Ric O’Barry and advertisement promoting Taiji as a “World Heritage Site.” Photo credit Stack Jones.
Recently Ric O’Barry was in Japan to monitor the situation in Taiji, and to discuss his new project, a musical event that could end up being larger than the Rolling Coconut Review, which took place in April of 1977. RCR was the first concert held in Japan that had western superstars sharing the spotlight with Japanese. Before that, Japanese artists were relegated to the opening act.
The Rolling Coconut Review was a benefit concert known as, Japan Celebrates the Whale. The concert was organized by Ric, and featured Jackson Browne, John Sebastian, Richie Havens, Odetta, Warren Zevon, Eric Andersen, Lonnie Mack, Japanese singer and actor Izumiya Shigeru, and a jazz-funk band with keyboardist Richard Tee, drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Eric Gale, guitarist Cornell Dupree and bassist Gordon Edwards.
Many of those artists are no longer with us today. However, Ric, at 74 is still grinding away at important environmental issues. What people didn’t know at that time when Japanese products were being boycotted, was that Japanese living abroad were violently targeted as a result of that boycott. Even children were being beaten at school, so Ric stepped in to do all that he could to stop it.
Boycott Japan poster circa 1970s.
On my way to meet Ric at the Keio Plaza Hotel, which is located in Shinjuku, I was trying to find a good location to shoot for the interview. Ironically, I didn’t have to look far, as a stone’s throw from the hotel was a huge advertisement that promoted tourism in Wakayama Prefecture. Wakayama is where Taiji is located, and where the dolphin slaughter takes place every year. In a surrealistic, and ludicrous manner, the brightly lit advertisement boasted Wakayama as a “World Natural Heritage Site” sponsored by Tokyo Metropolitan Islands Promotion Corporation. First, Tokyo is nowhere near Wakayama, which is more than 500km away. Second, the advertising is misleading in that it includes a beautiful underwater shot of several Bottlenose dolphins, which are the mammals Ric is trying to prevent from being chopped up as a toxic food source, and from being sold off to dolphinarium shows. After meeting Ric, I told him about the advertisement and we went back to take a look.
On our way, I asked Ric if there had been any concessions from the mayor and fishermen in Taiji after the documentary film, The Cove won the Academy Award for best documentary film.
Ric. No, there has been no change at all. They’re still out there doing the same thing. Only now, the public beach where they slaughter the dolphin has been turned into an impenetrable fortress. And if anyone goes there, they will get arrested. It’s public property, a public beach, but if you go there, you will get arrested.
I then asked Ric about how the RCR concert came about.
Ric. I didn’t have any money, just an idea. From that, it grew into one of the largest musical events in Japan’s history.
We reached the “World Natural Heritage Site” advertisement. Ric began to shake his head in both amazement and disdain. I stepped back and began to take photos.
We headed back to the Keio Plaza Hotel, and found an empty table in the restaurant. Ric said he’s done hundreds of interviews at that very same spot. He was about to do another!
I hail from Miami, Florida. I’m a surfer, and diver, and grew up on the ocean. My father, grandfather, great grandfather and uncles all came from the Miami sports fishing industry. Fishing for sport has gotten so out of control that the state of Florida now has a moratorium on it. Prior to that moratorium my entire family had already left the fishing industry because reckless people who worked in that industry fished it out.
Ric has lived in Miami for 73.5 years of his 74 years. My family goes far back as well. In fact, the city of Miami Beach has placed two historical markers at Haulover Beach that honor my family for their contribution into the sports fishing industry.
I feel a bit uneasy about those honors. As a kid, I won Metropolitan Miami Sport Fishing Tournaments, and my father has won more international sport fishing tournaments than anyone in the history of the sport. He still holds several world records.
We used to fish out in the Gulf Stream, and anything the fishermen caught was hauled back to the docks, and laid out in front of the boat to lure tourists into booking parties the next day. However, when it got dark, and all the sunburned tourists headed back to their hotels, the garbage trucks would arrive, and haul away the carcasses of the dead fish, including sailfish, black marlin, blue marlin, sharks, dolphin (mahi mahi), bonita, wahoo, barracuda, etc.
That form of advertisement and entertainment went on for decades from Palm Beach to Key Largo. No wonder there’s almost no fish left in the ocean today. If Taiji and places like it continue to kill off dolphin, which is what tourist want to see, then advertisements like the one in Shinjuku will become virtual displays like that of the vocaloid singing sensation Miku Hatsune. Oh, did I mention that Ric and I both were born on October 14th? Not relevant you say? Maybe! Probably.
Miami Beach Sports Fishing Memorial located at Haulover Beach. Photo credit Stack Jones.
I asked Ric what it was like to encounter customs officers when he arrived in Japan.
Ric. I’m taken to a holding room. Since I’m usually travelling from Miami, about 17 hours, I’m exhausted and lay on the floor. After several 4-5 hours they bring me into another room where there’s a speakerphone and somebody asking questions to the officers who are interpreting for me. “What is your purpose here?” “I’m a tourist.” “Where are you going?” “I’m going to Wakayama” “What are you going to do there?” “I don’t know? Do you have any suggestions?” “Are you going to Taiji?” “Yes, I’ll be going to Taiji.” “What will you be doing there?” “Praying for the dolphins that are dying there.” This response always catches them off guard.
“Are you getting paid while you are here?” “If I say I am going to meet with you, for example, they would call you and ask you questions. One time my friend C.W. Nicol wrote a note for me in Japanese that said something to the effect, “This is my friend Ric O’Barry, please leave him alone. They actually let me pass through on that occasion. However, one time they called him and woke him up. So, anyone I name that lives here will be questioned upon my arrival. Now I just say I’m alone and I’m traveling alone.”
Stack. This reminds me of the time I went to Oarai Beach, when they were reporting on closing it down due to the radiation contamination. Ironically, across the street from Oarai is the Japanese Atomic Energy Association (JAEA). I stopped to take some photos, because the day before there was a huge protest of Japanese citizens that wanted the JAEA, and their experimental reactors in the area shutdown. The police, dressed in black suits, and looking like secret service, approached me and asked for my passport, which I gave them. First, they claimed they couldn’t speak English and then clearly stated, “Your visa is expired. You’ve overstayed! This is a crime.” Of course my visa had recently been stamped, so I laughed and said, “Oh, honto?” which means really? They could see that I wasn’t intimidated. That is the key to this kind of harassment. Never allow them to intimidate you. The officer’s gave me back my passport, and the one that said he couldn’t speak English told me to go swimming at Oarai,
Ric. I’m here to work with the Japanese people. I’m not against them. When I came here back in 1977, it was to end the boycott of Japan. That was my purpose. At that time, there was a large anti-whaling movement happening in America, and Europe. Save The Whales, had taken out full-page newspaper ads in the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times, which must have cost a fortune. The article’s read, Save The Whales Boycott Japan. What was happening in America was Japanese, Asians I should say… children were getting beaten on playgrounds and called Jap Whale Killers. Dr. Clifford Uyeda, a pediatrician, who was also the president of the Japanese American Citizen League who had been treating many children for beatings, contacted me to find out how to stop children from being targeted. He asked me to go to Japan with him, and help stop this boycott. We began to put together the Rolling Coconut Review, in Sacramento. Actually, California governor Jerry Brown put that performance together. Joni Mitchell performed there, Jackson Browne, Country Joe McDonald, and Fred Neil. Fred Neil was really the heart of it. When Fred got involved, everybody wanted to jump on the bandwagon. We then came to Japan and it got too big. So, we had to slow it down. It had to be paid for; I had to find money to pay for it. Which is what I have to do for this next one. I’m putting this one together with no money as well. At this point, it’s just a dream. But, everything starts with a dream.
My son Lincoln is in L.A. is working to put together some money to do a live street concert, and Dave Wiederman from the Guitar Center, is working with Matt Sorum from Guns ‘N’ Roses to get an advance so we can get an office in L.A. We have five months to put this all together, and get everybody in Japan to do a performance. Frankly, I don’t know any of these people. I just do what I do. I’m not the type of guy to run around asking people to help. The drummer from the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann came to my home in Miami, asking me how he could help out? I can’t keep in touch with all of these people. It’s too difficult. I get 100 emails a day from people asking me how they can help. I’ll get 20 just while I’m sitting here with you.
Japan is only one issue I’m working on. We have the Solomon Islands, Singapore, Indonesia; we had the mini-series, which was my son’s show.
Stack. Where’s the footage from that RCR concert?
Ric. After 35 years, I finally found it in my attic. I have it all on 35mm film. I just spent $6000.00 having it transferred to digital format.
Stack. You’re talking a lot about this past music event. Is this new concert is the thing on your mind for Japan?
Rolling Coconut Review Concert Ticket circa 1970s.
Ric. Yes. Before coming to Japan, I was in L.A., having meetings at the Sunset Marquis Hotel discussing this concert.
Stack. You just returned to Tokyo from your stay in Taiji. Have you had any meetings with the Mayor of Taiji?
Ric. No, he refuses to meet with me. He doesn’t answer my letters.
Stack. As you know, when you and I first began communications, I had contacted every university, fisheries universities, agricultural universities, Japanese film festivals, Japanese nature organization, and every one of them either never responded, or flat out rejected having you as a speaker, and refused to show The Cove. None of them even wanted to discuss the matter. Tohoku University told me that if they showed the film, and allowed you to come as a guest speaker, the Japanese National movement would come with their vans, and loud speakers, protest the event and interrupt the community.
Ric. There’s no pay off in any of that. But, I still think the mercury poisoning issues is important. The fishermen were giving the dolphin meat away for free to schools, to keep the “cultural” argument alive. First, this is a bogus argument because they’ve only been doing this since 1969. I did meet with two Taiji councilmen who saw the scientific evidence that dolphin meat is toxic, and they acted on that information and removed it from the compulsory school lunch menu. If they took it out of the school lunch program because it wasn’t fit for their children, then it shouldn’t be sold to unsuspecting, innocent Japanese people. They continue to do that, and the Taiji mayor is guilty of that. So, now it’s not an animal rights issues, from that day on, it became a human rights issue.
At a Nagoya school gymnasium I spoke with a thousand kids. I said, “Here’s what you can do as a school project. Go to Taiji. I’ll pay for your transportation. Across the street from where they slaughter the dolphin you’ll find a market that sells the meat. Take some of it home, and have it tested for mercury. If it tests positive for mercury, methyl mercury, PCB’s… I suggest you write a group letter to minister Noda, the minister of Japan’s health and safety, and ask why it is not labeled as poison. At least the consumer can make an intelligent decision of they want to buy it or not.” Of course, none of them ever did that. Their teachers probably discouraged them. It’s called Kata. You don’t break ranks. You don’t take sides with the foreigners. We’re all like blades of grass. We’re all in this together. So, that’s why nobody does anything.
Stack. There are two distinct societies in Japan. Gaijin means “not one of us.” We’re outsiders. But, we can’t really bash Japan for that. Look at America, there is an air or arrogance and ignorance that permeates every aspect of that culture. American’s simply believe that they have some kind of unalienable right to all of the world’s resources. Anyway… are you accepted in Taiji when you go down there?
Ric. It’s just like if you go there. You’ll never be accepted either. Even Enson Inoue who’s an MMA champion and has lived here for twenty-five-years, reads, and speaks the language but he’s from Hawaii. He’ll always be a gaijin. So, they don’t accept me and I don’t expect them to. My job is to keep this issue out there. It’s hard to keep any issue alive. It’s like the Fukushima radiation disaster. It’ll be in the news for a while but then the media moves on to some other issue. Haiti is a really good example. When the earthquake happened all the media of the world merged on Haiti. Today, there are still 400,000 people living in the mud, but the media has moved on. We’ve been very lucky to keep Taiji in the news. We had the Empire States building lit up in red for three days. I have to keep pulling rabbits out of the hat to keep Taiji in the news.
Stack. Why is the focus on Taiji and not Iwate? Taiji slaughters about 2000 dolphin a year. In Iwate it’s about 20,000.
Ric. It’s difficult to photograph Iwate’s activities because their action takes place off shore.
Stack. What happened in Taiji when you were down there the past few days? Did you go down there alone?
Ric. I went there alone, but I have two Japanese teammates that are there. There is also another guy down there from California, so I have three people monitoring. When I was down there this time, I saw approximately 100 dolphins including Bottlenose dolphin slaughtered. It’s a schizophrenic cove. Some days, it’s peaceful and one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s a National Park first of all, and what these guys are doing is probably illegal.
Stack. It sounds like they’re turning public property into a private enterprise.
Ric. Exactly! They’re putting up signs that warn against trespass, and they’ve installed barbed wire fences. There is also a trail for walking. It’s one of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen. It goes on for miles, actually going right through the cove, and a gorgeous cave. And these guys have painted it over, and blocked it all with barbed wire.
Stack. Is it shut off more than it was two years ago?
Ric. Much more. Unfortunately it would take a Japanese person to file a lawsuit, and challenge the legality of the park’s private use.
Ric showed me a photo of the entrance to the walking path, which was completely impassible.
Stack. What would happen if someone tried to go around it?
Ric. They’d be arrested for trespassing. There are probably 30-40 police there. The police are from Wakayama, there are national police in plain clothes… When I was down there, there were seventeen Sea Shepherd people. They do get arrested!
Stack. How do the police treat you when you’re down there?
Ric. On the morning I showed up, it was still dark, approximately five in the morning. When the sun comes up, is when the boats go out. So, we’re there documenting it. As soon as our car pulls up, all the police surround us with their lights on. They always have their lights on.
Stack. So they have advance notice that you’re coming?
Ric. As soon as I arrive in Japan and put my fingers in the customs machine, they’re on notice, because everything’s computerized. Anyway, it’s like a welcoming committee. They take off their hats. They bow, “O’Barrysan you’re here.” They’ve been chosen because they speak English. It’s not like we’re the enemy. I wish the Miami police were as polite and professional, and respectful. They couldn’t be more respectful, and friendly. They’re just doing their job. Their job is to keep the peace.
Stack. Do you feel threatened when you go down there?
Ric. Only by the young yakuza wannabees that want to make a name for themselves. Or an angry fisherman that makes a bad decision. But, I know how to avoid that kind of stuff.
Stack. Have you had any physical altercations down there?
Ric. Many times! In The Cove, my wife is with me, in that scene where that kid is shooting the bird at us, we were literally locked in the car, and surrounded by people who have chased us to the car. At that time there was only one police officer in Taiji, and he’s actually a fisherman in a police uniform. That was before The Cove movie. Today, it’s absolutely safe to go down there. In fact, there’s a police station right at the cove.
Stack. What ever happened to the two city councilmen down there that stopped dolphin meat from being given to kids at school?
Ric. One of them is a hero in my opinion. He was ostracized in the community for being outspoken against it. He became a taxi driver in Tokyo. His career was ruined.
Stack. You’ve talked a lot about mercury contamination in the dolphin meat. How about whale meat is that safe to consume?
Ric. All the dolphin and whale meat that we’ve tested have all come back positive for high levels of mercury. Boyd Harnell, who won two Genesis Awards for his journalistic work in the Japan Times, came down with me to Taiji, and we tested the meat, which was sold at local stores. The meat tested extremely high in methyl-mercury. All of the whale and dolphin meat that is caught around the coastal areas of Japan is contaminated. We then went back to the store, which is a chain grocery store in Japan, and confronted the manager. We showed him the data, and told him, you’re selling poison. The manager took us into the back room, and got on the phone with his boss. The end result was we got the meat taken out of 136 supermarkets.
Stack. Is it still not being sold in those markets today?
Stack. So, that’s a success.
Ric. Yes, but now the fishermen are angrier, because this hits their pocketbook. At the cove today, they have a police station that taxpayers are paying for, there’s a Coast Guard vessel, scores of police. They’re spending millions on security.
Stack. For a handful of guys?
Ric. For a handful of guys. For bringing shame to the entire country. The bottom line is, when you break it down, it’s to sell the meat.
Stack. Do you feel that it’s an us versus them mentality?
Ric. I can’t answer that question because I don’t know what they’re thinking. I’ve been to most other countries in this world. That acronistic, barbaric practice would be have been shut down in a matter of hours in any other country. I’ve come to believe that only the Japanese people can stop it. We just have to get them together on this issue and that is what we’re planning to do with this concert.
Stack. Has the amount of dolphin being slaughtered gone down since the release of The Cove?
Ric. It has. It’s gone down dramatically.
Stack. In Taiji?
Ric. Yes, because the consumers are learning about the facts. If the Japanese housewife, because that’s who buys it, had any idea it was contaminated, they wouldn’t buy it. It’s like the supply and demand of any product. These people are more concerned about clean food that we are in the west. They just don’t have the information available to them that we take for granted. Because they’re not given the information, which is controlled by the government. As you know.
Stack. How about the tuna, and other fish in Japan that has been found with high levels of radiation?
Ric. We’ve been testing dolphin, and whale meat from the north, but we haven’t found any yet. Is there radiation in the fish? Yes, but we haven’t found it in dolphin and whale yet. Yet!
Stack. I just read a couple days ago that officials are finding high levels of radiation in California kelp now.
Ric. If you go to DolphinProject.org, or SaveJapanDolphins.org, and look under blog, there you’ll find a wealth of information on that subject. In fact, if you give them your email, you’ll get that information as it becomes available.
Stack. What can Japanese people do? What do you want Japanese people to do? It’s obvious that foreigners are aware of all of this, but what about Japanese?
Ric. Japanese should be responsible consumers and stop buying tickets for dolphin shows, and stop purchasing the meat. It’s the capture of the dolphins that’s the economic underpinning of the dolphin slaughter. The dolphin slaughter is not economically viable any longer. They’re only getting about 4-5 hundred dollars for a dead dolphin’s meat. I know they’re getting at least 154,000 dollars for a live dolphin. I know that because I have a contract for Ocean World Casino in the Dominican Republic. I don’t like throwing numbers out there unless I have absolute proof.
Shinjuku, Japan. Ric O’Barry. Photo credit Stack Jones.
Stack. What happened to the Ocean World lawsuit against you? That was dismissed wasn’t it?
Ric. No, I’m still dealing with that. We’ve been through three. There are currently five lawsuits against me. Well, there’s a new one against me in the Philippines for interference with commerce. These are frivolous slap suits, acceptable in Broward County. If they were filed in California, they would’ve been thrown out.
Stack. My ex-brother-in-law used to be the chief of police in Broward County, so I’m familiar with that. There also was a corrupt court system years back where judges and district attorneys were sending kids to drug programs for kickbacks. A place called The Seed. What a racket!
Stack. (Continuing) I used to live on the west coast of Japan, in a place called Fukui. Fukui has a place called Tojinbo, which is a well-known suicide jumping point. It’s unbelievably beautiful there. But, next to Tojinbo is a dolphin show. The dolphins are kept in small pool size tanks, and it’s really rundown.
Ric. There are fifty-one of them here. In a country the size of California, that’s amazing. There aren’t that many in all of Europe!
Stack. As bad as places like the Seaquarium are, at least they are clean environments. Here, they’re rundown. The water is filthy dirty.
Ric. Case in point, is the Taiji Whale Museum. The dolphins get caught, but here they don’t pay 150,000. Foreigners do. Most of the one hundred or so that were caught last week will go to various shows around Japan. These are disposable dolphins for our disposable society. As long as people keep paying to see these shows, they’ll keep brining them in.
Stack. So, it’s no different than throwing a few goldfish in a bowl, and when they die, just simply replace them.
Ric. Exactly! It’s the same thing, but people won’t pat to see goldfish, but they do pay to see dolphin.
Stack. What’s your next plan? You’re off to Indonesia tomorrow. Why?
Ric. The worst dolphin show on the planet is in Indonesia. It’s a traveling dolphin show. It’s unbelievable. We’re talking about a portable tank, where dolphins ride in a truck. They put a tent up, and bleachers, take the dolphin out of the truck and put them in there. They get as much money as they can, and then move on to the next town.
Stack. How do they transport the dolphins?
Ric. In a box. Like a coffin. We’ve partnered with a really good group of young people over there. They don’t have any money. I don’t know how they do it because Indonesia is where corruption is the worst. So, for some reason it’s the Department of Forest that’s responsible for protecting dolphins. It’s kind of like the fisheries department protecting trees. The group is called JAAN, Jakarta Animal Aid Network. They’ve signed a contract with the government to confiscate all fifty-four dolphin in the Indonesian shows. There’s a dolphin in a swimming pool in a restaurant in Bali, in really bad condition, for example. Their job is to confiscate them. Bring them back to the national park in Karimunjawa, Java to rehabilitate them. My son built a huge sea pen that’s a mile off shore, it’s in the national park, and is exactly where they were captured. Our plan is to confiscate these dolphins and bring them back to the sea pen, rehabilitate them and release them into the national park. However, the rug was pulled out form under us, as the people that own the traveling dolphin show, put a stop to it.
Stack. But, you said that JAAN has a government contract to confiscate those dolphins?
Ric. Yes, but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s only good if the government honors it. So, you’re asking what I’m going to be doing. Well, there’s an event sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, and they’re going to show The Cove. I’m the guest of honor and all of the journalists are going to be there. Of course the Forest Department is going to be there as well. I’m going to point at those corrupt mother fuckers and name names and I’m going to be in a lot of trouble when I do that, because they’re going to be coming after me. That’s the reason I’m going there, to expose those guys. They don’t know I’m going to do this. I’m going to need a bodyguard, because after I do, I’m going to be in a lot of trouble. Then we go to Bali because there are a couple of really bad facilities down there. Of course the media will go along, as we’re going to expose them as well.
Stack. What are you doing to protect yourself?
Ric. I don’t know. I’m hoping the U.S. Embassy has that covered. Anyway, let me tell you how I operate. When I’m in Taiji, it’s so intense, so over the top that I can’t think about Indonesia. I’m thinking about what’s in front of me. I’m still in Japan, but at this time tomorrow, I will actually be in Indonesia. That’s when I’ll be able to answer your question. It’s all about showing up. What I have to do is usually made known to me, just before I actually do it. It’s not like I actually have a plan.
Ric turns his focus on documents regarding the concert in Japan.
Ric. I just put one foot in front of the next, and show up and… I don’t have a magic wand. It’s all about showing up. I had no idea that an Academy Award winning movie about Taiji would be made. I just show up!
Stack. How did you ever find out about that particular spot in the first place?
Ric. It would show up in newspapers once every few years. There would be a graphic photo that would hit the wire services.
Stack. That was before The Cove, when they were dragging the dolphins behind trucks to be slaughtered in the processing facility.
Ric. Right! I just assumed there were other organizations working on stopping it. I didn’t realize it until I went there that there was actually nobody doing anything about it. I won’t mention names, but there were some groups in Europe, it would be on their websites, these graphic photos, and I’d assume they were working on that issue. Not realizing, they had never been there. Their sites would say, this is happening, we’re against it, send us money. There’s an animal welfare industry out there making a lot of money by the way, I’m not a part of any of that. But, that’s how I learned about it.
It wasn’t until we showed up that we realized that there was actually nobody doing anything about it. We thought, this would be easy, all we have to do is make a short video, which I made called, Welcome To Taiji. It’s very graphic. It’s not for public consumption. It was made for the media. We called all the media and showed it. We came to Japan and showed it to the media. We would go down there at two or three o’clock in the morning. I had a few gorilla nests in the trees, and we’d watch what they were doing. I showed it to Kyung Lah, who used to be a correspondent here. She didn’t know that was happening. She sent her film crew down there, I put them in the gorilla nests, and I started doing that; bringing journalists down there.
One day I got a call from a guy named Louis Psihoyos, who I met at a marine animal conference in San Diego. He said, I just saw your DVD. Can I follow you around with my camera? I said sure, that’s why I made it, if you’re a journalist. He said, I’m not a journalist, but I want to make a TV series. He said, have you ever seen the Jacques Cousteau series? I said, sure everybody has. He said, Well, I want to do that. I want to feature you in the first episode. I said, great c’mon, but I’m leaving tomorrow morning. He said, I’ll meet you there.
He hung up the phone, and went out and took a three-day crash course on how to make a move. He never made a movie before in his life. He’s a great photographer. He was at National Geographic for seventeen years. He’s a brilliant photographer. But he never made a film. So, he took this course and then showed up. And, I’ll never forget it. We were in a restaurant the first day that I met him and he leaned across the table and said, “So, what’s this movie about?” He’s asking me what it was about, and he’s the filmmaker.
But, it was very refreshing, because in my experience, most journalists aren’t looking for the truth. They’re looking for a story. So, I just said to him, it is whatever it is. So, he stayed down there a couple weeks, and then came back a few more times. Then he announced to me that “we” decided to make a feature film. At that time it was called, Mercury Rising. It wasn’t called The Cove. So, he turned it into the guy that started Netscape, Jim Clark who didn’t care what the topic was, he just said, “Make a difference.” Jim was the one that told me the whole story. We were at Sundance, and… I have never actually seen the whole movie of The Cove. I’ve been to a lot of festivals, and I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, but I’ve never actually seen the entire film. I usually go in at the last fifteen minutes of a screening.
One night, he, Mark Palmer, and myself were having a glass of wine and Mark said he couldn’t turn it in to Sundance. It had a lot of graphic footage. It had a lot of beautiful photography. But, there wasn’t a story. So, Jim brought in his friend, Fisher Stevens who is a real documentarian. So, he looked at all of the footage with fresh eyes and said, “That’s not the story. This is the story.” He probably should have been given equal credit as a director because the final product was as much his, as it was Louie. So, they submitted it to Sundance unfinished, it didn’t have any music, and it won. Robert Redford told me that it was the first time he ever saw a standing ovation for a documentary. Since that day, I must have been to one hundred screenings of The Cove; film festivals around the world, France, Germany, Holland, you name it… Where ever! Every one of them, a standing ovation.
Stack. Doesn’t that help you feel that you accomplished what you wanted. Not, the notoriety of it, but the exposure to the issue?
Ric. Yes. What it did was create and allegiance to that issue around the country. That’s what it did. It’s a revolutionary film in that way. People were jumping out of their seat and saying, “What can I do?” That’s why the people that saw that film are currently down in Taiji. That’s why they are there. That’s why seventeen people from the Sea Shepherd are there now. I keep my distance from them by the way, because we do different things. The volunteers would call me aside, and say, “I saw the film, that’s why I’m here.” And there are thousands of people like that around the world. So, it was very helpful, and it will continue to be. It’s like Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring. It’s the kind of story that will be around forever. Eventually, people will see it in Japan.
Stack. I’m not sure how much you were involved in distribution, but The Cove was licensed to Medallion Media in Japan. I spoke several times with Nao Uematsu, of Medallion Media, and he said the company bought the rights for $10,000 dollars. I was shocked when I heard that because at that time the film had already been nominated for an Academy Award. A few weeks later, it won.
Medallion Media had been interested in partnering with another company to get theatrical release. So, I took The Cove to Junichi Mimura at Wides Pictures, screened it at their office and was told that nobody would touch that film here. Since I wrote many features for Mimura, and knew that he always dealt honestly, I began to see that there was going to be a problem with getting this film seen in Japan. Did you know The Cove sold for only ten grand here?
Ric. No, and that angers me to hear, because Louie had always promised me that it would be distributed freely over here. We’ve tried to post it online in Japan several times, and it always gets taken down. Selling it to a distributor in Japan, defeated the entire purpose of making that film.
Stack. How often do you get to go to Miami and rest?
Ric. That’s the hard part. I was just there recently for a short while. But, it’s not really home.
Stack. My question is how long do you get to go home and just relax?
Ric opens his cell phone and shows me a photo of his wife and his daughter.
Ric. This is my wife and my daughter. My daughter emailed me during this conversation and asked me the same question you just did. “Daddy, when are you coming home?” For a moment, I was lost. I was thinking, what does she mean?
Stack. My next question is about Florida’s moratorium on fishing. Apparently, there’s no fish left in the ocean. The entire Atlantic Ocean is nearly fished out, and the Gulf of Mexico incident with BP, which was the ecological calamity before Namie, helped to usher in the demise of countless shellfish as well. Some experts are saying we have about forty years left before the ocean really does become a watery desert. So, what’s the big picture in all of this?
Ric. We’ve got to change. And that is what Louie’s next project is about. It’s a 3D movie about the mass extinction that is going on right now.
Stack. We’re in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction. That’s what’s happening at this time, but this one is caused by humans.
Ric. Yes, this one’s man made.
Stack. Actually, currently animals are dying faster than at any time during the prior five mass extinctions.
Stack. We have to change. We’re the cause of it.
Ric. We have to change. We have no choice. We’re going to die. It’s that simple. And I think we will.
Stack. Well, Frank Fenner, emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University has predicted that human’s will be extinct within the next one hundred years.
Ric. He’s probably right, unless we change. Unless there’s a revolution.
Stack. This reminds me of the dustbowls in mid-America. Who would’ve ever thought that turning the soil in the great grasslands from Canada’s border to Mexico, to plant wheat would result in such cataclysmic changes as they did during that time?
Ric. Yes, but it’s not like that any more. People changed! So, that might be a microcosm for people to look at to show that people can change. They must, and I think they will. I’m optimistic. There’s coming a tipping point where we will have to.
Tokyo, Japan. Japan’s “World Natural Heritage” Advertisement. Photo credit Stack Jones.
Stack. How bad it is really for dolphins at this point?
Ric. I can switch. I can eat something else. I can become a vegan. Dolphins don’t have that option. They eat fish. If fish are gone, they’re gone. We’re destroying their habitat.
Stack. What are your thoughts on energy?
Ric. There is a new coal fire plant going online every week in China. Most of us live downstream from them. They’re the reason, every river, every stream, every lake in America is contaminated with mercury. That’s absolutely shocking.
Stack. Everything in Japan comes downstream from China as well.
Ric. People don’t know how serious it really is.
Stack. That’s why people that still talk about organic farming baffle me. The entire planet has been contaminated with radiation, mercury, fertilizers, herbicides, dioxin, PCBs, DDT, biosolids… The whole world is contaminated. There’s no such thing as organic any more. So, how do we turn it around?
Ric. Well, if we can’t fix the cove, we can’t. That cove is a microcosm of the rest of the world. When I stand there, as I did yesterday, looking down at it, one day it’s tranquil and peaceful, and the next it’s the most violent body of water you ever saw in your life. And it’s very small, not much larger than this room here. If we can’t fix that, what goes on there, how can we fix the bigger picture? That’s why I stay focused on that. What’s the point in moving on to bigger issues, when we can’t even fix that small body of water?
Stack. Here’s my final question. In Tokyo there’s a ghetto called Sanya, it’s near the town of Senju where many people live in blue tarp tents along the Arakawa River. You can’t find it on a map, and the Japanese government pretends it doesn’t exist. It dates back to the burakumin, and where the condemned were slaughtered and buried in mass graves, a place called the Bridge of Tears, in Namidabashi.
Ric. I never heard about it. I’m surprised to hear that.
Stack. Do you think the Japanese government is treating The Cove like the ghetto in Tokyo, like it’s something that doesn’t exist?
Ric. It sounds like it to me.
Stack. These burakumin were an unfortunate caste, forced to work in blood related trades like butchering, skin curing, and cemeteries. Even today, the larger Japanese corporations have a list of these burakumin sites, and if anyone came from these places, the corporations won’t hire them. It’s an outcast society that still exists in Japan today.
Ric. I think the government knows it’s true. That dolphin meat is contaminated with mercury, methyl-mercury, and PCB’s. I think they know that. They knew that in Minimata but covered it up.
Stack. Minimata is still a problem down there today?
Ric. Yes. Governments protect corporations. They’re not concerned with people and animals. The government was found guilty by the Supreme Court for covering up the Minimata crisis, and protecting the Chisso Corporation. That’s what’s happening in Taiji, because guess what… It isn’t just mercury that’s contaminated with mercury. It’s tuna, swordfish…
Stack. Sabba, mahi mahi, shrimp, crab…
Ric. The Cove has a graph showing the contamination in the food chain. So, think about that. We in the west eat fish about once a week. The Japanese eat it three times a day. If they ever learned the truth, that everything they’re eating is contaminated; their entire economy would collapse. That’s why I think they have covered up The Cove. To protect this secret that it’s not just dolphin. It’s not just dolphin. It’s nearly everything in their diet. It’s huge!
Stack. Any last words before you go? Any thing else that you’d like to say?
Ric. Not really. It just goes on and on and on and on.
Stack. When are you going to retire? (laughs)
Stack. When are you going to sit in your Miami Beach home and…
Ric. I wish I could. I don’t really like doing this. It’s not like I want to be doing this. I never set out to do this. You know, one thing leads to another. There’s a phone call, and OK, I’ll do that. And it leads to the next thing, and the next thing and before you know it, forty-five years have gone by.
Stack. What would you rather be doing?
Ric. Hanging out with my eight-year-old daughter. There’s nothing more important than that. Nothing! She’s growing up without me. I got my priorities all fucked up.
Stack. But your daughter is only eight. Aren’t you doing this to protect that generation?
Ric. I don’t know anymore. It’s like breathing. Do you think while you breath? You just do it? You get caught up in it and… I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Does it?
This article originally ran in the February, 2013 edition of Earth Island Journal.