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Bottlenose dolphins © Christopher Swann

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Of Mermaids, Dolphins, and Sea Change

A few years ago, we were approached by naturalist and author Ran Levy-Yamamori, introducing us to his wonderful story “The Mermaid and the Dolphins.” After translating it into Japanese and Danish, we shared it more widely with a hope that its message would reach across the globe, and especially within those communities in Japan and the Faroe Islands that continue to kill dolphins through drive and other types of directed hunts.

Written and directed by Levy-Yamamori, this narrated video and children’s book is part of a collective movement to stop the slaughter of dolphins and whales worldwide. Told through the eyes of a fisherman’s daughter in a place where they kill dolphins every year, the story details the life of a fisherman who plies the waters around an unnamed village and coastline, making a living for his family and pursuing the livelihood that he learned from his own father. Caught in a storm, the fisherman wonders if he will make it safely home to his two children waiting for him at home.

As the children wait fearfully for their father’s return, they climb a cliff to an ancient ruin built by the early inhabitants of the fishing village to seek solace and calm amidst the storm. On the walls of the ruin are drawings and paintings depicting fishermen, dolphins, and mermaids, all coexisting and reminding the children of the stories and legends of dolphins saving imperiled fishermen and in turn, villagers aiding dolphins who had stranded on shore, that had been shared through generations. These ancient paintings contrast starkly with the current practices witnessed by the children where village fishermen beat drums and herd terrified dolphins to shore, trapping them in the local bay to butcher out of fear that the dolphins are competing for dwindling fish stocks.

Small whales and dolphins are killed by the thousands in waters across the globe. As the dolphin hunts continue in Taiji, the Faroe Islands, and elsewhere around the world, we thought it important to share this story of hope again—a story built on the potential of our individual relationships with whales and dolphins, and with each other, to transform and transcend the practices that continue to result in their suffering and exploitation. Through the haunting melodies composed by Ran and his daughter Romi, the story comes to life and serves as a compassionate, sensitive, and moving account of the transformation and understanding that can occur when one is awakened to the beauty and importance of the life around us, and the resounding impact our individual choices can make.

The video is also available in  JapaneseGerman, and Danish. The full story is also available as an iPod/iPad/iPhone application which you can find in App Store, as well as a children’s book of the same name.

To date and during this 2014 drive hunt season, almost 100 dolphins have been slaughtered in Taiji, Japan and nearly 50 pilot whales have been killed in the Faroe Islands. The quota for the drive hunt season in Japan is nearly 2,000 dolphins, and although foul weather has kept the fishermen at bay for part of the season, the killing season has only just begun.

Our ability to see whales and dolphins as sentient beings with complex social lives and social bonds that arguably may be stronger than our very own is only part of the equation to seeking an end to these cruel hunts. The other is to understand the entrenchment and importance of practices and traditions that may appear unnecessary to us, but that provide some form of cohesion or collective identity to communities that continue these brutal practices, whether for profit, meat, or a sense of camaraderie.

WDC feels strongly about the protection of whales and dolphins–and ethics aside–believes that the emergent science with regard to the cultural transmission and social complexity in whales and dolphins means that we all must reevaluate our relationship with these remarkable creatures and continue to seek their global protection. The threat posed by chemical pollutants, especially those that bio accumulate also means that consumers of whales and dolphins, whatever community they are in, also have to think long and hard about the future relationship with, and utilization of, whales.

WDC believes that no cruel rituals, practices, or customs are exempted from scrutiny or accountability, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition. WDC understands that whaling in the Faroe Islands has been considered to be an important part of Faroese tradition for many centuries and that many countries are sympathetic to such traditions. We believe, however, that in situations where they are clearly no longer necessary for subsistence purposes and where they seriously and demonstrably compromise human health, animal welfare and wildlife conservation, such traditional activities should cease.

We are also aware of a growing sentiment against the hunts within the Faroes Islands and within Japan, and believe that supporting this movement from within the country is the most sustainable approach for the longer term. We are supporting local initiatives on the ground and individuals who engage and publicly speak out against these hunts, and continue our work in national and international arenas to develop and strengthen policies and legislation to inhibit or prohibit dolphin hunts. Raising awareness through international peaceful demonstrations is also important, and having just supported Japan Dolphin Day, we also encourage UK supporters to attend a rally against the dolphin drive hunts in London on November 7.

However, sometimes it is the power of a story that changes hearts and minds, and fosters the relationships that can bind and transform us all. Help us share the story—by collectively imagining an end to dolphin hunts everywhere, we may be one step closer to realizing an end to these cruel and enduring practices.