THE READY ROOM: Paparazzi & Dangerous Thoughts The Eve of Dolphin Inferno

Dateline: Osaka, Japan
Oct. 25, 2007

In a gilded hotel meeting room, better suited for a plumbing-fixtures sales meeting than an international demonstration, Dave Rastovich briefed an unlikely crew of dolphin defenders on the eve of a safe, orderly, but most likely illegal paddle-out ceremony.

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“We're not gonna have a lot of time,” Rastovich instructed in a soft Aussie surfer's drawl unfamiliar to public speaking. Using one of his boards, Rasta demonstrated for the surfers and non-surfers alike how to properly hold the surfboard behind their backs a la the Eddie Aikau opening blessing at Waimea Bay. "Once we pull in to the car park, we need to move quickly and quietly. No yelling, laughing, pointing of fingers. Stay relaxed and remember why we're here. We'll line up briefly while flowers are handed out. After a short moment of silence, we'll paddle out."

The room bristled with TV and paparazzi cameras from four nations, snapping away at various U.S. and Australian surfers, a Byron Bay jazz-blues fusion band, two young TV actresses and a smattering of Rastovich's Japanese friends who had taken time off from their day jobs to help translate directions to the drivers.

Rastovich pointed to a black-and-white aerial blow-up of two narrow finger coves, perhaps 100 feet across at their widest point, just outside the tiny fishing village of Taiji on Honshu's picturesque southeastern coast. The coves were adjacent to a small parking lot next to Tsunami Park, a leafy picnic spot popular with vacationing families during the summer months. One was marked "capture cove," the other "killing cove".

Each fall, approximately 25 Taiji fishermen, using underwater noisemakers and nets, herd hundreds of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales into the shallow cove to be slaughtered with long flensing knives and sold as meat in local markets. Although Taiji is the last to practice dolphin-culling commercially, this has been a tradition in Taiji and other Japanese fishing villages for over 400 years.

Most days, the cove is a tranquil rock-lined inlet with cedar-covered hills straight out of an Edo woodcut, but come the fall it's transformed into a blood-filled charnel house of thrashing, mortally-wounded dolphins. Former Flipper trainer-turned-cetacean activist, Ric O'Barry, calls it "Dante's dolphin Inferno".

Among the audience is 18-year-old Hayden Panettiere, star of the hit TV show "Heroes," who has drawn a small contingent of freelance celebrity photogs. Rastovich convinced Pannetiere, and her mother Leslie Vogel, to come to Japan when they met last May at the International Whaling Commission in Anchorage. Actress Isabel Lucas, formerly of the popular Australian soap "Home and Away," also flew out with her father, Andrew, after signing on to Rasta's "Visual Petition" at the Byron Bluesfest in April.

Notable surfers included: James Pribram, Karlie Mackie, Jaymes Trigolone and Karina Petroni . In a move of solidarity, four members of the Byron Bay-based Band of Frequencies—Shannon Carroll, James Cox, Chris Lane and OJ Newcomb—have joined in with Rasta last-minute following a Tokyo tour supporting Rastovich's film "Life Like Liquid".