Cat. 3, Activism 12 – BL-55 – Undercover in Taiji

Cat. 3, Activism 12 – BL-55 – Undercover in Taiji

Ch. 55 –  Undercover in the Cove

2004 was, like other years, crammed, just a little more so. While the first Compassion for Animals Road Expedition (CARE-1 tour) spanned August 2003 and April 2004, and while I spoke at the National Animal Rights Conference in Washington DC for the first time in July 2004, I went to Japan in October 2004, to perform an undercover operation.

Basically, I had devised a method of communication with the dolphins by which I could warn them of danger where it exists. I went to Taiji to test the method.

I will not discuss the exact nature of this method for as long as the dolphin capture and slaughter at Taiji continues, but I can tell you that during the 2-week period I stayed at Taiji, no dolphin was killed even though killer-boat activity did occur.

Not long before 2004, the number of dolphins killed in Japan, including Taiji, Futo and Icki, totaled 20,000 per year, plus hundreds captured for aquaria around the world. In Futo, dolphins were driven into a bay and hauled out of the water by the tail with cranes, then dragged by the tail up a concrete ramp by trucks to the slaughterhouse (which must have been excruciating to the dolphins given their extremely sensitive skin) where their throats were slashed with machetes, often requiring more than one cut.

At Taiji, when a school of dolphins is sighted, the fleet of 13 drive boats would motor out of Taiji Harbor to intercept it. The boats would fan out on the seaward side of the dolphins. Sounding rods, basically aluminium tubes or steel poles, would be inserted into the water and struck repeatedly with hammers. This would form a wall of frightening sound behind the dolphins, which would then be driven towards the Cove, then into it, whereupon the banging would cease, thereby creating the illusion for the dolphins of the cove being a safe haven. Even when the banging had ceased, the dolphins would just mill around in the cove, but would not leave. To make doubly sure, the fishermen would string not one but two nets across the mouth of the Cove in parallel a few feet apart. Though easily accomplished with a flick of a fluke, the dolphins wouldn’t challenge or try to breach the nets.

There are two bays in The Cove. The larger one, visible from the road, is the Holding Bay, and the one adjacent to it, separate by a narrow land protrusion and not visible from the road, is the Killing Bay. There was a land passage between the two bays, but it was barred by a barricade bearing a sign warning of “falling rock” (which of course was total BS). When the dolphins enter the Cove, they’re first driven into the Holding Bay. It would be across the mouth of the Holding Bay that the nets would be strung. The captives would be held there overnight. The next morning, they’d be driven sideways into the Killing Bay for selective capture (of young, unblemished females, destined for a lifetime of captivity in aquariums), and for slaughter (of those not selected for capture, including babies). The water in the Killing Bay would then turn blood-red.

The reasons for the slaughter are:

  1. eliminating the “cockroaches of the sea” – competitors for fish.
  2. meat, in spite of its being loaded with mercury, and
  3. tradition, which refuses to retire.

There is no indication whether the killers considered the dolphins fish or mammal, and that the Bottlenose dolphin’s brain (1600 cc) is larger than a human’s (1400 cc); perhaps to them these no difference.

When the plane landed in Tokyo, I rented a car at the airport and drove along the very scenic south coast of the main island of Honshu.

Strangely, the GPS in the car was all in Japanese, with no English option, as were most road signs, and even some of the signs at the airport. The fact it was the Narita International Airport – the one most international tourists would arrive at – brought a passing thought about the competence of their tourism bureau. Good thing that, way back when, the Japanese adopted a large number of Chinese characters into their written language, so I could just barely eek by on the GPS and road signs. If I did not know Chinese, such as a unilingual English Canadian or American, I would be totally lost.

As I was winding my way out of Tokyo, I was further surprised to see homeless people sleeping in the street. Likewise for the smaller cities along the route. Now I know that Japan is deep in debt and has a stagnant, and has been for years, but back then, I didn’t. “Japan” and “homeless” just didn’t belong in the same sentence.

While Taiji was my destination, Futo was a way point. I drove in to look up Izumi Ishii, the famous ex-dolphin-killer-turned whale watch operator who had single-handed-ly halted the dolphin slaughter at Futo. Although I had no appointment, he was kind enough to take me whale watching in his ex-dolphin-drive-boat, and, for the first time in my life, I saw not one but two Sperm whales passing the boat almost within touching distance.

At Taiji, my first big challenge was to situate the equipment inside the Holding Bay, the second was to operate it, and the third was to retrieve it. The first and third required me to go into the water in the middle of the night.

The second entailed me to get up at 4, drive my rental car to my observation point on top of a 100′ cliff overlooking Taiji Harbor by 5, and settle in for hours at a time. Basically I was watching for two things: dolphins, and drive-boat activity. The car would be a dead giveaway, since it bore a license plate from Tokyo, which to the locals might as well be a foreign country. So, concealing the car was my first order of business. I would park it at least 100 meters away in some back alley. If and when I sighted dolphins, which happened several times, I would be on full alert. If and when the boats began streaming out, which happened twice during my stay, it was time for action. I would drive back to the Whale Museum, park the car there, walk 200 meters back to the Cove, scramble back to my place of concealment and activate the system. I could hear the banging of the sounding rods, but at neither time did any dolphin enter The Cove.

There was a Shinto temple in Taiji across the street to the Fishermen’s Co-op. Its purpose was not to teach the dolphin killers love and compassion, but to bless them with fair winds, safe return and good catch. Nothing specifically against Shinto. I’ve found that essentially, all religions are the same.

The main problem with the method, at least given the local conditions, was that it required a human operator, who would be at increasing risk the more he was seen. In the little time I had, I simply could not find anyone in Japan to take over from me. Were it today, I could have rigged up solar panels and made the operation automatic.

Speaking of being at an increasing risk, one day in the middle of the second week, after my second operation, when I was parking my rental car in the parking lot of a local restaurant, a plain white car followed me in and blocked my car in its parking slot. Two men emerged and came straight at me. I lowered my window and stayed calm. The driver of the other car came to my window and asked, in English, “Are you Mr. Anthony Marr?”

“Yes sir.”

“I would like you to come with us back to your hotel, please.”

“Is there a problem?”


“What’s this about?”

“We have just a few questions to ask you, and we would like to take a look at your room.”

“Wouldn’t this require a search warrant? What about ‘You have the right to remain silent?’ Or do I have this right in Japan?” I thought, but thought better than to resist. I just said, “Fine.”

“You can drive your car. We’ll follow you,” he said.

“Would you say the same if I were driving an Astin Martin?” I thought.

Back at the hotel, they looked through my room, my luggage, and even through my camera and my computer. Good thing the “equipment” was by then “not in the room” (if you know what I mean). Photography-wise, I had made it a point to not photograph the Cove more than cursorily, and to photograph all sorts of other things. I did photograph in detail almost everything in the Whale Museum, inside and out, which was what the plain-clothes cop or agent saw in my camera – standard tourist stuff. They then escorted me down to the cafeteria and questioned me exhaustively, over coffee, for a full two hours.

“Where are you from?”


“What group or groups do you belong to?”

“I’m a member of the Vancouver Sportbike Association.”

“Have you heard of Greenpeace?”

“Who in Canada hasn’t?”

“And Sea Shepherd?”

“Sea what?”

“Sea Shepherd.”

“Sounds familiar. I read from somewhere somebody got kicked out from Greenpeace way back when and formed a new organization. Maybe this is it.”

“How do you feel about the dolphin slaughter here?”

“Well, I don’t know much about it.”

“I didn’t ask you what you know about it. I asked you how you feel about it?”

“I’m a vegetarian and I don’t kill anything, but I’m not here to criticize your country.”

“What are you here for then? You’ve been here for ten days. Taiji is a small place.”

“I’m an entrepreneur. I’m exploring the potential of tourism in this region.”

“What evidence do you have to support this claim?”

“Well, nothing in writing, but I have talked to the tourism minister of Wakayama Prefecture about it.”


“About a week ago.”

“What is his name?”

“I can’t recall exactly. I think it is a Mr. Nagaharu.”

He nodded at his sidekick, who pulled his cell phone from his pocket and walked away to make a call.

“Do you have experience running a business?”

“I’m familiar with the whale-watching business in BC. Starting a whale-watching business around here is what I have in mind.”

“Where were you born?”


“Your paper says that you were born in 1944.”

“I was.”

“So, you were in China during World War Two?”

“Yes, I was.”

“What do you think of it?”

“Think of what? I was too young to remember. I was less than one year old.”

“I mean now/ What do you think of your country being invaded by my country?”

“Of course I resent it. But it is history. I dislike lots of things in history, not least of all, war. But I hold no grudge against your country. It is water under the bridge, as a western saying goes. As I said, I’m not here to criticize your country.”

The sidekick came back and said something in Japanese, presumably confirming that I did talk to Mr. Nagaharu, and the interrogator nodded, but did not cease his interrogation. All in all, it lasted over two hours. In the end, failing to pin me down on anything, they thanked me for my cooperation and abruptly left, but not before giving me a little parting present – a drug-store packet of the Japanese equivalent of Kleenex. What that meant or symbolized, I had no idea, and still don’t.

When I returned to my room, I knew that I was a watched man. That ended my experiment. I would have preferred to have a third success to seal the deal, but “two out of three ain’t bad”. Still left to do, though, was to retrieve the equipment from the Cove, and that was even more unnerving than when I installed it, because I was now a watched man. I thought about just leaving the equipment behind, but it was expensive, and it would leave a clue. So, what needed to be done had to be done. I laid a false trail by first driving to the next town, took a room at a hotel there, waited till dark, then drove back to the Cove, watching my tail the whole time.

After retrieving the equipment, wet and cold, I brought them back to the other town, did a thorough job of washing the sea water off submerged items, and repackaging them back to their original condition.

At Narita Airport, the Japanese security officers did check it, and did ask me, “Why did you bring it to Japan, but not use it?”

“Change of plan,” I said.


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