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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Twitter Diplomacy: Behind The Kennedy Dolphin Tweet

A rare albino calf swims with its mother as bottlenose dolphins are confined in nets by fishermen in Taiji, western Japan,  Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society via AP)

A rare albino calf swims with its mother as bottlenose dolphins are confined in nets by fishermen in Taiji, western Japan, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society via AP)

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of Pres. John F. Kennedy, is U.S. Ambassador to Japan. (japan.usembassy.gov)

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of Pres. John F. Kennedy, is U.S. Ambassador to Japan. (japan.usembassy.gov)

The annual slaughter of the bottlenose dolphins in Japan’s Taiji cove has ended today. The environmental group Sea Shepherd reports that 250 dolphins were captured, including a rare albino, about 40 were killed and 50 kept alive to be sold.

Animal rights groups have long criticized the killings, featured in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove.”

This week, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy weighed in with a tweet, in both English and Japanese: “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.” (USG stands for U.S. government.)

So what does the tweet mean? Will the U.S. government take an action on the dolphins? R. Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Greece and a veteran foreign service officer, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young with some insight.

  • Related: Hear our 2009 interview with former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, who was featured in the film “The Cove”:

Interview Highlights: R. Nicholas Burns

On his analysis of Ambassador Kennedy’s tweet about the dolphin hunt

“I think it was smart and very effective of Ambassador Kennedy to do what she did. She didn’t lash out. I thought the tone of what she did was respectful. … You know the United States has a specific view and she was representing the government and she reached a lot more people via Twitter than she would have if she issued some dry public statement on paper from the embassy.”

On the U.S. and Japan’s differing views of dolphin and whale hunting

“There’s a longstanding disagreement between two cultures, two societies. We have to have a respectful dialogue about it. Caroline Kennedy’s tweet was respectful, but we can’t be shy of disagreements, and diplomacy is not trying to be nice and polite and just agreeing. Diplomacy is sometimes just bringing an issue into the open. Trying to make sure the Chinese public understands there’s a different point of view, and Ambassador Kennedy, her job is supposed to represent our country and our values, our own laws and our own practices.”

On the State Department’s social media strategy

“Of course we all know that Twitter, Facebook, the Internet is a double-edged sword, but there’s no turning back. We live in the 21st century, and the United States has to participate in the 21st century. And diplomacy is no longer a backroom game, you know, of just world leaders talking without reference to the public. And I think Hilary Clinton was one of the first Secretaries of State, along with Condoleezza Rice, to say to the employees of the State Department, ‘You need to be on Twitter, you need to be on Facebook, you need to be out, arguing the U.S. point of view in the public domain.’ So sometimes you get burned, as we did in India, but sometimes you have employees doing the right thing, like Ambassador Kennedy, so you just gotta continue to participate in public diplomacy.


  • R. Nicholas Burns, former ambassador to Greece and a veteran foreign service officer. He now teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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  • malkneil

    More of an observation, but it seems we as humans seek to protect the species that are cuter – dolphins being the case here. Not saying I’m for the slaughter of dolphins but it does make you wonder if the dolphin looked like an anglerfish this discussion wouldn’t even be happening.

    • Christy – Tpa

      Malkneil- not all humans! And this is just gaining some mainstream exposure now … Which is why you may think people only care about the ” cute” ones. Same type of thing goes on for all types of creatures like snakes , bees, silk worms, sharks , pigs and all farm animals etc, not just what mainstream considers the cute ones ( dogs cats and bunnies) . Christy tampa

  • Liz Seebacher

    I think it goes by intelligence rather than “cuteness”. No animal should be treated the way they are treating these dolphins. And frankly, I don’t care what their excuse is, “it is part of our culture” or saying that it is “tradition” is no excuse for torture. Just because it has been done a certain way for generations doesn’t make it right or ok. I think that the USG should stand up and say that we do not approve and it must stop.

    • it_disqus

      Have you ever had a hamburger? Chicken sandwich? Tuna steak? Venison? Bison? I have had the opportunity to come across some cows in my days that I have found very cute and intelligent. Until the USG declares they do not approve of all the meat we eat I don’t think we can throw stones at that eaten by others…. unless the sustainability of the species is in question.

      • Christy – Tpa

        Ok so I respect what you are saying but let’s just assume u eat meat, do you want to torture it before u eat it? If u have a soul, probably not. These dolphins are rendered imobile but alert to the pain as their spinal chord is cut/ spiked and then a cork it put in their blow hole causing a slow death drowning in their blood. And yes we do some comparable torture here in US to ( pigs and mass farming industry) . There are lots of people fighting to change that. But it takes time and people to actually be the voice. Do we say oh well , nothing has changed here and just stop trying ? It’s because of those people who keep trying – people from all over , not just US there in Taiji witnessing this for all to see, that this has finally started to get more exposure. Christy – Tpa

  • gordon

    I commend Ms Kennedy for stepping forth and expressing concern
    over the inhuman wrangling and slaughter of bottlenose dolphins. Along with the
    beauty of these creatures , it is the proven intelligence and family bonding that should be enough to question the continuation of this “traditional” act. Those marine facilities which obtain dolphins by these means should also be held accountable. Individuals need to be informed in order to judge for themselves if these types of practices, whether based on tradition or for entertainment or for social status, should continue.

  • it_disqus

    Sustainability of the species should be the term our Ambassadors use. The term “inhumanenes” is condescending and not very diplomatic. We wouldn’t like someone pointing out the inhumanenes of our hamburgers.

    • Christy – Tpa

      There are lots of people in and out of the US pointing out our in-humaneness for the sake of all farm animals.

  • Hillary

    For the record, the drive hunt is not over until the end of March. The “fishermen” went out again today looking for more pods of dolphins and small whales. They will continue to hunt until they reach their quota or the season ends. And, the problem is not just with people eating dolphin meat. The problem is with the inhumaneness of the drive and with dolphins being taken from the open ocean and held in captivity around the world.

  • lilykit

    I am so glad she spoke out! This is horrific! It goes on every day from September to April – this was only one drive hunt of the season.

  • Buddha

    I don’t eat meats of cows, pigs, dolphins and whales as they are closer to humans than fishes and chickens.

    People who eat any of above have no rights to blame the dolphin hunters.
    You are on the same table with different menu.

    Looks “Killer blames killer” to my eyes.

  • amyham5

    thank God!! they need a stronger voice than our FB nags. I’ve been posting on Osaka Aquarium too

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