After 13 consecutive “Blue Cove” days, with hunters taking time off during the holiday season, banger boats left the harbor first thing in the morning on January 5, 2016. Perfect weather for us – flat, calm seas and clear skies – are often indicative of looming trouble for wild dolphin pods which pass by this area as part of their migratory route.
Within 30 minutes of hunters searching for dolphins to kill or capture for captive “display,” splashes were seen on the horizon. Six banger boats were rapidly pursuing a pod, and 30 minutes after that, approximately 16 Risso’s dolphins were corralled into the cove. Nets were drawn across the water, preventing their escape, but the pod appeared more concerned with staying close together, as they swam tightly, their breathing, erratic.
Dolphin Project Live Streamed the drive, catching glimpses of the dolphins’ bulbous heads and blunt snouts as they were pushed deeper into the cove. Tarps were drawn, preventing us from seeing the fate which soon awaited the innocent animals. As disturbing as these images sound, the “sounds” coming from below our vantage point were just as unsettling. With fishermen yelling, engines revving and water churning – it was terrifying, and for an acoustically-driven species such as the Risso’s, the sounds would have been even more terror-inducing. And that’s exactly how dolphins are caught from the waters around Taiji.
When a pod is spotted, metal poles lowered into the water are repeatedly “banged” by hunters, creating a wall of auditory chaos. As dolphins attempt to flee from these sounds, banger boats herd the animals towards the shallow waters of the cove. To further control the pod, weights attached by ropes are thrown into the water, with the panic-stricken dolphins often injured by the boat’s engines. By the time the pod is irrevocably caught, with multiple strings of nets drawn to prevent their escape, many animals die as a result of exhaustion or injuries, even before the actual slaughter or captive selection begins.
Dolphins are routinely photographed by our Cove Monitors with various, bloody injuries sustained during the drives. Untold numbers die even before being netted into the cove, with these numbers not recorded against the seasonal drive quotas. ” ~ Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director, Dolphin Project
Click here to view the year-to-date drive counts for the 2015/2016 season.
For the pod of unsuspecting Risso’s dolphins, their end came swiftly, with all 16 slaughtered and none selected for captivity. The remains of these beautiful animals were seen tied to the sides of skiffs, their tails roped together as their bodies were taken to the butcher’s for processing. Such an unfitting end to a species that wishes us no harm.
Thank you to Natasha Eldred, Dolphin Project Senior Cove Monitor for her documentation of the Risso’s drive.
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Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the USA (Tax ID 47-1665067), and donations are tax-deductible.
Featured image: Risso’s dolphins netted into The Cove, Taiji, Japan, Photo credit: Terran Vincent Baylor / Dolphin Project