The owners of Dolphin Base, a captive facility in Moriura Bay, Taiji, intentionally left the dolphins in harm’s way by refusing to drop the nets and give them their best chance at survival.
Taiji, 10-14-19: The dolphins at Dolphin Base in Moriura Bay endured days of chaos and destruction as Typhoon Hagibis approached and struck Japan. Even though the country is generally well-equipped for natural disasters, with tsunami points on the coast and earthquake precautions, absolutely nothing was prepared for the captive dolphins at Dolphin Base in the lead up to one of the worst typhoons Japan has seen in the last 60 years. With at least a week’s warning, the trainers had plenty of time to drop the nets or figure out a safer alternative for the mammals, but no actions were taken to prevent them from suffering. Battling through the elements, we documented the events as they unfolded, even during the peak of the storm, to bear witness and expose the horrors that come along with captivity industry.
Banger boats did not leave the harbor due to strong winds and rough seas as Typhoon Hagibis gradually made its way to Japan. Dolphin Project’s team of Cove Monitors on the ground observed conditions at Dolphin Base worsening throughout the day. Vertical nets enclosing the pens were tugged horizontally across to one side from the strong current, bringing the bottom of the pen closer to the surface, hindering the dolphins from diving down deep to avoid the impact of the large, aggressive waves. This was especially obvious as three bottlenose dolphins in the pen to the far right took the brunt of this. They were forced into the corners, thrashed against the walkways around the perimeter, as well as trying to dodge the debris that was barreling into the pens. Dolphin Project and Life Investigation Agency (LIA) contacted the local authorities to inform them of the damage that was already caused and how the dolphins had no way of escaping the devastation. After viewing our footage, the police contacted the facility disclosing that there were concerns for the safety of the dolphins in their care, but Dolphin Base assured them that they had checked and all their dolphins were alive and well. With the weather intensifying, we decided to go and check on the dolphins ourselves.
We arrived at Dolphin Base at around 8:30 p.m. and by this time, even though it was very dark, we could make out the outlines of the pens and noticed that they were beginning to disintegrate.
There was no sign of trainers, and the wind was so strong and waves so rough that it was very unlikely they had attempted to walk down the jetty to check on the well being of the dolphins. We pleaded with the police to persuade them to change their minds, but were firmly told to return to our hotel, to safety. With our hearts in our stomachs and our clothes drenched, we left and made a plan to return the next morning to assess the damage in daylight.
We arrived before sunrise and could already see the demolition of the pens. The far right pen with the three bottlenose dolphins was obliterated, and the dolphins were nowhere to be seen. Another pen was disassembled too, its dolphins also missing.
Two pens had split from the main structure and drifted about 20 meters away, and another pen was gradually falling apart. By the end of the day, it too had deteriorated enormously, still containing dolphins in the wreck.
Waves lapped against the seawall, avalanching towards us, sweeping over our ankles and for the second day we stood drenched in rain and seawater, bearing witness to the dolphins, documenting for the world to see. The conditions continued to worsen, barrels, buoys and planks of wood clanking against each other with the current, slamming into walkways, anchored boats, and each other. Two Dolphin Base trainers turned up at one point, entering the water. For a second we blinked twice, in disbelief that they finally seemed to understand and care about the dolphins’ welfare – until they did nothing to lessen the torment for the dolphins, instead showing a sole interest in securing the pens that had drifted off back to the main structure, in order to prevent their livestock from escaping. They had no intention of making the situation more comfortable and humane for their animals by dropping the nets to release them. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise really though, as these are the same people who decide which dolphins are ‘pretty’ enough to be able to live to make money off, and which of their families members should be slaughtered in the Cove. Another trainer arrived shortly afterwards, screaming at them to get out of the water because of the danger. They got out, and left the dolphins in peril yet again.
The dolphins increasingly became more exhausted, gasping for breath among the debris, huddling together in the centre of their pens in attempt to avoid injury on any sharp corners or edges.
After the peak of the storm, the wind and the waves finally began to plateau, although they did still have vigor behind them. On the morning of the 13th, Moriura Bay looked like a completely different place. The water was still, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, although the evidence of the typhoon was prevalent with the amount of rubble and wreckage in the water and the unrecognizable structure of the pens at Dolphin Base. We noticed a few dolphins that we had seen in a pen during the typhoon were no longer there. After a few moments, we noticed dolphins swimming in the bay! Our hearts dropped, as even though it was relieving to see them alive and free, we knew it would only be a matter of time before they were ‘claimed’ again. The trainers jumped in their boats with buckets of fish and headed directly for them. Captive dolphins are totally reliant on human care – the source of their only food source – so they hadn’t strayed very far. The trainers enticed them back towards Dolphin Base with frozen fish, but didn’t have a pen to place them in due to the mess, so left them swimming nearby in the bay.
This morning, we could not see the dolphins swimming in the bay, nor in any of the pens. We wondered if the white caps on the water were preventing us from noticing them, or if they had been placed in another pen elsewhere. Later, we saw that a boat from Dolphin Base was circling the bay as if it was searching for dolphins. We also noticed that two banger boats as well as all the hunters’ skiffs were missing from the harbor.
Suddenly, the skiffs appeared in Moriura Bay. One of them had slings attached with two bottlenose dolphins strapped on either side of the boat.
The two dolphins were transferred into a pen containing two pilot whales. Immediately after drawing the net closed, a trainer placed a tube down one of the dolphin’s throats and into its stomach to hydrate the mammal. Dolphin Project Cove Monitors watched her struggle during this process. She stopped, rolled up her sleeve, and shoved her arm down the dolphin’s throat, removing handfuls of trash, twigs, leaves and debris – most likely as a result of the dolphins’ enduring the harsh conditions from the typhoon.
The lack of care that this facility displayed over the last few days is unfathomable. Dolphin Base claims to love and protect their dolphins. Yet, during every step of the way, their priority was clearly profit-driven, and not focused on the welfare of their animals.
Every facility that keeps dolphins and other whales captive is under a moral obligation to keep their mammals out of harm’s way. However, as our team witnessed, this was not the case for these dolphins, who may still be suffering from undocumented injuries as a result of their neglect.
Please never buy a ticket to a dolphin show or captive dolphin facility.
Featured image: Bottlenose dolphin endures the wrath of Typhoon Hagibis, Dolphin Base, Taiji, Japan. Credit: DolphinProject.com