Veg professional racecar driver Leilani Münter has had a busy past year. When she first saw The Cove almost one year ago, she turned to husband Craig Davidson and announced, “We have to go there.” There was Taiji, Japan, and Münter has just returned from her first trip to Taiji to raise awareness and protest the dolphin hunt. Intelligent woman that she is, Münter knew that proposing an alternative way for the people of Taiji to survive sustainably was just as important as ceasing the unnecessary dolphin blood spill, and she was in good company with Save Japan Dolphins and The Cove’s Ric O’Barry. VegNews was able to catch up with Münter to hear of her incredible efforts for animals abroad.
VegNews: How did your involvement protesting the dolphin hunt in Taiji begin?
Leilani Münter: I think the second that I saw the movie I knew I wanted to go to Japan and so, there we were 10 months later, in Taiji. I met Ric [O’Barry] through mutual friends who connected me through email to Louie Psihoyos (director of The Cove) and Ric, and as soon as we found out that [O’Barry] was going back to Taiji, that became a priority for us to be there with him. I have a feeling this is now going to be an annual trip until we finally have that party on the beach to celebrate that the dolphins are safe.
VN: What happened when you got to Japan?
LM: Ric actually didn’t go to Taiji—there were a lot of threats from right-wing nationalist groups—so we met Ric in Tokyo, and that’s where we delivered the Save Japan Dolphins petition that contained 1.7 million signatures from 151 different countries since [The Cove] came out. I was one of the people who got to go with Ric to the embassy to deliver this petition, and then after Tokyo my husband and I went down to Taiji along with some of the other activists.
VN: What was your impression of Taiji?
LM: It was very interesting. We were met by police right when we got there, there were people following us around, and we did have a right-wing nationalist come up and scream at us to leave. It was just really kind of eerie being there, because Taiji is very beautiful—the water is crystal clear and warm and it looks like turquoise—it’s just gorgeous. So it really is a strange dynamic to see it in person because it is so beautiful and then at the same time, this awful thing is happening there. We actually got footage of the fishermen setting up the cove, and in the cove there were no dolphins because they’ve been capturing dolphins and then choosing the ones they want for captivity. The problem is that as long as the activists are there then they aren’t killing the dolphins, but of course all of us have jobs and lives and none of us can camp out in Taiji for six months.
What we’re trying to do is get a whole team of people to Taiji, and be there for the whole killing season, which is September through to March, because that’s really what needs to happen. If it’s our presence there that’s deterring the killing then we can’t just be there for a week from September 1. That’s the challenge, and for that reason I’m going back to Taiji in a couple of weeks.
VN: Do you foresee any way that Taiji could survive economically without the hunt?
LM: Definitely. I think if they stopped killing the dolphins and were willing to change those boats over into boats that would take us out to see the dolphins alive, or take us out to go scuba diving, I really think it could have a future as a tourist destination. It could really help economics in Taiji, and because it is a small group of fisherman that are doing this, if the fisherman are taking us out on scuba diving or on dolphin-watching boats then they will make money, but also the hotels and the restaurants will make money. It would be good for the town as a whole.
VN: How did the fishermen and residents of Taiji react to your presence?
LM: There were definitely negative reactions. There was a day when we went down to where they actually process the dolphin meat, and just across the street from the fishermen complex there’s the big grocery store, and immediately the manager was in my face, telling me to turn off my camera and following us around the store, and there were fishermen snapping photos of me. I just pointed my camera right back and took pictures—I was being polite but I was just saying if you’re going to film me, I’m going to film you.
We tried to talk to them about mercury poisoning, and then we had one right wing nationalist who was very upset and came down the road with bullhorns, saying “f*** off movie The Cove,” “apologize for Hiroshima,” and he was very aggressive. He approached me, and he was very angry and yelling and telling us we were liars. But we talked to him, he spoke English, so the dialogue went on for awhile, and by the end of the conversation he apologized and by the end he welcomed us to Taiji and left. Everyone was kind of on alert because they thought that Sea Shepherd was with us. Sea Shepherd has a bad reputation in the community, and has really been vilified, so they thought we were there with them to cut the nets. We explained that we saw The Cove, and we think Taiji is beautiful and we would be willing to take vacations in Taiji if they were willing to turn the dolphin boats into whale-watching and scuba diving boats.
We really need people and volunteers to help us. It’s the only way. It’s been a lot better lately than it has been in the past for Ric, and I think he’s more positive than he’s ever been before.
Leilani Münter will be racing later this month in the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Series at Kansas Speedway. She will be racing the #59 Operation Free Dodge and will proudly be carrying a “Save Japan Dolphins” logo on her racecar and racing suit. She will also carry images of solar panels and wind turbines on her car.
Photo Credit: Phil Cavali, TheHotLap.com