Howard Hall Productions

Natural History Films and Stock Footage Library

Writings By Howard and Michele


A few months ago, I saw a video that Michael Hanrahan, CEO of, was producing for the Sea Shepard Society. Seeing it inspired me to dig up this old story from my archives. Michael's disturbing video featured recently captured video footage of Japanese fishermen killing bottlenose dolphins with spears. For me, the most disturbing thing about the video was that so little has changed in the past two decades. Despite continued international outrage and the sacrifices made by people like Dexter Cate, the killing continues.

I originally wrote the following nearly ten years ago of events that took place in 1979 and 1980. There are two heroes in this story. Certainly, Dexter's actions were heroic by any standard. The second hero is Hardy Jones. Hardy's dedication to protecting dolphin populations began with his commitment to making a film at Iki Island and continues today. Due to his direct efforts, hundreds of Japanese dolphins, scheduled for slaughter, were released in 1980. And in the years since, Hardy's films have greatly increased public awareness of marine mammals issues around the world, certainly resulting in the preservation of thousands of these creatures. I've been privileged to serve as Hardy's cameraman on many of these films.
Hardy Jones's web site is



by Howard Hall


I read the news release in an old 1990 issue of International Wildlife Magazine. It said that Dexter Cate had been free diving in the waters near Hawaii. I thought it odd that I hadn't noticed the piece when the magazine first came out, but there it was. I read it two or three times before I finally accepted what it said. Then I began wondering what had happened. I wondered if Dexter had been looking for dolphins. I wondered if he had seen any.

© Howard Hall
I didn't know Dexter well. I first met him in 1979 on Iki Island, Japan. Hardy Jones had hired me as cameraman for a film he was making about the dolphins of Iki and the Japanese fishermen who herd them into a small bay and kill them. It was a difficult film to make since the fishermen killed no dolphins while we were there that year.

Those were sad times for fishermen at Iki Island and sad times for dolphins. Fish populations had collapsed in most Japanese coastal waters and Iki was one of the last places coastal fishermen could make a living. Hundreds of fishermen had moved their boats to Iki and on the forty-square-mile Shichiri-ga-sone fishing banks, 750 boats would fish each day. The fishermen didn't need to catch many fish to make a profit. For each twenty-five pound yellowtail they caught, they received about fifty dollars. If they caught three fish a day, they made expenses. If they caught ten fish, they did very well.

But dolphins also eat fish. And when fish populations declined around Japan, dolphins also migrated to Iki. Fishermen will tolerate some competition from marine mammals, but at Iki the fishermen's tolerance had been well exceeded. When dolphins came to the fishing grounds, the fishermen caught nothing. The dolphins drove the fish down and away from the fishermen's hooks.

© Howard Hall
For weeks at a time hundreds of fishing boats motored aimlessly across the banks while fishermen watched dolphins feed on the diminishing fishery resources. The combination of collapsing fish populations and competition from dolphins finally drove the fishermen to desperation. They began herding dolphins into a small bay, sealing it off with a net, and then killing them with spears.

Iki attracted a lot of attention among environmentalists, ceataceanists, and whale huggers back in those days. Hardy and I encountered a dozen or more people who had come to Japan with financial support from a variety of environmental organizations, all hoping to prevent the slaughter. Dexter was one of the faces in the crowd.

During that 1979 expedition to Iki, the fishermen didn't find it necessary to kill dolphins because, for some reason, the dolphins didn't migrate to Iki as they had in past years. Of course, everybody who had come to Iki to lobby on behalf of the dolphins were overjoyed that the massacre didn't occur. But there was also a strange sense of disappointment. Everybody had come a long way at considerable expense to prevent a slaughter that didn't happen for entirely independent reasons. Hardy had invested heavily to produce a film that would expose the dolphin slaughter. But because ocean conditions or migratory patterns precluded the expected conflict, no dolphin massacre occurred. Everyone was overjoyed, and disappointed.

Dexter hung around with Hardy and me some of the time during that first trip to Iki. He didn't seem to do much. He didn't take pictures. He didn't take notes. He just hiked around carrying a backpack full of stuff and observed. I thought that whatever environmental group had paid his expenses was getting precious little in return. I, on the other hand, was trying to do something important. I was going to get the massacre on film if and when it happened. I was going to help Hardy bring the Iki tragedy to the world's attention.

Hardy worked very hard that year to make a film about the plight of the fishermen and the factors that lead to such desperate consequences. The film was called "Island at the Edge." It was a wonderful film, but it didn't include scenes of the dolphin massacre because no massacre happened that year.

The following year Hardy and I returned to Iki. Making "Island at the Edge" had pretty much depleted Hardy's funds for making a film about the island, but there was enough left for a scaled-down film crew (just the two of us) and expenses. Most of the other environmentalists who had been to Iki the previous year didn't return. But Dexter was there. He was still observing and still carrying his awkward backpack. He didn't seem to do or say much of anything and I didn't offer much conversation. I had important things to do.

In 1979, the fishermen had been quite friendly. They seemed interested in our ideas of how the dolphin problem could be minimized without resorting to massacres. But when we entered town the following year the mood was very different. No one was willing to talk to us. Everyone seemed nervous and distant. We soon learned that the fishermen had just captured a herd of nearly 1,000 dolphins and that they were going to begin killing them the next day.

The dolphins were being held in the bay of a small island called Tatsunoshima which lay four miles across the channel from Iki. Hardy immediately began looking for transport to the Island, but word had been given that no one was to offer aid to the "American environmentalists." Hardy attempted to charter boat after boat and was repeatedly refused. But early the next morning Hardy found an old man with a small boat who knew nothing of the dolphin controversy. He quickly agreed to take us across. Dexter asked if he could come along. Hardy shrugged and said, "I guess so."

© Howard Hall
We asked the old man to drop us on the side of the island opposite the bay and wait for us to return from a hike. Then Hardy and I crawled up and over the island through the high chaparral, dragging our camera boxes behind. An hour or so later we ascended the crest of a sand dune and were confronted with a horrifying sight. The entire bay that lay before us glowed blood-red in the early morning light. The water was stained with the blood of dolphins being lanced on the beach a quarter mile away.

We immediately pulled our cameras out of our boxes and began filming despite the fact that we were much too far away to get anything useful on film. A few minutes later, two fishermen found us hiding in the bushes. They became enraged and began shouting and waving blood-stained spears. While Hardy diverted the fishermen by trying to communicate with them (neither Hardy nor I speak Japanese) I decided to brass it out. I marched around the bay and into the midst of the unfolding horror. I opened my case and pulled out my 16 mm camera.

There were a hundred or so fishermen on the beach and they had no idea what to make of me. So they all sat down in the sand and stopped working. I tried to act cheerful and care free. I even whistled as I polished my filters and loaded my camera. Had they given me close inspection, however, they certainly would have noticed how my hands shook and my knees wobbled. I couldn't imagine how they missed it. I whistled louder.

An angry fisherman approached and put his spear to my throat. I didn't need to understand Japanese to know that he wanted me to put my cameras away. I did so. Then another fishermen came up to me with a spear. He placed it in my hand and gestured toward the dolphins lying on the beach. I understood this gesture too. Was I with them or was I against them? They demanded a demonstration. I looked around. I was alone on the beach with a hundred angry fishermen. Hardy was still across the bay with the first two angry men. I had no idea where Dexter was. I had entirely forgotten about him. The fisherman gave me a slight shove. I grinned at him and shrugged my shoulders doing my best to act nonchalant.

© Howard Hall
Then I turned and walked down to the beach where a dolphin lay wrapped in a net. I could see the dolphin looking at me. Its skin was dry and cracked, but its eye was moist and alive. The air was filled with the sound of dolphins whistling as they lay on the beach, their skins burning and cracking under the morning sun. I could feel the eyes of a hundred fishermen behind me. My mouth was bone dry as adrenaline rushed through my system. My knees threatened to fold beneath me. What is the right thing to do here, I wondered. Can the murder of a sentient being be justified even if its death is absolutely inevitable? Even if that death may help save the lives of thousands of its kind? I whispered to the dolphin, "I'm sorry my friend, but you're already gone." Then I raised the spear.

A cheer went up through the crowd of fishermen and they immediately stood and resumed working. I was allowed to shoot film and take still photographs. One fisherman even gave me a beer, which I gladly accepted. My mouth was very dry.

A few minutes after the fishermen resumed their awful labor, Hardy and Dexter arrived on the beach. Together we watched the fishermen kill about two hundred dolphins before the sun began to set. When the film was gone, Hardy, Dexter, and I re-crossed the island and motored back to Iki in the old man's boat. The fishermen were done for the day. But nearly 800 dolphins remained in the cove to be killed in the days to come.

© Howard Hall
When we returned to Iki, Hardy immediately began making plans to leave Japan. We were concerned that, once word got out that we had been to Tatsunoshima, Japanese officials would not allow us to leave the country with our film. My hotel room overlooked the channel between Iki and Tatsonoshima. As I finished packing, I could see the moon rising over the small island across the channel. The wind had risen and storm clouds began passing across the moon. I stood at the window and starred out across the wind-swept water. I was exhausted and emotionally stunned. I began to believe I could hear dolphin calls being carried across the channel on the wind.

I heard a knock at the door and opened it to find Dexter standing there with his backpack.

"Can I borrow your room for a minute," he said. "Mine's on the wrong side of the hotel."

I had no idea what he was talking about but said, "Sure. I'll be out of here in a few minutes anyway. It's all yours."

Dexter pulled the futon off the floor and threw it in the corner. Then he laid his backpack in the center of the room and pulled out a small inflatable kayak. Now, I don't always catch on very fast, but by the time he began pumping the raft up with a small foot pump I had the situation pretty well figured out.

"You're completely out of your mind," I said. "Not only is it cold as hell out there, but the wind is coming up and that channel is beginning to look really nasty."

Dexter didn't say anything but continued pumping-up the raft and assembling his small paddle. Then he walked to the window and threw it open.

"Can you give me a hand here," he said.

"Just a second, " I replied. Then I opened my dive gear bag and pulled out my wetsuit jacket and hood. "You might want to wear these. You're going to get soaked." It had snowed on Iki only a few weeks earlier.

After Dexter dragged on the wet suit, I helped him push the raft out the window and carry it down to the water. The wind had increased and was now blowing nearly twenty knots. I was already shivering. "I'm not sure you can get across in this much wind, Dexter," I said.

All Dexter said was, "I'll make it," as he pushed the raft out into the water and began paddling away.

I stood there rather helplessly and watched him pass into the night. The moon slipped from behind the clouds for a moment and threw quicksilver on the water. I could see Dexter silhouetted against the light as he paddled away toward the larger silhouette of Tatsunoshima in the distance.

I remember the emotions that washed over me as I watched him go. I felt ashamed that I didn't offer to go with him. It was such a wonderful thing he had set off to do - noble, compassionate, and heroic. I admired his commitment and his courage. But my job was to take photographs, Dexter's job was to cut down nets and free dolphins. Still, I felt diminished by Dexter's courage, even though there was only room in the tiny raft for one.

Only then did I truly understand what his trips to Iki had been about. How is it I hadn't managed to figure that out until now? How is it I never managed to get to know him?

Storm clouds consumed the moon and the quicksilver silhouetting the tiny raft evaporated into darkness. Dexter was alone on the sea and I was alone on the beach. I waited a few more minutes hoping to get another glimpse should the moon reappear, but storm clouds descended over Iki and the channel separating it from Tatsunoshima. The moon never reappeared. I walked back up the rocky beach to the warmth of my hotel room.

Twenty-four hours after Dexter set off toward Tatsunoshima, the film Hardy and I shot was syndicated worldwide on the CBS news network. Several countries issued letters of protest to the Japanese government. Millions of people saw the footage on the CBS Evening News. There was a big international stink.

© Howard Hall
I never saw Dexter again, but I learned that he'd made it to Tatsunoshima that night. He cut down the nets that sealed off the bay allowing hundreds of dolphins to swim free into the night. But the wind had risen to gale force by daybreak and Dexter was unable to re-cross the channel. At dawn the fishermen found him on the beach suffering from exposure. Dexter spent the following three months in a Japanese prison.

The news release in International Wildlife Magazine said that Dexter Cate had passed-out and drowned while ascending from a deep free dive in the waters near Hawaii. I wondered if he had been looking for dolphins. I wondered if dolphins had been nearby, would they have tried to save him as they have been known to save drowning humans so many times in the historical past. Especially from the dolphins' point of view, he was a human worth saving.


Footnote from Harley Jones: writes:
A couple of additions to your article - In 1979 we arrived too late to witness and film the the dolphin kill. But I believe it happened. I remember walking around Tatsunoshima and finding dead dolphins on the beaches - bottlenosed and pseudorca. Some were bobbing in the water. The dolphins killed that year were buried under the beach at Tatsunoshima. I remember standing there and having blood ooze up through the sand under my boots. I can tell you that at that moment I felt a sense of horror that makes a Steven King story feel like Mary Poppins. I will be posting my article on the entire history of dolphin killing in Japan on in the next couple days.

My haste to get off Iki island on the occasion you refer to was to get the footage to CBS News in Tokyo. I left early the next morning and got to the bureau where my old friend John Harris presided. He satellited the footage to NY and I remember the guys there squawking back to us that something was wrong with the color because the water was so red. They couldn't believe it was real. When i told themit was blood they were sickened. The footage was on the air within half an hour of the satellite transmission and then syndicated around the world by CBS News. That's what led to the protests which erupted first in Australia and New Zealand and then moved with the sun to Europe and then back to America. I then met you again in Tokyo at Narita airport and we flew home.

The net effect of our work was to shut down the dolphin killing at Iki until about 1987 when marine parks began to come into Iki to offer money for live dolphins. After 1980 fishermen had to get permits to kill dolphins. Again in 1993 there was a roundup of dolphins at Iki.

The way it works is that an agent in Tokyo calls places like Iki and Taiji (a place we both know well) and he says "there is an offer on the table for dolphins at $10,000 per bottlenose and $15,000 per pseudorca". The Fishermen then do the math and figure that by bringing in 15 animals they can make $200,000. They get a special permit from the prefecture and then go out and catch say 80 dolphins. The aquaria select 15 and the rest are killed.

But the important thing to bear in mind is that the hunt would not be financially feasible if the aquaria did not offer the money for the live dolphins, which they take to their facilities and train to perform silly things.

This is precisely what happened at Futo last fall. A japanese man (times are changing in Japan and we have many allies there now) took the video of a roundup of dolphins, sent it via Fed Ex and we gave it to CBS News. I did an interview for the Dan Rather News, this footage is now available on

Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty but of saving dolphins it seems.

A final memory - Dexter died at Kealeakekua Bay on the big island. He was swimming with spinner dolphins.


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