Masaki Wada is a Japanese official from Taiji—the dolphin-meat-happy town from the 2009 documentary The Cove. This Week, he announced a plan to build a park where anyone can swim and play with dolphins, “while tasting various marine products, including whale and dolphin meat.”
They’re apparently trying to capitalize on their existing notoriety for rounding up and stabbing thousands of dolphins every year, and they’re not pretending otherwise. According to Wada:
“We already use dolphins and small whales as a source of tourism in the cove where dolphin-hunting takes place. In summer swimmers can enjoy watching the mammals that are released from a partitioned-off space. But we plan to do it on a larger scale.”
It seems to be a publicity grab, intended to gain back some much-needed business from a nation that has lost interest in snacking on the chewy, fatty, mercury-laden meat. It’s also a massive trolling attempt, aimed to milk the rage of thousands of activists for worldwide attention.
The sexy superimposition of eating charming sea mammals while also laughing at their antics has always existed: according to The Cove and some compelling photos obtained by the Sea Shepherds, trainers from marine parks show up annually to tell Taiji’s fishermen which dolphins to spare, because they’ve got the goods to make it in showbiz.
Besides eating them and putting them in shows, why else would dolphins exist in Japan? There are already ocean-themed parks there with trained dolphins on display, including Kamogawa Sea World. Parks of this nature, it should be noted, also draw the ire of the Sea Shepherds, not just for buying dolphins from Taiji, but also for being generally shitty places to be a dolphin. America’s Sea World parks aren’t exempt either, and they’ve been like bad publicity factories lately.
Taiji has long been one of the focal points for the world’s rage at whalers, ever since they modernized the whaling industry long after whaling was no longer stylish.
In another time in Japanese history, perhaps the decline of old-fashioned dolphin filets as a reliable source of income might have silenced Taiji’s resolve about the issue. However, their brazen pushback right now against liberals, foreigners, and liberal foreigners is consistent with the career resurgence of nationalist politician Shinzo Abe, who has recently recovered his seat as prime minister on a platform of fiscal reform, or “Abe-nomics," and nationalist pride. Antiforeigner rhetoric is on the rise.
In a 2010 interview, Taiji’s mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, didn’t sound sympathetic to the opinions of outsiders. “We will pass down the history of our ancestors to the next generation, preserve it. We have a strong sense of pride about this. So we are not going to change our plans for the town based on the criticism of foreigners,” he said.
The “it’s our tradition" logic has won too many arguments. Wasn’t it the reason the world stopped interfering with the practice of time-honored customs like honor killing and female genital mutilation?
The contrasting point of view, the one Mayor Sangen is probably reacting against, is most often articulated by Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer and advocate who was featured in The Cove:
"There is no other animal, on sea or land, like the dolphin. We have spent decades and millions of dollars trying to communicate with them, but they are always trying to communicate directly with us. They are the only wild animal I know who have saved human lives—not a few times, but repeatedly through history. They are superbly adapted to the ocean, and make even the best human swimmer look clumsy."
Ric O’Barry, via
But O’Barry’s appeal gets at the inescapable fact that whenever people defend dolphins, they always seem to do so by comparing them to humans (myself included, a couple paragraphs ago), particularly referencing their intelligence.
Increasingly that appears to be a pretty flawed argument. One biologist named Justin Gregg was going around last week saying dolphins are as dumb as chickens. Much of his argument seems to stem from how mean dolphins are. Last I checked, though, chimps eat faces and dicks for breakfast, and they’re pretty smart. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that during hunts in Taiji, dolphins get corralled in by surface-level nets, and no one has been able to explain why they don’t... umm... jump.
Yeah, pigs might be smarter than dolphins, and more of them might get eaten, plus the seafood conservation pamphlet from Monterey Bay Aquarium says you should avoid all forms of shark and eat plenty of catfish, while not mentioning dolphin meat. Those arguments aside, a tourist destination that displays a particular animal for show while also serves it in the cafeteria is repulsive.