Back in Taiji
By Tia Butt
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute
After leaving Taiji around the middle of October, I knew I had to come back, and thankfully for me, this was possible. A few days ago I arrived back here, meeting with Ric O’Barry and Leah Lemieux and saying goodbye to Heather Hill, who had done a great job here recently.
On the first morning we headed out to the mountain pass. The sea was uncomfortably calm, and, driving past the slaughterhouse up to the mountain pass, I saw the dolphin killers around their fire, quite possibly getting prepared to go and hunt for dolphins. That familiar nervousness was in the pit of my stomach, and I hoped that perhaps they would not go out for whatever reason. Unfortunately, from the mountain pass we saw them leaving the harbor in their uniform way, in a line heading out to the ocean to hunt these sentient beings.
After a couple of hours or so, I saw the horrible familiar sight that I hadn't seen for a couple of months of the boats driving a pod of dolphins towards the shore. I could see the pod frantically swimming for their lives, away from the banger boats, and I hoped that somehow they would get away.
Soon enough they were driving this poor pod and had them held at the mouth of the harbor. The dolphin hunters banged the poles of the boats to drive the dolphins into the Cove. It was determined that they were striped dolphins. Standing there helpless, we witnessed them slaughtered and the sound of them dying and thrashing in agony lasted around 20 - 25 minutes.
Then there was silence and with heavy hearts we saw the smaller boats, with the bodies hidden under tarps, motor round to the slaughterhouse, where the dolphins would be processed for their meat. We suspected around 40 striped dolphins died, but authorities confirmed that it was in fact 50.
The past two days have been more positive in terms of the dolphin hunts. The day before yesterday, the boats came back after a few hours being unsuccessful in finding any dolphins – this was a great relief to us all. And today they did not go out at all as the weather conditions were too windy. Once again we were extremely relieved.
We have been discussing the plight of the two spotted dolphins in the tiny tank at the infamous Taiji Whale Museum. We have named them 'Sad’ and ‘Lonely' as this is exactly what they are. This tank quite possibly could be the smallest tank in the world. It houses two dolphins in a tiny tank filled with water with chlorine which is damaging in itself for the dolphins, and they have no choice but to live in this cramped space, suffering 24 hours a day. They do not see the sky or feel the air. They are trapped in this torture tank where they spend their lives staring at a concrete wall.
Today Ric went live on USTREAM to expose these dolphins in these disgusting living conditions. A clear sign within this facility in Japanese that we had translated states that this type of dolphin does not live well in captivity and that it is rare to get them! It is completely shocking that the Museum staff knows this fact yet still chooses to house these dolphins in such deplorable conditions. This tank must be shut down!
The public can help make this possible by putting pressure on the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), as whatever recommended standards for captive dolphins to live are clearly not being applied with this tank. It is completely unacceptable.
We realize it is pretty unlikely that the Museum will ever release these dolphins back into the wild, but there is a lagoon area within the Taiji Whale Museum that is much larger – even if they are moved there that would be so much better than where they are now. At least in the lagoon they would be able to see the sky, feel the air and have more space to move. We must build momentum up to get these two dolphins moved.
Taiji is not the most pleasurable of places to be in, but something keeps bringing me back here. I am hoping that for the rest of the time I am here, I will not have to document too much bloodshed. As I have said before in past blogs, I am hoping for many windy days here in Taiji.
Photography of Taiji Whale Museum Tank by Tia Butt.