Taiji, Japan, 9-16-19 – At 5:15 a.m. all 12 hunting boats left the harbor in search of dolphin pods. Two hours later our team spotted a drive formation. And for three hours, hunters took control of the unsuspecting dolphins, eventually pushing them into the Cove.
The pod, a large group of pilot whales, was both agitated and exhausted. Their breathing was rapid; many were spyhopping. We suspected the pod would be left overnight, their slaughter and possible captive selection to take place the following morning.
Never before has our team documented such a brutal hunt.
Several minutes after being netted into the Cove, four large mammals swam towards the beach. The rest of the pod followed, and suddenly, chaos erupted. Dolphins were throwing themselves onto the rocks; others were being grabbed by the hunters in attempts to pull them out of the shallows. Many dolphins were injured, their blood turning the water a rusty shade of red. Everywhere our team looked a nightmare unfolded. We documented several animals floating lifelessly on their backs and assume there were many casualties.
Eventually hunters forced the pilot whales off the beach, where they remained huddled together near one corner of the net. In the opposite corner, close to the beach, one juvenile pilot remained. The young dolphin swam in tiny circles, rapidly surfacing and submerging. While we don’t know the extent of its injuries, it appeared either too exhausted or injured to join the rest of the pod.
Our team stayed with the pilot whales until dusk fell. Heavy-hearted, we left the Cove, preparing for what would come the next day.
Featured image: Deeply gashed, scraped and bleeding, a young pilot whale throws itself onto the rocks after being driven into the Cove, Taiji, Japan. Credit: DolphinProject.com