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article imageReview: 'When Dolphins Cry' — the fight to end Japan's dolphin slaughter

By Elizabeth Batt     Feb 11, 2012 in Environment
"When Dolphins Cry" documents the more than 30-year fight by a group of dedicated international conservationists, to end the brutal slaughter of dolphins in Japan.
Released on DVD Feb. 01, by Hardy Jones Productions, When Dolphins Cry is mandatory watching for anyone seeking to understand the complexities and background of Japan's dolphin drives.
In setting the scene for today's Taiji, the film shows how the drive hunt process works and explores the link to captivity for profit, one of the major propellants for the continuation of the hunts.
Written and produced by former CBS news director and on-air anchor, Hardy Jones, the co-founder of has studied and filmed dolphins in the wild for over a quarter of a century.
Consummately aware of the importance of Japanese tradition and its cultural associations, Jones manages to reveal how tradition is now vying with commercial interests and profit. An interview with a Japanese aquarium manager lends support to this theory, after he freely admits that incentives offered by the captive industry, are a primary reason the drives continue.
Accompanied often by Sakae Hemmi of Japan's Elsa Nature Conservancy, Jones traverses Japan, gathering firsthand evidence and accounts of the country's dolphin industry over a period of years. In 2001 for example, the duo visited a dolphin facility at Ito which had two pools containing four dolphins captured in the drive hunt at Taiji. In a return visit some 17 months later, all but one of the dolphins had perished.
At times, the video footage of the dolphin slaughters are difficult to watch and even comprehend. When they were filmed, dolphins were dispatched by either having their throats slit or were stabbed with spears until they had bled out enough to weaken them. Those that died in the ocean were the lucky ones, some were hauled by their tails, clearly still alive when sent for butchering.
But beyond the slaughters, When Dolphins Cry pursues Taiji's ingrained need to continue the drives.
Dolphin hunting is legal in Japan with a government issued permit. It is also a country whose history with whaling is hundreds of years old and the 1986 International Whaling Commission's (IWC) commercial ban on whaling, had a profound effect on Japan's dolphins Jones said. No longer able to freely hunt whales, the country increased its dolphin hunts.
Until 1978, dolphin hunting had gone unnoticed, when photos of a slaughter at Iki Island, hit newspapers around the world. It got Jones' attention. In 1979, he took a film crew to Iki and interviewed local fishermen, who he learned, held the dolphin responsible for the depletion of fish stocks. Without any consideration for the role over-fishing had played in declining fish populations, war was waged on the dolphin.
One year on, Jones and cameraman Howard Hall returned to the Island and "walked into a massacre" of almost 2,000 dolphins. Their footage of the slaughter was distributed through CBS News, and aired around the globe. Massive protests immediately poured into Japanese embassies.
Sensitive to foreign criticism, the Japanese government instituted catch quotas in 1993, but being self-regulated, figures amassed remain questionable. Still, according to Sakae Hemmi Jones said, records kept by the Fishing Cooperative over the past 30 years, show around 74,000 dolphins were killed in the waters around Futo.
Today, Taji remains the only town to still hunt dolphins both for meat and to sell them to the captive marine mammal industry. With interest in the mammals growing, their popularity was escalating and programs such as the Navy's Marine Mammal Program, had been underway since the 1960s.
In 1990, Jones had even filmed a group of Americans wrestling Risso's dolphins in Taiji harbor. Transported from Taiji via Nagoya, the Risso's were shipped to Hawaii, and absorbed into the U.S. Navy's program. But a more significant event occurred on Oct. 10 1999 in Futo said Jones, changing dolphin hunting from a cultural pastime to a more economic one.
Having driven a pod of 100 bottlenose dolphins into Futo Bay, divers wrestled six young mammals into slings. Aquarium representatives in putting money on the table for live mammals, effectively created a new incentive, said Jones. With a market established, hunting efforts were renewed and from the sale of just six dolphins, fishermen earned 50 percent of their profit.
According to Sakae Hemmi, there are as many as 50 swim with the dolphin programs in Japan alone. Jones reveals that an untrained newly caught dolphin can fetch $5,000. Once trained, prices climb to as much as $50,000 per mammal he said, so training dolphins is another service provided by Japan. Hemmi and Jones visited one of these training bases in the documentary, where dolphins currently undergoing training were earmarked for facilities in China, Korea, Taiwan and French Polynesia.
In a 5-foot deep pool in the center of an arcade located in Osaka, dolphins were consigned to swim with people. The only necessary requirement was the purchase of a ticket from a vending machine. Perhaps out of frustration, or even a subconscious memory of his capture, one dolphin responded violently when a tourist attempted to touch him.
Slapping his tail in protest, another trainer quickly called the dolphin away, removing him from the activity. Astonishingly, the tourist remained completely oblivious to how dangerous the encounter could have become.
For citizens of the town of Taiji, who still frequently consume dolphin and whale meat, there is a far more sinister association to eating dolphin meat, that of heavy metal poisoning. Jones and Hemmi meet with Dr. Tetsuya Endo of Hokkaido University, a researcher who had been documenting the effects of heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury on dolphins, and the people who eat them.
Large mammals accumulate toxic metals in their meat, and organochlorides such as PCBs and DDT. Dr. Endo said dolphin meat for sale, frequently exceeds government health standards of 0.4 parts per million of mercury. The documentary reveals how in spite of strict food labeling laws in Japan, dolphin meat sold in Japanese markets, is frequently mislabeled as whale meat.
When Dolphins Cry is not wholly horrific in its portrayal of a decades-long crusade. Hope comes in many forms, one being the transition of former dolphin hunter Izumi Ishii from Futo. A man who had simply followed his father into the family business, before undergoing a dramatic change of heart.
Mr. Ishii senior, readily displays the knife he once used to kill hundreds of dolphins. Believing them "just fish" he now recognizes that dolphins are as intelligent as human beings. He describes how they cleverly used to escape the nets, only to perish because they refused to leave their pod mates.
His son Izumi, now uses his former dolphin hunting vessel to take tourists out to see dolphins and whales in their natural environment. His change of heart was so dramatic, that in 2002, Izumi Ishii traveled to the IWC annual meeting held in Shimonoseki, Japan. Here, under public scrutiny, he announced his intention to cease hunting, urging his fellow dolphin hunters to do the same.
For one tender, poignant moment, Mr. Ishii's words spoke of change. His wonderfully expressive face, clouded by regret and pain, makes one wonder how this man ever slaughtered dolphins. It clearly tormented him as he explained his change of heart.
"When fishermen slit the dolphins' throats" he said softly, "they open their eyes wide and then tears come, and as soon as their throats are slit, they open their eyes and they scream."
When Dolphins Cry, is a formidable lesson into how human affection for dolphins and the desire to share their world, has created an international phenomenon of epic proportions. None of which benefits this magnificent and intelligent animal, now believed by many, to be as self-aware as we are.
Now more than ever, the documentary shows how dolphins need our help. New dolphinariums and captive swim with the dolphins programs are being established around the globe at an alarming rate. In our desire to be close to these mammals, we are in fact, killing them.
Spanning several decades, Jones' film shows why this is happening. Historically significant, When Dolphins Cry is crucial to understanding the current climate in Taiji. Cleverly and clearly, it crafts the convoluted story of Japan's dolphins and the people who hunt them.
Jones packs a lot into 50 minutes, but it is not a simple story with immediate solutions. Still, the underlying message is clear; accountability and responsibility is a mantle all must bear because the true, terrible extent of dolphin captivity, is not solely confined to the country of Japan.
For further information on the film and Hardy Jones, visit
When Dolphins Cry; Feb. 01, 2012; Produced and written by Hardy Jones; Hardy Jones Productions in association with National Geographic Channels International. Running time: 50 minutes.
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