By Viktoria Kirchhoff
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project
Leaving the hotel at 4:50 AM, like every morning here in Taiji. It’s warm, and there’s no wind at all. The dolphin hunters haven’t caught anything for 14 consecutive days, and tomorrow another smaller typhoon is supposed to hit the Taiji area. Hence, I know they are extremely eager to catch dolphins and small whales today. They’ll do everything not to come back empty-handed, just having wasted time and gas. I fear the worst, but still hope for the best.
All 12 banger boats march out of the Taiji Harbor at 5:30 AM. It’s getting light.
6:30 AM: We drive to the Tomyozaki lookout point, and it’s getting very warm, no wind whatsoever.
7:52 AM: There is not a cloud in the sky, picture-perfect blue sky – best conditions for whaling. One of the banger boats appears on the horizon.
8:30 AM: Six boats are visible on the horizon, set up in a half moon. Black smoke comes out of one. This means they are chasing a pod and need to make sure it doesn’t get away. I cannot see the drive clearly; they are still far away. I’m starting to sweat, and my heart is pounding hard while the sun is beating down on me. It’s getting hotter by the minute.
8:52 AM: All 12 banger boats are now perfectly lined up, like a military parade. By banging on poles under water, they drive the dolphins or small whales towards the Cove. So scary. All week I haven’t seen this. An ice-cold shiver goes down my spine. I hope the dolphins or whales can still escape. It’s still quite a distance to the Cove. But once the hunters bang on these metal bars, this sound is so excruciating for the dolphins, they just want to get away from it. So they swim away, in the direction the hunters want them to go. The hunters literally ‘drive’ the dolphins to the Cove; that’s why the name ‘the dolphin drive hunt’.
9:12 AM: With binoculars I can see dolphins or small whales in front of one boat, grasping for air. These marine mammals are in complete stress right now, swimming for their lives. I can only imagine what these intelligent creatures are going through. They want to live – and surely not in captivity! That’s why they keep on fighting.
The ocean is so flat right now; it actually looks more like a Swiss lake than the Pacific Ocean. The whales only need to come up once to breathe, and the hunters will spot them right away and chase them again. Since the dolphins are exhausted from being chased for at least 3 hours already, they are hyperventilating and therefore come up more frequently. In this position, the chance for the dolphins or small whales to escape is very slim. We are losing hope for them.
The hunters keep on losing and re-catching the dolphins. The boats turn around, big black smoke comes out, and they chase the dolphins again, trying to circle them in. We are praying that the dolphins are faster, but they are so tired, stressed and terrified. The hunters spot the dolphins again and drive them again towards the Cove, slowly, steadily. It’s a horrible and long cat-and-mouse game…
But at 10:15 AM, all of a sudden, we cannot see any dolphins anymore. The boats make their way back to the harbor without any dolphins – the hunters have given up! The dolphins win today’s war! Yesss!
They fought so hard for at least 3.5 hours and managed to finally get away the last minute! Well done, my brave friends of the ocean! Tears of joy run down my cheeks. Great relief! This is the 15th consecutive blue cove day! We are all so happy, another day the dolphins swim freely. Beautiful.
Offshore Taiji, the banger boats maneuver to herd the dolphins, belching smoke as they rev their engines to chase the dolphins when they surface. Photo by Viktoria Kirchhoff.
…But is it really that great? Actually, it doesn’t make a difference whether or not they catch anything today – at the end of the season they will have caught as much as they can of their enormous quota that is 2,054 dolphins in Taiji. It’s only October, the hunting season has just started, and there will be many more days until March to reach their horrendous quota. (The quota system,though, is a problem in itself: it’s challenging to control to make sure the fishermen abide to the quota; no one knows the dark figure!).
But still, today is a blissful day, because it’s a blue cove day!
Never be silent! And never buy a ticket to a park where dolphins or whales are kept, as otherwise you directly support the slaughtering in Taiji.
Thank you Save Japan Dolphins for your great work, and Sakura – what a brave, strong and inspiring lady you are. I feel humbled to be allowed to be here.
Viktoria Kirchhoff scanning the ocean from the lookout near Taiji harbor. Photo by Sakura Araki.