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article imageOp-Ed: Year end review — 425 dolphins taken in Taiji, Japan, so far

By Elizabeth Batt     Jan 1, 2012 in Environment
Taiji - Although the start of the dolphin drive season in Taiji, Japan was delayed by Typhoon Talas, midway through the season 425 dolphins have been driven into the cove.
Six species of dolphin have been affected since the dolphin drives commenced on September 01 in what has been a tense time for both fishermen and activists on the ground in Taiji. Despite the slow start to the season which echoed throughout the month of September, by November and December, the dolphins received little respite.
When fishermen berthed their boats for the holiday season on Dec. 22, 425 dolphins had been herded into the cove. Of these, reports Ceta-Base.com, "354 were killed, 38 were released, 28 were live-capture and five have an unknown status." It is a fraction of the 2,165 dolphin quota set for the 2011/12 season by the Taiji Fishery Union (FU), yet activists mourn every loss. The total quota of dolphins granted to fishermen when divided by species includes some 652 bottlenose; 450 striped; 400 spotted; 275 Risso's, 184 long-finned pilot whales, 134 Pacific white-sided dolphins and 70 false killer whales.
For those unfamiliar with the Taiji dolphin drive season which takes place annually between September and March, it revolves around a small group of fishermen who operate under the umbrella of the FU in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan. Weather allowing, up to 12 drive boats leave the harbor each day in search of dolphin pods. These drive boats, called banger boats by activists, are speedy vessels specifically designed to outmatch a dolphin's speed.
When boats locate a pod, metal poles are lowered into the water and hit repeatedly. The metallic clanging interferes with the dolphin's sonar, confusing them. Now disorientated, the dolphins are easily driven towards the harbor and into the cove. The fishermen are further aided in their quest by the topography of the seafloor which creates a natural funnel that helps herd the mammals towards shore.
Once the dolphins are inside the cove, the entrance to the ocean is sealed off with nets, making escape impossible. A few dolphins may be selected for sale to captive marine mammal facilties around the world but the majority are slaughtered for meat. Dolphin meat has been described by one conservation group in Japan as little more than toxic waste. Yet despite being laden with mercury and other pollutants, the meat is sold in Japanese supermarkets.
The dolphin drives in Taiji captured in the 2009 documentary The Cove were first filmed by Hardy Jones of Blue Voice.org in 1980. The film was released for National Geographic and then PBS beginning in 2001, said Jones. Capt. Paul Watson said Sea Shepherd documented events at the cove in 2003, which resulted in barricades. "The video from 2003" Watson adds, "was shown internationally on CNN" and "photos taken by Brooke MacDonald, were published worldwide by AP."
The horrific slaughter now captured for the first time on camera, placed Taiji under an international microscope, where it remains to this day. Dolphin activists from both the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and Save Japan Dolphins (SJD) increased the pressure on the tiny fishing town by placing monitors on the ground to document the hunts as they happened. It created a deep-seated resentment in Taiji fishermen prompting increasing tensions.
As SSCS cove guardians and SJD cove monitors on the ground beamed the fishermen's every move (via social media) around the world in seconds, the impact to operations forced Taiji to restrategize. It did so by increasing security and placing a police tail on each activist on location. The activists genuinely welcomed the protection, often describing the local police as helpful and polite.
The fishermen themselves attempted to conceal as much as they could from activists' cameras, even going so far as to plant sticks of bamboo in open spots which afforded views of the cove. The local police attempted a neutral stance, even issuing a warning to a local fisherman for trespassing after he was spotted planting bamboo sticks.
The skirmishes continued. On Nov. 07, Rosie Kunneke, a Cove Guardian monitor with SSCS, reported that both herself and a colleague had been assaulted by one of the senior dolphin fishermen. The man was subsequently arrested and then released. Kunneke later reported the possibility of a kidnap attempt outside of the hotel where she was staying by two men in suits.
As tensions mounted yet further, in mid December, Dutch national and Sea Shepherd cove guardian Erwin Vermeulen, was arrested and detained at the Shingu police station. Prosecutors sought an indictment against Vermeulen for assault after it was alleged that he pushed a Japanese marine mammal trainer while attempting to photograph the transfer of a dolphin at the Dolphin Resort Hotel. Sea Shepherd claims there were no witnesses to the incident, yet the cove guardian has been remanded ever since and is expected to stand trial on Jan. 25.
Just a few days after Vermuelen's arrest, the hotel rooms of guardians for SSCS and one cove monitor for Save Japan Dolphins were raided by Wakayama Prefecture police – a separate entity from the local police who escort the activists around Taiji. Police seized computers, photos, hard drives and cameras from the SSCS crew then perused the items of Heather Hill from SJD before returning them to her.
Two days before the fishermen broke for the holiday season on Dec. 20, a pod of 33 bottlenose dolphins were driven into the cove. The dolphins were sealed off and left overnight, allowing activists time to launch an appeal and request their release well into the day on Dec 21. Despite several attempts from various parties to intervene and even one alleged offer of purchase, ten of the bottlenose dolphins were selected for captivity and the remaining 23 were slaughtered.
There is little discrimination shown between species or age of dolphin. Risso's or bottlenose, young or old, if there is no value to be gained from captivity, dolphins will be slaughtered and sold for their meat. Having learned the migration patterns of these mammals, there is little to protect them unless Mother Nature herself commands the boats to stay in port.
The dolphins suffer an agonizing and brutal death, despite declarations from Taiji that the kill is humane. Dieter Hagmann of the German conservation group, Atlantic Blue, revealed video footage of the new kill method, which fishermen said, involved piercing the dolphins' spinal cords with a sharp spike that killed the mammals immediately. Hagmann's footage begged to differ and showed the mammals suffering significantly as spikes are driven into their flesh followed by a wooden plug.
Three hundred and fifty four dolphins have suffered this unjust death, a devastating end for any mammal. At the mid season point, Ceta-Base.com estimates 160 Risso's, 115 striped, 23 bottlenose, 33 pantropical spotted dolphins and 8 false killer whales have been killed in just three months. On Jan. 05, the banger boats will once again leave the harbor to resume their hunt for dolphins, as Japan's whaling fleet gets ready to harvest whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Japan's Nisshin Maru, is the only whale factory ship in the world for a reason. Accompanied by three harpoon boats they plan on killing close to 1,000 whales this season. Back in Taiji, 12 much smaller boats with less than 30 fishermen will continue to push the oceans for dolphin. Meanwhile, activists – still puzzled how so few can destroy so much, will continue to document and intervene whenever they can in a battle of passion versus pride, and conservation versus cash.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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