Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project is there, again; SeaWorld & HSUS have never been there
TAIJI, Japan; TAMPA, Florida––Keeping the infamous dolphin-killing cove at Taiji, Japan under around-the-clock surveillance for the fourteenth consecutive killing season, Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project might have welcomed substantive support from SeaWorld chief executive officer Joel Manby and Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle.
Instead, on September 28, 2016 the Taiji dolphins got lip service from Manby and Pacelle in an op-ed essay for the Tampa Bay Times.
Neither Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project nor any of the other small, perennially underfunded U.S. and Japanese organizations that have worked since 1978 to make the annual dolphin massacres an international issue received even a passing mention.
What happens in Taiji
The dolphin massacres appear to have begun in 1969, when Taiji fishers blamed declining catches on dolphins. The main purpose of the dolphin roundups that precede the massacres long ago evolved, however, into one of the main ways by which wild dolphins are captured for exhibition.
Explained Manby and Pacelle, “From September through March, hunters aboard speedboats use noise to herd schools of dolphins toward shore, corralling them in a cove where they are surrounded by nets, manhandled by divers, and most are killed by driving a metal rod into the dolphin’s neck vertebrae,” through their blowholes, “to try to sever the spinal cord.”
The killing method could be compared to killing humans by pounding ice picks through their noses.
A mention of The Cove
“The hunt has become better known to the world thanks to the Academy Award-winning film The Cove,” Manby and Pacelle acknowledged, but overlooked that The Cove, starring O’Barry, was produced and directed by Louis Psihoyos with no help from either SeaWorld or HSUS, and built upon decades of earlier documentation by others, beginning with U.S. film maker Hardy Jones and Japanese animal advocate Sakae Henmi.
Continued Manby and Pacelle, accurately in what they said, but with further significant omissions, “Fishermen slaughter about 1,000 of these marine mammals in drive hunts each year. The majority are butchered for their meat. But some are taken alive and sold to the aquarium trade — something akin to a black market of organizations that work outside the guidelines of the accredited zoological community.
“In spite of the international outcry from many, including the world’s leading zoos and aquariums, wildlife conservation and welfare groups and millions of outraged people,” Manby and Pacelle said, “the Japanese government continues to issue permits for these dolphin hunts. The same nation is also an outlier in allowing commercial whaling under the guise of science.”
Ric O’Barry himself, now 76, was unimpressed. The former Miami Seaquarium and Flipper series dolphin trainer turned against dolphin captivity and on Earth Day 1970 founded Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project to oppose it by making an unsuccessful effort to free a dolphin named Charlie Brown from a laboratory in Bimini.
Jailed on arrival in Japan to document the 2015 Taiji dolphin-killing season, O’Barry endured prolonged and allegedly torturous interrogation, in apparent violation of international standards of justice, before being released to spend several weeks in Taiji with other volunteer observers.
Leaving Japan to lead a series of protests in other nations against the Taiji killing, O’Barry upon his return in January 2016 was held incommunicado for 19 days at the Narita airport in Tokyo before being deported.
“Placed responsibility on everyone else”
Manby and Pacelle’s words “might have held more validity, O’Barry posted on September 29, 2016 to the Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project web site, “had these mammoth money-earning organizations used their combined weight to apply some real pressure. In this instance,” O’Barry pointed out, “they placed the responsibility for ending the drives on everybody else: From the U.S. government to advocacy organizations and concerned citizens.”
Meanwhile, O’Barry observed, “SeaWorld and HSUS promise no outward effort other than to tackle ‘ocean pollution, commercial whaling, seal hunts and shark finning,’” all laudable but having nothing to do with Taiji, and, in reference to SeaWorld support of marine mammal stranding rescue work in Florida, Texas, and California, “redoubling our efforts focused on rescuing and rehabilitating wild marine mammals in need, with the goal of returning them back to their natural homes.”
O’Barry had no complaint about any of that, but what was left unsaid and unacknowledged disturbed him.
“Those of you who have researched the dolphin drives will know of SeaWorld’s historical role in perpetuating them,” O’Barry charged. “Sakae Henmi of Japan’s Elsa Nature Conservancy reported that there were indications these dolphin drives were dying out,” circa 20 years ago, “until a U.S. Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) recorded that the Miami Seaquarium, Sea Life Park in Hawaii, the Indianapolis Zoo, SeaWorld Inc. and the U.S. Navy imported live cetaceans captured in drive hunts from Japan.”
The dolphin-“saving” industry
SeaWorld at the time had six pseudorcas who had originally been captured at Taiji, including at least one who had arrived after having originally been sold to the Indianapolis Zoo, and had previously kept nine other marine mammals of Taiji origin.
Disclosure of the acquisitions of dolphins from Taiji by major U.S. marine mammal exhibitors encouraged other marine mammal exhibition venues from around the world to venture to Taiji to buy dolphins, whom they could then claim to have “saved.” The purchases markedly increased the financial returns for the Taiji dolphin slaughters, to the point that the dolphin killing in the 2st century has continued mainly as an incidental byproduct of the capture industry.
70 captured, orders pending for 80 more
“So far, this year,” O’Barry reported, “Taiji fishermen have taken almost 70 dolphins for marine parks,” with orders believed to be pending for at least 80 more, “and we’re only a little over one month into the six-month drive season.”
Asked O’Barry, “Given SeaWorld’s past—and current role in perpetuating captivity––are we wrong to ask them for more than words? Both SeaWorld and HSUS make millions but have yet to visit Taiji,” O’Barry pointed out. “A delegation could apply significant pressure to the Japanese government. SeaWorld spends wads of money lobbying political figures when it suits them, so why not now? Imagine,” O’Barry continued, “if literature on the [Taiji dolphin] drives was provided to every visitor to each SeaWorld park or associated facility. The majority of visitors would want to take action, so why not offer them an opportunity to do so?”
The Manby and Pacelle collaboration, O’Barry suggested, “likely stems from a recent petition authored by Colorado resident Orianne Weir. The petition calls on both SeaWorld and HSUS to condemn the International Marine Animal Trainers Association for continuing to allow trainers into their organization who actively take part in the [Taiji] dolphin selection process. It has so far garnered over 133,000 signatures from people who want action.
“SeaWorld and HSUS cannot overlook IMATA’s involvement if they are serious about stopping the drives,” O’Barry said, noting that “IMATA’s November 2016 conference is being hosted by SeaWorld San Diego.”
“Chickens now cage-free, but not the dolphins”
Pacelle on September 29, 2016, the same day that O’Barry wrote, “announced that SeaWorld is switching 100% of its egg usage [in restaurants on SeaWorld premises] away from battery cage operations to cage-free by the end of next year. We applaud this, whole-heartedly,” O’Barry finished, “but question the ambiguity. The chickens are now cage-free, but not the dolphins?”