By Tia Butt
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project
On Friday morning when driving down to the harbor to see if the boats would go out, the ocean looked calm, the weather was clear, and, sadly, there was no reason for the dolphin killers to stay in and not go out. But we always hold that hope that they will stay in for whatever reason.
It was Johanna’s last day, but she came out with me to monitor, and I was hoping she would leave that afternoon on the train back to Kansai Airport in Osaka on a positive note. I have left Taiji before literally after a hunt has happened, and it is the most empty helpless feeling, so I did not want her to have to go through that.
We watched the boats leaving at their usual time just after 6AM, and we talked about how calm the water was looking and that perhaps today could be a bad day, but we would remain positive. I noticed that some of the banger fleet went a slightly different direction that they usually do, while the others fanned out onto the open sea.
After a couple of hours or so, we could still see them on the horizon. They just looked like they were hanging around, but they also looked like they possibly might have found something. By 10AM seven boats were in a clear drive formation – the ghastly sight of black smoke bellowing from the top of them looked frightening as ever. But they were still really far out, I could only see this using my binoculars, and I have seen the same thing many times, where dolphins were able to get away from the boats even much closer from where they currently were.
By 12:30, the bangers were closer to us, they had been driving these dolphins very slowly closer and closer, and at this stage we could actually see the drive with the naked eye. I have never in all my time in Taiji, now or in the past, have I seen a drive like this. The dolphins fought so hard to get away from these boats, I suspect that these boats were chasing them even before we saw the clear formation at 10AM, as the boats could have been tipped off by fishermen prior to them leaving, as they had gone in a different direction much earlier in the morning soon after they left the harbor. Johanna had to leave in the middle of all of this – she was upset to leave understandably, but her train was leaving. We said our goodbyes, and she headed home with a heavy heart. I told her: “Don’t worry, they may get away?”
I could see the dolphins trying to get away from the dolphin killers. They gave the boats as good as they got, and I saw a couple of bangers literally spinning around trying to block these animals from escaping; the banging of the poles frightening these sentient gentle beings and pushing them closer to the evil Cove.
This is the slowest drive I have ever seen – the boats kept losing the dolphins and then kept getting them again, and, by the time they got closer to the shore, the whole drive became frantic. The boats were going crazy, and the dolphins were getting more and more frightened. But the poor dolphins lost in the end. After hours of driving and chasing them, they finally got to the point where we know it’s a losing situation for the dolphins, and there is no escape. I was utterly distraught by this stage and knew that the next part was going to be the worst.
The killers really wanted these few dolphins. There would be captives removed for sure. There was no doubt in this. Eventually it was confirmed they were Risso’s dolphins again, (around 10 Risso’s with a baby now confirmed), and, after moving position up to the Takababe Mountain overlook above the Cove, I could see the dolphins and could see there was a baby in there swimming close to its mother. Soon enough they were all netted in and pushed into the Cove area. These animals were totally exhausted, fighting against the killers for hours. One dolphin got stuck in the net trying to escape – this image makes me so upset every time. The poor dolphins are so petrified, they try to escape, go into panic, and get entangled in the nets. The dolphin killers came in on a skiff very fast and roughly pushed it into the Cove. The killers were shouting loudly and aggressively, and you could tell they wanted the job done fast. The tarps went up, and the dolphins were under quickly.
After what seemed like ages, two captives came out on slings tied up on each side of a skiff, and they were taken to the harbor pens. As like the last hunt, another skiff came out with bodies hidden under tarps. I suspect it was the mother and the baby, taken back out to sea; dead or alive, I cannot confirm.
Literally four or five minutes after that, the rest of the dead bodies were taken out from under the tarps, which means that the killers had killed the dolphins while the selection process for captivity was happening. The whole thing was done very quickly as they had been out on the ocean for so many hours.
I know that the two captives that were taken out must be suffering now, in a tiny pen in Taiji harbor, along with the others, having witnessed their family murdered. This is why the dolphins spy hop, I think, and lay still in the pens, very depressed, I have seen some that refuse food, all because of the horrors of the capture and killing in the Cove, and because of their witnessing what happened to their family.
I have even been thinking that perhaps this pod of Risso’s was part of the last pod that were caught here a couple of days before, or even the drive before that one, which were also Risso’s. We know that sometimes during a drive, the pod can break into two or three smaller groups. Dolphins travel in families, with their pod, so maybe these dolphins were near the area as their family members were captured and killed days before at the Cove. These animals are very loyal to their families, so it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a presumption and a real possibility that we have talked a lot about here, and it is very sad.
This particular hunt was upsetting and draining to me, but nowhere near as upsetting as what the captives are going through! I can, after all, leave this place. What about the captive dolphins, which were migrating past here and then, were taken into a real life horror story? I believe that the ones killed under the tarps are the lucky ones. That may sound harsh, but being a captive dolphin in this place is worse than death, in my opinion. The Taiji captive industry crams them into the sea pens, smaller than swimming pools, tightly together, and the dolphins just swim round and round. Imagine living in a shower cubicle day in and day out, with no hope of release. That would be your life. I would rather be dead.
Someone I know made a comment to me this week and said: “All your blogs seem similar, and the video is similar to the others you have made” They gave me the impression that I was almost wasting my time here. I explained to them that the animals are different, the captives are different, and each pod that is taken into this place is different. This is why I am here to tell their story and to tell and share it to the world of what happens here in Taiji. And I will keep doing it as long as I am able.
(NOTE: I would add, the presence of Tia and other brave volunteers like her sends a very strong message to the Japanese government and the dolphin hunters, who not only see Tia’s presence day after day, but also read our blogs online and study them very carefully. Police follow her everywhere. When I went to Taiji in the past, the police had actually printed out my blogs from our website to show me! Tia and our Cove Monitors not only let you know what is happening, but they let the Japanese Fisheries Agency and the Taiji dolphin hunters know that the world is watching. And they are VERY nervous and upset about us being there. The number of dolphins being killed in Taiji is declining dramatically, and Tia and the Cove Monitors are a big part of why the Taiji hunters are killing fewer dolphins each year. Remember, Tia and other volunteer Cove Monitors often travel at their own expense to help us keep our eyes — and the eyes of the world — on what is happening in Taiji! – Ric O’Barry)
People’s doubt in what I am doing only makes me more determined.
On Saturday, there was no hunt thankfully; the rain was coming down fast and hard, and, today, Sunday, they went out but came back with nothing. This was due to rough seas I suspect.
I am hoping for many more days like these!
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…for the dolphins