By Jaeny Colmenares
(NOTE: Jaeny is another volunteer Cove Monitor in Taiji with our Dolphin Project Team. She and our other Cove Monitors come to Japan with their own money to spend time reporting the dolphin hunts to the world. They are champions for the dolphins! Today, the dolphin hunters could not find any dolphins, but Jaeny reports her impressions of her first hunt from a few days ago. – Ric O’Barry)
During the month of October 2013, the wild dolphins off the coast of Taiji swam free for 30 consecutive days! I was a witness to 8 of these days and for my first time as a Cove Monitor, it was a different experience than I expected. I was filled with joy! Many Cove Monitors say when they leave Taiji for the first time, a part of their soul is left behind. I couldn’t agree more with this declaration; this is why I returned this season to continue to be a voice for the dolphins. I knew coming back I may not be so lucky, so I had to prepare myself once again for the moment no Cove Monitor wants to see – a slaughter.
It was the morning of day two; we were at Promontory Point waiting for the banger boats to return. After 45 minutes, we spotted approximately 9 banger boats over the horizon, just to the south, in formation. This ignited an uneasy feeling, but I still remained positive, as it was too early to conclude the worst. About 30 minutes later, the banger boats succeeded in coming in closer, facing north, but we still couldn’t confirm whether they located a pod. My fellow Cove Monitor, Heather Hill, who has been a monitor since 2011, is familiar with the behavior of the drive and was certain a pod had been found.
We quickly headed over to Takababe Hill, which is another look out point just north of Promontory. This is the hill that has two view points through the thick trees, one towards the ocean and the other towards the killing Cove. After 10 minutes from our arrival, the banger boats were visible, and I was able to spot a small cluster of dorsal fins right in front of them. They forcefully pushed the pod closer, but it was difficult to be consistent since the pod would disappear for several minutes underwater, nowhere to be found. These were the moments that built so much anticipation, because a pattern started to emerge: now you see me, now you don’t. This pod is smart! They would disappear and reappear several meters from where they were last seen. This frustrated the hunters, and they charged with great speed to aggressively cut the dolphins off from heading out to open waters.
At one point, the pod succeeded in swimming further out, but within a half hour or so, they were pushed back in. Now, you could noticeably see the pod begin to tire. As they were being pushed closer towards us, we were able to identify the species; they were Risso’s Dolphins. They were directly below us when they started to linger and huddle closely – they were extremely exhausted from being herded.
Some of the banger boats left and were replaced by small skiffs, which continued the drive. The Risso’s were now just a few yards from entering the killing Cove. Slowly but surely, they were barbarically pushed in and netted off. The four-hour chase was over, but not the fight, for another process was about to begin: captive selection and slaughter. The nine Risso’s Dolphins gathered closely together for their last moments, oblivious of what’s to come, although they certainly know that death is near.
I have never seen a Risso’s Dolphin before, let alone this close. They are magnificent, intelligent, robust looking creatures, with beautiful round heads and white markings all over their bodies called rake marks. I couldn’t bear the thought that in just a few moments, their lives would be stolen due to greed. As the skiffs began to bully them to go under the tarps, I flooded with sadness and anger, bursting into tears. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, I couldn’t STOP what was happening, I couldn’t help them. I just kept repeating to myself : “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!”.
Risso’s dolphins circle away from the skiff netting them off from their freedom. Photo by Jaeny Colmenares.
I could hear the commotion, the loud splashes, and the heartless yells from the killers – these are sounds that will haunt me forever. Then in a moment, it was all over – it was silent. I have previously seen slaughters on Livestream, or YouTube, but I must say, nothing can prepare you for red days. Nothing.
But I must remember: I am here to be a voice, to let the entire world know of this atrocity and that their deaths will not be in vain. These animals deserve to be free, respected and to live their lives in peace. I will fight for them until I no longer can breathe.
Contact the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) to urge them to be responsible and take action against their members that source dolphins from Taiji and other wild dolphin capture sites (like Russia and Cuba).
Photos by Jaeny Colmenares.