Monday, December 20, 2010
THE DAY WE SAVED THE DOLPHINS
From the soon-to-be released book The Voice of the Dolphins
by Hardy Jones
In 1980 Howard Hall and I were on our way to Iki, Japan to attempt to stop the slaughter of dolphins there. En route we were diverted.
We woke up our first morning in Osaka and saw a story on the front page of the Japan Times, an English-language paper published in Japan. The story’s headline reported “200 Rare Whales Captured at Taiji.” The animals were melon-headed whales, actually a species of dolphin. The story went on to say that the dolphins would be killed to provide food for lions at the Shirahama Zoo. It struck me as extraordinarily perverse that these magnificent wild dolphins would be killed to feed captive lions.
We changed plans on the spot and headed for Taiji, a small village of some thirty-five hundred people on the coast east of Osaka. We arrived in Taiji, found accommodations in a small hotel, and walked out to the small bay where the pitiful dolphins were being held. The coast there is magnificent with endless bays and coves formed at the juncture of mountains and sea.
Our presence disturbed the fishermen who had driven the dolphins into the bay. They were aware of the international outrage provoked by the slaughter at Iki the year before and didn’t welcome any foreign observers—especially those with cameras.
There wasn’t much Howard and I could do directly, so we just hung around the bay with our still and movie cameras at hand. The fishermen seemed stymied. They held meetings. Two days passed. Some of the dolphins succumbed and sank into the depths of the cove, but most remained alive. Howard and I worried that while the fishermen were talking, the dolphins weren’t eating and might starve. Dolphins do not drink and depend entirely for their hydration on the fish they eat.
On the third day of captivity for the melon-heads, the fishermen informed us that as a gesture of goodwill, the dolphins would be released. I believe they were afraid of attracting the same kind of international outrage that had been focused on Iki. The following morning, the fishermen drew back the net separating the melon-heads from freedom. But the dolphins didn’t budge. Confusion or shock or the knowledge that members of their pod were sick or injured kept the group huddled at the end of the bay farthest from the net.
The fishermen brought a small skiff driven by an outboard motor in behind the dolphins and began revving the engine. The dolphins started to move. The skiff herded them until they were past the net line. Once out of confinement with a clear vision of open ocean ahead, the whole pod erupted into spectacular porpoising leaps across the face of the sea. I remained poker faced, but inside, I was wild with joy. Maybe our cameras were all powerful.But that was long ago.