Interview with A Taiji Boat Captain

by: Steven Thompson’s guest blog as an ‘observer’ in Taiji, Japan:

Last year in Taiji I was told by a dolphin fishermen union member that dolphins are never let back into the wild because the fishermen are afraid the freed dolphins will communicate with other dolphins in the world about how sinister the Taiji fishermen really are.

We went whale watching on Oct 4th from Katsuura. Fishing and whale watching is available in Katsuura. Dolphin boats from the larger town of Katsuura take tourists to a sort of a dolphin aquarium where they are netted in the middle of the bay in Ocean water where they are and fed if they do tricks.

Fishing is everywhere and we saw many boats with fishermen fishing for one fish, katsuo using a line but there are still lots of boats that don't go out. I talked to a man who talked about harder economic times.

I am up at 5:30am to find a clear day brewing. It is a good day to go out for whale and dolphin watching. We drive about 4 minutes to meet the proud Captain, his first mate and a group of 4 college students on a weekend break. We are all excited at the prospect of watching whales and dolphins frolic in the wild, excited enough to spend about $60 US each for the privilege.

We motor about two hours straight out to sea to find a wonderful view of the wide ocean. The first mate serves drinks. The captain throws out fishing lines. We share jokes.

Life in this corner of Japan lulls people into a sunny, happy, friendly stupor. There are no problems in our town. The Captain’s family is illustrative of the happy life.

Today the Captain made more than $420 US. Whales or no whales, people will still pay. His wife
is quick with a friendly smile. Two of their lovely daughters I met seemed fun loving. One of his granddaughters ran around the docks with her Chihuahua named Charmie.

The idyllic picture is only interrupted by the Captain’s hands shaking. This is perhaps due to mercury poisoning perhaps not.

I am looking for ways to encourage activism among people who travel to Katsuura and Taiji. The dolphin killers keep such a low profile. Most locals have never taken the time to climb the hill next to the Whale Museum and look down at the Killing Cove with the ropes strung, ready to cover the embarrassment of ending lives filled with beauty and grace.

I am fighting the lull myself. I look forward to my next meal, my next humorous light conversation with locals.

Before eating another meal of katsuo sashimi prepared by the Captain’s wife, I interview the Captain. I have joked and cajoled the captain long enough that he knows my position. He even knows I am an activist. I bait him and he knows it.

Here is a rough translation:
Me: It’s too bad we didn’t see any whales or dolphins. Why couldn’t we? Could it have something to do with the Taiji fishermen?

He: No, it’s the end of the season, there are no more dolphins or whales in the area…less food for the dolphins…and there was rough weather a few days ago..
Me: It doesn’t sound quite right. Are you saying that the Taiji fishermen won’t find dolphins? Isn’t the season opening for them?

He: Yes, that’s true…but they go much farther out.

Me: How far?

He: Well, we went out about 20 km from shore and they will easily go out double that.

Me: So you expect them to find dolphins today?

He: I did hear radio chatter, they didn’t find any today either.

Me: I see by the way, do you eat dolphin?

He: No.

Me: Whale?

He: Of course. It’s delicious.

Me: But wouldn’t it be great to have a sea filled with dolphins all the time?

He: This is not easy to do…change takes time.

I can easily see why most people we meet in both Katsuura and Taiji know very little about the Taiji Drive hunts. Many people we meet casually in restaurants or while walking down the street know nothing about Taiji’s dolphin killing or dolphin selling business. For locals, mercury contamination seems to be a complete and utterly shocking unknown.

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The Cove premieres at the Tokyo Film Festival in Japan Wednesday October 21, 2009

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