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Photo by J. D. Ebberly via Flickr

Dolphins are truly remarkable animals. Early cultures so highly regarded dolphins that they featured them in their mythology and artwork. The ancient Greeks, for instance, often depicted Poseidon and Aphrodite accompanied by dolphins, and Indigenous peoples in Brazil have long venerated the Amazon river dolphin as sacred, considering it bad luck to kill or eat one.

Scientists believe dolphins are the second most intelligent beings on Earth (after humans) and have argued that they should be treated as nonhuman persons.

In some ways, we’ve loved these animals to death. We want to be close to them – so close that we’ve learned how to capture dolphins through violent hunts in places like Taiji, keep them in tiny tanks, breed them, and “train” them to perform tricks for our amusement. The gentle curve of their mouths give them the appearance of always smiling, even as they are suffering at human hands.

Captivity, recreational boating, commercial fishing (as “bycatch”), and habitat loss through coastal development are just a few of the threats dolphins face. In honor of National Dolphin Day, here are seven things we can do to help them:

1. Protect the oceans. Dolphins live there, after all. We can start by not consuming marine life and minimizing our individual use of plastic, which often ends up in the ocean.

2. Never patronize businesses that keep dolphins (or other animals) in captivity – this includes places that let you “swim with dolphins.”

3. Speak out against the Taiji dolphin hunts. The notorious annual dolphin hunts take place near Taiji, Japan, from about September 1 until at least March. Every year, fishermen locate pods of migrating dolphins out at sea and herd them into Hatagiri Bay with boats, nets, and long metal rods that crew members dip below the surface and pound to create an acoustical wall that disorients the dolphins’ sonar. The fishermen leave the animals overnight in a narrow cove and return at dawn armed with the knives and spears that will gradually turn the blue tide scarlet. While many dolphins are killed for meat, others are sold to zoos and marine parks worldwide, making the drives an incredibly lucrative business.

Contact authorities in Taiji, as well as the Japanese Embassy, US Embassy to Japan, US and Japanese Ambassadors to the UN, and the US Senate members of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Call or send them a polite message expressing your feelings about the dolphin hunts and ask them to do everything in their power to help put an end to the misery.

Prime Minister of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 1-6-1 Nagata-cho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. 100-8914 JAPAN +81-3-5253-2111

Website: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html Online comment form #1: https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html Online comment form #2: https://form.cao.go.jp/kokusai/en_opinion-0001.html

Japanese Embassies Worldwide: Websites of Japanese Embassies, Consulates and Permanent Missions

List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan: List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan

United States UN Representative: Samantha Power – US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s Twitter United States Mission to the United Nations Contact Form

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

International Whaling Commission (IWC) The Red House, 135 Station Road, Impington, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB24 9NP, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1223 233 971 Fax: +44 (0) 1223 232 87 Email: secretariat@iwcoffice.org

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) / Convention on Migratory Species (CMP) UNEP/CMS Secretariat Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1 53113 Bonn, Germany Tel: (+49 228) 815 2401 Fax: (+49 228) 815 2449 Email: secretariat@cms.int

(The position of US Ambassador to Japan is currently vacant; I’ll update this post once it is filled.)

4. Join volunteers in Taiji. You can also volunteer with Sea Shepherd or The Dolphin Project on site in Taiji. Those who are interested in volunteering as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian should email groundcrew@seashepherd.org. (Please note that volunteer applicants must be able to commit to participating in the campaign for a minimum of one week.) To sign up to join Ric O’Barry and his Dolphin Project team as a Project Cove Monitor, please click here.

5. Contact travel companies and travel agents. It was great news when Thomas Cook and TripAdvisor recently stopped offering or promoting travel to attractions that exploit dolphins and other animals. But plenty of travel companies and travel agents still feature attractions and hotels that keep cetaceans in captivity. When you see a company promoting dolphin captivity, ask them to reconsider. If they don’t respond, send an email to coveguardians@seashepherduk.org.

6. Support groups working on behalf of dolphins. Such groups include The Dolphin Project, Sea Shepherd, and Blue Voice.

7. Know how to respond if you find a live dolphin stranded on the beach. Click here.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a truly dolphin-safe can of tuna, try this one – or make a great-tasting tuna-like salad using chickpeas!

Please share this post with family and friends and ask them to get involved.

 

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Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The notorious annual dolphin drives are scheduled to begin near Taiji, Japan, on September 1 and will continue until at least March. Every year, fishermen locate pods of migrating dolphins out at sea and herd them into Hatagiri Bay with boats, nets, and long metal rods that crew members dip below the surface and pound to create an acoustical wall that disorients the dolphins’ sonar. The fishermen leave the animals overnight in a narrow cove and return at dawn armed with the knives and spears that will gradually turn the blue tide scarlet. While many dolphins are killed for meat, others are sold to zoos and marine parks worldwide, making the drives an incredibly lucrative business.

Some say this could be the final season for these hunts. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has ordered the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) to stop purchasing dolphins captured in Taiji or be permanently suspended as a WAZA member, and JAZA members reluctantly agreed. If all the Japanese aquariums follow through on their pledges to stop buying Taiji dolphins, it could render the entire Taiji dolphin killing operation uneconomic and unsustainable.

But activists and nonprofits are not waiting. Taiji will still be able to export live dolphins overseas to aquariums and zoos that are not WAZA members, including those in China, Russia, and the Middle East. Groups such as Sea Shepherd and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project will be in Taiji to monitor the drives and bear witness to the suffering.

What You Can Do:

1. Educate Yourself. Watch The Cove—the Academy Award-winning documentary about the Taiji drives—or read Salt Water Tears by Len Varley. I also examine this issue in my book Bleating Hearts, for which I interviewed renowned dolphin trainer-turned animal advocate Ric O’Barry. Then share your knowledge about this issue with others.

2. Don’t Buy a Ticket. The captive-dolphin entertainment industry gets rich from dolphin suffering and death. By boycotting their profit stream, we can sink them economically. Don’t patronize any parks that keep dolphins in captivity, including places that offer swim-with-the-dolphins programs. Encourage your family and friends to stay away from these businesses, too.

3. Sign Up for Dolphin Day. Join individuals, activists, and organizations around the world by participating in this International Day of Action on September 1. Click here for information.

4. Speak Up. Contact authorities in Taiji, as well as the Japanese Embassy, US Embassy to Japan, US and Japanese Ambassadors to the UN, and the US Senate members of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Call or send them a polite message expressing your feelings about the dolphin hunts and ask them to do everything in their power to help put an end to the misery.

Prime Minister of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 1-6-1 Nagata-cho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. 100-8914 JAPAN +81-3-5253-2111

Website: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/index-e.html Online comment form #1: https://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment_ssl.html Online comment form #2: https://form.cao.go.jp/kokusai/en_opinion-0001.html

Japanese Embassies Worldwide: Websites of Japanese Embassies, Consulates and Permanent Missions

List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan: List of Embassies and Consulates-General in Japan

Please thank Caroline Kennedy for her defense of the dolphins:

US Embassy in Japan: Caroline Kennedy – Ambassador of the United States to Japan Telephone: 011-81-3-3224-5000 Fax: 011-81-3-3505-1862 Send E-mail to the U.S. Embassy in Japan

Japanese UN Representatives: H.E. Mr Kazuyoshi Umemoto – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary japan.mission@dn.mofa.go.jp

H.E. Mr. Jun Yamazaki – Deputy Representative of Japan to the UN japan.mission@dn.mofa.go.jp

United States UN Representative: Samantha Power – US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s Twitter United States Mission to the United Nations Contact Form

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Wakayama Prefecture Office, Fishery Division: E0717001@pref.wakayama.lg.jp Telephone: +81-73-441-3010 Fax: +81-73-432-4124

International Whaling Commission (IWC) The Red House, 135 Station Road, Impington, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB24 9NP, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1223 233 971 Fax: +44 (0) 1223 232 87 Email: secretariat@iwcoffice.org

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) / Convention on Migratory Species (CMP) UNEP/CMS Secretariat Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1 53113 Bonn, Germany Tel: (+49 228) 815 2401 Fax: (+49 228) 815 2449 Email: secretariat@cms.int

5. Join Volunteers in Japan. Sea Shepherd and the Dolphin Project are both looking for people to travel to Taiji. Those who are interested in volunteering as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian for Operation Henkaku should email groundcrew@seashepherd.org. (Please note that volunteer applicants must be able to commit to participating in the campaign for a minimum of one week.) To sign up to join Ric O’Barry and his Dolphin Project team as a Project Cove Monitor, please click here.

 

As I write this, Ric O’Barry is in Taiji, Japan, risking his life. But when we spoke by phone the other day, he was relaxing at his home in Florida. Well, maybe not relaxing, exactly. Ric, who spent 10 years capturing and training dolphins for the entertainment industry and the last 40 years as an anti-captivity activist, is constantly working on behalf of these charismatic marine mammals. In between packing for his trip, Ric was taking time to respond to questions from reporters, authors, and bloggers alike. “I was just speaking to some newspaper in London,” he tells me. “With everyone I talk to, my message is always the same: Don’t buy a ticket.”

By that he means, of course, do not patronize facilities that display dolphins. Much of his work—and, indeed, the captive-dolphin industry—is centered around what goes on in Taiji every September, when local fishermen begin driving dolphin pods into a shallow inlet. The ensuing months-long slaughter, made famous by the 2009 documentary The Cove, kills thousands of dolphins for Japan’s dolphin-meat trade, while live dolphins are sold to marine parks and aquariums for as much as $32,000 apiece.

For Ric, stopping this lucrative business is not just a moral imperative, it’s personal. In the 1960s, he worked for the Miami Seaquarium, training the five dolphins used for the popular TV series Flipper. Upon witnessing the death of Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most often, Ric became a passionate and outspoken campaigner against keeping dolphins in captivity. I was thrilled to be able to speak with him.

Is captivity more stressful for dolphins than other animals?

Yes, because they are sonic creatures—their primary sense is sound. If you go to the zoo, take a look at the reptile exhibit and find a snake. You’ll see that the snake is given more consideration than the dolphins at Marineland. You’ll see that the snake has got tree limbs to climb on, he’s got rocks to hide from the public if he wants to, grass—there’s always something natural about the snake’s habitat. But if you look at the habitat of a captive dolphin, you’ll notice there’s nothing there. It’s just a blank, concrete box. Is that stress? Of course it is.

Why can’t marine parks create better environments for dolphins?

It’s really not what’s best for the dolphin; it’s about getting people to come and watch a show, and then getting another group of people to watch the same show. Even the best of the bad ideas, SeaWorld in Orlando, has concrete tanks. There’s no way you can fix that. The dolphins are separated from the natural rhythms of the sea: the tide, the current, the sounds of the sea, the things we take for granted. All of that is missing. That is what we call sensory deprivation. That makes it more stressful for them than other animals in captivity.

You’ve been doing this for four decades now. Are you seeing any progress?

Ric cutting chain link fence to let dolphins escape. Photo by Daniel Morel.

Yes. I am seeing great progress, and that’s really what keeps me going: measureable results. For example, when I first started campaigning in Germany, there were 12 or 15 dolphinariums. Today there’s only one left. It’s easier in Europe, because people are better educated. In 2011, I received a Bambi award, and it’s a live event. Fifteen million people are watching this in German-speaking countries. It’s like the Academy Awards. I had several minutes on TV to look right into the camera, explain the problem, and say, “Please don’t buy a ticket!” It’s based on supply and demand, like any other product, and we as consumers have the power. And it’s working. People are getting the message. Two dolphinariums in Germany closed since then.

Can governments step in to speed up progress in other countries?

Governments aren’t going to close dolphinariums. Governments protect corporations; they don’t protect people and other animals. Like the National Marine Fisheries Service, who were supposed to uphold the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They’re actually a part of the Department of Commerce. Commerce’s job is to facilitate commerce; they have a mandate. To tell them to protect dolphins and facilitate commerce is like telling them to stand up and sit down at the same time. So the system doesn’t work; it’s an inherent conflict of interest, and the only hope is consumers. That’s what I do: try to get to the consumers.

Please tell me about your campaign in Taiji.

When we’re in Japan on September 1st, the message is, Don’t buy this dolphin meat. If the Japanese people learn that the product is poison, they will stop buying it. As a matter of fact, in the last four years, the killing has dropped dramatically because the demand has dropped off dramatically as people learn that the product is contaminated with mercury.

I’ve been going to Japan four or five times a year since 2003. I’ll be back there September 1st; we have two busloads of people from around the world who are going to meet us there. We have 93 cities that are going to be protesting on that same day. We’re just trying to keep Taiji and this cove in the news. You know, it’s hard to keep any issue alive in the media; they move on to other things. We’ve been lucky to keep that issue alive, and when we show up September 1st, there’ll probably be 100 people from the media there. We’re just trying to remind the media that today is the day that the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world begins and will go on for six months.

Do you ever feel physically in danger there?

Well, I am physically in danger; there’s no question about that. The police have told me that. The fishermen themselves have told me they would kill me if they could. They probably wish they had back in 2003, because it wouldn’t have been a big news story. But today they probably wouldn’t do that because it would bring too much attention to them. I have a very high media profile in Japan now. It offers some protection, but it doesn’t offer protection from, you know, the young yakuza wannabe who wants to make a name for himself. Or some drunken fisherman who makes a bad decision and does something stupid.

When “The Cove” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Film, director Louie Psihoyos, producer Fisher Stevens, and star Ric O’Barry took to the stage. As Psihoyos and Fisher accepted their Oscars, Ric held up a banner reading “Text DOLPHIN to 44144.” Over the next 24 hours, so many people sent the text message petition to President Obama and the Japanese prime minister that, Ric says, the system crashed. Associated Press photo.

Are you seeing a decrease in dolphins taken for captivity in Taiji?

No, I’m seeing an increase in that. I’m sure we’re going to stop the killing. It takes the captivity industry to stop the captures. They could do it anytime they want to, but they refuse to get involved and police their own industry. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the AZA, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, SeaWorld—it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. They just want to look the other way and pretend it doesn’t happen.

Why the increase in captures?

Most of the dolphins captured at the cove are taken to facilities in Japan. Japan is the size of California, and it has 51 dolphin abusement parks—51. It’s amazing. That’s more than all of Europe. They are substandard facilities. They are disposable dolphins for a disposable society. The fishermen capture them and drag them there kicking and screaming, they keep them for as long as they can, the dolphins die, they dump them, and they get more from Taiji. That’s why the captures continue. Also, China and Turkey are big markets.

Aside from not patronizing facilities with dolphins, what can people do to help?

They can go to our website. We don’t have a huge fan base like Sea Shepherd or the Humane Society. We’re actually quite small. We’re understaffed and underfunded. If you want to help, just go to DolphinProject.org and make a donation.

My thanks to Ric for taking the time to talk to me. In addition to visiting his website and contributing, you can like Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project on Facebook and follow them on Twitter: @dolphin_project. You can also forward this interview to family and friends!

Hayden Panettiere and HSUS President Wayne Pacelle. Photo by Vince Bucci / Getty

Hayden Panettiere and HSUS President Wayne Pacelle. Photo by Vince Bucci / Getty

This may not be the biggest animal rights news of the year, but it’s still pretty cool. Actress and animal activist Hayden Panettiere recently halted shooting on her show Heroes after she accused a crew member of being cruel to birds nesting in a nearby tree. Hayden was apparently upset when a crew member used a large leaf-blower to knock the birds out of the tree because the birds were disturbing filming of the series. Hayden reportedly shouted at the worker: “What are you doing? How would you like someone to blow that thing inside your house?”

 

The actress insisted the birds were only flying in front of the camera to get back to their nest. Her objections were reportedly so strenuous that the director eventually decided to move the scene to another location.

This is not the first time Hayden has been in the news for defending animals. In 2007, she joined a group of peaceful protestors in an effort to save a group of pilot whales (who are part of the dolphin family) and faced violent opposition from some Japanese fishermen. The confrontation took place in the sea off Taiji, an historic whaling town. She and five other protesters paddled out on surfboards in an attempt to stop the whales from being driven into a nearby cove and killed in Japan’s annual slaughter of the animals.

 

In March 2008, the Humane Society of the United States honored Hayden with the Gretchen Wyler Award, given annually at the Genesis Awards to a celebrity who brings attention to animal causes. She has also won the Compassion in Action award from PETA.

 

Hayden’s actions no doubt inspire her fans to consider the welfare of animals they might otherwise not think twice about ― and maybe even stand up to the bullies who abuse them.


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