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article imageJapanese Coast Guard assists Taiji dolphin hunters

By Elizabeth Batt     Sep 10, 2012 in Environment
Taiji - Activists say that a pod of bottlenose dolphins fought for six hours to escape being captured before Taiji fishermen, with the help of the Japanese Coast Guard, wrestled the exhausted dolphins into submission.
"In 3 years of being here I have never seen the likes of this," wrote animal activist Martyn Stewart on his Facebook page. Stewart, a sound recordist, is in Taiji to document the dolphin drives that run from Sept. to March every year in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan.
Last night, one day after the slaughter of 21-23 pilot whales, Stewart and hundreds of dolphin lovers were glued to social media to follow an epic battle between a pod of bottlenose dolphins and 11 fishing boats in Japan. The battle said Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), lasted for six hours as dolphins repeatedly tried to escape being ushered into the cove, a natural inlet made famous by the movie of the same name.
The battle continued on well into the night as the pod of dolphins split, dove deep and tried to stay ahead of the motorized boats banging on metal poles to confuse the animals. Thirteen dolphins of an estimated pod of size of 24-25 weren't so lucky, they were driven into the cove and netted off. The remaining pod members attempted yet another dash for freedom as the fishing fleet gave chase.
Save Japan Dolphins posted on its Taiji Cove Monitors Facebook page:
4th time this pod has escaped being pushed into the cove with the others. Very stubborn and keep heading back to sea. Fisherman must be getting frustrated.
So frustrated it seemed, that Stewart remarked:
The dolphins are playing a cat and mouse game with the killers but now the coastguard is helping spot them.
The Japanese Coast Guard was brought in by Taiji town this year to patrol the waters during a dolphin drive; for the remaining energy-depleted 11-12 dolphins, it was enough. Still resistant to being driven into the cove, skiffs were dispatched to net the dolphins at sea instead. A short while later Sea Shepherd posted on its Cove Guardians Page:
After reviewing footage from today, approximately 24-25 bottlenose dolphins were driven into Taiji. A family of 15 dolphins are being held overnight in the cove (2 of these were netted at sea and transferred by slings), 5 were released out to sea by skiffs (juveniles) and remaining pod of 4-5 were driven back out to sea by killing boats. It was an exhausting day for these dolphins. They fought hard for over 6 hours! Tomorrow they await their fate ... captivity or slaughter?
According to guardians monitoring the drive, the first pod was ushered and netted into the cove about 10:00 AM Tokyo time. The second pod fought to escape for the next five hours before being contained at sea. After selecting two dolphins to join the existing 13 in the cove, the remaining pod was released and either driven back out to the open ocean or hauled there with nets.
Stewart, who filmed one of the dolphins captured outside the harbor, said "This is how they manhandle a dolphin after going through the stress of being seperated from its family pod. This one was dumped back out to sea. Stewart's video is available to watch on YouTube.
The remaining dolphins will be held in the cove until a selection for captivity is made later today. Several countries buy dolphins that have been rounded up in the Taiji drives. The largest importer of Japanese dolphins last season for example, was China. Dolphins are sold either trained or untrained to marine park facilities around the world; those not sold are usually slaughtered for meat.
While demand for dolphin meat is down in Japan, the demand for captive animals is increasing said Dolphin Project Director: Ric O'Barry. "It's a multi-billion dollar industry," he explained in an interview with Mark Hawthorne of All-Creatures.org.
O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer turned activist, added that only the captivity industry can stop captivity, and they don't want to. In Japan which has "51 abusement parks" he explained, dolphins are a disposable commodity. "They keep them for as long as they can, the dolphins die, they dump them, and they get more from Taiji. That’s why the captures continue."
Last year, over 700 dolphins were killed in the cove for consumption despite the meat testing positive for toxins. Elsa, a Japanese conservancy group has been testing dolphin meat purchased in and around Taiji for toxic substances for over a decade. In one instance, dolphin meat from Shimoji in Tanabe City, Wakayama, tested 3.5 times higher than the maximum allowance level for mercury, 1.4 T-Hg ppm over the allowed 0.4 ppm.
As for the 15 bottlenose currently contained with the cove, their future will be determined later today. The social media campaign Save Misty the Dolphin has launched a call to action and is urging caring citizens around the world to fax their Japanese Embassies and ask for the immediate release of these dolphins.
A free fax button which will allow individuals to fax directly from their computers they said, can be found at the link: Just the FAX: A Call to Action for the Dolphins of Taiji.
Update 5:30 PM (MST): Nine of the fifteen dolphins were placed into slings and taken to sea pens to be trained and sold. Six remain in the cove. As trainers were removing the chosen dolphins, the drive boats headed out to sea to hunt for more dolphins. Another 20 plus bottlenose dolphins were driven into the cove. Estimates are that there are now 30 dolphins netted in the inlet; the dolphins will be held overnight.
More about taiji dolphin drives, The Cove, Sea shepherd conservation society, save japan dolphins, taiji japan
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