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[Editor's Note: The following is a response from Louie Psihoyos, Director of The Cove, to a March 27 Newsweek story by Bill Powell.]
I usually don’t respond to our few detractors, but the recent article in Newsweek seemed deserving because the misinformation it contained might be believed. Mr. Powell’s article contains false equivalence and journalistic cowardice that insists that every story must have two sides. It’s also devoid of basic fact checking.
I hope to set the record straight by clarifying a few of the article’s claims, and by releasing unedited footage from The Cove that has never been seen before, so that the public can determine for themselves that none of the footage we used was doctored.
“Mistrust of the filmmakers and anti-hunt activists is so intense that some villagers, who say the water never turns that red during the killing, believe the producers later added the lurid color with special effects. The filmmakers adamantly deny this.”
I have always said that the slaughter we showed in The Cove was the Disney version of what actually happens behind the tarps. It seems that now it’s time to show the truth of how barbaric the Taiji fishermen and their renegade mayor really are.
[Editor's note: Watch the entire raw footage here.]
We did not colorize any of the water in our footage. We’ve posted entire tapes of raw, unedited, unaltered footage from four different camera angles placed in the cove to show this. As the sun rises and more dolphins are killed, the water steadily becomes redder. Anyone can see that there is no color adjustment whatsoever. The dolphin killers like to slaughter dolphins early in the morning, and from the perspective of the villagers in Taiji, the sun is usually behind the cove. When the bloody cove is seen backlit, the water appears pink, but when the sun is behind the camera it is blood red.
“Now, the Taiji fishermen use a different type of harpoon, which with one thrust to a dolphin's spine kills it more quickly and with much less blood”
We have undercover footage of this more “humane” method and you can clearly see animals writhing in pain long after the spike was supposed to reduce their suffering. This footage is far more dramatic than the other method, which is supposedly less humane.
In our footage you can also see a man with a Taiji Whale Museum coat standing by as pilot whales are slaughtered. The Whale Museum brokers the sale of live animals to dolphinariums around the world, so the connection between the captivity industry and the slaughter is apparent.
“Taiji's fishing community is equally adamant that no international pressure, no matter how intense, will dissuade them from doing what they've done for years. Thus, the annual dolphin drive commenced as usual this past September, as tradition demands.”
The notion that Mr. Powell would write that their tradition demands their behavior is a clear bias in his reporting. While tradition is deeply important to Japanese culture, the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji just does not fall within the scope of tradition. When the Japanese fishermen and their supporters trot out the tradition card, it’s a weak excuse for behavior that has no other defense.
The mayor of Taiji says that their tradition of killing dolphins goes back to the 1600s, but there is no way fishermen could ever sustain a village by catching dolphins in a big wooden canoe by pounding rocks over the side as he claims. In reality, the dolphin drive hunts have evolved in the last few decades into a mechanized industrial slaughter—a bunch of fishermen banging underwater pipes from fast diesel powered Mitsubishi boats chasing down dolphin family pods for circus shows like those seen at SeaWorld. Ex-dolphin hunter Izumi Ishii recently came out on record verifying this, saying that the dolphin drives started in 1969, hardly a traditional practice.
For those that still believe the practice is traditional and thus deserves inherent protection, let’s think of slavery, women’s suffrage, and child marriage. Defending outdated traditions past their shelf life is incorrigible. I hope the Japanese public doesn’t want to do that with hunting dolphins.
“They're shown in the documentary sneaking out at night to do so, using walkie-talkies to communicate and behaving as if they were SEAL Team Six taking down Osama bin Laden.”
Kirk Krack, the freediver on our team who helped put hydrophones in the cove, actually trains members of the Navy SEALs. If you want to infiltrate a place as heavily guarded as the cove you better treat it like a military mission and be prepared to spend time in jail if you get caught. There are electronic sensors at the entrance to a cave on one side, guard dogs and a rotation of vigilant guards throughout the night. I invite Mr. Powell or any other journalist to try infiltrating the cove and get video out without wetting themselves or getting caught. If it were so easy it would be done much more often.
And that raises the question, if the dolphin hunters are so proud of their tradition, why are they so afraid of it being observed by anyone?
“…O'Barry makes Japan sound as if it has more in common with Saddam Hussein's Iraq than a liberal, pacifist Western-style democracy. He assures his team that it's commonplace to be arrested and detained without charge for 28 days, which is why the police are able to 'solve' most crimes with confessions. Ergo, he concludes, 'torture' is routine in Japan.”
Sadly, Japan’s legal system isn’t liberal or western. It’s a well-documented fact that it is as corrupt and backward as any third world legal system. This is from last week’s New York Times: “The decision on Thursday to release Mr. Hakamada, thought to be the world’s longest serving death row inmate, underscored the dark side of a criminal justice system that boasts a near-100 percent conviction rate and immediately led to calls for reform. Critics have long charged that Japanese prosecutors maintain that rate in part by relying heavily on confessions — instead of building cases based on solid evidence — sometimes wresting the admissions of guilt from innocent people too frightened or agitated to resist police pressure.”
“But Endo told Newsweek that what he said for the cameras was that the dolphin's liver bore high traces of mercury, not the dolphin meat sold in stores.”
All dolphin meat tested by the Japanese government, as well as independent labs and NGO’s, has been found to be toxic by Japanese Health Ministry standards. The legal limit for mercury in Japanese seafood is 0.4 parts per million. However every sample of dolphin meat tested in the last 20 years has been found to exceed that limit by at least double and as high as 5,000 times. The organs contain the most toxins. I have seen and photographed dolphin organ parts in Japanese super markets 3 years after Newsweek claims it was allegedly removed from the markets in 2003.
In 2007, I was seated on a plane next to Akira Nakamae, the Deputy Minister of Overseas Fisheries; the man in charge of all whale, dolphin and porpoise and fish quotas. I showed him an edited Japanese version of the film and asked him how he could reconcile letting 5,000 tons of toxic dolphin meat to be consumed by Japanese citizens, much of it to school children whose young brains are more susceptible to neurological damage. He told me, “I’m in charge of food security – not food safety.”
Dr. Endo acquired the organ sample seen in The Cove from a whale meat store in Taiji. He phoned me one night after the film came out in Japan frantically asking that we pull his footage from the film. He told me that if he didn’t publicly refute his statement in our film that dolphin meat was that toxic, his government funding would be threatened. I felt that he was making a decision to jeopardize public safety for his own career safety. We favored public safety and released the footage anyway.
Mr. Endo’s lawsuit against the Japanese distributor of The Cove was later thrown out. A compulsory program that distributed dolphin meat to schools across Wakayama Prefecture, and was slated for expansion throughout Japan, has also since been halted and thousands of children are no longer forcibly being poisoned with toxic dolphin meat.
“…Ric O'Barry, who once trained the dolphins used in the 1960s TV show Flipper, produced a documentary about the dolphin hunt called The Cove. …he was America's unofficial Mr. Dolphin.”
A simple IMDB search shows that Ric O’Barry did not produce The Cove. He is an invaluable main character to the film, a friend, and a hero. This article is the first time I’ve ever heard of Ric being referred to as Mr. Dolphin. The moniker is Newsweek’s and nobody else’s. He cares deeply for these animals because he respects them, knows they are intelligent sentient animals, and should not be captured and sold into a life of captivity for our entertainment.
“Villagers say they were quietly going about their business until 2003, when Taiji was visited by a vessel from the marine wildlife conservancy group Sea Shepherd.”
I asked Paul if his crew came by boat. He wrote, “No, that guy did zero research. We never came by boat. And no one crashed a funeral and no one destroyed any harpoons.” In 2003 a Sea Shepherd crew arrived like most people do to Taiji, they took a plane and made their way down to the coastal town by car. That Paul’s crew was assaulting the locals is pure fiction. Any assault would have resulted in an immediate apprehension and conviction.
It’s worth nothing that when Powell writes, “Taiji mayor Sangen complains bitterly that Taiji has been branded as a 'brutal, uncivilized community,'” that it’s only the mayor and his cronies that stain not only the reputation of Taiji but the human race as well. Most of the people of Taiji are delightful.
Unfortunately in Powell’s Newsweek article, the reporter didn’t really report. He seems to have swallowed the propaganda that the Japanese fisherman fed to him hook, line and sinker.