I was fortunate enough to spend time in Taiji, Japan with the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians in October 2014. Here is my personal account of my time there.
Nothing can prepare you for the horrors of Taiji. What strikes you first are the ‘sea pens’, which are visible as you approach the town by train. Like floating prisons, the tiny cells appear in rows with a number of dolphins in each. They barely have enough room to swim, these magnificent, super intelligent creatures who have been known to swim up to 100 miles in one day. There are a mixture of species being held, including Bottlenose and White Sided dolphins and False Killer Whales. Some may have been in there for two years.
Those imprisoned in the harbour have to endure hearing the banger boats go out every morning. They must remember that sound from their own capture, when their families were slaughtered. If the killers have had a successful hunt, the captives will hear their fellow dolphins being mercilessly driven into the killing cove and will smell their blood as their dead or dying bodies are dragged past their pens. Visiting the pens, sometimes you will notice a curious eye looking at you and you imagine the dolphin is asking ‘why has this happened to me?’ The intelligence of dolphins is staggering, their brains are larger than humans and they are more emotionally intelligent. You can only begin to imagine how much they suffer.
The Cove Guardians frequently check on the captive dolphins – sadly their captors don’t. If they are lucky they will be thrown fish twice per day, sometimes they’re not fed at all. A number of dolphins have their ribs showing. If they are of no interest to the killers or ‘trainers’ then why can’t they be released back into the ocean?
The drive itself you can never forget. Mothers trying to protect their babies, only to be ripped apart from them and brutally murdered. The way the pod will fight so hard to try to escape. The absolute lack of any compassion from the killers. The babies and juveniles, sometimes injured, will often be driven back out to sea in the same way they were driven into the cove. Before they were with their families; now they are alone. They have to be driven out as they do not want to leave the place that they last saw their family. The killers don’t want to waste their quota on the small dolphins, as they don’t yield as much meat. However these babies have seen horrors that we would only imagine in our worst nightmares, and their chance of survival back out in the ocean is slim to none without their family pod. Sometimes they won’t even make it back out of the harbour alive.
If you didn’t know better, you would think that the locals revere whales and dolphins, as their images appear all over the town. There is a huge statue of a beautiful mother and baby whale, along with an actual hunting vessel; which has killed so many of these beautiful animals in the past.
I am proud to be here with Sea Shepherd, an organisation that is on the ground every single day of the hunting season, year after year, exposing the horrors that take place in Taiji. I represent a huge and ever growing movement of compassionate people around the world, who will not stand by while these intelligent, sentient creatures are brutalised, stolen from their families for a lifetime of pain and misery or cruelly murdered in front of each other.
There is an opportunity for those involved in these drive hunts to stop the bloodshed and live captures and instead offer boat trips to tourists, to see the dolphins where they should be – swimming freely in the ocean. The drive hunts aren’t traditional; they only started using motor boats in the 1970s. Instead they are purely motivated by financial gain. There is no mistaking the relationship between dolphins in captivity and these brutal drive hunts. Without the huge sums gained from selling dolphins into captivity – up to $300,000 for a trained dolphin – then the hunts simply wouldn’t be financially viable. The ‘dolphin trainers’ play their part at the end of the hunt; choosing which dolphins will live and which will die.
You can do your bit to stop them from taking place by never buying a ticket to see a dolphin show and by spreading the word – tell your families, friend and work colleagues. Sign petitions and go along to protests – make your voice heard. For the dolphins.