Friday, October 8, 2010

Breakthrough interview with Mr. Sugimori, the head of the Taiji Hunters Union

Dear Friends:

I do hope you all read Elora's blog today and everyday.

Interviewing Mr. Sugimori never goes as planned. Today was the third time in a year. He knows me...perhaps I am the only western dolphin activist to ever engage him in conversation.

The plan was for Elora to interview Sugimori and for Yoshiko and I to help translate.

Sugimori seemed stressed. He has developed an eye tick since we last spoke. He has lost his caution too. He had never before let himself or his comments be filmed. This time he jogged out of the Hunters Union yelling to get out of his parking lot. The man called “Private Space” joined him.

I thought at the time he was yelling at me, but as soon as Elora left, his tone changed. Elora's blogs are making the rounds of Japanese media…I think Sugimori is afraid of the charming blonde haired eloquent 16 year-old high school student, Elora West.

I think he has reason to be afraid. Elora's writing and photos bring a powerful message to people all over the world. There has never been anything like it with the Taiji dolphin issues. She is the Joan of Arc for the Dolphin Movement. Follow her--Save the Dolphins!

After Elora got great video shots of the normally cautious Sugimori sputtering guttural frustration, she left to stand vigil with Scott, Jackie, John and Patricia.

I thought Sugimori was open to discussion. He definitely didn't want to let me or Yoshiko leave. He kept asking questions to engage us in conversation.

1. Don't you know that hunting dolphins is guaranteed by the national Japanese government? Don’t you know we have a right to do our jobs?

2. Why did you come here with that terrible Sea Shepherd group?

3. Can't you be independent from Sea Shepherd? We would take you seriously if…

4. Why do you talk about dolphins and not chickens? And what about kangaroos?

I tried to answer his questions but he didn’t seem to be listening. He just kept asking questions, the same questions. He was not yelling but he wasn’t really trying to discuss.

Then an actual threat to my livelihood: If you continue to fight against us, I will call your school principal, Steven, I know you teach in an Osaka high school. He wasn’t smiling when he said this. When I heard him, I wasn’t smiling either.

In retrospect, I realize that Sugimori was just trying, consciously or unconsciously, to dominate the conversation, bait me, and intimidate me.

It wasn't until I started asking compromise-based questions that his tone changed. We had a breakthrough.

Much debate has gone on behind the scenes. Basically, if we can get some form of agreement with the union, some lessening of the horror, we can start to unravel the mess that is the dolphin hunt and capture.

I asked Sugimori three lines of questions: mercury, baby dolphins, and money.

1. Can't we at least label the meat for mercury?

His demeanor changed. He actually answered the question: “if there were a mercury threat, the government would not let us sell the meat.” Wow. They don’t acknowledge the toxicity.

Would you like pregnant woman to eat the meat?

He sidestepped the question: the meat isn’t eaten very often.

So there is mercury in the meat?

If there is, it isn’t significant. The official tests showed low risk in Taiji.

This line of questioning…the mercury issue…started to come into clarity. This in itself is a breakthrough. With clarity we can more easily discuss the issue with solid scientific data.

--I believe, based on the research that I have read, that dolphin meat has mercury and other contaminates and that these chemicals are harmful to humans.

--The Dolphin Hunters believe that the meat is safe to eat.

2. Can’t we at least save the baby dolphins and the pregnant females?

This question seemed to take Sugimori off guard.

He stuttered…mmm…don’t you eat baby cows (veal).
I answered. It’s wrong to eat baby animals that have had no chance to live and it is inhumane to kill pregnant animals. No modern society kills females while pregnant. It would be an extermination policy.

Sugimori looked over at Private Space and asked: The babies are saved, right? …not killed… Private Space shrugged.

I continued: when the dolphins are run in from the open sea, don’t some babies get lost or run over with the boats? Don’t some pregnant females abort out of fear?

Sugimori and Private Space had no reply.

I started with the next line of questions realizing that BABY DOLPHINS is point to start a fresh dialog for compromise. With focused vision, I believe we can get the union to discuss ways that babies might be saved.

3. Finally: Money

If the union continued to corral dolphins for the aquarium trade but stop the hunt, how much money would they need to make up?

Sugimori hesitated seriously. I think he did not want me to discuss this answer.

I told him the answer: calculating approximately 2000 dolphins,: the Taiji annual kill limit, times approximately 300 US dollars per dead dolphin, the government supported price, equals 600,000 USD. There must be a way to make up this amount in an alternative way like dolphin watching tours. Let’s try a sample month with an organized watching tour and a real no kill policy. If in one month, you can get 1000 people at 100USD per person, we would match the current income.

Isn’t it worth a try? Let’s use this opportunity to discuss our views and to find solutions.

TDAG is committed to finding solutions to end the hunt. Thank you for joining. Thank you for sharing:-)

Steven Thompson
TDAG Co-Founder


  1. It seems that this being a means of lively hood an alternative income would be the best bet for getting things to change pro dolphin life/freedom. People are afraid of change. If they are making a decent living then they will not want to abandon it for the unknown and untried. Perhaps someone, via donations or on their own could start a small tour operation of the area to view the dolphins in their natural environment.
    What if you could find an interested party who knows something about running such a small business in Japan? Sometimes big changes must be made in very small steps, taken one at a time. The fisherman seeing the success of the business and being given this as an option might choose to switch. Money is at the base of this. This is their lively hood. An alternative needs to be found for the fisherman. An alternative that is acceptable to them. Get to know some of these fisherman, see how they live, what they think. What is motivating them to stay with these jobs. The best way to change things is to understand where they are coming from. Confrontation may expose but understanding can break down walls and make changes.

  2. Hello Steven,

    Thanks for yet another enlightening blog. After the live chat with Paul Watson, I stayed and shared with others the link for the upcoming worldwide protest rally. I know that I was influential in gaining at least one more person to join in. There may be others who took the link and ran with it as well.

    I have spent hours each day for the past two weeks passing on links and trying to get the word out about the event. I am always coming across a post by someone who may have just seen The Cove asking, "What can I do?" I am quick to respond.

    I am very fortunate that my loving wife is supportive of me committing so much time to such a worthy cause. I am very tired - not physically, but emotionally. I am driven with so much zeal that I don't usually stop until I go to bed. I told myself that I was going to take a brake today and do some things around the house, yet here I am. I feel as if I just can't do enough.

    If everyone who plans to attend the rally is able to encourage just one more person to be there, we can double the number.

    How do you all do it? Especially Elora and Scott. They have been there in Taiji for some time now. Based on their reports, the emotional roller coaster must be borderline traumatic. I salute you all. If I could be there, I would be there. My heart is with you.

    Warmest Regards,
    Holise Cleveland III

  3. The head of the dolphin killing union doesn't know if the babies are killed or not? Okay...maybe too much mercury in his diet.

    Be sure to mention that the babies starve to death without their mothers to nourish them. And they don't breed like rabbits either - the gestation period is 12 months, and dolphins only have babies every two or three years.

  4. Carrie is right. They don't seem very bright. They probably don't know anything more about the dolphins than my eight-year-old daughter.
    They actually helped our cause when they protested the first screening of The Cove movie in Japan. They drew a lot of attention to it and made more people want to see it. I am glad that they are not too smart. It's only a matter of time before they do something that really puts them in the spotlight even more than they are now.

  5. Just to let you all know how much you are appreciated! It may not seem like it, but hundreds, if not thousands of people are following this story, thanks to you!!!! We will continue to hope that this is bringing to light the horrible practice of Taiji. You are an inspiration to us all.

  6. Hmm very interesting.
    I like the money approach. If they make 600, 000 USD for every season, I guess you can tell them that if they quit you will give them 750, 000 USD that might work you know. Its a lot of cash.

  7. My utmost respect and thanks for your amazing work, Steven. I will be there in January!

  8. My husband is Japanese. He believes that the only way to get Japanese people and the fishermen to listen is to always only focus on scientific facts, such as mercury, how much fish the dolphins actually eat, etc
    He thinks that unfortunately the Japanese public won't respond to " don't kill dolphins or whales because they are smart, cute etc..." He reckons that most Japanese peoples first response will be "but what about cows, chickens, other fish?" I told him that alot of people who are fighting to stop the slaughter are a) compassionate about dolphins and whales as well as other animals and b) some if not many may even be vegetarian or vegan. He says that probably alot of Japanese people won't realize how common vegetarianism is and even though they may have never eaten dolphin themselves try will do nothing to stop others- in other words all creatures are fair game.
    Now don't get me wrong, my husband is shocked at what is happening in Taiji and he is just pointing out how The general Japanese public may be thinking.
    He and I know that there are many counter arguments to the above statements, but his main point is that he thinks the only way, as hard as it is, is to keep emotion out of it and focus on and keep pushing and asking for scientific evidence- re mercury, re do the dolphins really eat too much fish etc.
    I don't know if it's just my husband or Japanese in general but he tends to need time to mull things over before there is any action or reaction. Maybe that's what the Japanese public are doing...who knows
    Hope I didn't ramble too much

  9. Please spread the word of my blog