“An extremely rare albino dolphin was brutally captured in Taiji, Japan. We are appealing to the inter zoo’s and aquarium industry and asking them to stop doing business with Taiji. Do not buy this albino from Taiji. To do so is to reward the dolphin hunters for their bad behavior.” – Ric O’Barry
Taiji, Japan November 23, 2014
The day started like all the others here in Taiji. As I watched the boats go out in search of dolphins, I went up to the lookout spot, hoping to eventually see them come in empty-handed. I waited, scouring the horizon with my binoculars, hoping NOT to see the dreaded drive formation. Time kept ticking. I kept looking – nothing. I found myself constantly checking the time, knowing that 10:00 a.m. is approximately when the hunters begin to return if they haven’t found anything. As it neared that time, I started to feel relieved, hoping for a Blue Cove day. However, things can change in a heartbeat in Taiji. And it did.
At 10:00 a.m., I saw a few boats heading towards the harbor. I was cautiously optimistic they would return empty-handed. However, all boats began to veer to the north. “Oh no,” I thought, “Here we go.” I watched, a sick feeling in my stomach as all the boats came together and began to drive. I could see the splash of dolphins. As the drive grew nearer, I had to relocate to another viewing area for a better view.
As I got to the seawall, I could see the boats approaching. Dolphins continued to splash, frantically, but I could not identify the species. I ran to the Cove as the dolphins were being quickly pushed in. As I took photos of the dolphins that had been netted off and trapped in the Cove, one caught my eye. It looked like a white dolphin among the others. As I zoomed in closer, I could see that the pod were Risso’s dolphins – again – and amongst them, an albino!
Knowing how rare albinos were, I knew this particular dolphin was destined for a life of captivity. But what about the rest? I could see three tiny fins among the pod, likely belonging to very young calves. Soon, the entire pod was pushed out of my view, into the killing cove. It wasn’t long before the first skiff with bodies came out, and soon after, another skiff appeared with two slings, one on each side. Of course they kept the albino Risso’s dolphin, with a second selected for captivity, too.
The two dolphins were dumped into a sea pen in the harbor, while skiffs continued to transport dead bodies out of the Cove, to the waiting banger boats, for transfer to the butcher house. A final skiff headed out, likely containing the animals the tiny fins belonged to. They would be dumped out at sea, minus their families. My heart broke for these tiny souls. I thought about how terrified they must have been, after likely enduring the most horrifying event of their little lives. Left to fend for themselves, they had very little chance of surviving. I had to fight back tears in order to continue to document this pod’s story.
As I went to the harbor pen where the newly captured albino Risso’s dolphin and podmate were being kept, the last boat with dead bodies passed by. I’ll never forget that sight. As those two young Risso’s were tossed into the tiny sea pens, the bodies of their dead friends and family members were being carted right by them. My anger and frustration grew as I wondered how we can ever end this? This was my third trip to Taiji and sadly, I’ve seen many slaughters and captures.
My personal opinion is that as long as there is a global demand for captive dolphins, the hunts, captures, and slaughters will continue. It is simple economics, supply and demand. As long as the world demands captive dolphins to “entertain” them, the captures and the slaughters will continue. If it isn’t Taiji, it will be somewhere else, as there is too much money to be made from the trade of captive dolphins. I strongly believe that global education is the key to ending this. The younger generation needs to learn compassion and respect for all animals, not just dolphins. Animals are not designated to be captured and forced to provide us with “entertainment.”
Please, don’t buy a ticket to any facility that holds captive dolphins. And, do your part to spread the word to others. The word IS getting out – the “Blackfish Effect” is real – so let’s keep the momentum going and shut down the global trade of captive dolphins. Maybe then, the dolphins that pass through the waters of Taiji will have the peace and safety that they deserve.
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