The small town of Taiji, Japan, located in the Higashimuro District of the Wakayama Prefecture is the location of a barbaric practice that the town officials and Japanese government would rather the rest of the world knew nothing about. Over the course of a six month period, from September 1st to March 1st every year, upwards of 20,000 pilot whales, melon head whales, porpoises and numerous species of dolphin are forcibly driven from the open sea into a narrow cove where they are put through what can only be described as days of physical and mental torture, while they are vetted and selected for slaughter.
The most recent event, which began last Friday, has hit headlines around the world with people like U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, speaking out against the practice, tweeting that she was, "deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing". Over 250 bottlenose dolphins, including a rare juvenille albino bottlenose dolphin, we're driven from the open sea, into a narrow cove where they were penned in using large fishing nets to prevent them from escaping back out to sea.
It started early on Friday morning with "Banger Boats" heading out into the ocean at first light to look for pods of small whales or dolphins that pass through the area on what is a well known migratory route. Once these boats locate their targets they track them until at least 5 boats have gathered and then they begin to bang hammers on long metal poles that are attached to the sides of the boats. The resulting noise creates a wall of sound from which the whales or dolphins swim away.
Friday's pod of 250 bottlenose dolpins was so large that they had to be driven in as five seperate groups. They we're driven past the entrance to Taiji harbour and into the cove, which is surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs which creates a natural funnel into the "Killing Cove" itself. Once the dolphins reached the cove, they we're corralled off into different groups and seperated from family members by long nets which ran the length and breadth of the cove. Once the nets we're in place, the selection process began. Their fate now in the hands of so called "fishermen" who would decide whether they would spend the rest of their lives in captivity, performing for food and living in cramped conditions, or be condemed to a slow, agonising death.
One of the first dolphin's removed from the pod was a rare albino calf, which would be sure to fetch a high price from the numerous "trainers" gathered on the stony beach of the lagoon. These so-called trainers were standing by throughout the course of the first four days to appraise each animal for their condition and desirability before they were transfered by sling or skiff to holding pens in Taiji harbour. From here they would wait to be shipped to parks and aquariums in Japan, China, Russia and throughout Asia. It was reported by Ric O Barry of the Dolphin Project that the mother of the rare albino dolphin, named "Angel" by observers because of her angelic features, commited suicide shortly after having her one year old calf taken from her. O Barry said. "Captivity is extremely stressful and there is nothing more stressful to a dolphin than taking away its calf." As conscious breathers, dolphins can choose not to take their next breath. When the stress of captivity, or being ripped apart from their families, becomes too great to bear they can end their own lives.
Throughout the course of the first selection process which was spread over three, eight hour days, the dolphins were subjected to cramped conditions without food and forced to suffer at the hands of the skiff drivers who laughed while they gored the animals with the propellors of outboard motors as they drove across them in an effort to coral their targets in order to allow wet-suited "killers" to force them into nets for transport to the trainers. The divers themselves were not adverse to a bit of cruelty during this process as they pulled at dorsal fins and tied ropes around tail flukes in an effort to control the dolphins while they wrestled them into submission. As the men on the ground, so-to-speak, these divers were also tasked with the job of ensuring that the animals didn't escape or become entangled in the nets. The later of which they failed miserably as dolphin after dolphin became trapped in nets while attempting to break free from captivity. Dolphins that were untangled sported bleeding cuts to their beaks as a result of their vigorous struggle to break through the strong barriers. Their exertions also resulting in the inevitable exhaustion from their exertions.
This is the trend that continued for another three days while the entire pod was vetted for their suitability as captive specimens. Those that didn't make the grade were marked with white paint and returned to the nets which had become their purgatory as they awaited their fate. As the sun set over Taiji on Monday evening, a total of 51 dolphins had been ripped from their family and would never see the ocean again and at this point it was uncertain whether the remaining 200 captives would be released back into the ocean or slaughtered for their meat. They would have to survive through another night in cramped conditions, without food and suffering from both mental and physical exhaustion before they would find out.
There was a marked difference in the way the pod of remaining dolphins were treated on Tuesday morning as the captive selection process was now over. The herding of captives became a lot more physical as the ones that remained were now only prized for their meat. Before the killing could get underway, the killers ensured that the large tarpaulin they had draped accross the "killing cove" was secure and didn't afford any view of the barbaric atrocities that were about to be committed. Two skiffs began herding dolphins into the small sectioned of area that led into the killing cove and they used the outboard motors to do the job for them. They revved the engines up to full capacity and began reversing, propellor first toward the terrified dolphins, forcing them under the tarpaulin and within easy reach of the killers. There was little or no effort made by the pilots of the skiffs to avoid hitting any of the condemned creatures.
As dolphins were herded under the tarps, killers began the process of butchering them. This was achieved by stabbing a metal harpoon into the spine of the dolphins and leaving them to bleed out, suffocate and die, which took up to twenty minutes in some cases. Meanwhile, blood from the dead and dying creatures was turning the water red and flowing out into the area where the next selection of dolphins awaited their fate, forcing them to swim through the blood of their murdered family members, all the while, the relentless drive of the skiffs motors, ensured that they followed their family members to a similar fate. Even though they were exhausted from the previous days torture, the dolphins continued to put up a fight, even if it was somewhat more subdued than other days but they still succumbed to the butchers killing rod.
The killers were not the only ones to witness each dolphin suffer on the shore. One bottlenose watched its family murdered in front of her before she was transported to a tiny captive prison in the harbor, obviously overlooked during the initial selection process. Death did not end on the killing shore that morning. One dolphin in the remaining pod was seen struggling in the nets and was ignored by the killers before he or she finally drowned. Killers tried to hide the death of this dolphin with tarps, but the creatures struggle was not in vain as eye witnesses were there to record the entire thing for the world to see.
As this all unfolded, a single dolphin slipped accross the top of one of the nets and was finally free to head out to the open ocean. Instead of making a break for freedom though, this single dolphin chose to stay close to the nets and continued to swim around, raising itself out of the water, "spy hopping" in an effort to see family members on the opposite side of the net. This is evidence of the strength of the bond between family members of a dolphin pod.
It was at this point that the killing stopped so that the bodies of the dead dolphins could be transported to the banger boats for their final journey to the butcher house in Taiji harbour. The carcasses of the dead were put into the skiffs and covered with tarps so that evidence of their barbaric act could be hidden from the eyes of both the eyewitnesses on the scene and the world wide audience that watched via the live stream provided by Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians who streamed the entire atrocity from beginning to tragic end. Killers draped their legs across tarps that covered bodies that were being towed alongside the skiffs to ensure the carcasses weren't exposed.
Six skiffs in total transported the carcasses of the dead through the area where their surviving family members were imprisoned, awaiting their fate. The skiffs loaded their cargo onto the banger boats and then the killers stopped to have lunch. At some point during lunch, someone made the decision that the remaining members of the pod would be driven out to sea after lunch. This was greeted as good news but it would not be the end of the suffering for the pod. They were driven out to the open ocean in the same barbaric manner in which they were driven in, only in a weakened state. Many babies and juveniles were seen in the remaining pod. Too small to count for quota and deemed unsuitable for captivity. Many of these dolphins who were driven out will not survive and will be found washed ashore in the coming days.
A total of 93 Bottlenose dolphins were taken from the ocean over the 5 days by the barbaric killers and trainers of Taiji, Japan. The killers claim the barbaric drive, starvation, beating, and murdering of dolphins is their culture. However, they continue to try and hide their actions and make millions of dollars off of the captive industry that is used for funding the slaughter.
130-140 driven back out to sea