Sunday night, May 22, NHK* TV broadcast a new documentary about whaling, Kujira to Ikiru (Living with Whales). The film was shot in Taiji, a town famous for its 400-year whaling tradition, and more recently for its dolphin hunting – the focus of last year’s Oscar-winning documentary, ‘The Cove’. Whereas ‘The Cove’ focused on the plight of dolphins, this film is concerned with the whalers and their families. It is a story of personal and familial upheaval under the enormous anger focused on this small town for conducting their traditional pursuits.
Kujira to Ikiru follows the whalers of Taiji over the last whaling season, September 2010-February 2011. [See below for a basic description of Taiji whaling.] Scenes from their daily life are interwoven with scenes from ‘The Cove,’ more recent scenes of conflict with members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and scenes of whalers and their families.
Throughout the film whalers discuss how to deal with the local and international protests against dolphin hunting. The whalers have decided to remain calm and avoid confrontation with the protesters. They also invested in a curtain of tarps to cover the beach area where dolphins are killed. The film also shows dolphin meat being brought from the slaughterhouse into homes, with separate scenes of a little boy and an elderly lady eating slices of raw dolphin. It is a part of their culture.
The main protesters in this film are members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, led by Scott West, a retired Special Agent-in-Charge, Criminal Investigation Division of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Sea Shepherd crew is shown at the first (and only) meeting between protesters and the Taiji people: the mayor, whalers and other representatives on November 2, 2010. At this event, Mr. West states their case for protecting dolphins as the top creatures in the ocean, with their own culture, language, history and family units.
Elsewhere in the film it shows Mr. West and others of his group shouting at the whalers, calling them names, “Pathetic. You’re losers,” and pushing cameras into their faces, “I bet you’re getting pretty mad, aren’t ya; you dumbass little shit.”
In one confrontation, a whaler is trying to drive his car out of a parking lot. Sea Shepherd members block his path so he cannot leave. He asks them politely to move out of the way, but protesters variously yell at him and offer him hundreds of dollars to release a dolphin. Police eventually come to free the whaler and his car from the crowd. It becomes clear throughout these interactions that the whalers only speak Japanese, whereas the protesters shout and call names in English. It is a futile attempt at dialogue, to say the least.
Afterward, the whaler returns home to his wife and teenage daughters. In a series of short scenes we hear his wife’s concern that other townsfolk will blame all this trouble on the whalers. One of his daughters takes part in her junior high school class discussion on how to resolve the conflict between the protesters and whalers.
The junior high school students of Taiji make the following comments:
“Have respect for each other.”
“You cannot put feelings over food.”
“Just don’t say anything about it anymore. It’s okay to think about it, but don’t act.”
“They feel sorry for dolphins. I feel sorry for dogs. You don’t have to listen to the protesters. In other countries they eat dogs. I like dogs, but I can’t say anything about that country.”
“The fastest, simplest solution is to stop whaling.”
“Whaling is our culture in Taiji. If someone from another culture takes away our culture that is no good. It is scary if Taiji gives up so easily.”
This scene ends with the daughter’s comment:
“Respect each other’s opinion, but at the same time, what can we get from them?”
Back at home, the daughter says both her father and grandfather were whalers, and that was okay, but since “The Cove,” she has wondered about it and felt sad. She feels better after the school dialogue, because of the support from other students. She asks her dad what the Taiji people said to the Sea Shepherd people during the November meeting. She is not satisfied with his answer that it is “tradition.”
Near the end of the film, the whalers find a new video on the Internet showing them killing dolphins (website address shown on screen: http://www.atlanticblue.de). The whalers blame themselves for not covering the beach well enough where the dolphins are killed. They ask why the world is so focused on the killing of dolphins, and comment that no one wants to watch the killing of cows, either. People want to buy their meat clean and packaged. They also feel they are receiving life from the sea in the form of this food, rather than killing life, as claimed by the protesters. At one point during a pre-dawn meeting an older whaler says maybe it is time to stop whaling, but later they say that people must kill things for food. If they stop killing dolphins, they will need to kill something else. The film ends with the whalers going to sea and driving more dolphins into the cove on February 25, 2011, the last day of the season.
The film did not address the sustainability of dolphin hunting, the International Whaling Commission, the toxicity of dolphin meat (e.g. mercury, PCBs), nor the mislabeling of dolphin meat as whale meat.
A Day in the Life of Taiji Whalers
Dolphin hunting has not changed much over the last few years. This season there were 23 active whalers in the town of 3,400 people. Whalers gather around a fire on the beach before dawn. They venture out in 12 small boats, about 30 km offshore, where two currents meet. These currents bring together many fish, and with them, dolphins. In the film the whalers sight 15 Risso’s dolphins, then coordinate their 12 boats to herd the pod into the cove, pounding on iron pipes to drive the dolphins. Once all the dolphins are inside the cove, a net is placed across the entrance, and the dolphins are driven into the beach to be killed. One addition to these procedures is to cover the beach area with a curtain of tarps to prevent anyone from seeing or filming the actual killing. This documentary does not show the killing of the dolphins, but does show the processing of the dead dolphins in a warehouse on the docks. The film also shows the lead whaler in his office making his report (number hunted, conditions, etc.). Later he delivers dolphin meat to a retired whaler and to a whaler’s widow.
* Japan Broadcasting Corporation; Japan’s national public broadcasting organization