11/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Interview with Ric O'Barry from The Cove

Ric O'Barry, former Flipper-trainer-turned-activist and subject of the documentary The Cove, departed this morning for his second visit to Japan in as many weeks. It's a frequent trip for him during the dolphin-killing season that runs from September to March in Taiji, Wakayama prefecture. The focus of this trip, he said yesterday on the phone from Miami, is to keep Taiji in the news and to spread the message that the pilot whales, which are being killed despite a temporary ban on dolphin killing, are more toxic than bottlenose dolphins.

"That's what this trip is all about because the dolphin hunters are playing games with us saying they're not killing dolphins anymore -- they're killing the pilot whale," he said. "Well, the pilot whale is in fact a large dolphin. Ironically, it has the highest levels of mercury. [...] They're targeting the pilot whales and it's sold in the whale section right next to whale meat from different parts of Japan. All of it is contaminated, of course. The only whales that are not contaminated are the 1,000 they bring in every year from the Antarctic."

Although there is a temporary ban on the killing of dolphins in Taiji, O'Barry said that it's a public relations stunt and that 50 pilot whales were killed last week alone.

"It's good they're not killing bottlenose dolphins, but they all suffer in exactly the same way," he said. "We want to see a ban. There is no reason--cultural reason or any other reason--for anybody to eat contaminated, heavily toxic dolphin meat."

O'Barry insists that Japanese people have a right to know about the contaminated meat being sold in the Taiji markets. During his last trip two weeks ago, he went to the market in Taiji to purchase meat so it can be tested for mercury. He was met by the head of the Dolphin Hunter's Union, who prevented him from entering the market. (You can watch footage from that trip on YouTube.)

An article in yesterday's Japan Times titled "Mercury Danger in Dolphin Meat" details a study conducted by Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and expert on mercury in dolphins and whales. The article states:

[...] Taiji residents had mercury levels about 10 times the national average. Meat from pilot whales is quite common in Taiji area stores, and hair samples taken from people who said they ate pilot whale meat more than once a month had an average mercury level of 25.6 ppm, while those who ate the meat once every few months had an average level of 15.5 ppm. [...] "We discovered that people weren't eating whale meat every day. At most, they were eating it a few times a month. The problem is that although the frequency of eating the meat was low, the levels of mercury in the meat were surprisingly high," Endo said.

O'Barry's strategy is to keep Taiji in the news, which he said is exactly what the dolphin hunters do not want to happen. On Sept. 25, he'll be screening The Cove for the 250 members of the Foreign Press Club in Tokyo.

"Hopefully most of [the Foreign Press Club] will show up and see the film," he said. "And then we will invite them to come to Taiji the next day, and I think many of them will. I want the journalists to go to the grocery store with a meat section and buy it and have it tested, just like we did. If the meat is not contaminated with mercury, I'll go away and never come back."

The long term strategy, he said, is to open an office in Japan to be run by Japanese people to keep the campaign going inside the country.

"There's just a few of us returning to Taiji time after time, and it's very expensive," he said when asked about how people can support his mission to stop the annual slaughter. "To be frank, we need their donations. We'll show up but we need people to send--even if it's sending us one dollar--whatever they can to and support our efforts. We're under-funded and under-staffed, and we've got to open an office in Japan. All that translates into money."

O'Barry is also facing $700,000 in legal bills. He had returned for two days of depositions this week for a $300 million lawsuit against O'Barry and his employer, Earth Island Institute, brought on by Ocean World, a casino, hotel and amusement park in the Dominican Republic that was set to receive 12 dolphins from Taiji.

"[Ocean World] rewarded the Taiji dolphin hunters with $154,000 for each dolphin--that's like $1.8 million or something--for 12 dolphins," he said. "We went to the Dominican Republic and made an appeal to the president and the minister for the environment. We showed the violent captures on television in the Dominican Republic, and as a result the dolphins were never allowed in to the country. [...] They know they can't win, but they just try to inflict damages, keep you off track, jumping through hoops. I just got home from France a few days ago. I had to do two days of depositions, and I'm going right back to Japan again, leaving my family behind. This lawsuit is very, very time consuming, and we're happy the Dominican Republic refused to import dolphins. Other countries will follow suit when they learn about this."

Despite the hassle of the lawsuit, he's excited by the outpour of support for the film and the mission. Because of the efforts of Ben Stiller and his friends, the movie will be showing at the Tokyo Film Festival--a major breakthrough for the campaign.

"Thank you Ben Stiller, wherever you're at," O'Barry said. "He made that happen. Ben and his friends picked up the phone and called the board of directors of the film festival and complained about censorship. They're going to show it, which is a major deal. Now there are distributors in Japan that are interested in showing it. If this film does get shown in theaters in Japan I believe that the consumers of dolphin meat and whale meat will no longer be consumers," he said.

He also received a supportive call from David Crosby and Graham Nash, whose son, Jackson Nash, has joined the campaign and is working with children in Harlem on dolphin rap songs. O'Barry said they're trying to get the children to perform in Taiji. Bill Kreutzmann, founding member and drummer of the Grateful Dead, has also expressed his interest in helping the campaign after reading online about O'Barry's efforts.

"People coming forward like this--it's a wonderful thing to see," O'Barry said. "And that's exactly what the dolphin hunters don't want. They want this issue just to go away, and the public to go away and the media attention to go away. And that's not gonna happen not until they stop killing these dolphins."

Originally posted on TakePart.

Ric O'Barry will be blogging later today from Japan. You can join us next Tuesday, Sept. 29 for a Facebook chat with O'Barry live from Tokyo. Follow TakePart on Twitter for updates on both.