'Simpsons' Co-Creator Goes to Bat for Dolphins While Battling Cancer (Q&A)

Courtesy of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Sam Simon and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Melissa Sehgal in Taiji, Japan

Sam Simon, the nine-time Emmy winner and animal rights activist, seeks to bring attention to Japan’s controversial marine slaughter: "I'm always happy to skip some chemotherapy."

Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon, the philanthropist known for his major contributions to animal causes, dodged his doctors and mustered the energy for a six-day trip to Taiji, Japan, to protest the notorious dolphin hunting depicted in The Cove, which won an Oscar in 2010 for best documentary feature. The nine-time Emmy winner, battling terminal colon cancer, has just participated in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Operation Infinite Patience, bearing witness to the annual marine slaughter just offshore. (Two years ago he underwrote the purchase of an anti-whaling Sea Shepherd ship that monitors harpooners in the Antarctic.)

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On Wednesday, Feb. 25, he spoke with The Hollywood Reporter from Taiji about the killings, the debate around the practice and his decision to fight for his cause while fighting for his life:

How’s it been in Japan?

We have had nice weather here, and now we have got a monsoon coming. We’re getting out just in time. We have been here about a week.

Last year, you had just been diagnosed with cancer and weren’t able to travel on the ship named after you during its anti-whaling mission. Your doctors were okay with this trip?

I don’t tell my doctors anything about what I’m doing. I overextend myself a little sometimes, I admit it. But I think it’s better to do too much than too little. And I’m always happy to skip some chemotherapy.

How are you these days?

Today I’m feeling really good. It’s mainly because I’m not on the chemo. I’ll be sick again next Wednesday when I’m back on it, don’t you worry.

But overall, you’re doing all right?

Generally, but you never know. The other day, my doctor asked me if I had considered putting UCLA’s oncology department in my estate plan. There have been a lot of good days. That was one of the not so good days!

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So you’re in Japan to bear witness to the killing of dolphins. Have you seen any slaughter?

When there’s a slaughter, it’s called a "red day" because the cove water turns red. We didn’t actually see a kill. We had all blue days. What we did see was dolphins packed into these miserable pens and dolphins being starved so they learned how to eat dead fish.

What does the Operation Infinite Patience campaign actually do?

Well, we can’t actually interfere with the dolphin hunt, so the only thing we can do is document it and show it to the world on our live stream. We urge people to avoid dolphin shows. People used to eat the dolphin meat; they don’t really do that anymore. So now the dolphins – two- to three-year-old unscarred white females – are just bought alive for shows. The rest are killed and sold for a few hundred dollars a pop.

Japanese traditionalists and nationalists defend the dolphin hunting, arguing that it’s a cultural practice with historic context.

Yes, there’s a Japanese attitude where they don’t want us to tell them how to live their lives. But just because these dolphins migrate past this cove every year doesn’t mean they should be theirs to do with them what they want. And there really isn’t any history to this. The practice started in 1969!

Do you think anti-dolphin-hunting efforts will eventually have an impact?

There are already signs that this is becoming a big global problem for Japan. The U.S. ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, recently called for an end to it. And now they are tarping up everything by the cove to try to stop people from even seeing it from the land. So when people start to act like this, you know you’re making headway.