Stopping the Dolphin Hunt - Firsthand from the Cove
The town of Taiji, Japan is responsible for the slaughter and trade of over 2,000 dolphins each year. A jewel along the South East coastline of Japan, Taiji could transform into a beautiful oasis were it not for the horrors that occur there. Taiji is home to 26 men who are known to some as molesters, men who act with force, harming the beautiful creatures of our oceans. Each year from September through March, the cries of pain and desperation from thousands of dolphins ring out in the quiet town. The slaughter of dolphins in Japan is no less than a tragedy, a dark spot upon the country's reputation.
Migrating through the waters surrounding the coastal nation, dolphins are forcefully driven with "banger boats" from their home in the open ocean to a natural formation, a cove, where they will spend the last moments of their lives. It is here in this cove that dolphins are chosen for the slave trade in aquariums or slaughtered for their meat. The process in which they are driven into the cove, slaughtered, dragged to the gutting barge; while drowning in their own blood, gutted, and butchered is completed with callous efficiency.
The death of dolphins in Taiji passes by 7 months out of every year largely unbeknownst to the Japanese public. When interviewed by the creators of the Oscar Winning documentary, The Cove, Japanese citizens were, not only unaware of the slaughter, but shocked by such a concept. The citizens of Japan do not support the dolphin hunt, yet it continues due to the profits generated from the live dolphin trade. In a contract between a Turkish aquarium and Taiji officials, 10 dolphins sold for a price of $280,000 US. A young female dolphin that has been trained can fetch up to $300,000 US when purchased by dolphinariums.
The "cultural" label placed on this practice is merely a convenient cover, hiding the fact that the slaughter did not occur before aquariums existed. Indeed, the slaughter and capture of dolphins in Japan did not occur before 1970. Before this time, the hunting of dolphins was only done on occasion, when convenience allowed.
The live trade of dolphins in Taiji is directly linked to the dolphin slaughter. The driving force behind the dolphin hunt is the profit to be made from young females. Following the driving of dolphins into the Cove area, trainers come from the "Dolphin Base" in Taiji to select young females, similar to "Flipper." The selection process can take up to four hours depending on the number of appropriate dolphins. It can be quite a cruel process, and while in Taiji we witnessed the drowning of two young dolphins as the trainers were forcing them to become submissive for training. We also caught footage of the trainers forcefully hitting and shoving dolphins. Without profit generated from the live trade, these fishermen would not continue to slaughter dolphins for their meat.
I spent three weeks in Taiji, this past November. My partner and I traveled there to act as Cove Guardians, a campaign run by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Sea Shepherd was founded by Paul Watson in 1978 soon after his departure from Greenpeace. It is a radical environmental organization dedicated to saving our oceans and the life found within them. Many Sea Shepherd campaigns require direct action intervention against illegal activity such as shark finning and the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. The Cove Guardian campaign could not include direct action intervention due to Japanese law stating that any individual directly intervening with business interests will be charged with "obstruction of business" resulting in two to three years in a Japanese prison. The purpose of the Cove Guardian campaign was to stand guard, document, film and raise awareness of the slaughter of dolphins to Japanese citizens and the world.
The time that I spent in Japan as a Cove Guardian was emotionally and physically exhausting, albeit very rewarding. Each day began with rising between 3 and 5 a.m. for travel to the Cove area in Taiji. Our group would gather at the hotel and spread out among the various vantage points near and around the cove. Each day differed depending on whether the hunter boats were out in search of dolphins. The day often ended with filming the horrors of capture, slaughter, bloodied dolphins, gutting (sometimes done while the dolphins were still alive), transfer and butchering. Although it was a very frustrating time, I left Taiji knowing that each and every presence in the small town made a larger impact than we can fathom. Detailed accounts of my days in Taiji can be found at http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/www.coveguardian.blogspot.com.
In this day and age our oceans are dying. Dolphins are but one species that represent the plight of our oceans. Human exploitation is largely evident for those willing to take a closer look. We are destroying the world's largest ecosystem, depleting the ocean at a faster rate than it can replenish. As humans we harbour intelligence and capacity for choice. For mere entertainment we sentence creatures who may just surpass our level of intelligence, to a life without joy. They experience a lifetime enclosed in a concrete tank forever disconnected from their natural habitat and family in the ocean. Their acoustic abilities crippled, they are forced to perform tricks for passers-by. We must learn to appreciate the beauty of our oceans and strive to save them.
Although the situation may seem unredeemable, there are many actions that Canadian citizens can take to help end this tragedy. The simple act of phoning, e-mailing, faxing, and writing letters to your local Japanese Embassy or Consulate creates a major impact for dolphins in Taiji. Change must come from the inside. The law allowing exploitation of cetaceans in Japan can only be altered by the Japanese Government. Donations are also imperative. By supporting Sea Shepherd in their direct action initiatives, you are ensuring that a Sea Shepherd representative can stay on the ground in Taiji to monitor the situation. Other simple acts to help save the dolphins in Japan include viewing "The Cove" and sharing it with friends and family to raise awareness. You may also support others' initiatives to become Cove Guardians, or become one yourself. Please visit http://www.seashepherd.org/ for more information.
You can visit my youtube channel to watch the last video log that I created in Taiji, Japan. I will be returning next year, and every year that follows, until we see an end to the slaughter of dolphins in Japan.
*There will be a screening of The Cove movie in Nanaimo on January 17th, 2011 at Vancouver Island University, Building 356, Room 109. The doors open at 6:30 and the movie will be shown at 7pm. Tickets are available in Nanaimo at Boston Pizza, Tourism Nanaimo, and the Thirsty Camel. For those living outside of the city you can e-mail the organizers through firstname.lastname@example.org
Tarah Millen is an animal rights & environmental activist living on Vancouver Island. Her interests include travel, nature, raw foods, and ocean activism.
For The Oceans,