How did this project come about and who was involved?
The third time we went to the Galapagos and were witnessing illegal long line fishing Jim Clark said somebody should do something about this and I said, “How about you and I?” I’m the executive director of OPS and I started going around to marine mammal conferences to find out what the issues were. Ric O’Barry was supposed to be a keynote speaker one evening in San Diego. Ric was the dolphin trainer who captured and trained the five female dolphins who collectively played the part of Flipper. At the last minute, the sponsor of the event, SeaWorld, wouldn’t let him talk – I got curious and called up Ric and asked why. He said he was going to talk about the captivity industry and the largest slaughter of dolphins on the planet and SeaWorld wouldn’t let him talk. I had never heard of dolphin captures before and I asked who was doing anything about it. He said right now it was only him and he was going the next week and he invited me along.
Do people ask how killing dolphins and whales is different from killing cows, chickens, pigs, fish, etc.? How do you respond?
I don’t eat things that walk, I stopped over 20 years ago after visiting a slaughter house. I’m not militant on the issue – I feel it’s a personal choice. However if my green beans had five thousand times more mercury than allowed by law, like dolphins can, I would hope somebody would speak up for me.
What did you tell the Japanese customs to get them to allow you into the country?
We reported all of our gear with a Carne – we put up a bond. We took the helicopter apart so it was in 10 pieces spread over as many pieces of luggage. Customs was only interested in filling out the forms, not trying to understand what was in the cases.
Where is this slaughter taking place? And is what’s happening there different from a cultural tradition of cetacean killing?
I love their traditional argument – it makes it sound like these noble warriors are going of in war canoes and ceremonial robes to slay the ‘Monster Fish.’ That’s their name for whale in Japan, kujira, means ‘monster fish.’ They’re hunting down this free spirited wild animal, the dolphin, the only one known to routinely save the lives of humans and they call it a monster fish. They’ve only been using fast diesel drive boats since 1933. That’s the length of their tradition, seventy-six years – my mother is older than that. In America we have a much longer tradition of slavery and not allowing women to vote. The tradition argument falls apart when their tradition is harming thousands of unsuspecting Japanese consumers. The dolphin hunters sell much of their dolphin meat as whale meat which can be thousands of times more toxic than Minke whale meat. By those standards the Japanese government does have a long tradition of covering up mercury in seafood. In the 1950’s in Minamata, Japan hundreds of thousands of people were killed and maimed and poisoned by mercury. The Japanese Supreme Court found their own government complicit in conspiring to cover up those facts with Japan’s largest company, Chisso Minamata, and ordered them to pay restitution to the victims who were needlessly poisoned. No amount of money can repay a family damaged from a loved one poisoned with mercury. Mercury is the most toxic non-radioactive element in the world and it destroys the brain and nervous system of it’s victims. For some reason mercury is particularly damaging to the brain of a fetus and young children. The Taiji mayor and the dolphin hunters were giving toxic dolphin meat to school children while this movie was being made. Ric’s organization Earth Island and my own OPS (Oceanic Preservation Society) had a hand in stopping that. The Taiji mayor had hatched a plan where he was going to distribute dolphin meat to school systems all over Japan. That looks like it was stopped as well because of the making of this movie. There are about four drive fisheries in Japan that use underwater sound to drive dolphins into coves. Taiji is the biggest, about twenty three hundred a year are killed there, we think it’s more because there is pretty good evidence the fisherman are underreporting what they catch – they also kill mothers and their calves which they are not supposed to do. When you have a declining population of creatures that takes years to mature enough to have offspring and kill them off before they can replenish – it’s mismanagement. But the Japanese government and the dolphin hunters are claiming that dolphins and whales are eating too many fish in the ocean – they actually put forth a proposal at the IWC formally making this accusation. A friend from Greenpeace told me that blaming whales and dolphins for eating too many fish is like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation – it’s ridiculous – dolphins and whales have been around for tens of millions of years before us and things were fine until humans invented factory ships and industrialized fishing.
What are the health dangers to humans who eat cetacean meat?
Dolphins and whales eat at the top of the food chain. Because animals bioaccumulate toxins, meaning that they absorb the immortal toxins of all the animals consumed below them, they store toxins like PCB’s, mercury, lead and cadmium in their fat. It’s impossible for a dolphin to eat anything else other than fish. A human has the same problem if they eat only fish. I did. Through the making of this movie, interviewing doctors in Minamata studying the problem, I found out I had mercury poisoning. I was a pescatarian, I ate primarily fish for protein. I found out I had about forty parts per million (ppm) of mercury in my blood. You should not have more than 1 ppm. I was a mid-level Minamata victim. I had to stop eating fish altogether to get my levels down. What people don’t realize is that it’s not just dolphins and whales that are toxic, it’s everything we like to eat, tuna, swordfish, marlin, shark and tilefish. Because of the dumping of pollution into the environment, especially from the burning of fossil fuels like coal which has lots of mercury in it, even small short-lived fresh water fish are becoming toxic, walleye pike and bass. There are 19 states now with health advisories in every body of water. We interviewed Bobby Kennedy for a DVD extra on mercury and he said were now living in a science fiction nightmare. It’s true, dolphins and whales are now swimming toxic dump sites. It’s a tragic irony that the only wild animal throughout history to save humans is the dolphin and the only way we can save dolphins now is to prove that we made their environment so toxic that we cannot eat them.
What was the scariest moment of the mission?
The scariest moment was when police came into the cove looking for us with flashlights. There were three of us on a rock out in the middle of the cove and the freedivers were in the middle of the cove underwater.
How did Dave Rastovich get involved with this project?
I made a vow to my wife that I would never go back to Taiji after getting run out of town by the chief of police there. Then I ran into Dave at the IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in 2007. He was planning a mission into the cove where he would conduct a paddle-out ceremony. He didn’t know the lay of the land and I thought he’s going to get so busted and maybe not come back with anything if he didn’t have some help from us. So I got the team back together, the helicopter crew, the rock cams, underwater cameras, everything, full orchestra we called it. Of course now we can never go back, there are arrest warrants waiting for us if we do. Trespassing and Conspiracy to Disrupt Commerce are the charges I’m told. It’s important to remember that this was done in a Japanese National Park that’s a nature preserve. The only thing that’s being preserved there is this crime against nature that happens every year from September 1st – March 30th. Ric was on the ground last week with media, and plenty of Japanese media too. For the first time in decades the Japanese press is picking up on the story. They have never really done that before. However their media does not pick up on the mercury story because they know they cannot win that argument.
Where and when can we see the film?
Go to www.TheCoveMovie.com to find a theater near you.
What’s the next step for people who want to be informed and who want to do something positive?
See the movie and then go to www.TakePart.com and sign the petition – write a letter to the Japanese ambassador – eventually there will be a tipping point.