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Broome - Australia's Shame

You may not be aware that an Australian city gives tacit endorsement to the dolphin hunts in Taiji - and that city is Broome.

Australia for Dolphins has a campaign calling on the Shire of Broome to suspend its relations with Taiji until it discontinues dolphin hunting completely and permanently.

City of Broome
A delegation from the city of Broome in Australia enjoys a performance by whales captured in Taiji's notorious cove, where the whales' family members would have met a gruesome fate.

Some background…

Taiji Sculpture
Broome representatives with a special gift - a custom-made sculpture embellished in pearl - presented to Taiji as a symbol of Broome's friendship.

To Australia’s shame, the city of Broome in northwestern Australia has since 1981 been the sister city of Taiji, a town synonymous with the slaughter of dolphins and whales.

The connection between the two cities dates back to Japan’s role in the development of Broome’s pearling industry in the early 1900s. Today, the Shire of Broome maintains sister city relations with Taiji for the purpose of promoting commercial and social exchange between the cities. This is despite the fact that a major commercial activity of Taiji is dolphin hunting, and despite the Taiji government’s support for the dolphin industry.

In 2009, in response to public concern following the release of The Cove, a documentary containing footage of the dolphin slaughters, Broome suspended its sister city relations with Taiji. Shortly after, however, the council voted unanimously to reverse its decision, and pledged to strengthen Broome’s friendship with Taiji.

Broome's stance on dolphin hunting

Taiji Whale Museum Dolphin
A dolphin in a tiny tank at the Taiji Whale Museum, where Broome councillors enjoyed a tour. Image courtesy of James Whitlow Delano

When the Shire of Broome voted to recommence sister city relations with Taiji in 2009 it stated, in the most polite terms possible, that it “does not condone dolphin harvesting”. Despite calls from the Broome public to do so, the Shire did not condemn the hunts, and instead offered to unconditionally reinstate the sister relationship.

The Shire of Broome’s real level of concern about dolphin hunting is clearest in its actions. For instance, in 2011, the Shire sent a delegation of councillors and community members (at significant cost to ratepayers) to Taiji. On this trip, Broome councillors accepted a tour of, among other locations, the Taiji Whale Museum, a notorious facility responsible for brokering the sale of dolphins captured in drive hunts to aquariums. It is not known whether the Broome delegation viewed the museum’s onsite dolphinarium, where dolphins are kept in small tanks so shallow they are unable to swim – conditions intolerable for the dolphins.

Whale Museum
Taking a tour of whaling harpoons at the Taiji Whale Museum.

Remarkably, we do know from photographs released under freedom of information that the delegation enjoyed a performance by captive dolphins and whales (see photo above). It is inconceivable that the councillors did not know that the dolphins they were watching were cruelly captured in drive hunts a few hundred metres away in Taiji’s cove, where the dolphins' family members would have met a gruesome fate. But there is no evidence the Shire of Broome raised any concerns about the dolphin trade during the trip. When asked by reporters about dolphin hunting, Mayor Graeme Campbell said there is a "cultural and religious difference between us".

Broome delegation
Broome delegation at the fishing wharves. Foreigners are not normally permitted to approach the wharves.
A meal, decorated with whales
A meal, decorated with whales, enjoyed during a Broome delegation's trip to Taiji.

Broome speaks, Taiji listens

Broome and Taiji share the closest of friendships. As Mayor Campbell told reporters in Taiji, “while there are a variety of sister city relationships existing in the world, there is no other that is as strongly bonded as Taiji and Broome”.

Broome is deeply important to the people of Taiji, not least because many emigrants from Taiji died working in Pearl’s hazardous pearling industry, and the “spirits” of these ancestors remain in the care of Broome’s cemetery. As an example of the level of feeling Broome evokes, the mayor of Taiji, Kazutaka Sangen, has spoken in Asahi newspaper of how his “emotions well up when I think of our ancestors in Broome”. When a group of school children returned from a visit to Broome, Mayor Sangen reported that he “could not stop crying” as he read the children’s impressions of Australia.

If Taiji will listen to anyone – anyone in the world - about the urgent issue of dolphin hunting, it is Broome. If Broome were to suspend the sister relationship until Taiji addressed dolphin hunting, everyone in the town would reflect on the reason for the decision. The residents of Taiji, most of whom are not dolphin hunters and don’t benefit from the dolphin trade, might start to wonder about the costs for the whole town of one small industry.

This is why we want Broome to speak up loudly on this issue. Broome can do so in a respectful way and as a friend. Indeed, this is what will make a call from Broome so effective.

AFD’s Broome campaign

In the lead up to the Broome council election, Australia for Dolphins is calling on the Shire of Broome to suspend its relations with Taiji until it discontinues dolphin hunting completely and permanently. With a major media campaign and concerted actions, we will make sure this is an issue the Shire of Broome can’t ignore any longer. If you are based in Broome and would like to be involved in the campaign in 2015, we’d love to hear from you.

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