Bottlenose Dolphins in the Cove
By Heather Hill
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute
We had been told by the police that because the dolphin hunters have been so successful lately in hunting and killing Risso's and striped dolphins, they will apparently no longer be catching these species, at least for the time being. If they only found those two species when hunting, supposedly they would come back empty handed. So knowing this information, and somewhat trusting it, I was shocked when we saw the banger boats come together in a drive formation on the horizon today.
I was also shocked to see banger boats number 11 and 12, that had stayed in this morning like many other mornings, leave the harbor to join the other ten boats in the chase. My heart sank. Whatever they had found out there, they wanted. Badly.
As they drove the dolphins closer to shore I analyzed every tiny fin in my distant fuzzy pictures, trying desperately to determine what species they had surrounded. The frustration of not knowing was overpowering. Finally they came close enough to shore for me to determine; it was bottlenose dolphins. Now it made sense why they'd sent boats 11 and 12 out on the chase – bottlenose dolphins are big money when it comes to selling them to aquariums for captive display. They have not found these dolphins for a while, and I imagine they have orders piled high from buyers waiting for a new supply.
The fishermen pushed them the final distance into the Cove with very little struggle and ran a net across the entrance, trapping the dolphins inside. I expected to see trainers arriving on skiffs or banger boats, but that never happened. Instead, the fishermen put a sign on the outside net that faced out to the open ocean that read: "All dolphins and whales in this erea (sic) are owned by fisherman's association. It is prohibited to enter this erea without Permission of ISANA fisherman's association." Then they all left, except one Coast Guard zodiac, which was stationed between the dolphins and the beach.
The dolphins were very agitated and spy-hopped often. Lots of loud 'chuffing' or forceful exhalations could be heard, which a sign of irritation. They swam in a tight group in the middle of the Cove. Later in the day we were able to listen to them on a hydrophone, which was quite distressing because I knew many of the dolphins I heard will be dead within the next 24 hours.
The dolphins will remain captive in the Cove tonight. I imagine the fishermen spent the afternoon alerting dolphinariums of their capture, and tomorrow morning we will likely see trainers from all over, who will look through this group and attempt to find and purchase the perfect "Flipper". The rest will be slaughtered. At least one baby is in this group, and it's almost certain that tomorrow it will be kidnapped from it's mother and shipped off to a miserable life in a concrete prison.
For now, we wait.
Photography by Heather Hill.
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