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'Cove' activist boycotts meeting with dolphin town mayor

by Staff Writers
Taiji, Japan (AFP) Nov 2, 2010
Dolphin activist Ric O'Barry, the central figure in the Oscar-winning eco-documentary "The Cove", on Tuesday boycotted a meeting with Japan's dolphin-hunting town of Taiji, labelling it a "sham."

O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer for 1960s TV show "Flipper" was due to discuss dolphin hunting in a highly anticipated meeting with Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen, the local fisheries union and other environmental activists.

But O'Barry, now an activist with the Earth Island Institute, abruptly left without meeting participants, claiming that organisers broke promises to allow him to have a "frank dialogue" and imposing restrictions on media coverage.

"This conference has turned out to be a total sham," O'Barry said in a statement. "I will not take part in it in any way. I will boycott this whole disgraceful set-up."

The meeting had been organised with the aim of fostering dialogue between environmental activists and pro-whalers, with the town's annual dolphin slaughter increasingly in the international spotlight.

Every year fishermen in Taiji herd about 2,000 dolphins into a secluded bay, select several dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks and slaughter the rest for meat, a practice long deplored by animal rights campaigners.

Japanese fishermen, who also hunt whales, have defended killing the sea mammals as part of a centuries-old tradition in the island nation.

But the gathering, which was only open to the media, was organised by a pro-whaling group that censored questions and expelled journalists who tried to return to the hall after covering O'Barry's walkout.

Despite his boycott, however, the meeting took place with the mayor and the local fisheries union as well as representatives of environmental groups Sea Shepherd, the Whaleman Foundation and the World Ocean Fund.

"We have our own culture. It is necessary to respect each country's traditional culture," Shinichi Ryono, vice Taiji mayor, told the conference.

But Scott West of Sea Shepherd said: "I understand tradition and culture. But just because something has been done for a long time, that fact does not make it necessarily a right thing to do."

The talks coincided with the annual September-April hunting season, for which Taiji town has been allowed a catch quota of 2,241 small whales and dolphins.

"The Cove", directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary this year, and has been followed up by a series on cable channel Animal Planet called "Blood Dolphins".

The team that shot "The Cove" over several years often worked clandestinely and at night to elude local authorities and angry fishermen, setting up disguised cameras underwater and in forested hills around the rocky cove.

Right-wing nationalist groups in Japan -- known for their ear-splitting street demonstrations using megaphones -- have attacked "The Cove" as anti-Japanese and tried to stop its screenings by harassing movie theatres.

This forced the film's distributor to scrap screenings in June, but it managed the first commercial showing at a police-guarded Tokyo theatre in July, despite a brief skirmish between right-wingers and supporters.

O'Barry also claimed that Taiji Mayor Sangen had secretly met pro-whaling activists who had been behind efforts to prevent Japanese people from watching the movie, which further encouraged him to boycott the conference.

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