The village of Taiji has a disturbing double life. The first thing you see driving in is a large statue of a humpback whale with a baby, and a banner: we love dolphins! Sidewalk tiles are inscribed with every species of whale, and there's a whale museum with a whale fluke fountain and a statue of a boy riding a leaping dolphin. Wyland, the famous whale artist, painted a huge right whale on one outer wall. Behind the museum is a marine park, where dolphins perform choreographed shows. The Japanese tourists laugh and clap and eat dolphin sandwiches.
Not 400 yards away, almost every morning between September and April the most bloody and prolific slaughter of cetaceans anywhere on the planet is taking place. One of OPS's rock cam video clips shows a man spiking screaming dolphins, and the back of his jacket reads: taiji whale museum staff.
There is no contradiction for the locals. Part of the problem, says O'Barry, is that the Japanese kanji character for whale means "monster fish." "When they drag a live dolphin over the ground by a hook in its eye," he says, "they are, to them, dragging around a fish."
The locals must have known something was up when the caravan of vans and the semi truck rolled through town. But no police, no fishermen blocked the convoy. Maybe it was the meeting Rastovich had had with a couple of local elders the night before, assuring them that the protest would be peaceful. He'd told them about the lab-confirmed mercury levels in the dolphin meat they eat. The elders seemed shocked. They'd thought it was the stomachs and organs alone that were dangerous. They seemed grateful for the information.
When the cars pull into the parking lot by the cove, I am standing in a wetsuit and my jaw drops. The big side door of the semi slides open and inside is a 24-foot blimp painted like a whale: one of the OPS camera platforms. I laugh. How the hell did they get that thing into the country?
Three dozen surfers in wetsuits spill out of the vans, grab boards, and hit the beach. Slater had opted out at the last minute, preferring to get into a fight with paparazzi in Israel and train for another surfing title. ButHeroes star Hayden Panettiere is here, as is Isabel Lucas, a willowy 22-year-old Australian TV idol. I see Karina Petroni, a top U.S. surfer and at 5-feet-11 easy to spot, and James Pribram, the American pro surfer who travels the world shredding waves and writing about environmental problems he encounters along the way.
We stand in a line in front of our boards. The rain has stopped, but the wind shakes them. Rastovich quickly hands out flowers and explains that we come in peace, with respect for the locals and the Japanese, to honor the lives of the dolphins that have died here.
We hit the water, paddle out into the middle of the cove, form a circle, toss the flowers, hold hands. A remote-controlled helicopter with a panning camera appears over the rock spur and hovers. I grin. My boys, I think.