Raid on the Killing Cove
Credit: Peter Carrette
04:25 hours

Charles lowers himself hand to hand, tree to tree, off a rain-slick cliff. The blind is a little ledge hemmed in by brush. For a rock star he's pretty agile. Turns out he's a world-class sailor who worked on all threePirates of the Caribbean movies, teaching the pirates how to be pirates – how to handle sails, move around a ship. He even played a pirate in all three films.

Louie and I climb down. Quickly, he and Charles unshuck tripods and set them up against trees. They screw on high-def XD and infrared cams. The thermal camera will catch the thrashing and fountains of blood. Then they cover the cameras with leafy camo and tie ferns and leaves to the tripod. We wait. A navigational light blinks on some ravaged point. The black SWAT boots that the lady at the law enforcement store assured me were waterproof slowly fill with rain.

When first light blues the water and seeps into the cove, we hunch into camo coats and dab on face paint. And I catch my breath. The Japanese pen-and-ink coastal landscapes I have always loved take on shape and life all around us. The cove below is hollowed out of rock spires spilled with gnarled trees. A pair of large golden hawks drifts in lazy circles over us.

The lagoon has two fingers. On our right is the one with a public beach you can drive to, and straight down is the hidden deep-cut killing cove. We are looking right into it. On the beach of this inlet sit big rolls of pale green: the tarps the hunters use to hide the kills. This morning they won't need them, because there are no dolphins in the lagoon. I am relieved: Not as dramatic a media event for the surfers' action, but we won't have to witness any killing.

Hours pass. The celebrities got a late start from Osaka, we learn. It's a five-hour drive. We stuff hand warmers into our soaked shirts, doze. Finally we get the call.

"Okay, time for you to go," Charles says. "I'll take you." We climb off the ledge, and he leads me down the mountain. "Good luck."

"Thanks." I strip out of my clothes, dig in my pack, and snug on a thick wetsuit.

The protest was the idea of a surfer from Australia who looks like Jesus. Dave Rastovich, 27, is perhaps the most popular board rider in the Southern Hemisphere. He is a "free surfer," meaning he doesn't compete, but he's so magnificent on waves that he gets paid just to be himself. He is married to a gorgeous blond model who goes by the name Hannah Mermaid. Whenever she can, she slips on a shimmery blue tail and leaps into the water for the cameras. When she wriggles onto shore, Rastovich carries her in his arms to the car, her tail dangling. It makes a killer picture. A man like this, you'd think, would be content. He isn't.

What disturbs Rastovich is that the ocean he loves is dying. He can no longer surf his favorite barreling breaks after a rain because of the toxic effluence of nearby rivers. And most horrifying to him, the surfers he considers the originals – the dolphins – are scarcer than ever, dying off as bycatch in fish nets, from the collapse of the fish stocks that feed them, and from hunting. He decided to bring his global network of friends together over the issue and started the website surfersforcetaceans.com.

Last June, Rastovich sailed on the eco-pirate ship Farley Mowat in the Galápagos with the radical environmental group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. It's the same ship I accompanied for my bookThe Whale Warriors. The group's founder, firebrand Paul Watson, scorns banner-waving protests and instead preaches physical intervention. Like ramming whaling ships. He claims to have sunk eight. After some long conversations with Watson, Rastovich decided he had to take action in Taiji. Within four months he had pulled together more than 40 celebrities, musicians, filmmakers, and activists for what he called a peaceful paddle-out ceremony for the dolphins. This is the traditional send-off surfers enact for a fallen comrade; they circle out in the water on their boards and send up prayers for his final ride. "Like every culture, we have our rituals," says Rastovich.