Thank you!

Feb 22, 2019 by afdadmin
No comments

Hi AFD family,

It’s Sarah here, on the way home from Tokyo, where we launched a new legal action against the Taiji dolphin hunts last week.  I can’t quite believe it’s finally launched, and I’ve been reflecting on the special people who contributed their talent and time to get to this point.

Last week we tried to shine the light on our wonderful Japanese plaintiffs. We thought it was really important to emphasise that this isn’t a case of Westerners imposing their moral views on Japan. This is Japanese people asserting that the dolphin hunts break Japan’s own domestic law.

It has taken a lot of courage for Ren and our other plaintiff from Taiji (who we can’t name for privacy reasons) to sign up as plaintiffs. But I also want to thank those who’ve taken on a less public role, but are the ones behind the huge (mountainous!) amount of work and resources it has taken to build and launch the legal action.

At the press conference, finally announcing the legal action has been filed.


Firstly, we would like to acknowledge the critical role of Counsel for Animals International (CAI), who dedicated hundreds of pro bono hours to help build the legal arguments behind the case. The idea of bringing this legal action was actually the reason we started AFD, but back in 2012 we didn’t have developed legal arguments, or a top law firm to help us develop them. We were extremely fortunate to be introduced to two representatives of CAI, barrister Graeme McEwen, and Professor of Law Emeritus Thomas Kelch.

CAI secured the assistance of one of the 5 largest law firms in the world to work pro bono behind the scenes in preparing the strongest possible legal arguments against the Taiji dolphin hunts. This wasn’t a case of simply making a few phone calls. Law firms were not willing to go on the record as our lawyers in such a ‘controversial’ case because they were worried about the impact on their business in Japan (which is the reason why we have to pay fees to the lawyers publicly conducting the proceedings).  We owe a huge debt to Graeme, Thomas and CAI for continuing to make phone calls, and more phone calls, to London, New York and Sydney until the Tokyo office of a top-tier law firm finally said “yes”.

Once we had a legal team, CAI helped guide the process of building the legal arguments. I remember many teleconferences between Japan and Australia with CAI pushing the lawyers in Tokyo to find new arguments and ways to overcome hurdles, a task much complicated by the very different system of law in Japan. At the end of this painstaking process, we had the backbone of the complaint. CAI donates its immense expertise to champion effective legal actions around the world, all on a pro bono basis. Click here to learn more about their amazing work for animals.

Meeting with our Japanese lawyers and plaintiff.


Of course, legal arguments need to be backed up by robust evidence. For this complaint, a number of world-leading veterinarians, dolphin welfare scientists and population biologists contributed expert testimony. This is absolutely critical evidence, which will hopefully help prove the hunts are illegally cruel, and the hunters exceed their quotas.

These statements contain many pages of technical information (on topics such as whether the punctilla killing method applied to cetaceans can accurately transect between the occiput and first cervical vertebra). Needless to say, the statements are a huge effort to prepare, especially for people as busy as these experts. Thank you so much to Dr Diana Reiss, Dr Andrew Butterworth, Dr Isabella Clegg, Dr Thomas Jefferson, Dr Michael Bossley, and other experts who cannot be named publicly. And thank you so much to all the first-hand observers of the hunts, who have given witness statements to help prove the cruel acts we’re asserting happen in the cove really have happened.

We also really want to thank Courtney Vail, who has been tirelessly campaigning for the protection of dolphins for over 25 years, both as a representative of Whale Dolphin Conservation (WDC) and independently. Courtney has helped us with countless queries and requests, from providing crucial evidence to introducing us to experts, and has never said “no” to helping us with her expertise, access to information, and contacts.

Likewise, our friend and colleague in Japan, Sakae Hemmi, has given us invaluable assistance along the way. Over decades of work, Sakae-san established the movement to protect dolphins in Japan and her organisation, Elsa Nature Conservancy, is responsible for the on-the-ground reporting that exposed how the dolphin “industry” works in Japan.

Furthermore, we would like to acknowledge the incredibly useful work carried out by Ceta Base in compiling catch statistics in Taiji. The huge amount of information collated by Ceta Base, a non-profit organisation you can find here[, is vital to our argument regarding the hunters exceeding their quotas.

In turn, Ceta Base’s information is partly sourced from the amazing volunteers at Dolphin Project, Sea Shepherd and other organisations who observe the hunts on the ground at the cove and collect first-hand catch statistics on a daily basis. No one would ever want to take on the job of documenting the slaughter of dolphins, but the evidence these courageous individuals capture is vital. We all owe them our deep gratitude.


As you could imagine, the language barrier hasn’t exactly made wading through reams of Japanese law and evidence an easy process! Some of the legal arguments actually depend on the precise definition of certain words, so having expert translators has been very important. In this regard, we have been incredibly fortunate to have the assistance of Steven Thompson. At this stage, Steven has dedicated hundreds of hours of his time, often joining phone calls before or after his full-time work as a teacher, to moderate discussions between the plaintiffs, lawyers, and AFD’s team. 

From his base in Japan, Steven has been working to try to stop the Taiji dolphin hunts for many years, and particularly to help Japanese and Western activists get to know each other and join forces. It was Steven who introduced AFD to Ren Yabuki, one of our plaintiffs, and together with Ren achieved the crucial step of securing the participation of a Taiji resident as a co-plaintiff. Thank you for your crucial help (and well-tested patience!), Steven.

We would also like to say a huge thank you to the kind volunteer translators who donated their time and expertise to do a second proofread of the expert statements. We had the expert statements professionally translated but, because having precise translations is so important, we wanted to get an expert second read. They proofread many pages with a careful eye and made a number of significant corrections, and we can’t thank them enough for their help.


AFD is a tiny organisation, and finding the funding to get the legal action this far has been very stressful financially. We not only have to fund our team members working on creating the legal action over several years, but also pay for the legal fees, all the costs for the plaintiffs, the travel fees, court disbursements, and tax and administrative fees. To give a sense, the fees for certified translations acceptable to the Court have been over $20,000 in the last month alone. We’re a tiny team with only a few people, and the stress of this is felt on a personal level.

So, we want to take the time now (and many times again in future) to sincerely express our gratitude to those who have contributed to fund the case so far.

Firstly, we wouldn’t have been able to finance the lawyers to draft the legal complaint we just submitted to the Court if it weren’t for a generous grant from our French friends at the Brigitte Bardot Foundation (Fondation Brigitte Bardot, “FBB”). Very few grant-making bodies are willing to fund legal action, let alone high-risk ones taking on the government. On the contrary, FBB not only supports legal actions like this one, it has itself regularly served as plaintiff in lawsuits against animal cruelty. If you’d like to find out more about this inspiring organisation, please check out their website here.

Closer to home, we also want to say an enormous thank you to the team at Lush Australia. Like FBB, Lush are one of a very small handful of foundations who will actually support bold actions and grassroots work that others won’t help because they aren’t conservative approaches, or aren’t being conducted by large established NGOs.  Many companies cultivate an ethical image, but Lush really puts its money where its mouth is, and we want to thank their amazing team for being such champions for so many animal welfare and environmental causes – including stopping the dolphin hunts.

Our major donors would never ask for any public credit, but we must acknowledge their contribution, because there is not the slimmest prospect that the legal action would have made it this far without them. Firstly, to Pam and Ray Ison – we know you don’t want any public mention, but we want to say thank you so much, as the legal action wouldn’t have gone ahead without you. Pam and Ray have not only generously donated to fund AFD through the slow behind-the-scenes work of building legal arguments and evidence, but also organised a fundraising event for AFD in Brisbane to help us meet their wonderful network.

And of course, to the Yugilbar Foundation – you have truly been behind AFD this entire way, and kept supporting us even though it’s taken years to submit the case to Court. Everyone in the AFD team is aware of and so appreciative of your loyal support. If the case is successful, it will be in no small part thanks to your Foundation.

Last – but definitely not least – I want to thank all of the supporters in AFD’s family who have donated to the legal action in the past few days or years, even if it is only a small donation. We are acutely aware that giving $10 for some individuals is a massive sacrifice.  Crucially, it is actually these every day donations by our loyal supporters that keep AFD going. This lawsuit simply would not have been possible without your help.

So, I hope everyone who has chipped in knows how much their help is appreciated. Hopefully at some stage we will get the chance to tell you in person (the Melbourne team are running lots of events so, if you’re in Australia, please check out our Facebook page and come along some time – we’d love to see you!).

Well, with all of these “thanks” I have made it sound like we’ve finished the legal action, when it fact it’s only the beginning. It’s incredibly exciting the proceedings have now begun, and it won’t be long before a team of lawyers appears at the first hearing to argue for the cancellation of the dolphin hunts. I am looking forward to updating you as soon as we can.