Something’s in the Water

something_in_the_water.jpgBoulder, CO., February 17, 2008 - The OPS team set out two years ago to make a beautiful documentary film about dolphins and whales.  We have, but we also came up with an epic horror film whose plot resembles that of a Steven King novel.  The fate of dolphins and humans intertwines, which led us to a secret cove hidden away in a Japanese National Park in Taiji, Japan.

 On the surface, this sleepy little village appears to love dolphins and whales.  Whaling began here, 400 years ago.  There are statues of dolphins and whales everywhere, a whaling museum and a tour boat shaped like dolphins and whales.   However this coastal village of has a very dark secret, one they don’t want the world to know about.  Taiji is the site of the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world.

 Every year from September to April, whalers from the town set out in 13 boats and round up migrating dolphins by banging on pipes.  The underwater wall of sound disrupts their sonar, which the whalers use to force them into a shallow lagoon. Several dozen are selected and sold to the multi-billion dollar captive dolphin industry where they are trained to do tricks, or sold to swim -with -dolphin programs. The rest of the dolphins are slaughtered and their meat is given away for school lunch programs around Japan even though their meat is toxic.  Technically, the average bottlenose dolphin bioaccumulates so many pollutants, including mercury, that in the U.S., their washed up bodies should be disposed of as toxic waste, yet in Japan they are fed to children.

    Now this is where the bigger horror story begins, one that affects us all, even if you don’t eat dolphins or whales.

            Since the Industrial Revolution and all that it brought, mercury in the oceans has risen about five times.  The U.N estimates about 2 percent a year.  This is due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal which releases the embedded mercury into the atmosphere and accounts for about 70% of the mercury found in the oceans.  Mercury bioaccumulates up the food chain so most of our apex predators like whales, dolphins, tuna, shark, swordfish, mackerel and marlin are now toxic even in small doses.  In a few generations, mankind has manages to do what no animal in the history of the earth has done, foul it’s own nest.

            Even low doses of mercury, a few parts per million, has been found to have deleterious effects on the neurons in the brain, particularly the developing brain of a fetus or young child.  Women expecting to be become pregnant, or who are pregnant should not eat anything from those seemingly harmless cans of tuna.  Birth defects and learning disabilities are some of the effects of mercury.  Higher levels lead to symptoms resembling cerebral palsy or dementia in adults.
Many of the Japanese scientists and doctors we interviewed no longer eat any large fish at all.  70 percent of the human race relies on seafood as a major source of protein.  The Japanese people eat, on average, 66 kilos per person per year and while China per capita eats less, as a whole they now account for more seafood consumption.  But the smart money has already turned away from eating our top ocean seafood.

            In China alone, there is one new coal-fired power plant set to open up every week for the next 20 years.  The oceans are not going to get cleaner any time soon unless we make a major reversal in the way we get our energy.  New Zealand, perhaps, is one of the model countries to emulate; they generate about 75 percent of their energy from alternative sources, wind, hydro and solar.

            There is an Iroquois law that states that decisions should be regarded by their impact on the seventh generation to come.  Mankind has historically thought no further forward than the next rent check.

            As for OPS, we are doing something about the problem besides making a film, We’re now driving a Zenn electric car, a small low-powered neighborhood vehicle for trips around town and next month we’re installing a 24-kilowatt solar system on the roof.  As soon as that’s complete we’re going to put a bumper sticker on our runabout, “VUS – vehicle using solar,” the opposite of an SUV.

            Dolphins are the only wild animals known to come to the rescue of humans.  In ancient Greece this was well known and it was a fine, punishable by death, to harm a dolphin.  With this film we’d like to come to their rescue and in the process, perhaps save ourselves.

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