -- we won't quit until the dolphins are left living and free in their ocean homes where they belong.