Monthly Archives: September 2014

Taiji: An unsustainable and inhumane dolphin hunt

Between September 26 and September 28, in Taiji, Japan, an entire family of pilot whales was eradicated from the face of the planet.

Pilot whales fighting for their lives and losing, in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

Pilot whales fighting for their lives and losing, in Taiji, Japan. Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

UnsustainableThis kind of removal of entire components of a gene pool is unsustainable, and is addressed under the laws of certain countries, if not Japan’s.  Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. §1361- 1421 (MMPA), the term “population stock” or “stock” means “a group of marine mammals of the same species or smaller taxa in a common spatial arrangement, that interbreed when mature.”  Under the MMPA, stocks are protected.  The term “strategic stock” means “a marine mammal stock . . . for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds the potential biological removal level.”  The Taiji hunters exceed this mortality level in nearly every single encounter they have with dolphins during hunt season, because they are the proximate and direct cause of the kill and capture of significant portions of, if not entire, stocks of dolphins, even if some of the cause is less visible.

While the US law, and its notion of “strategic stock,” does not impact how the Taiji hunters conduct the drive hunt, it does impact U.S. aquariums.  The concept of “strategic stock” clearly prevents the importation into the United States of any dolphin captured in Taiji because the capture techniques there violate the concept of “stock”, and no animal so caught may be imported into the United States.  So, it is convenient for a U.S. aquarium that the public is largely unaware that such importation into the United States would never be permitted (assuming the proper decision is rendered by the permitting agency) when it “denounces” such drive hunts.  One wonders how the U.S. aquarium industry would view such hunts if it had a prayer of obtaining a dolphin from one.

Inhumane. For purposes of humaneness, the way in which this family was eradicated fails by any measure:

  • Two of the younger ones were taken for a “life” of captivity in the aquarium/marine park/swim-with industry either in Japan or internationally.  The life of a wild dolphin when it is restricted to a concrete tank or even to an “encounter cove” is so far removed from a natural life – devoid of natural family units, natural hunting behaviors, natural food and water, natural movement in straight lines over many miles and to much more varied (greater) depth – that it would be recognized in any ethics-based evaluation as “inhumane”.
  • Fifteen were killed, and their flesh sold as food. Whether food for humans or for some other, the flesh is recognized to contain toxic levels of contaminants, chiefly mercury and PCBs. The knowing and volitional spread of such contamination within Japan or to citizens of other nations is a reckless endangerment to others, and it must end.
  • Approximately 10 were driven back out, after two days of being traumatized by noise, food and water deprivation, watching family members taken from them and others killed, as the “survivors” watched.  These 10 or more pilot whales, likely the smaller whose bodies wouldn’t fetch poundage sufficient to include in the “kill/capture” quota, are believed to have become trapped in the Taiji harbor nets, having been unseen since they neared the nets. These air-breathing mammals would have then drowned. So killed they were, and should be accounted for in the “kill/capture” quota.

We can hope that the “survivors” will be spotted today, but even if they survive the immediacy of drowning in the nets, their chances for survival, without the matriarch and the other mature members of the family, are significantly diminished. The young have lost their protectors, their mentors, all the members who hold the majority of necessary survival skills. So whether they survive the nets, they have been, at least decimated in the short term, and quite likely eradicated in any meaningful, longer view.

Include all in the kill/capture quotaAn immediate call can and must be made by a decision-maker to include all the casualties, all captures, whether killed or “released” in the quota.

Caroline Kennedy got it right. The U.S. State Department backed her up.  But it's been crickets since then.

Caroline Kennedy got it right. The U.S. State Department backed her up in its January 21, 2014 briefing.  But it’s been crickets since then.

After Ambassador Kennedy made this statement, she was supported by the U.S. State Department.  But there has been no word since the eight months since.

Excerpt from U.S. State Department briefing, January 21, 2014.

Excerpt from U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing, January 21, 2014.

What you can do to end the Taiji drive hunt:

Reach out to the U.S. State Department, requesting that it clarify what it promised on January 21, 2014: to find out at what levels the U.S. government is having discussions with the Japanese government; main phone number (202) 648-4000.

Fax the Japanese embassies and ask if the Prime Minister has been briefed on the faxes, phone calls, letters and emails that the Japanese embassies and consulates around the world are receiving.  Include what you know about the inhumaneness and unsustainability of the drive hunt.  A selection of Japanese Embassy fax numbers:

US: 202-328-2184
Canada: 613-241-4261
Australia: 2 6273 1848
Malaysia: 03-2145 0126
India: 00-91-11-2688-5587 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Philippines: 02 551-5780 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Singapore: 6733-1039 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Solomon Islands: 677 21006
Chile: 2 2232-1812 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Costa Rica: 2231-3140
Trinidad & Tobago: 622-0858
UK: 020 7491 9348
Ireland: 01 283 8726
Germany: 030/21094-222
Russia: 495 229-2555
Denmark: 33 11 33 77
Sri Lanka: 11-2698629 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Thailand: 02-207-8510
Bangladesh: 2-984-1591
Peru: 463-0302 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Venezuala: 0212 262 3484,

All other Embassy and Consular info: http://www.mofa.go.jp/about/emb_cons/mofaserv.html

Fax Service (allows two free faxes per day, with restrictions): https://www.gotfreefax.com/

An excellent summary of what you can do to help end the Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt, including other phone numbers, email addresses, in addition to other actions that you can take: http://www.seashepherd.org/cove-guardians/what-you-can-do.html

Follow the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians on Facebook, Twitter and on their livestream for current and accurate information every day of the six-month Drive Hunt, scheduled to end on February 28.

A cultural monstrosity

A blogger has written an Op Ed that attempts to support the notion that those who kill animals or benefit from the killing by partaking in its repast – whether by eating animals or, I presume, by going to dolphin shows or “swim-withs” where one leaves with a selfie as she kisses or hugs a dolphin – are not “monsters”.

In the first instance, any pretense of discussion of name-calling can be answered quite readily without pretending to have a rational discussion of psychological pathologies.  The ready answer is, be polite.  Most humans were taught at a very early age, sometimes with the aid of soap-in-the-mouth, that name-calling is not polite.

So we’ve settled that bit.

 Thinking people will recognize that his argument is based in a “because lots of people do it, it cannot be monstrous” position.  But let’s be clear:  that a monstrosity is cultural makes it no less monstrous.

There are obvious and numerous examples of acts that are no more acceptable just because many can do it in their sleep while chewing gum.  Most of us living in 2014 would need but a second or two to recognize and list examples of past and culturally-accepted behavior that violate our current sense of ethics:

  • Slavery/human trafficking
  • Genital mutilation
  • Stoning of women
  • Hysterectomies to address, you guessed it, hysteria
  • Rape
  • Foot-binding

to name just a few.  These all have in common that each had a time when it was accepted as a social norm.  Some cultures have modified the practices to be more palatable in a “rational” and “ethical” world.  All of these remain acceptable practices in some cultures.  All of them share something else: the need to be considered and eradicated without attempting to assuage the consciences of those who either cling to them or took part in them in the past.

Objectification of animals shares something with human slavery: they were both once accepted as ethical. Photo by Murky1

Objectification of animals shares something with human slavery: they were both once accepted as ethical. Photo by Murky1

Any attempts to assuage those consciences should be outed as nothing more than a red-herring.  None who genuinely work for a more ethical, sustainable world are motivated by or interested in making someone feel bad for something they did in a state of ignorance.  And it is undeniable that, nearly without exception, all who considered these practices acceptable were ignorant to the reality that the practices were never ethical, in the sense of ultimate ethics.  The best that one can do to justify any of these activities is found using some amalgam of relative and cultural ethics, where ethics are justified or even created by the circumstances.

But I invite you not to go down the rabbit hole of some red-herring debate of whether someone is a monster by virtue of his killing or exploiting an animal, or is, rather, merely “punching a clock” like any Average Joe.

If one avoids joining a discussion on whether or not someone is a monster for his acts, he can spend more time doing the good work of examining his ethics in the light of day instead of in the dark tunnel of justification.  He can, then, make informed choices.  Rather than justify behaviors while taking a heavy dose of cognitive dissonance kool-aid sweetened by speciesism with more than a dash of relative ethics, examine.  Read about speciesism.  And examine again.  Don’t waste time feeling bad in the “blame game.”  Make choices and move on, as many of us consistently invite the Taiji or Faroese dolphins hunters to do.

Monsters?  I don’t know and don’t care.  Some of them may be.  Some may actually revel in the taking of a life.  But monstrous, Mr. Smith?  Yes, indeed, the acts that you describe are monstrous.  Without exception.

It is . . . our collective culture of objectification, not some subculture of food on one island or in one theme-park-based city, that is responsible for this act.  This culture is the vestige, however powerful in forming our opinions, of ancient misunderstanding that all of us must throw off.  We must throw it off because it was never true in the first place, and it will kill the planet and most of the creatures that found their lives formed here.  – A reconsideration of the human entitlement to gawk

A reconsideration of the human entitlement to gawk

I grew up in a world that objectified nonhuman animals, a world that had captured and displayed these other animals since we began exploring the world in our new boats, a world that encouraged humans’ infantile fascination with a “new world” of wild animals.  I grew up in a human culture with a convenient capacity to enslave, encouraged by a religious zeal to reproduce with abandon at the top of some mythical dominance pyramid, to consider that other animals were here “for” us.

In that world, humans taught me to think that this little nonsense rhyme by Gelett Burgess was funny:

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

That world is the one in which a family of Rissos dolphins was just slaughtered in Taiji, Japan, and in which humans drive pilot whales onto a bloodied shore in the Faroe Islands.  It is that world, our collective culture of objectification, not some subculture of food on one island or in one theme-park-based city, that is responsible for this act.  This culture is the vestige, however powerful in forming our opinions, of ancient misunderstanding that all of us must throw off.  We must throw it off because it was never true in the first place, and it will kill the planet and most of the creatures that found their lives formed here.

A family of 8-9 Rissos dolphins killed on September 16, 2014, in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Operation Infinite Patience.

A family of 8-9 Rissos dolphins killed on September 16, 2014, in Taiji, Japan. Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Operation Infinite Patience, on Facebook and Twitter.

The cloak of this entitlement can be thrown off.  It can, because many of us have learned to abandon a sense of entitlement to seeing any of them, even as we acknowledge the wonder at being in their presence. It can and must be left as a relic of the misinformed past if we are to advance into the promise of humanity.

So I’m rephrasing Burgess’ poem, and hoping that this resonates with a few of you and that we grow a world in which our greatest aspiration is to leave the wild ones in their homes, unharassed by our prying eyes:

Be the purple cowI never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather BE than SEE one.

I don’t advocate literally never seeing them.  There are many opportunities for interacting with the wild ones, many of whom feed and rest in our gardens, who dig nests to bury their eggs right in our yards.  There are many as close as the nearest park or mountain trail.  There are others, like orca, who can be viewed from shore, although it is quite true that one loses some of the “front row seat of the theater” convenience when doing so.  But we also lose our dangerous entitlement.

I adopt this position because I don’t yet trust humans to understand their impacts on the others, even with the ever-increasing numbers of humans who choose a vegan lifestyle.  Even with veganism, humans still have a desire for love and a curious bent.  When these two attributes are coupled, the other animals can pay too high a price.

Join me in a life of choice, of imagining what it is to BE rather than SEE a purple cow, or an orca or other dolphin, or wolf, or bear, or box turtle, and give them a wide berth, their berthright and birthright.  Find out what you can do to raise your voice in support of an ethical world based in respect.

choice

It’s up to you.