By Cynthia Fernandez
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project
When I decided to make this trip to Taiji, I was well aware of what I was in for. I felt that having seen The Cove repeatedly, making presentations about the slaughter, and by following the daily happenings in Taiji that I was somewhat prepared for what I knew I would probably see. However, nothing prepares you for witnessing a slaughter first-hand. Unfortunately, that is what I witnessed today.
Each day as I watch the banger boats head out to sea, I hope for the best — that they will come back empty-handed. But the weather here has been in the hunters favor: clear skies and very little wind. On my first day when I saw the boats go out, they gave chase but, eventually, came back empty-handed. The next two days, I witnessed the horrible at-sea captures of beautiful Pacific white-sided dolphins for captivity and one casualty, but today was different.
It started out the same, watching the parade of banger boats leave the harbor, heading up to scan the horizon and waiting to see what happens. I was very apprehensive about what could happen today. It wasn’t too long until I saw the dreaded drive formation on the horizon: boats fanned out, belching black smoke. As the formation got closer, I could see the splash of the frantic dolphins running for their lives. My heart sank. This time, as they approached the harbor, there were no boats racing out to meet them with nets. I knew they were trying to drive them to the Cove. I watched as the dolphins repeatedly tried to escape, only to be corralled back in by the group of banger boats. I headed for another vantage point, where I could see the drive pass by and I could see into the killing cove. I watched as the dolphins fought valiantly to escape but were repeatedly met by the banger boats with the hunters banging furiously on their poles.
Then, the killers drew the nets around this pod, and I knew it was over. This pod of beautiful Risso’s dolphins was doomed. As the hunters left to retrieve the dolphin trainers to see if any of these Risso’s would be suitable for captivity, the Risso’s were left to huddle together, nervously awaiting their fate. As I looked at the beautiful Risso’s, I flashed back to a recent whale-watching trip in Monterey, California, where we saw a pod of Risso’s dolphins, and I couldn’t help but contrast the sheer joy and excitement everyone on that boat felt in seeing those beautiful animals to the total disregard for these incredible, intelligent beings that the hunters and trainers have. Two completely different reactions to the same animals.
In came the skiff, with the female dolphin trainers; I could hear them laughing and talking. The tarps in the Cove were drawn to hide them from my view as the trainers and killers line up side by side while the dolphins are pushed under the tarps. A sound that I will never forget is the thrashing of the frantic dolphins while they are under the tarps. The trainers sentenced two juvenile to a life of captivity, and they were taken away from their mothers in slings.
The rest of the pod was slaughtered. Dragged underneath the tarps. Although it is difficult to see the killing, it is easy to hear. The splashing of the frantic dolphins as they are being killed. My heart broke for those dolphins, especially for the mothers of the two juveniles whose last sight before dying was seeing their offspring taken away. One dolphin was trapped in a net. I watched as the diver got in the water, untangled the dolphin, and then, with one hand on its dorsal fin and the other on a flipper, walked that dolphin right up to the killing tarps.
When all the killing was finished, there was an eerie silence. Then, the skiffs arrived to pick up the bodies. Despite their best attempts to cover up the bodies, I caught glimpses of what just hours ago were free-swimming, beautiful, amazing Risso’s dolphins, now limp and lifeless, on their way to the slaughterhouse. I watched as the skiffs transferred the bodies to the one remaining banger boat. Everything done on the opposite side from me, everything covered with tarps, trying so hard to cover up what they are doing. I had to wonder, if this is a proud, Japanese tradition, why the secrecy?
Why the need to cover up if they are doing no wrong? Why not let the world see what they are doing?
While everything was happening, I was too busy to let my emotions kick in. Too focused on documenting this atrocity – trying to get good pictures. It wasn’t until I had packed up all my gear and was walking down the steps, back to my car, that it all hit me. I thought of those two captive juveniles, never to see their pod again, never to swim free again, destined for a life of slavery. Then, I thought of the others, gone from our oceans forever. It was then that I began to cry, for nothing prepares you for this, nothing.