June 21, 2011 ~ San Rafael, California
It was a perfect solstice evening as a crowd gathered outside the sold out Smith Rafael Theater for a benefit centered around the plight of Japanese dolphins brought to worldwide attention by the 2010 Oscar winning movie, The Cove. Clearly most of the guests already knew the details of the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, and were moved to support the ongoing cause of ‘Save Japan Dolphins.’
They also came to meet the filmmakers, Ric O’Barry, Louie Psihoyos & special ops guru, Charles Hambleton. Ardent dolphin activist and carbon-free Nascar driver Leilani Munter and her brother-in-law Bob Weir, longtime Marin activist and member of the legendary Grateful Dead came up with the idea for the event. Teaming up with Earth Island Institute, the Oceanic Preservation Society, Steep Productions, Hamilton Ink PR, and the Rafael Film Center, they organized a truly meaningful evening that none of us will soon forget.
Photographs Courtesy of Krystin Leonhardt and Stacy Reyes
Ric O’Barry is the very definition of a reluctant hero. He finds himself in the unfortunate position of having been the original trainer and captor of the some of the five dolphins who played television’s Flipper in the 1960’s. The series was a worldwide hit and was largely responsible for causing an explosion of dolphinariums and Sea World type ‘abusement parks’ worldwide. But in the process of working on Flipper, O’Barry learned that dolphins are truly ‘non-human persons’ with a consciousness and intelligence different, and perhaps superior to our own. He became aware that these sentient creatures deserve their freedom and are undeserving of spending their lives as captive circus animals swimming circles in concrete pools. A little known fact is that most park vets prescribe drugs such as Tagamet and other drugs to calm the dolphins’ permanent state of anxiety. Little could be more cruel than such a prison – other than perhaps the cruelty of the wholesale slaughter that goes on every year in one particular cove in Taiji, Japan.
Cetacean slaughter is more common than one would think. But when the IWC (International Whaling Commission) gets together every year to negotiate annual kill quotas, dolphins and many other small cetaceans are not legally considered to be part of the picture. O’Barry has been banned from attending IWC meetings, as well as other marine mammal symposiums due to his passionate and in the past sometimes illegal measures on behalf of dolphins.
While the film was shown, a few of us joined The Cove family at a nearby eatery. Local activists and friends had the opportunity to share some quality time with some of our ocean heroes. It was an honor to be able to sit down with Ric to discuss a current project and to get his thoughtful, in depth advice. It wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, but I knew it was the truth. Stay tuned for more about this in a few days.
Back inside the theater as the credits rolled, the group took the stage for a Q & A session which was surprisingly intimate, with a real ‘fireside chat’ feel to it. Ric’s tone was soft as he talked compassionately about the nuclear catastrophe facing the Japanese people. And there’s also a deep concern for all marine life in the area who are now being exposed to lethal levels of radiation. When The Cove was filmed, high levels of Mercury in dolphin and whale meat was big news. Fast forward to current day Japan, where radiation poisoning is a serious threat. The future of Japan itself is threatened and this possibly apocalyptic scenario is not one that anyone could have foreseen.
So, do we back off about the dolphin slaughter and slave trade in Taiji because of this? You could feel that everyone on that team had a real affection for the Japanese people. They reminded us that this is a very small number of people in just one town who are involved in this hunt. A very small number of hunters killing a very large number of dolphins killed annually. Although they packed up their boats early this last season, there is no indication that the dolphin fishermen in Taiji plan to change their upcoming season for 2011.
And if they do begin another slaughter on September 1, the world, through dedicated activists such as Ric & others will be standing watch – to keep this slaughter in the news and in front of the cameras. In this age of Facebook & Twitter, news from Taiji reaches a worldwide audience almost instantaneously.
I’ve got to think that eventually, somehow this will turn the tide, and that public opinion will stop the slaughter. That is my hope.
Bob Weir continued the program with a six-song set, jamming and crooning his way through the immense back catalog he’s cultivated with the Dead, Ratdog and Further, among other projects and his solo career.
Psihoyos shared a quote from Margaret Mead that seemed to sum-up the message not only of the benefit that evening, but the movement it was held to strengthen. “All social change comes from the passion of individuals,” he said. “The time has come for the next Ric O’Barrys of the world to step forward and continue this fight.”
Click here to learn more about the The Cove and how you can help. One way you can start is not to patronize marine abusement parks & to encourage your family to do the same. Unfortunately this cruelty is driven by the almighty dollar. Each dolphin is worth millions of dollars of income for these parks. If you haven’t already, see The Cove. You’ll know what to do.