For 20 days either bad weather or fishermens' ill luck had kept the dolphins swimming around the shores of Taiji safe. But that all ended last night when fishermen located a pod of 10 Risso's dolphin and drove them into the Cove. As the boats pushed the dolphins closer to shore, Cove Guardians
with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
(SSCS) streamed the hunt live around the world.
It was a haunting and up close look at how the drive process works in Taiji, described in detail by those documenting the slaughter from the banks of the tiny fishing village. In a little more than five hours, gleaming white vessels bearing fishermen had pursued their dolphin prey, cornered them, killed them, butchered them, sold them, and even cooked them for lunch.
After the Academy-Award winning documentary The Cove
was released, Taiji town began to tarp the area where dolphins were killed to prevent the slaughter from being recorded. The town then stated that it had discovered a new, more humane method of killing dolphins that ensured an immediate death. When this new method was captured on film
by the conservation group Atlantic Blue
, the resulting death struggles of the mammals revealed that it was anything but humane:
The live dolphins lying in the water are stabbed in the back of the head with a metal pole and the wound is then closed with a wooden stick in order to prevent the blood from spilling out and colouring the water red in the Cove. The main purpose of this method is to give the impression that the dolphins are being killed bloodlessly and therefore according to humane standards.
But their new pitch said the group, was solely "designed to combat global criticism of the annual dolphin killings."
Of the pod captured last night, there were just three survivors, two adults and a juvenile. Spirited away by skiff towards Dolphin Base – the Fishermen Union's holding facility located inside Taiji harbor itself, the Risso's are now destined for captivity in an aquarium. Forced to watch their pod members butchered around them, they were hauled out of the Cove in slings as skiffs and boats trailing their dead counterparts were hauled past the living and to the slaughter house for butchering.
For the survivors, the training will begin in earnest. Should the dolphins refuse to eat the dead fish now being offered to them they will be force fed via a tube to keep them alive. Once transitioned into having to earn their food, the dolphins will be trained accordingly using food deprivation as a motivator and sold for big money to an aquarium or dolphinarium that wants them.
Swimming freely only hours earlier, these dolphins will never see the ocean again. Spirits broken, these intelligent mammals will eke out an existence as entertainers for a paying public. They will most likely die young; but in Taiji, the ocean always provides more. Such is the mentality of this town.
As the scene unfolds via the livestream provided by SSCS, Melissa Sehgal, the Cove Guardian leader for Sea Shepherd, follows the boats to the slaughter house. Like a well-oiled machine the dead Risso's are handed over at the dock and butchered for their meat.
One man – Motohata Toshihiro who runs a whale-meat shop in the area told The Independent
, "I hate cutting up dolphin. The stink stays on you for days, even after several baths." Utani Rui, a nine-year-old Taiji boy agrees:
I don’t like the taste of dolphin because it smells. I prefer whale.
Sehgal can smell it from where she is standing. The pungent odor causes her to gag. "The smell of fresh dolphin flesh filling the air," she tweets
, "the smell here is horrendous! Words can't describe how disgusting it is. It is sad to know it is dolphin meat being boiled!"
The fishermen partake of their spoils for lunch just minutes before buyers begin to show up, ready to bargain for the meat in the auction about to take place. The livestream filmed by Sea Shepherd can be viewed in its entirety at Taiji.ezearth.tv
Across social media, the outrage poured in thick and fast. Many queried the tradition behind the annual dolphin drives of Taiji, when in reality, there is no tradition. Sakae Hemmi of Japan's Elsa Nature Conservancy
told Digital Journal
back in March, that regular dolphin drive hunts date back only 42 years to 1969 when pilot whales were captured on a large scale for display at the Taiji Whale Museum:
The dolphin drive hunt is a part of fisheries authorized and encouraged by our government. Fishermen in Taiji don't want to give up their special privilege to hunt dolphins because they get profits.
In short Hemmi added, "historical records and demographic data do not support the contention that "Taiji is a ‘Whaling Town’ that cannot survive without whaling."
Ironically, much of the dolphin meat consumed by the people of Taiji is laden with toxins. It was even served to schoolchildren as a mandatory lunch until the levels of mercury and PCBs were revealed. Elsa has been testing dolphin meat purchased in and around Taiji for toxic substances for over a decade. Their testing, conducted jointly with BlueVoice.org
between May 2011 and Jan. 2012, revealed just how contaminated
dolphin meat was.
Our government doesn't take the contamination seriously. If the government prohibits the sale of contaminated meat, they have to stop the dolphin drive – the source of dolphin meat. It is against governmental policies.
According to Elsa
, between 2000 and 2010, 15,454 dolphins were caught in the drive hunts. This included 4,936 striped dolphin, 4,326 bottlenose dolphin, 1,450 spotted, 3,207 Risso's, 1,366 short-finned pilot whales, 83 false killer whales and 86 Pacific white-sided dolphins.
The Taiji dolphin hunt begins on September 1 and ends in March. The hunt is conducted by a small group of fishermen with just 12 boats from the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan. Several captured dolphins are sold to marine mammal parks around the world, but the majority are slaughtered.