Dolphin Project can confirm that on March 1, Taiji’s drive hunts ended for the 2019/20 season. During the entire six-month long hunting season, our dedicated team of Cove Monitors stood on the ground, documenting each and every drive, where dolphins were routinely subjected to harassment, suffering and abuse. Along with you, we witnessed dolphins chased, injured, manhandled, run-over by skiffs, dragged, drowned, taken captive and slaughtered. Entire pods of dolphins were decimated, from the very young to the very old.
This season, a total of 130 drives took place involving eight species of dolphins. We estimate 560 dolphins were slaughtered, while 180 were taken captive. Many more may have died as a result of the drives themselves, their numbers never recorded.
The season commenced on September 1 – Japan Dolphins Day, an international day of action and awareness that we have coordinated since 2005. This year over 34 events were organized around the globe. Then, on just the second day of the dolphin hunting season in Taiji, Japan, hunters were successful in locating a pod of Risso’s dolphins, which were slaughtered in the Cove. Four days after on September 5, a large pod of bottlenose dolphins was hunted to exhaustion, resulting in the captive selection of 19 mammals.
No dolphin has ever volunteered to be captured and displayed for the rest of its life. Whether their enclosures are floating sea pens, concrete, glass, indoors, outdoors or a combination of all of these, the moment dolphins are removed from the ocean, they lose their ability to make their own choices and decisions, hunt live fish, explore their wild world and choose with whom they socialize.
On September 11, a nursery pod of pilot whales was ruthlessly hunted and driven into the Cove, where both a captive selection and slaughter took place. Six days later, our team of Cove Monitors documented one of the most brutal drives to take place in Taiji, when another pod of pilot whales was hunted. 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.
On October 3, three years and eight months after I was wrongly deported from Japan, the Tokyo District Court declared that the deportation order by the Ministry of Justice be revoked. In a judgement for the case of ‘O’Barry versus Japan’, the court ruled in my favor, citing that both my denial of entry (dated January 20, 2016) and deportation (dated February 5, 2016) were without legal merit. Predictably, while we won the initial case the government has now appealed. I would like to thank each and every person who has fought on my behalf. Your tweets, emails, calls and donations made a difference! I would also like to thank Matt Sorum, Leilani Munter, Maisie Williams, Slash, Dr. Brian May and Tom & Kim Scholz. Thank you to Congressman Ted Lieu, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and The Law Offices of Takashi Takano.
On October 11, the dolphins at Dolphin Base in Moriura Bay endured days of chaos and destruction as Typhoon Hagibis approached and struck Japan. Even though the country is generally well-equipped for natural disasters, with tsunami points on the coast and earthquake precautions, absolutely nothing was prepared for the captive dolphins at Dolphin Base in the lead up to one of the worst typhoons Japan has seen in the last 60 years. Battling through the elements, our brave team of Cove Monitors documented the events as they unfolded, even during the peak of the storm, to bear witness and expose the horrors that come along with captivity industry.
On November 4, following the typhoons and tropical storms that hit Taiji, our team decided to check on the well-being of the captive dolphins held at the Taiji Whale Museum, where amongst other cetaceans, Angel the albino dolphin continues to be kept on display. On November 10, the first drive of melon-headed whales took place. No lives were spared as three dolphins were selected for captivity, destined to spend the rest of their lives entertaining humans, and 37, including multiple juveniles, were mercilessly slaughtered.
On December 1, our team was joined at the lookout by a group of university students who were visiting for the weekend to learn about the dolphin and whale hunts that take place in Taiji. Amongst the group were students of various backgrounds and from different countries. The students were all participating in a global current events course, in which they were studying dolphin drive hunting and whaling. Cove Monitors had an open discussion about the reasons for Dolphin Project’s presence in Taiji and of the organization’s views.
In the first successful drive of 2020, on January 6 a pod of striped dolphins was driven into the Cove, and subjected to a captive selection and slaughter. Dolphin trainers worked alongside the hunters to determine which individual dolphins were “desirable” enough to put on display for paying customers of marine parks and dolphinariums. Then, on January 12, our team witnessed some of the most horrific suffering in the Cove with the hunt and slaughter of another pod of striped dolphins. After the mammals were driven into the Cove, several began to panic, suffering gruesome injuries in their attempts to escape. One mammal appears to have suffered grievous injuries to its upper (and possibly lower) jaw, bleeding profusely as a diver roughly pulls it off the rocks to its slaughter.
This is EXACTLY why we need to keep a small crew on the ground 24/7 for the entire six months of the Taiji dolphin killing season. This level of extreme cruelty is screaming to be exposed. We can never allow it to be hidden from the public – especially from the Japanese consumers.
On February 4, hunters located a pod of pantropical spotted dolphins. Once driven into the Cove, a large group of dolphin trainers arrived in multiple skiffs. Shortly after, an extremely drawn-out captive selection process commenced. Over the course of several hours, 20 pantropical spotted dolphins were taken from their family group to be used for display and profit.
One encouraging sign is the return of local activism in Japan. Throughout the 2018/19 dolphin hunting season, several protests by Japanese activists took place in Taiji, promoting change from within. On February 9 of this year, after a pod of striped dolphins was driven into the Cove, several Japanese activists assembled alongside our team while a few assembled at the public park just a short way away. The activists began to plead to the hunters and trainers to stop killing and capturing dolphins, and to set the dolphins free. The powerful and moving words of the activists reverberated throughout the Cove and could be clearly heard on our livestream as the pod endured a captive selection and slaughter.
On February 19, a heartbreaking scene unfolded in the Cove, after a pod of striped dolphins was driven in. During this particular slaughter where approximately 55 dolphins lost their lives, a young juvenile was spotted swimming amongst the blood of its pod members. Hunters were seen grabbing the dolphin by its dorsal fin, pulling the little mammal out of the water. After several seconds, the dolphin was hoisted onto the skiff, where its wriggling body was immediately covered by nets (likely to avoid documentation by our team’s cameras). The following day, the first pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins was brutally hunted. Nets were dropped just outside the Taiji harbor where each dolphin in the pod was captured. Several of them struggled, visibly thrashing as they were lifted out of the water, thrown into the hunters’ skiffs, then tossed into the harbor sea pens.
As Taiji’s drive hunts are legal, we aren’t challenging Japanese law. However, we are questioning Japan’s claims of the drive fisheries being humane and swift. Over and over our team has documented the prolonged suffering of dolphins, once driven into the Cove. Even before the mammals are netted into the shallow water, the drives themselves often leave the pod exhausted, with visible injuries.
As evidenced in previous years, dolphin trainers work closely alongside dolphin hunters, choosing which mammals will be appropriate for “life” in captivity, and which will be slaughtered. Marine parks and aquariums often use the terms “conservation” and “education” when describing their captive dolphin displays. The reality however, lies in the bloody waters of this tiny Japanese town: demand for captive entertainment is what fuels Taiji’s drive hunts. Captive dolphin displays, including swim-with-dolphins programs aren’t educational, nor are they entertainment. They are exploitative, and often responsible for the destruction of entire wild dolphin pods.
Compared to the 2018/19 dolphin hunting season, 61 fewer dolphins were taken captive, thus, it’s imperative that we continue to keep the pressure on by educating the world why we need to say NO to the dolphin show.
While the tarps that dolphins are dragged under to be slaughtered or taken captive are in the process of being taken down, and the banger poles used to drive dolphins into the Cove are in the process of being removed, Dolphin Project will continue to educate on the cruelties of dolphin captivity. No matter the sophistication of a captive dolphin environment, the natural world of which dolphins are uniquely adapted for simply cannot be replicated.
Dolphin Project extends a huge “THANK YOU” to those who watched our live streams, shared our social media and blogs and took the pledge to NOT buy a ticket to a dolphin show. We are grateful to each of you who lent your voices in support. As we have always said, as long as Taiji exploits dolphins, Dolphin Project will be in Taiji to document this exploitation. Planning is already underway for the 2020/21 season. While the drive season has “technically” ended, permits to hunt pilot whales are valid for several more months.
We hope you will continue to stand by our side as we continue our work across the globe, from the United States to the Solomon Islands and to Indonesia, where four dolphins are currently rehabilitating in the world’s first permanent dolphin sanctuary, of which we built.
All of our groundbreaking work is made possible because of your generous support. Thank you for being a dolphin defender!
Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director of Dolphin Project
2019/20 Drive Season Statistics
Total number of drives: 130, of which 82 were “blue cove” days where no dolphins were captured of killed and 48 were “red cove” days, where dolphins were either captured or killed.
Total number of dolphins slaughtered and/or taken captive: 740
Slaughters: 560 total
Risso’s Dolphins – 115
Melon-Headed Whales – 154
Striped Dolphins – 247
Pilot Whales – 44
Captures: 180 total
Bottlenose Dolphins – 58
Risso’s Dolphins – 25
Rough-toothed Dolphins – 4
Melon-headed Whales – 3
Striped Dolphins – 10
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins – 51
Pacific White-sided Dolphins – 15
Pilot Whales – 14
Releases: 181 total
Featured image: Long-beaked common dolphin swimming wild and free, credit: Cynthia Fernandez
Every year from approximately September 1 to March 1, a notoriously cruel hunt of some of the most sentient creatures on the planet takes place in Taiji, Japan, made famous by the Academy award-winning movie ‘The Cove.’ Dolphin Project is the only organization that has been on the ground consecutively since 2003, and the only organization in Taiji during the entire 2019/20 hunting season. Our mission is to expose the atrocities committed against dolphins, utilizing live stream technology, photo and video documentation, blogging and the power of social media. Only with worldwide exposure will Taiji’s egregious practices end. And end they must.