Dolphins Slaughtered in Japan

Dolphins Slaughtered While 76-Year-Old ‘Cove’ Star Ric O’Barry Remains In Tokyo Jail

Dolphins continue to die while Ric O’Barry sits in a cell.


As of February 2 Ric O’Barry remains detained in Japan despite international protest to free him. He has been in jail for two weeks. His supporters are in an uproar. There is no word on a potential release date.

January marks a busy month for the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. In a grim tradition that began in the 1950’s, thousands of dolphins are sought out by a fleet of fishing boats, searching for pods or families with young calves swimming together. The mammals are pursued for hours until exhausted, and then rounded up and herded into the now-infamous “cove,” where they are bludgeoned and stabbed to death. Some of the calves and adolescents are separated and kept in holding tanks to be sold to amusement parks, a fate some say is worse than that of their counterparts. Others are butchered and sold in meat markets and groceries for human consumption.

Ric O’Barry, dolphin trainer for the 1960’s TV show Flipper, is now at age 76 the primary force behind an activist organization called The Dolphin Project. Ric teamed up with filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and the Ocean Preservation Society to make The Cove, a documentary film about the killing of dolphins in Taiji.

Since the premiere of The Cove at Sundance Film Festival in 2009, the Taiji dolphin slaughter has garnered international — albeit unwanted — attention. Taiji is known as a small town with a dark secret. The Cove is surrounded by barricades, barbed wire and metal gates. Fishermen do not appreciate the interference in what they call a tradition. But dolphin and whale meat taken from waters around Japan has a high fat content and is rife with mercury. The poisoning caused by mercury can impair the immune system, damage the neurological system and encourage estrogen production, causing tumors in women and enlarged breasts in men. According to The Japan Times News, extreme concentrations of mercury were found in citizens who were eating dolphin and whale meat only occasionally. As soon as the people realized the risks in what they were eating. they dropped dolphin meat from their diet. However, the Japanese government still doesn’t bother to issue warnings such as putting labels on the meat. Therefore, the dangers are not common knowledge, although notorious in the educated sect. According to Dr. Tetsuya Endo of Hokkaido University, “Dolphins are not food.”

For these reasons even beyond the humane aspect, Ric O’Barry has continued his crusade against the Taiji dolphin massacre. During the six months that the slaughter takes place, he or his colleagues go every day to the cove. The team has kept vigilant watch and documentation, but have broken no Japanese laws. O’Barry stands alone or with a small group in quiet protest, logging the activity on his Twitter account.

“A pod of striped dolphins has just been slaughtered in Water has turned blood red.

The Dolphin Project keeps a careful log of animals killed. This year’s drive quota is a total of 1873 animals. O’Barry’s Twitter account relates a running tally to the world.

Dolphins slaughtered year-to-date:

  • Bottlenose – 45
  • Striped – 152
  • Risso’s – 204
  • Pacific White Sided – 0
  • Pilot Whales – 51

Under the scrutiny of Ric’s group and their long camera lenses, the Japanese fishermen began covering their kills with tarps before hauling them away. But the crystal waters of the Cove still turn a churning, foamy crimson as the dying dolphins thrash and cry out to each other.

In one heartbreaking moment, a young male Risso’s dolphin threw himself at Ric’s feet as if begging for help.

On Monday, January 18, at approximately 4:45 p.m., upon his arrival in Tokyo, O’Barry was interrogated and then placed in a holding facility. His attorney Takashi Takano reported that Japanese authorities said Ric was being detained because his tourist status was in question. The attorney maintains that everything is in order and Ric has done nothing illegal. O’Barry has been detained in the past, but never to this magnitude. He has remained in jail for more than a week, and has endured hours of vigorous questioning. Takano has filed a formal objection.

In a message sent through his son, Lincoln, O’Barry said the following.

“The Japanese government is cracking down on those who oppose their war on dolphins. I feel I am being used as a figurehead representing all Western activists.”

The Dolphin Project has started a petition to free O’Barry.

Are the Japanese authorities undecided about what to do with O’Barry? Or are they just trying to make a point? The answers remain to be seen. Meanwhile, O’Barry sits alone in a cell, while his dolphins continue to die.

[Image via Shutterstock]