There is no good fate that comes out of the Cove. Whether dolphins are slaughtered, captured or released in a broken, traumatized state, there is no way for dolphins to avoid severe stress and suffering in Taiji’s drive hunts. As January progresses, more species are being subjected to unimaginable cruelty.
On January 13, the hunters located a large pod of pantropical spotted dolphins – the first time this species has been driven in this season. They successfully trapped the panicked dolphins in the Cove and commenced an exhausting captive selection process that lasted over four hours.
The pod of dolphins was clearly distressed, swimming close to one another, and at many times, touching side by side. There were a few times when they swam into the net that trapped them closest to the Cove, leading the hunters to use one of the skiffs as a barrier. Despite this, the pod tried to swim into the net again and one of the dolphins became caught. Luckily the dolphin was disentangled, but that did not alleviate the stress that the pod endured. The dolphins swam really close to the rocks, and close to the beach under the tarps where many of their family members were dragged onto to be assessed by dolphin trainers. We were afraid that the pod might start beaching themselves or throwing themselves against the rocks, because they seemed so tense.
Staggeringly, 31 members of the pantropical spotted dolphin pod were taken for captivity. The remaining broken family group was later driven back out to sea.
In the following days, our Cove Monitor team sighted several of the pens the captured dolphins were placed in. Many of the sea pens in Taiji become overcrowded with new captures, and this occasion was no exception.
A few days later on January 16, a large pod of melon-headed whales was sighted and terrorized by the dolphin hunting fleet. For over two hours, they fought intensely to get away from the hunting boats. Each time the pod dove down and started to escape the hunters’ drive formation, one of the hunting boats would come charging after them and appeared to run over the pod. This act of chasing and harassing dolphins alone would be illegal and cause outrage in other parts of the world that protect cetaceans by law.
Just as they began to near the Taiji harbor, a larger part of the pod broke off and was able to safely escape. The remaining group of 22 melon-headed whales was not as lucky. The hunters quickly got control of this smaller group and forced them into the cove. Seemingly within minutes of netting off the cove, the slaughter had begun. All 22 lives were quickly extinguished.
As we drove by the butcher house shortly after the slaughter had concluded, a strong smell of raw red meat was in the air.
In the following few days, Mother Nature prevailed. Rough conditions, rain and poor visibility kept the hunters from venturing offshore and obtaining other pods of dolphins.
While the hunting boats remained docked, our Cove Monitor team visited the Taiji Whale Museum to assess the state and number of the captives, as well as to livestream on multiple platforms and show the world one example of where captured dolphins end up. Members of all nine species on Taiji’s drive hunt quota are currently on display for paying customers.
Overcrowding, aggression and injuries were painfully apparent. A pilot whale and a melon-headed whale that share an enclosure with several Risso’s dolphins were covered in visible scratches; rough toothed dolphins had injuries around their eyes; and many dolphins had injuries on their rostrums.
When faced with an aggressor in the wild, a dolphin can simply swim away. In captivity there is no where to escape. Lack of stimulation for dolphins can also lead to stereotypical or self-harming behaviors. There is simply no way to provide a quality life for cetaceans in an artificial setting; they inherently suffer in captivity.
Just when we thought rough ocean conditions may keep the Cove blue for the remainder of the week, the hunters found a pod of striped dolphins on January 19. Amid large swells, the hunting boats persisted in driving in the pod. By the time they came around the point near the Taiji harbor, there were two separate hunting formations. When dolphins are moving fast, they are at the surface more often (since there is less resistance in air than water) which can make a pod seem larger than it actually is. Ultimately, the hunters were able to drive a group of about 15 striped dolphins into the Cove. The pod was stressed and panicked. Shortly after being netted in, one of the dolphins threw itself against the rocks. Then at least two other dolphins became entangled in the nets. One of them was at the surface for the duration of entanglement, which lasted several minutes.
Both entangled dolphins were eventually grabbed and dragged under the tarps, where they were slaughtered with the rest of their pod. For a sentient, self-aware, intensely social and intelligent marine mammal, there is simply no “humane” way to be killed.
Taiji’s drive hunts are kept profitable by the money made from selling wild-caught dolphins to marine parks and dolphinariums. If the demand for captive dolphins ends, the demand for the hunts ends.