TAIJI, Japan, November 1, 2007 (ENS) - More than 30 peaceful anti-whaling protesters were attacked by Japanese fishermen off the country's southern coast this week as they tried to stop the slaughter of thousands of pilot whales.
On Saturday, professional surfer Dave Rastovich led an international group of activists, surfers, celebrities, and musicians on a paddle-out ceremony to honor the more than 25,000 dolphins killed each year in Japan.
Rastovich's group, Surfers for Cetaceans, along with people representing the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Save the Waves, Minds in the Water, and The Whaleman Foundation joined in the action.
Paddlers head out into the waves off Taiji, Japan to protest the killing of whales. (Photos courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
The slaughter was delayed by the increased media attention, but fishermen resumed the kill the following day.
In response, the surfers returned before dawn the next day to recreate the ceremony, braving violent resistance and arrest.
"The reason we surfers were there was to share the blood-stained waters at eye-level with our ocean kin awaiting their execution," said Rastovich.
At Taiji, dolphins are hunted for meat and also captured live for sale to marine parks and aquariums, fetching much higher prices than fishermen get for the dolphins killed for meat.
The fishermen netted off the bay and put up tarps to hide the slaughter from the media and activists.
Rastovich and his team, followed by camera crews, paddled alongside the whales, who swam back and forth along the seaward edge of the net.
The six paddlers, including Rastovich, his wife and mermaid model Hannah Fraser, Heroes TV star Hayden Panettiere, Australian actress Isabel Lucas, author Peter Heller, and professional surfer Karina Petroni, formed a traditional surfers' memorial circle between the whales and the shallow water where the killing was to take place.
Fishermen converged in their boats, threatening the paddlers with their propeller blades and yelling, "Why are you here? Go Home!" They used a long wooden pole to attack the surfers.
"Even though the fishermen used force to try and break us up, we held our peaceful stance. The feeling in the circle was of incredible strength," said Fraser.
With tensions escalating and the police sirens wailing, the surfers paddled back to shore and the fishermen closed in on the whales for the kill.
"I couldn't believe how red the water was," said Panettiere. "The whales were so scared. Hopefully their deaths won't be in vain."
Police check the identities of anti-whaling protesters.
On their way out of Taiji, the three-van convoy of anti-whaling activists was stopped at the border of Wakayama prefecture by 30 policemen with a paddy wagon. After checking passports and questioning the group, the police waved them on their way.
Rastovich said once the whales were targeted, they had no chance at life. "With many nets and kill boats waiting beyond the cove, the fishermen's intense desire to kill left no room for escape," he said.
Lucas said, "We couldn't save these whales, but hopefully shining the light on their deaths will save others."
Meat from the whales killed at Taiji is included in school lunches, but the activists and two local assemblymen are warning people not to eat this meat because tests show it contains high levels of mercury.
The assemblymen described the dolphin meat as "toxic waste" and are attempting to persuade other elected officials in Taiji and surrounding towns to take it off school lunch menus.
In August, Independents Junichiro Yamashita and Hisato Ryono announced laboratory test results of samples taken from dolphin meat purchased at local Taiji supermarkets. The meat was found to contain over 10 times the government's limit for both mercury and methyl mercury.
Around 2,000 whales are estimated to be killed at Taiji each year during the whaling season from September to March.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.