Pictures credits "Peter Carette ICON Images, Jeff Pantukhoff, and Oceanic Preservation Society"
Taiji Japan (October 29, 2007) Less than 24 hours after professional surfer Dave Rastovich led an international group of surfers, celebrities, and musicians on a peaceful paddle-out ceremony to honor the spirits of the over 25,000 dolphins killed each year in Japan, fishermen in the tiny village of Taiji resumed the slaughter that had been delayed by the increased worldwide media attention drawn by the group’s arrival in late October In response, they decided in solidarity to make a pre-dawn return to the killing cove to recreate the ceremony, albeit smaller, within a stone’s throw of the captive pilot whales, paddling through waters stained red with blood. “The reason we surfers were there was to share the water, stained red with blood, at eye-level, with our ocean kin awaiting their execution,” said a dripping, visibly shaken Rastovich, co-founder of Surfers for Cetaceans, just after paddling in. “Despite the fishermen taking great pains to hide their acts of cruelty, we seized this as an opportunity to bring this travesty to the world’s attention” Area fishermen, who kill dolphins and whales for their meat, along with capturing some of them to sell to marine and captive swim parks, netted off the bay and constructed green tarps to shield the slaughter from prying eyes and front-line cetacean activists bent on shutting down the dolphin trade forever. When the surfers learned of over 30 pilot whales, including calves, being herded into the narrow rocky cove at Taiji, they did not hesitate to return despite the distinct possibility of violent resistance and police arrest.
Rastovich, leading the team trailed by camera crews, arrived at the infamous Taiji cove to paddle out to the captured pilot whales. After crossing the netted enclosure they quickly arrived alongside the whales who swam back and forth along the edge of the seaward net. The six paddlers, including Heroes star Hayden Panettiere, Australian actress Isabel Lucas, author Peter Heller, professional surfer Karina Petroni, Dave Rastovich, and his wife Hannah, formed a traditional surfers’ memorial circle sited between the whales and the blood-ridden shallows. Local fishermen converged almost immediately, harassing the paddlers with yelled threats and brandishing whirling propeller blades. At times, the irate fishermen, who were continually yelling “Why are you here!?!”, “Go Home!”, jabbed at the surfers using a long wooden pole. “Even though the fishermen used force to try and break us up, we held our peaceful circle.” said model Hannah Rastovich.
With tensions escalating and the police sirens growing, the surfers quickly paddled back to shore where Hayden Panettiere fell to her knees overwhelmed by the carnage she and the group had just witnessed.
“I couldn’t believe how red the water was,” said Panettiere. “The whales were so scared. Hopefully their deaths won’t be in vain.” After a long journey enroute to Osaka, 30 policemen readied with a paddy wagon stopped the three-van convoy at the border of the Wakayama prefecture. After checking passports and questioning the group intently, police waved the crew on their way.
Reflecting on the day’s experience, a somber Isabel Lucas said, “The worst part is that whales are probably all dead by now. We couldn’t save these whales but hopefully shining the light on their deaths will save others.” “People from around the world need to know this barbaric and cruel slaughter is still going on added “Save the Whales Again!” Campaign Director, Jeff Pantukhoff. “People need not only to take notice, they need to take action!”
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