Amidst one of the world’s worst pandemics with the emergence of COVID-19, dolphin hunts have resumed in Taiji, Japan. And with it, the return of Dolphin Project, albeit in a manner that’s safe for both the local people of Taiji and for our global teams.
Dolphin Project / Life Investigation Agency Cove Monitor Collaboration Program
For the 2020/21 dolphin hunting season, Dolphin Project is collaborating with Life Investigation Agency (LIA), a Japanese nonprofit organization dedicated to investigating, exposing and campaigning against the abuse of animals, along with other Japanese-based activists. Program goals are to document the hunts in Taiji, along with expand educational programs throughout Japan. The program is headed up by LIA campaign director Ren Yabuki, and is open to all Japanese citizens curious about the Taiji dolphin drives and the captivity issue. This is the first time events at the Cove have been documented solely by an all-Japanese team made up of volunteers and nonprofit organizations.
Week #4 and #5
During week #4, one red cove marred an otherwise “blue” week, with 11 Risso’s dolphins slaughtered. In week #5, two red coves saw another 12 Risso’s killed.
In response to some recent emails, I have written the following piece:
Today, I woke up to find this disheartening message in my inbox: “The dolphin slaughter in Taiji will never stop, except if a huge tsunami wipes out the entire town. In all the years you guys have tried to stop it, nothing has changed. I and many others have lost hope that these dolphins can be saved.” The message is just one of several I have received lately saying the same thing in slightly different ways. Comments are along the lines of:
- “The live streaming from the cove is meaningless.”
- “The hunters will never stop, and you are fighting a losing battle.”
- “In all the years you guys have been reporting from the Cove, you haven’t saved a single dolphin.”
- “The battle against the dolphin killers in Taiji cannot be won. They will stop the day there are no more dolphins left, not one day sooner.”
The fight for the dolphins in Taiji is gut-wrenching. Every time dolphins are trapped in the Cove, there is no limit to the cruelty the dolphin hunters and trainers will inflict on them. Their actions are the stuff nightmares are made of, and seeing it happen year after year is agonizing. It is incomprehensible that anyone can treat other living beings with such crude barbarity, and to watch the banger boats leave the harbor at daybreak almost every morning during the six-month hunting season is heartbreaking for all of us. But I refuse to give in to a feeling of hopelessness because, to me, that is the same as giving up. I also refuse to give in to the notion that live streaming from the Cove is meaningless. Being persistent is not meaningless. Continuing to act as witnesses to the crimes against nature that go on in the Cove—and to expose these crimes to the world—is not meaningless. Giving up and walking away, on the other hand, would be.
Every single person who has contacted me to say they have lost all shred of hope that the dolphin hunt in Taiji will come to an end have one thing in common: They have never been to Taiji. They have never been at the Cove. I am wondering if they might experience and consider the situation differently if they had. Once you smell the dolphins’ fear and hear their desperate cries, that whole concept of hope loses its significance. It becomes irrelevant. Maybe it’s something that happens when you see the dolphins’ individual faces in person. In that moment, they are all that matter, and that’s the thing about hope. When we talk about whether we have any hope for change, we talk about ourselves and our feelings. But once you’re at the Cove, once you witness the horrors the dolphins go through, the last thing on your mind is yourself and how you feel. All you think about is them, and to write off the possibility of this insane cruelty ever stopping just feels wrong.
On my first trip to Taiji in 2004, Ric and I were the only ones there. Only the two of us witnessed the massacres and the equally brutal captures for dolphinariums. Back then, dolphin trainers did not carry out the selection process in the killing Cove the way they do today. Instead, they dragged the panic-stricken dolphins onto Kujirahama Beach, and we could see everything from the road. We had countless confrontations with both the hunters and some of the trainers. They would make throat-cutting gestures and push us off the sidewalk in an effort to prevent us from filming, and more often than not, they succeeded. It was the loneliest feeling in the world, and we both wondered if it would be possible for a grassroots effort to arise within Japan to protest the hunt.
Since then, Japanese activists have come to Taiji. Last year, when I was at the Cove with Dolphin Project Cove Monitors Heather Hill and Vanessa Knox, Japanese activists lit candles on Kujirahama Beach to honor the dolphins that have been killed in the Cove or dragged away for a lifetime in captivity in one of the world’s dolphinariums. They held a protest in front of the Taiji Whale Museum where several dolphins are confined in small tanks and enclosures and forced to perform in theatrical shows. The protesters placed large graphic posters on the sidewalk right in front of the museum, and their voices of protest were louder than the upbeat voice that narrates every dolphin show throughout the day.
The next morning, the dolphin hunters pushed a large pod of pantropical spotted dolphins into the Cove. The activists placed a large banner on the beach. It said, in large Japanese letters: “STOP KILLING DOLPHINS!” Shortly after, skiffs with trainers arrived on the scene, and when the grueling captive selection process began, the activists began chanting in Japanese, “Leave the dolphins alone—this is not tradition!” They pleaded with the trainers to stop, tried to convince them to let the dolphins go. While hunters and trainers worked together side-by-side in a display of savagery, the voices of these brave women carried across the water, repeating their pleas for mercy.
The contrast between the dolphin trainers’ cruelty and the protesters’ calls for compassion was the most powerful and moving scene I have ever witnessed. It was a scene of courage fighting cowardice, light fighting darkness. Japanese dolphin freedom fighters are up against a giant monster that most of us cannot even imagine. What they do requires bravery that most people do not even possess.
So, to say that nothing has changed in Taiji is actually not the truth. Moreover, no one can foresee the future. No one can be the judge of what is possible to achieve and what isn´t. Even the smallest change could be the beginning of something that will suddenly change everything.
2020/21 Dolphin Drive Hunt Quota, Taiji, Japan
Our team will continue to document and live stream for the duration of the dolphin hunting season. Please follow us on our social media channels for live updates.
Featured image: Japanese activists say NO to the dolphin slaughter and captivity, Taiji, Japan.
Every year from September through March, a notoriously cruel hunt of some of the most sentient creatures on the planet takes place in Taiji, Japan, made famous by the 2009 Academy award-winning movie ‘The Cove’. During this period, dolphin hunters, “drive” the mammals to their capture or deaths via means of physical violence and acoustic torture. Dolphin Project is the only organization to have been on the ground consistently since 2003.