By Ric O’Barry
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project
Mr. Ishii is a former Japanese dolphin hunter who told me he once looked at a dolphin he was killing and saw it had a tear. He gave up killing dolphins and now works to protect dolphins offshore his town of Futo.
Futo is in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo. The town has a long and sorry history of bloody hunts for dolphins, actually longer than Taiji. In fact, Futo hunters taught the dolphin killers inTaiji how to do it.
Ishii-san is a 3rd generation dolphin hunter. His father and his grandfather were also dolphin hunters, and he watched dolphin hunting since he was a kid. He knew he would one day become a dolphin hunter.
But he tells me he never knew his true feelings at that time – his sorrow and regret of what he did to dolphins.
In 1996, there was a big turning point in his life. Futo fishermen caught a pod of false killer whales, which were herded in to Futo’s tiny harbor by the hunt boats. However, this species was not part of the Shizuoka official quota, which means they caught them illegally. (They also caught bottlenose dolphins in excess of their quota.) Ishii-san suggested to the Futo Fishermen’s Union that they should tell the truth and apologize to the Japanese public. That would be the courteous way for Japanese society and the only way to continue hunting dolphins with full pride. But other union people were against him, and he alone stood up for the truth and told a newspaper reporter what they did wrong.
After that, Ishii-san was shunned and isolated in Futo. Futo fishermen deliberately left him out of their deliberations. But he did not mind it.
Rather, he became firmer in his thoughts and started to have sympathy for the dolphins. After seeing the dolphin tear, he decided to take the dolphins’ side and spend his life to protect them. He actually started taking tourists on tours of the Futo coastline to see whales and dolphins.
Mr. Ishii’s whale-watching boat is same one he was using for dolphin hunting. He even tells the story to his tourists of why he stopped hunting dolphins and shows photographs of the Futo dolphin killing.
He recommends other dolphin hunters do the same:
– The dolphin- and whale-watching business is sustainable. By contrast, if they keep hunting dolphins, they finally kill off the local dolphin population.
– Shifting their career to the dolphin-watching business does not cost much. They can use their current boat just like Ishii-san did.
– When the hunters become old (as many of them are), their hunts will become too physically tough to continue, but they can do the watching business and earn money for long term.
The Futo dolphin hunts finally ended after 2004; Mr. Ishii notes that the local fishermen are on better terms with him now, as they see the wisdom of the steps he had taken earlier to end his own involvement in the bloody slaughters of dolphins. While the Japanese government continues each year to award the town of Futo with a quota to kill dolphins, the fishermen have let the permits lapse without taking any action.
Mr. Ishii started his dolphin-watching business in 2002. He has been doing it for nearly ten years now, but lately, his dolphin-watching business has been decreasing.
A number of friends around the world started taking steps to promote Mr. Ishii’s dolphin-watching business. My son Lincoln and I filmed him in 2009 as part of our Animal Planet series Blood Dolphins. But then the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit, and his business suffered a setback, along with many other coastal tourism enterprises in Japan.
One Canadian woman, Michelle Jean, knew about Ishii san’s situation and felt sympathy, and has designed a line of t-shirts to support Ishii-san.
My friend Ishii-san continues his dolphin-watching business while he also keeps working as a fisherman. (He catches squid and small seasonal fish.)
He told me that he wants to make dolphins the symbol of the oceans around the world, to help stop pollution, squandering of resources, and other environmental problems.
His is a marvelous story, and one we think the fishermen in Taiji and other ports in Japan must learn. Your support for his efforts would be appreciated. When you are in Japan, Futo is a short ride by train from Tokyo, so you should consider joining Mr. Ishii for one of his cruises.