Zero wind. No waves. An ocean as flat and clear as a lake. Idyllic conditions under normal circumstances.
But these circumstances were far from normal.
For the dolphin hunters in Taiji, Japan, site of “The Cove,” of which the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name was based, the day couldn’t be more perfect to hunt dolphins. And, at approximately 6:15 a.m. local Taiji time, they spotted what they were looking for.
The pod was large, likely well over 100 dolphins. We couldn’t immediately see which species was being hunted, but could tell the animals were small. As the dolphins were driven closer to shore, it became apparent that a pod of striped dolphins were about to lose their lives.” ~ Marna Frida Olsen, Dolphin Project Cove Monitor
Striped dolphins, or Stenella coeruleoalba (from Latin, meaning “dark blue” and “white”) refer to the dramatic stripes on their bodies. They are a pelagic species, preferring the waters of the open ocean. The drive would have been particularly terrifying to them.
In the midst of the noise – hunters repeatedly “banging” on their poles to create a terrifying wall of sound, along with the sounds of boat engines attempting to drive the dolphins into the cove, suddenly a large number of the pod split away from the main group, swimming in the opposite direction. Whether this was a mistake on the part of the hunters, or whether they were deliberately allowed to escape, we will never know. However, we were relieved so many dolphins were able to put distance between themselves and the hunters.
From that point, the hunt progressed quickly, and, by 7:15 a.m., the boats were already close to the harbor.
The animals were completely panicked, their sounds very disturbing to hear. The visuals were equally as shocking, as divers got into the water and started dragging thrashing dolphins by their tails.
What was most difficult for me to watch was how they struggled. The killers were completely disconnected from these sentient beings. Dolphins were being pulled by ropes. Dolphins were being driven by boats. Live dolphins were thrashing beside dead ones. ~ Marna Frida Olsen, Dolphin Project Cove Monitor
The drive into the cove was captured on Dolphin Project’s Livestream. As the gruesome scene unfolded, the dolphins were finally driven into the shallow killing cove, where the water began to stain with a combination of blood and white foam, as hunters overpowered the animals and drained their lives from them. From there, the dead dolphins would have been cut up and packaged for consumption.
Equally disturbing are the contaminants found in dolphin meat, particularly in striped dolphins. Dolphin Project has always believed that high levels of mercury in dolphins captured in the cove makes meat consumption a dangerous habit for the local people of Taiji. Last February, we purchased several packages of striped dolphin meat to test for mercury, PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) and radiation levels (radioactive cesium-137). Tests revealed the presence of all three contaminants in the dolphin meat with mercury testing higher than the Japanese government’s recommended level of 0.4 parts per million. More recently, a piece in The Japan Times contains an admission from fisheries cooperative official Yoshifumi Kai, acknowledging that tests on local animals have yielded high mercury levels. Dolphin Project will continue to test dolphin meat for contaminants throughout the season.
An estimated 20 striped dolphins were killed, marking the first kill of this species for the 2015/2016 season. This was the 9th drive to-date.
Dolphin Project is on the ground throughout the entire killing season. Please consider supporting our work, with a monthly donation, shopping our store for official gear or even volunteering to become part of our team in Taiji. Our donation page offers other opportunities for giving. Thank you.
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the USA (Tax ID 47-1665067), and donations are fully tax-deductible.