New year begins with “Blue Cove Days,” but probably not for long
TAIJI, Japan––December 2015 concluded and 2016 began with 10 consecutive “Blue Cove Days,” as Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry calls days when no dolphins are killed at the infamous scene near Taiji where the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove was covertly filmed.
“A Blue Cove Day” is a day when no dolphins are herded into the cove by small boats, none are captured for sale to exhibition venues around the world, and none are killed by having spikes hammered into their blowholes, causing them to drown in their own blood as the normally blue cove turns red.
There was no reason to believe, unfortunately, that “Red Cove Days” would not soon resume.
“We believe that the hunters may be on their holiday break,” O’Barry speculated.
“In the previous season,” summarized Japan Times, “they [the Taiji hunters] caught 937 dolphins against a quota of 1,971. The current season’s quota is set at 1,873.” The quota was reduced, apparently, Japan Times explained, because “In May, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums banned its members from obtaining any dolphins caught through this method, after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums temporarily suspended its membership.”
“Lit up the building”
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project volunteers have kept the cove under daily surveillance. O’Barry himself, however, has been away from Japan for weeks, making speaking and media appearances, fundraising, and leading protests.
“Greetings from London,” O’Barry e-mailed to ANIMALS 24-7 on December 20, 2015. “We had another huge protest at the Japanese embassy on Friday. This time we lit up the building.”
O’Barry’s hiatus from Taiji is soon to end, however.
“I’m scheduled to go back in January with a German TV crew,” O’Barry told attorney/journalist and musician Stack Jones, in recent years a prolific blogger for Nihongo News.
“I’ve hired an attorney to make sure that my legal rights are protected,” O’Barry continued. “I’ll have a lawyer with me as well.”
Jones’ focus as a blogger is using his unique combination of skills, opportunities, and professional contacts to extensively expose human rights abuses in Japan. As Jones often points out, traditional xenophobia and deference to authority has long trumped the bill of rights written into the Japanese constitution after World War II at direction of General Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the U.S. military occupying forces, 1945-1951.
MacArthur today may be best remembered for his March 1942 pledge after retreating from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines: “I shall return.” He did.
Unfortunately, while attempting to rebuild the post-war Japanese economy, MacArthur also rebuilt the Japanese whaling industry, indirectly obliging O’Barry’s decades of work against it.
What happened to O’Barry on his last visit to Japan––and O’Barry’s subsequent relative silence about it––exemplified much that Jones had already been blogging about. In early December 2015 Jones and Nihongo News made the episode public, in depth and detail.
O’Barry has been internationally known for making noise against dolphin captivity since Earth Day 1970, when he left a lucrative career as a Miami Seaquarium and Hollywood dolphin trainer to try unsuccessfully to free a dolphin named Charlie Brown from a laboratory in the Bahamas.
Yet O’Barry made very little noise on his own behalf after he was arrested in Japan on August 31, 2015, on his way to Taiji.
One leading Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, reported only that “A 75-year-old American was arrested while driving a rental car in the neighboring town of Nachikatsuura. He is suspected of violating the Immigration Control Law for not carrying his passport.
Elaborated Japan Times, “Richard O’Barry, 75, was arrested Monday night after admitting to police he did not have his passport on him. The police said they were following up on a tip about a rental car being driven by a drunken driver. An officer stopped the car O’Barry was driving, but a breath test showed he was within the legal limit.”
Agence France-Presse and Associated Press picked up the story without adding further information to it.
Did not embarrass officials
O’Barry enlisted help from some fellow activists and at least one sympathetic member of the U.S. Congress, but––except on behalf of the Taiji dolphins––did not embarrass the Japanese government.
“If I do that,” O’Barry told Jones, “they have an excuse to not let me into the country. Every time I go to Japan I’m detained upon arrival. I tell them the same thing. I have a right to be in Taiji. I have a right to blog about dolphin slaughter, just as they would have a right to go to a slaughterhouse in America if they wanted to. I repeat this every time I’m interrogated. Regardless, they try to trip me up by asking the same questions over and over again.”
“Police knew it all along”
O’Barry was arrested, Jones reported, at direction of an employee of the Shigu Police Station in Wakayama named Takimoto.
“The police charged Mr. O’Barry for being in violation of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act,” Jones said, which “requires foreigners to be in possession of their passport at all times. The problem that arises for the Japanese authorities is that O’Barry was in possession of his passport, and the police who arrested him knew it all along. O’Barry was also in possession of an international driver’s license.
“Under the ICRRA an international driver’s license is an acceptable form of alternative identification,” Jones continued. “Regardless, O’Barry was arrested anyway,” after having already made “a voluntary appearance at the police station where he met with Takimoto, and allowed his passport to be photocopied. O’Barry also let the police know what his itinerary was to be,” Jones added noting that “There is no legal requirement for O’Barry to do this.”
“Obviously a set-up”
Narrated O’Barry, “I was eating with a group from Phuket, Thailand. They were in Japan to let officials know they don’t want Taiji dolphins sold in Thailand. Before we arrived at the hotel, the photographers were already there. Police vehicles barricaded the hotel parking lot. It was obviously a set-up from the start. I was pulled over by a dozen police cars, and forced out of the car I was driving. About ten officers approached me. Immediately the police demanded I give them a Breathalyzer test. I did. In Japan, driving under the influence is 1.5. I blew 0.0. The police didn’t want to let me go, so the officer I had already shown my passport to just a couple hours earlier demanded to see my passport. I looked in the vehicle where I knew I had put it, but it wasn’t there. I was immediately arrested for not carrying my passport. I was handcuffed and taken into custody, and the police towed, and impounded the car, even though it was already at the hotel where I was staying.”
Explained Jones, “At the end of dinner, O’Barry, and his companions entered the vehicle he had rented, and headed to the hotel where he had reserved a room. The hotel was a mere 200 meters (650 feet) from the restaurant. This means that it would have taken less than one minute to drive from the restaurant to the hotel parking lot.
“I asked O’Barry if he was served a warrant regarding seizure of the vehicle,” Jones wrote. “He stated that he was not. Japan has strict warrant requirements regarding police seizing someone’s property. The police must obtain a valid search warrant issued by a judge. There must be a showing that the property was used in a criminal capacity. The Breathalyzer test exonerated O’O’Barry of that, as he was clearly not driving under the influence. Therefore, the vehicle seizure was illegal.”
Tied to chair
Recounted O’Barry, “I was booked, photographed, and fingerprinted. Two guys with a flashlight examined every orifice of my body. Three guys stood over me as I tried to piss. Throughout the night I was taken in, and out of a cell. Again and again I was tied up with black nylon ropes around my waist. I was handcuffed, and taken into interrogation. Each time I was tied to a chair. About the third time I said, ‘Look, I’m 75 years old. I can’t do this any more.’ After that I kicked the chair out from under me, and it broke. I fell to the floor. They picked me up and carried me back to the cell. There was no furniture, nor any bedding. Nothing, just an empty cell. The other prisoners had to kneel exactly in the middle of the cell. I was witnessing torture. It can’t be described as anything else. After that, I refused to cooperate.
“I have health issues,” O’Barry told Jones. “I take four medications, and I need those medications. The police refused to get me my prescriptions that were at the hotel. They said we have to take you to the hospital if you have to have any medications. Handcuffed, they tied me to a wheelchair, and took me to a public hospital. We entered in the main area. The entire thing was an exercise in humiliation. At first, I thought this was because I couldn’t locate my passport. But, I also had an international drivers license on me. When I was released I was told that they (the police) found it (the passport) in the glove box. This was entirely suspicious, as it was not where I knew it was.”
O’Barry was not provided with a translator until the following day. The police, meanwhile “only spoke Japanese, so I don’t know what they were trying to say,” he recounted to Jones. “All night long they kept writing things in Japanese, and trying to force me to sign whatever it was that they were writing down. Nothing was about the passport. They were trying to force me to sign a statement that I was a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,” O’Barry alleged. “They were trying to write a statement, about ten times, in Japanese. I had no idea what they were writing, and they wanted me to sign each one of those statements. I said, ‘Are you are kidding me? Who in the hell would do that?’ They kept doing it all night long. Finally, I put my head on the desk, and ignored them, and they carried me back to the cell again. Really, the entire thing was torture. This shouldn’t be allowed. I couldn’t take it any longer, and just dropped to the floor, and said, ‘I don’t care if you shoot me. I’m done.’
“Exhausted, sleep-deprived, numb”
“I hardly remember being released,” O’Barry continued. “I was exhausted, sleep-deprived, numb. I was not capable of thinking anything. And that’s how they do it. They want you in that condition so you’ll finally sign whatever it is that they put in front of you.
“After being released,” O’Barry added, “the cops followed me around everywhere I went. They were calling my hotel room, and asking me to come to the police station for questioning. They followed my car, and pulled me over to ask if I would come in for more questioning. They kept telling me to return to the station to aid in their investigation. Each day I was followed around, and asked to submit to more interrogations. I said, ‘You got to be kidding me. What makes you think I want you to torture me again?’ I videotaped these harassments. The cops didn’t know it, though. It stopped when I hired a lawyer, and he called them, and told them I wasn’t going to answer any more questions.
“Suing the museum”
“The first lawyer I called is suing the museum, where the mayor is running his scam. I then talked to a lawyer named Takano. He contacted the police and demanded they stop harassing me. Understanding that the prosecutor could still files charges, and that those responsible were some place at the top, I ended up leaving Japan, and going to Beijing.”
Charged Jones, “Every one of the false statements prepared by the police attempted to implicate O’Barry as an eco-terrorist, and a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The Institute of Cetacean Research, a front group for Japan’s state-sponsored whaling program, deems the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society a terrorist organization. The International Court of Justice however, has ruled that the Institute for Cetacean Research is a fraudulent organization, and under the auspices of science, is in reality a commercial whaling enterprise.”
“Threats & intimidation”
Under similar pressure, Jones wrote, “Nearly 95% of [Japanese police] detainees succumb to the relentless onslaught of threats and intimidation. During the [23-day] police investigation period detainees are not allowed to gather evidence on their own behalf, obtain bail, or have contact with an attorney or family. Once indicted, detainees are intentionally refused the opportunity to raise a valid defense, or to have a fair hearing in front of an unbiased judiciary. It is under these conditions that Japan obtains a 99.99% conviction rate. The U.S. Department of State, the United Nations, and Amnesty International release annual reports condemning these counterfeit proceedings, yet they continue unabated.”
Focused on the dolphins
While Japanese human rights abuses remain Jones’ focus, O’Barry remains focused on the Taiji dolphins.
Ten days after being released, in his first Facebook posting of length since arriving in Japan, one of O’Barry’s volunteers on September 11, 2015 described how a pod of dolphins who had been driven into the Taiji cove “attempted to flee towards the beach, swimming under the nets to escape. As Ric and his crew stood on the shoreline, a female Risso’s dolphin beached itself in front of them, just a few feet away from where Ric was standing. Despite efforts to return the dolphin to deeper water, she died from the stress of the drive.”
“Closest I have come to jumping in the water”
Explained O’Barry, “The drives are so stressful on dolphins that pregnant females in the process of a drive can abort their calves and young ones can’t always keep up the fast pace. They are lost at sea, unknown and unaccounted for.”
On this occasion the Risso’s dolphin “began to bang her head against the rocks and thrash around, suffering from what is known as ‘capture myopathy’ or shock,” the volunteer narrated.
“This was the closest I have ever come to jumping in the water,” O’Barry said. “Had we jumped in, we’d have been arrested immediately for conspiracy to disrupt commerce. Our video, computers, cameras––everything would have been confiscated.”