In a shocking twist following the arrest of Dutch national Erwin Vermeulen two days ago, Wakayama Prefecture police raided the Charmant Hotel near Kii-Katsuura last night, where several cove guardians for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and one cove monitor for Save Japan Dolphins (SJD) are currently staying. The raid occurred shortly after what monitors and guardians reported as the worst dolphin slaughter of the season.
According to Sea Shepherd
, the 20 policemen "armed with a warrant ... seized computers, phones, hard drives, photos, cameras and anything they deemed suspicious." At first report, it was believed that three cove guardians and one SJD member – Heather Hill, had been detained, but Japanese police only confiscated equipment used to catalog the Taiji dolphin drives. Save Japan Dolphins
verified this morning, that unlike the Sea Shepherd's equipment, Hill's equipment was checked before being returned to her.
The raid followed a particularly brutal dolphin drive and slaughter of around 34 striped dolphins. Striped dolphins are notoriously skittish and panic more than any other dolphin species. They often throw themselves onto rocks in the cove, in an attempt to escape. Although this is Hill's second visit to Taiji in a couple months and she has witnessed several slaughters, yesterday she says, "will probably always be, the longest and hardest day of my life."
Hill added that fishermen, in an attempt to prevent the dolphins' escape, "tried to position themselves between the rocks and dolphins." Divers, Hill said, "sat on the rocks to push and kick the dolphins that slammed their bodies into the wall, tearing their skin open and staining the water with blood." It is the recording of this type of evidence, that Taiji it appears, is doing its best to stifle.
Looking back over the events of the past few months, Japan has clearly declared its intention to raise the stakes significantly with regard to its whaling activities. This season, guardians and monitors are followed around the clock by Taiji police. Activists have welcomed their presence and protection, describing them as polite and protective. Yet the police who conducted last night's raid, are from a separate entity representing the Wakayama Prefecture. A source for SSCS said that Wakayama police often "sit down to breakfast with the dolphin hunters."
Recently, the reallocation of $28.5 million in disaster funds by Japan to support its whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean, has drawn much criticism. The money has been used to employ the Japanese coastguard to defend its whaling ships this year. Furthermore, Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) along with Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd (organizations that operate whaling vessels), has hired American law firm Miller Nash
to represent it in a suit aimed to prevent "acts of violence" by Sea Shepherd activists during this year's whale hunt.
In Taiji, the critical pressure being placed on the coastal town is fraying tempers and forcing a crackdown. A few weeks ago, Sea Shepherd cove guardian Rosie Kunneke alleged she was pushed by a Taiji fishermen. SSCS also reported a kidnapping attempt
on Kunneke, possibly by Japanese "Yakuza" gangsters, an organized crime syndicate called "boryokudan," or violence group, by Japanese police. Lauren Williams of Australia's Daily Telegraph
, recently reported
that the Yakuza may have launched a campaign of intimidation to force a media blackout on the furor surrounding the country's killing of dolphins and whales.
Both cove guardians and monitors have further reported the strange rearranging of flora at various lookout points used by guardians and monitors to document the dolphin drives. Sticks of bamboo have been cropping up in the unlikeliest of places, in what activists say, is an attempt to block viewing areas of the cove. One fisherman was recently captured on video by SSCS
and given a warning by local Taiji police, for trespassing and planting bamboo.
Then, just two days ago, Dutch national Erwin Vermeulen was arrested
and accused of shoving a Dolphin Resort Hotel Employee during the transfer of a Risso's dolphin from a sea pen to the hotel. Vermuelen is still being held, and under Japanese law says SSCS, can be detained for up to 23 days without speaking to a lawyer. Last night's raid has ratcheted the tension up another notch, prompting SSCS Captain Paul Watson to call the move by Wakayama police, an of "frustration and desperation." The raid has left Sea Shepherd cove guardians unable to document and report further dolphin drives.
After querying the reason behind the issuing of the Wakayama police search warrant, Save Japan Dolphins cove monitor Heather Hill responded simply, "Friendship with Erwin Vermuelen." In Taiji it appears, friendship can have dangerous consequences. How long will it be before Japan's continued obsession with whaling and dolphin hunting, starts costing lives? Meanwhile, according to Capt. Paul Watson
, Vermuelen will be released "if he simply pleads guilty."