In 1982, I returned to Japan to negotiate with Japanese fishermen on Iki Island to end the slaughter of the dolphins there. In 1981, one of my crew Patrick Wall, was arrested for releasing dolphins at Iki, and in 1980, my friend the late Dexter Cate representing the Fund for Animals, was arrested and held for months for freeing dolphins at Iki. I believe that the collective efforts of Howard Hall, Hardy Jones, Dexter Cate, Patrick Wall, Cleveland Amory, the Fund for Animals, and Sea Shepherd resulted in that slaughter ending by 1983.

The Five Challenges in Japan
Nihon no Itsutsu no Cyousen

Sea Shepherd and TaijiToday I find myself still in opposition to many of the atrocities inflicted by some Japanese citizens against marine life and I see that we have five major challenges involving conservation issues with Japan, including: (1) Illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, (2) the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, (3) the annual slaughter of some 20,000 Dall’s Porpoises in Northern Japan, (4) the threat of extinction of the Bluefin tuna, and (5) excessive and illegal pelagic longline fishing.    

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been actively involved in four of these issues. Whaling in the Southern Ocean since 2002, the slaughter of dolphins in Japan since 1980, and in Taiji specifically since 2003. The bluefin tuna fishery since 2009 and the longline fishing issue since 1987. When resources and time permit, we will address the fifth issue…the mass slaughter of the Dall’s Porpoises.

Right now, I would like to address the issue in Taiji with an explanation of Sea Shepherd’s overall strategy in addressing this problem.

Since Sea Shepherd turned the international spotlight on Taiji in 2003, the participation of Ric O’Barry and the production team of Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), have elevated Taiji as a truly international cause. There is no question that international pressure, what the Japanese call ‘gaiatsu,’ has become an important element, if not the most important element in combating the atrocity of the dolphin slaughter in the Wakayama Prefecture.

There is no doubt that the efforts of Sea Shepherd have been the longest and most consistent opposition to the killing of dolphins in Taiji. However, Sea Shepherd recognizes that the strength of any movement must lie in diversity of its approaches. We have seen this diversity with the ongoing efforts of Ric O’Barry, OPS, and Earth Island Institute, and with the years of documentary contributions by Hardy Jones and Howard Hall.

Admittedly, all of these efforts have been a form of gaiatsu, yet with very little pressure brought to bear from inside Japan by Japanese citizens. This is regrettable but does not mean that gaiatsu should be abandoned.

Last year Sea Shepherd established the Cove Guardians to monitor and document the activities in Taiji on a daily basis. The Cove Guardians are organized under the leadership of a small, established crew based in Taiji that acts as a conduit for the involvement of international volunteers to come to Japan to participate on the ground in Taiji for brief periods of time. The Cove Guardians have been active in Taiji everyday since the beginning of September 2010, and will remain in Taiji until the end of March 2011. This has never been done before and will establish a well-documented portrait of what happens in Taiji.

There are those who disagree with this approach from two conflicting perspectives. The first is that this approach is not aggressive enough, and the second is that we are being too aggressive in our approach. Nothing unusual in this regard and we don’t pretend to satisfy everyone.

Sea Shepherd and TaijiThe group Blackfish represents those who feel we are not being aggressive enough. In October 2010, unbeknownst to Sea Shepherd, Blackfish members, some of whom are former Sea Shepherd crewmembers, attempted to cut nets to free dolphins in Taiji harbor. The attempt was unsuccessful and no dolphins were freed. It is my considered opinion that the move was not properly planned and was therefore counter-productive. It would have represented a morale victory if it was successful but the activists attempting it lacked the proper training and the experience to properly do the job. I could not oppose any tactic that resulted in the saving of even one dolphin’s life, even at the expense of weakening the overall strategy, but a complete failure in implementing such tactics served only to increase surveillance and security without achieving a single gain.

As successful intervention justifies having to deal with an escalation by the opposition, a failure in intervention without a positive gain that results in an escalation by the opposition is counter productive.

Sea Shepherd had already cut nets and freed dolphins in 2003, and although that was a successful intervention, it admittedly did not help to solve the problem overall. However, it did result in efforts by the fishermen to hide their nefarious activities from the public, which became the basis for the Academy Award-winning film The Cove.

As expected, the success of The Cove has led to more interest and involvement by many people to address the tragedy of the dolphin slaughter. Unfortunately, many people mean well and wish to get involved have approached the situation without a proper strategy. Some have reacted emotionally, while some simply have questionable motives.

The group Oceanic Defense actually pretended to be in Taiji in September 2010, and simply reposted Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian blogs and pictures onto their own site. They finally admitted that they were never present, so it was evident that they were using Taiji simply as a way to recruit financial support for their organization. The Cove Guardians, who were on the ground, did not appreciate this as they were presented with an unpredictable and unwanted invisible so-called ally, who was publicly threatening to sink fishing boats and cut nets.

Recently there have been a few Western groups who have been critical of Sea Shepherd’s approach stating that the Cove Guardians are not respectful of the Japanese culture, and going so far as to accuse Sea Shepherd of violence and criminality.

The Cove Guardians have not engaged in any violence, nor has there been a single crime committed by a Cove Guardian while in Japan. There is an overriding perception of violence and criminality on the part of Sea Shepherd primarily from accusations by critics, a few from the right-wing movement in Japan, but mostly from Western groups who feel that the key to ending the slaughter is submissive public displays of love and respect for the fishermen of Japan responsible for the killing.

The extreme right-wing nationalist movement has even invented a new phrase called ‘food culture,’ and they have suggested that if anyone is critical of what some Japanese people eat, than their criticism is akin to racism. Of course anytime the word racist is tossed into an argument, the politically correct crowd can be counted on to react with righteous horror, indignation, and condemnation. This is to be expected and hardly a surprise.

Although I prefer to be ecologically correct rather than politically correct, I am not completely insensitive to the concerns of those who wish to defend their so-called culture. However, the real question is whether the slaughter of dolphins is part of Japan’s culture or just simply a part of the culture in Taiji? For example, there are some sadistic types in Colorado who say that blowing the heads off prairie dogs for sport is part of their culture, and maybe it is for some backwater little redneck town in Colorado, but it can hardly be said that prairie dog shooting is part of the American culture.

It is however not a question of rejecting a cultural tradition as much as choosing one culture over another. It is not possible to respect two opposing cultural ideas at the same time. Sea Shepherd has chosen to respect the culture of the dolphins over that of a backwater little town in Japan that even most Japanese had never heard of before this very controversy.

There will be of course those who will reject that dolphins have a culture, but the fact is that dolphins are intelligent, they have highly sophisticated communication abilities, and they have very complex social interactions with each other. Every whale and dolphin species has their own unique culture and that culture includes their right to live and to not be molested and disturbed by the chauvinistic desires of a particular culture of another species.

Sea Shepherd has chosen to champion the cultural survival of the dolphins over the cultural desires of a very small group of fishermen in Japan.

The only group in Japan outside of Taiji that cares about the so called food culture of Taiji is the ultra right-wing nationalist movement, and they have very little support or respect although they tend to be loud and threatening. They are Japan’s equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan notable for attracting extremist nationalists like Yukio Mishima who tried to overthrow the government in 1970, and then slit his own belly open in protest when he failed. Today they lead anti-Chinese, anti-Western, and anti-Korean rallies and enjoy the support of the criminal Yakuza element. To be targeted by this movement for anything is hardly an insult.

When Western groups complain that the right-wing nationalists are upset over Sea Shepherd’s so-called aggression and disrespect, this simply portrays how ignorant such people are about the lack of influence these loud-mouthed ultra-right wing extremists really are.

It reminds me when we opposed the slaughter of pigeons in Higgins, Pennsylvania years ago and the Klu Klux Kan came out to defend the cultural right of the citizens of Higgins to release pigeons from cages so they can shoot them before they can escape. Despite the fact that the local people insisted on their traditional right to slaughter tens of thousands of defenseless pigeons each year, the slaughter was ended in 1999. It took years but we won.

Likewise we don’t expect to win the fight for the lives of the dolphins in Taiji overnight. Higgins took us over two decades. But we never gave in to the demands for respect for their culture in Higgins and we will not stoop to respecting a culture of slaughter in Taiji, just as we cannot respect the bullfight in Spain or the foxhunt in England. Any culture that demands slaughter, torture and blood is not a culture to be respected by anyone for any reason.

Ripping the living hearts out of human beings was a part of Aztec culture. Torturing people for being Jews was a part of Spanish culture. In a world where dog fighting, cock fighting, bear baiting, and koala bear shooting are no longer tolerated by civilized people why should there be an exception for the vicious thuggery we are seeing in Taiji? And this thing so-called food culture could have been used by the cannibals of Borneo to defend their traditional cuisine.       

If it is racist to disrespect cruelty and slaughter, then racism is a sin and a vice but still preferable to the former. We must not be guilted into accepting such horror because a small group of people has deigned to sanctify their killing in the name of tradition and this ridiculous concept they now call “food culture.”

Miyamoto Musashi, who I have long held as a personal hero and teacher, was adamant in his understanding of strategy and the way of the samurai. The very word samurai means “to serve” and the Cove Guardians are there in Taiji to serve the interests of the dolphins and not to give comfort to their killers.

Back in 1982 when the fishermen of Iki asked me what was more important, the life of a dolphin or the life of a human being, I answered that I respected both the rights of humans and dolphins to live free of fear and slaughter. One fisherman then asked me who would I save if I saw a dolphin and a fisherman caught in net and drowning and I could only save one?

I looked the fisherman in the eye and said, “I did not come to Iki to save fishermen, I came to save dolphins.”

The fishermen smiled at that answer. They were not angry because they respected that my duty was to indeed serve the dolphins. That was why I was there and they respected my adherence to my duty but they also respected the honesty of the answer.

Musashi’s twofold way of sword and pen means to educate through both confrontation and a steadfast adherence to the objective, and our objective is the abolishment of the slaughter of the dolphins. Musashi’s approach was to dispense with compromise and to focus on the cause and to utilize strategies designed to further that cause.

The Five Strategies for Taiji
Taiji no Itsutsu no Senryaku

Sea Shepherd and TaijiGaiatsu is the best overall strategy in this case and it involves: (1) persistent monitoring and documentation of the atrocities being committed at the Cove in Taiji, (2) spreading the word with evidence and documentation internationally, (3) constant exposure and humiliation of the fishermen in Taiji who are bringing shame upon the entire nation of Japan, (4) constant pressure on Japanese embassies and consulates around the world, and (5) a never-ending prolonged campaign of external pressure and a commitment to never surrender, retreat, or compromise.

This fourth strategy is the most powerful because it mobilizes people from all over the world to get involved from their own homes. Japanese embassies and consulates log and record every phone call, e-mail, letter, and petition they receive. This is gaiatsu activism at its most powerful and I believe that this is the key to shaming the thugs of Taiji and pressuring the government of Japan to take action.

When I visited Iki Island to oppose the dolphin slaughter, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper described me as the samurai conservationist, and considering our long history of our alliance with marine life against the excesses of Japanese commerce, we have laid down a reputation in Japan. We may not be liked or admired but we have always been respected because we tackle our opponents face to face. We do not fight with paper and words but with actions and deeds. The Japanese government takes Sea Shepherd seriously and that bestows upon us both recognition and honor.

Japan has made it quite clear at the highest diplomatic level that Sea Shepherd is considered to be a threat, and this threat appears to be seen as both economic and cultural.

Ironically enough, we fit very well into a tradition that has visited Japan since the 17th Century, and that is that the arrival of the black ships always foretold a significant change in Japan. First the black ships of the Portuguese that transformed the nation from warring daimyo(s) to a state where foreign relations and trade became more important, thus ending the insulation of Japanese society and opening it up to new ideas.

Japanese resistance to this change caused a reaction that resulted in Japanese ports being closed to foreigners with the exception of an annual trade concession to the Dutch at Nagasaki.  

Then in 1853, Admiral Matthew Perry's black ships steamed into Edo harbor and changed the course of Japanese history forever.

In 1868, the Meiji Restoration abolished feudalism and outlawed the Samurai. Tradition was discarded in order for Japan to become industrialized.

Because of the black ships of the Portuguese and of the United States the term ‘black ships’ has come to symbolize a threat imposed by Western technology.

Sea Shepherd did not have this in mind when we designed our ships to be black, but it seems to be symbolic of the history of Japanese sociological evolution that our ships are black and it is the black Sea Shepherd fleet challenging the archaic activities of the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

However, Sea Shepherd’s position is that we hold no disrespect for the Japanese culture but we respect the culture of the dolphins and the whales more, and we respect the need to defend and protect the ecological integrity of our oceans as being far more imperative than any human culture, for without a healthy living ocean there could be no human culture at all.