Horrid Days in Taiji
By Tia Butt
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project
The last two days have been a bit horrid. Yesterday was a Risso’s slaughter, and the day before it was pilot whales.
I talked about the weather in my last blog. Well, the weather has not been on the dolphins’ side at all recently. Yesterday I had that uneasy feeling looking out at the ocean, as it is was pretty flat, and I didn’t like what I was feeling. The dolphin drowning in the net a couple of days before was still on my mind, but we had had a no-kill day in between, so I was recharged. But I had a nervous stomach with what could happen this day.
By 8AM I could see a pod had been located, and just by looking with my naked eye, I could see what they had were big dolphins. I could see the dorsal fins, surfacing and going under, but not too frantically at first.
Soon enough I was up at Takababe Mountain overlooking the Cove. It was now confirmed that they had pilot whales, around nine of them. Big beautiful pilot whales! At first I thought they were going to hold them for a while, as this is what has happened here recently with pilot whales. They were soon netted off. Some of the banger boats were still out, and, as I got up to Takababe and looked out to the ocean, I saw the remaining bangers chasing down more dolphins. The pilot whales below my lookout were at the same time being pushed under the tarps, to their deaths.
What I thought was a second pod turned out to be one lone pilot whale that had got away during the drive. He was big and beautiful, and he had some of his dorsal fin missing. At first I suspected that this must have happened during the drive, but after looking at pictures more closely, it looks like this must have happened a while ago, as there was no open wound. It looked healed up whatever had happened to him.
Five bangers had surrounded this poor soul. He was pushed into the Cove, but what I saw then I actually couldn’t believe was happening. He was under the tarps, and then, all of a sudden, I saw the banger boats that were out on the water outside the mouth of the Cove accelerating, and I thought, there must be more dolphins. But no, this clever animal had got out of the nets! The nets were up, and he had got out of the Cove. and when he swam he did not surface much, he stayed under for a long time, and he had got out! This did not happen once; it happened twice!!! Again, they pushed him in, but yet again, he swam under the water not surfacing much and got out from under the tarps, out of the Cove and almost as far as the harbor.
My heart was beating so fast, thinking maybe, just maybe, he will get away.
But no, finally they got him into the lair of the Cove, they put the nets down fast, and he was in. The sound of him dying was awful. The thrashing went on for a while. I held my head down, and just hoped that these animals maybe know that there are people here with them through this. I don’t know if I really believe that is possible, but when the slaughter happens and you are witnessing it, you just hope that maybe it is true, and they can feel you and your heart there.
Then, the heartless people responsible for this proceeded to take out two juveniles and released them back out to the ocean. This happened after the slaughter, and while this was happening, I heard more loud thrashing and dying. These juveniles will likely die out there.
NOTE: It really is terrible that the Taiji dolphin hunters release young juvenile animals, which they have done several times this year. Without their pod, their chances of survival are very poor. Dolphins often suffer from the shock and stress of capture, and even when released still die from the effects. We are not sure why the dolphin hunters are releasing these animals. They have a quota, so they may be releasing the smaller animals with less meat in order to catch bigger whales later on in the season (it is unusual that they have caught so many pilot whales this early in the year). Another thought: They are having a harder and harder time selling off dolphin meat, and they have limited capacity to store dolphin meat in freezers in the slaughterhouse, so maybe the releases mean the hunters simply don’t have buyers? — Ric O’Barry
Standing out at the lookout point, when standing waiting for the boats every morning, there is a smell, a bad smell, like dead flesh. A pilot whale’s carcass was found not far from there recently after they released some pilot whales. The rest of the pod suffered in the hands of these people. It is likely that this was one of the pilot whales that didn’t survive and got washed up to shore. That smell is still there. Juveniles have been released recently, while the rest of the pod has been killed, and likely their dead bodies will be floating in the ocean or wash up somewhere, I’m sure. What a horror story this is!
Yesterday was a rainy day, and I felt more positive, but the water looked calm, even though it was raining. The dolphin hunters left the harbor, and I drove up to the lookout point, got set up and looked out and could not believe it when I saw black smoke and some of the bangers chasing dolphins already. The banger boats had not even got to the horizon. They had been out onto the open water just about 15-20 minutes, and they had found dolphins.
I moved position up to Takababe Mountain, and this time I was streaming live to people so they can see for themselves the horrors here. When I got a closer look, I could see that they were Risso’s dolphins, approximately 10 of them. Beautiful, graceful, grey and white.
The hunters pushed the dolphins in easily, banging their poles, with black smoke gushing from the top of the boats. The dolphins were held for a short while, then pushed in by skiffs into the killing Cove, more nets going down.
Three dolphins were caught in the net panicking, and two dolphins escaped the nets and were on the other side – they were so frightened. It was frantic, divers diving in, trying to get them out of the nets; at one point, two dolphins were stuck together in the nets – they were going crazy – memories of the dolphin that died in the net four days came flooding back. I was heartbroken watching it all again, but describing what was going on to the Ustream viewers, holding it together as best I could. I just wanted it to be over quickly for these beautiful animals.
One dolphin was stuck in the net, and the diver could not get him out; the other two dolphins on the other side of this particular net (but they couldn’t escape as they had another net on the other side of them) were watching what was happening. They would share the same fate. Divers were riding the dolphins back, pushing them under the tarps. And then, soon enough, the killing started, the thrashing and the sound of them dying started. The bodies were taken out, and none were taken captive, with their bodies hanging off the skiffs. These hunters tried to hide their “tradition” with tarps, but I saw these beautiful dolphins’ lifeless bodies, tied with ropes to a banger boat, being dragged along in the water.
They did a sloppy job of transferring them onto a banger boat and that was it, another day of hell in Taiji for the dolphins.
It’s been rough here recently and heartbreaking to witness all of these atrocities. But I tell myself, when I feel low, that what I am going through is absolutely nothing compared to what these animals go through. The captives, who get selected and who are in those awful pens, or the ones who die through shock over the capture process here in Taiji. I can leave this place, but the captives are prisoners forever.
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When there is a drive, I will be going live on Ustream.
Thank you for your support and helping me be a voice for the dolphins of Taiji.
…for the dolphins!