Bainbridge’s Izumi Stephens is off to guard ‘the cove’

Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, who appeared in the program “Whale Wars” last year, has returned to her native Japan as a “Cove Guardian” for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Izumi Stephens

Izumi left yesterday, traveling with her daughter Fiona, who will be 14 in April and who shares her mother’s passion to save whales and dolphins.

Cove Guardians are volunteers who document and photograph the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, a town made famous by the award-winning documentary “The Cove.”

I talked to Izumi Wednesday before she flew out. She was excited and a little nervous. As a Japanese citizen who has lived in the United States 19 years, she was not sure how she would be received by Japanese residents when she stands alongside Sea Shepherd volunteers.

A year ago at this time, Izumi was serving aboard the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin as it followed Japanese whaling ships and disrupted their activities in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica. Izumi translated messages between the Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd and helped coordinate coverage by Japanese reporters.

Izumi was the first Japanese translator who did not conceal her identity from the photographers filming “Whale Wars,” a weekly reality program on Animal Planet. Izumi appeared in several scenes but was not a major character. Check out my initial story for the Kitsap Sun on Oct. 31, 2010, with follow-up reports on Water Ways: Jan. 4, 2011 Feb. 22, 2011 … and June 1, 2011.

Izumi says her language skills may come in handy in Taiji. Also, her understanding of Japanese values may help her build a “bridge of understanding” with the Japanese people. Many see no difference between killing dolphins and killing fish to eat, she said, yet dolphins are intelligent mammals, and the rate of hunting cannot be sustained.

“To them, killing dolphins is a tradition,” she said, “but every country has its horrible traditions. Spain gave up the bull fight, and Japan can give up this.”

Izumi said her daughter Fiona put together a school project about the anti-whaling conflict last year, so she understands the arguments on both sides.

Cove Guardians say they are careful to obey the local laws as they document the daily killing of dolphins, which they claim is about 20,000 per year. Besides documenting and filming the deaths of dolphins and the movement of fishing boats, the general goal is to create a sense of shame among the hunters and local residents, they say.

Suzanne West of Seattle, whose husband Scott is coordinating Cove Guardians in Japan, said Izumi may receive increasesd attention from the Japanese media. Some people will be surprised at her opposition to the hunt. By now, most Japanese are fairly used to seeing Western visitors speaking in opposition to the events in Taiji, said Suzanne, who coordinates efforts in the U.S.

“A big thing is making them aware that the world is watching,” Suzanne said. “We got a lot of footage last year of them actually killing the dolphins.”

Now, the hunters are conducting the slaughter behind tarps, she noted, “but we can still count the actual bodies going in with none coming out.”

Izumi will return to Bainbridge Island on Thursday, March 1. Two days later, she will participate in a gathering of Sea Shepherd supporters at Casa Rojas Mexican restaurant, 403 Madison Ave., on Bainbridge Island. The event is free, with donations going to Sea Shepherd. For reservations, e-mail Seattle Sea Shepherd.

Izumi’s arrival in Japan coincides with the release from jail of Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen of the Netherlands, who was arrested in December during a pushing incident while trying to photograph dolphins in the cove.

A judge ruled that Vermeulen should pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,315 U.S.), but he cannot leave Japan pending an appeal by the prosecutor. Officials with Sea Shepherd say they may file formal proceedings to protest the two-month detention for a minor crime. See Expatica News.

Update, Feb. 18: After I posted this blog entry, I received an e-mail from Sea Shepherd’s media department that provides additional details and clarifies the Expatica report. See News Release (PDF 24 kb)

"The Cove," Taiji, Japan / Sea Shepherd photo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Enter the word yellow here: