The battle to stop the dolphin slaughter made infamous by last year’s Oscar-winning documentary, “The Cove,” has taken another turn.
On Dec. 16, Sea Shepherd volunteer Erwin Vermeulen, a member of the Cove Guardians project to monitor and document the capture of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, was arrested by Japanese police and charged with assault.
Vermeulen was arrested by Wakayama Prefecture police after attempting to film the transfer of a dolphin into holding pens at the Dolphin Resort Hotel, one destination for dolphins rounded up in Taiji.
A Dutch national, Vermeulen is being held at the Shingu detention center and has not been allowed to make any public statement. However, Sea Shepherd activists who were on the ground in Taiji say he never committed any assault and police are using the accusation to destroy the Cove Guardians project.
“Erwin did not break any laws for filming,” Scott West, another Cove Guardian volunteer still in Taiji, said via email. “He did cross a temporary barricade at the Dolphin Resort Hotel and was escorted out of the temporary restricted area by Wakayama prefecture police. He was given a warning. Erwin was not arrested until a young male trainer from the Dolphin Resort Hotel stated to police that Erwin had pushed past him at the barricade. The police jumped on this opportunity and arrested Erwin for simple assault.”
After the assault charge, police raided a hotel where the Cove Guardians have been staying, using a warrant looking for Vermeulen’s footage to confiscate all computers, phones, hard drives, photos, cameras and any other recording device used by the other three members of the group who were there. After all media cards were removed, the hardware was returned.
As was seen in the gruesome footage in the film, “The Cove,” dolphins are rounded up in a small bay in Taiji to be sold to marine parks, hotels and other attractions. Those not selected are killed in the water and sold for meat.
West says the Cove Guardians program has been successful in saving some dolphins.
“The 2010-11 season is the first we had Cove Guardians on the ground every day of the season and it saw the numbers (from what were previously listed) cut in half. This season, 2011-12, the numbers we have observed are at about half of what they were last season at this time,” West wrote.
The activists say they limit their actions to documenting and witnessing the dolphin roundups and don’t directly interfere in them. In response to the monitoring effort, the dolphin hunters have spread huge tarps across the cove, and so many police are on site to protect the hunt that the government has built a new police substation to house the officers. The activists hope those actions help make the capturing of dolphins too expensive to continue.
Vermeulen is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 26 in Wakayama City.