I’m actually shaking right now knowing that just a few hours ago, I witnessed a handful of Japanese fisherman push a pod of Risso’s dolphins towards shallow water, slaughter the adults, take one juvenile for captivity and then guide the five babies back out into the ocean alone in the same manner they were driven into the cove. Perhaps like taking your toddler into the woods and leaving him/her there to fend for themselves. Why did they do this? Because the start of the 2014-2015 annual drive hunt in Taiji has begun and these babies were too small for quota.
On the first day of September through to the first day of March, thirteen banger boats will set out each morning to the horizon and return with the first pod of wild dolphins that they find. This will happen once, sometimes twice a day, for the next six months.
Boats in formation having found a pod, photograph courtesy of The Sea Shepherds:
Once the pod have been found, they are frightened towards the shallows by forming a strong line of boats banging on large metal poles in the water (creating sound wave vibrations through the water to prevent communication). Then they will then be netted into the cove and examined by workers from the the three dolphinariums in Taiji - Hotel Dolphin Resort, Dolphin Base and Taiji Whale Museum (please feel free to leave them your ratings on travel websites). This is the dolphins first ever interaction with a human as they select the youngest and most beautiful for captivity. The rest are then slaughtered in the water.
The thrashing of tied tails on the surface and the sound of motor boats whirring echo around the cliff tops during the live streaming each morning…and all we can do is sit and watch silently. The Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians spend every day for six months on the ground in Taiji, reporting on every dolphin who enters the cove so that we might know the truth under the tarpaulins. Their hands are tied to legally prevent the captures in the moment, but they can document it all to the world and there are things we can do from home to bring it to an end.
Last January, you may recall my blog as I watched the largest pods ever recorded pushed into the cove via the Sea Shepherd livestream. Five individual families forming 250+ bottlenoses were driven towards the shore, split into four netted sections and left for a total of five days in fear without food whilst selections were made for captivity.
A total of 52 captivations and 41 accountable deaths were made whilst approximately 130-140 (deemed too small for quota) were driven back out to sea by the banger boats. Exhausted, starved and witness to an onslaught of murder to their relatives, many washed up to shore dead just a few days later, unable to survive on their own.
One of the most infamous captives was named Angel by onlookers, an albino calf torn from the wild and her mother, currently residing in a concrete tank in the Taiji Whale Museum and showing distressing signs of depression and mental illness; swimming in strange patterns and behaving unusually. The baby’s unique appearance went viral around the globe when her abduction became public knowledge. Her grieving mother was seen repeatedly spy hopping (lifting her head out of the water) desperately seeking her calf, until she disappeared below the surface never to reappear again. Like many albinos, Angel is likely to be deaf and/or blind which explains why she was clinging so closely to her mother during the capture.
Angel then (image captured during the 17th January 2014 drive hunt):
Angel now (tanked in Taiji Whale Museum):
Between September 2013 and March 2014, a total of 1451 dolphins, porpoises and small whales entered the cove through the drive hunt of which 835 were slaughtered, 158 went into captivity and 457 were released for being too small.
The hunt season is not traditional, despite what the fisherman say. Having only started in 1969 and with several other Japanese towns (Iki Island and Futo) abandoning their part in the slaughter, there is no excuse for Taiji to continue with the reasoning that the world is against their ‘culture’.
Captives are still being taken for entertainment attractions because of their short life expectancy - a wild dolphin lives up to 40 years, but a captive dolphin lives for just 15 (with at least 50% of those dying in less than seven years through chlorine poisoning, disease and stress related illnesses).
Every single non-rescue dolphin in captivity is linked to that small beach in Taiji. Please bear this in mind when ticking the boxes off your bucket list to swim with dolphins and hold onto to their fin. You may be told that the dolphin you see was born in that pool, but where did its mother come from and how did she become pregnant? Artificial insemination is a near guarantee and the bloodline linked to the cove is a certainty.
To swim with captive dolphins is exploitation of a once wild animal and feeding a diabolical trade. I cannot wait for the day that this activity is knocked off the traditional bucket list. My eyes were only opened this January and having swum with captive dolphins myself, I was shocked and appalled that I’d been so blind for so long. I saved my money for this opportunity to be special but I knew when I heard the orcas calling, that it wasn’t right. I’ve made my mistakes, but now I can see and I have a responsibility to tell others the facts. Many cove guardians are ex-dolphin trainers, so there’s no shame in learning and re-educating yourself.
I do not support SeaWorld. I do not support dolphinariums and whale capture worldwide - an orcas dorsal fin is not supposed to flop over like that. Show your support and let your voice be heard, do not buy a ticket to these places and tell your kids why you won’t go. When the seas die, the rest of us will too and it’s up to the next generation to know this. I have faith in my generation to insist that the next generation are urban exploring empty tanks in the not too distant future.