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I-Team investigates Japanese whale and dolphin slaughter

Activist calls attention to Japanese whale hunts
November 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A life and death struggle is underway at this moment in Japan -- the capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales. A California animal rights activist is there, trying to stop it.

The Japanese government received intense pressure two years ago after a documentary film about the controversy won an Oscar. But the brutal process called a "drive hunt" has begun once again in Taiji Cove, on the eastern coast of Japan.

The Japanese government does not want you to see these pictures -- a drive hunt underway just last week. Fishermen use boats to push a pod of pilot whales -- 100 of them -- into Taiji Cove to be slaughtered for food.

"Pilot whales are very docile, very gentle, very submissive," Melissa Sehgal said.

I spoke by Skype with California native Melissa Sehgal. She's back in Taiji leading Sea Shepherd's "Cove Guardian" campaign.

Sehgal: "This is my second time being a Cove Guardian leader."
Noyes: "Does it get any easier to watch?"
Sehgal: "It never gets easier being here. Obviously, it's not a quick humane death, there's a lot of suffering, these animals fight for every last breath that they have and it's quite a struggle."

The Japanese government has refused to call off the annual killing season that runs September through March, despite international pressure.

In 2010, a documentary called "The Cove" won an Academy Award and exposed the fishermen's techniques for capturing dolphins, pilot whales and other cetaceans.

"And they just bang on these poles with hammers and they create a wall of sound which frightens the dolphins," the movie says.

They corral the dolphins close to shore with nets, drag others by rope and skiff and attack. The cove turns red with blood.

That same process is playing out right now. This time, it's pilot whales. The fishermen drive them to shore.

"They start to panic; they start to thrash and to fight for all that they have," Sehgal said. "We witnessed several whales throw themselves up onto the rocks, which in turn the killers tried to wrestle them off, it became a bloody struggle."

While the fishermen focused on the larger whales that yield the most meat, Sehgal watched a calf get caught in the net -- its mother "spy-hopping," coming out of the water to see the baby struggling.

"Finally, after 30 minutes, she never resurfaced," Sehgal said. "It's very painful to witness something like that."

Sehgal and her crew watched the fishermen select a mother and two calves for a marine park, but during four days in a pen with her young, the mother grew sick and died.

During the drive hunt, the fishermen separate the pod -- half are dragged to shore, a spike driven through their blowhole into their spine to paralyze them. And, they go to the butcher. The other half huddles near the nets.

"The worst part about it is they take half the pod, so the other remaining living pod is witnessing their family members being slaughtered one by one, then forced to swim in their family member's blood," Sehgal said.

I went to the Japanese consulate in San Francisco to hear how they might defend the process. Deputy Consul General Michio Harada compares it to the way Americans slaughter cattle and poultry for food.

Noyes: "I see the pictures and you see the blood in the water and you see the young separated from their parents, and it looks brutal."
Harada: "As I said, I haven't seen the killing of the other animals."
Noyes: "Right, the world has seen it though."
Harada: "No, no, no, but ... we would appreciate if you paid more respect to what we eat, how we use the marine resources."

Noyes: "They say you should respect their food culture."
Sehgal: "Honestly, it's not about culture and tradition, the drive hunt originated in the 1970s. This is fairly new to them. This is about profit and greed."

Sehgal says the fisherman can get more than $200,000 from marine parks for a trained dolphin. They kill the other animals for food. Gondo whale bacon found on Yahoo shopping is actually pilot whale from Taiji.

Despite all the pressure, including yearly protests in San Francisco, the only change the fishermen have made is to hide what they're doing. They use police and coast guard to cordon off the killing cove. They put up tarps at the butcher house when the carcasses get delivered. And they restrict Sehgal and her team as much as possible.

But, the San Francisco consulate claims the fishermen are ready to adopt more humane techniques.

"If there is anything that the animal loving groups have, any suggestion, maybe they be very happy to hear it," Harada said.

Npyes: "If you have any ideas, they say they'll listen to you."
Sehgal: "The only thing I can think of humane is to stop it. These animals are ripped apart, taken captive and brutally slaughtered."

The Japanese are not allowed to sell Taiji dolphins in the United States because the federal government has declared the drive hunt inhumane. Sehgal is finding new ways to bring attention to the cause -- she streams the drive hunts live on the Internet.

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