More Deaths at the Cove Today
By Heather Hill
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute
The hits just keep on coming here in Taiji. More blood was spilled into the Cove today, marking four out of the last five days as kill days. Watching a slaughter is never easy, though those who have been here will tell you that some are harder to watch than others, and for me, today was an especially hard day.
I almost refused to believe it when we saw the drive formation this morning. They could not possibly kill more dolphins today, but unfortunately that's exactly what happened. Again we hiked up Takababe. I noticed I started getting tired sooner and sooner into the climb, since my muscles haven't had any time to rest. I can't complain though, because with every step I take I know the dolphins are pumping their flukes like crazy, trying to swim away from the terrifying sound being produced by the banger boats and are ten times more exhausted and frightened than I am.
The fishermen had found yet another pod of Risso's dolphins. Like the striped dolphins murdered yesterday, this pod was too tired to put up much of a fight and was slowly pushed into the cove. The dolphins were then netted off in the killing cove, and dolphin trainers arrived on a skiff. At first, two dolphins had managed to stay on the other side of the net, just outside the killing cove. They watched and listened as their family was run right up onto the rocky beach. I guess the dolphin trainers wanted to see all the available 'merchandise' though, because they did not make their selections until the other two had been driven into the killing cove as well.
Three dolphins were purchased from the dolphin killers for captive display. One was taken to the harbor pens, the other two were taken to Dolphin Base. The remaining seven or eight were murdered. At this time I descended back down Takababe and drove to Dolphin Base to watch the Risso's begin their degraded life of slavery in the tiny sea pens. This turned out to be the absolute worst thing I've ever seen in my entire life.
I know that the slaughter and captivity are directly linked – that becomes obvious when you follow the money trail – but I'd never before witnessed the link in its entirety. Dolphin Base already had two Risso's recently purchased from two separate drive hunts, but they are currently in a very small pen along with two bottlenose dolphins and one pilot whale; very crowded. The dolphin trainers must have decided there was not enough room for two more Risso's, so they put them in another pen along with two false killer whales. Watching this happen was excruciatingly upsetting. After the first dolphin was pushed through the small opening in the net, the trainers gazed down into the pen. I watched for it to surface, but saw nothing. Eventually the trainers seemed to panic and one dove into the water. After a moment he reappeared at the surface, put on his fins, and dove back down again. Another trainer joined. When they resurfaced they brought the Risso's dolphin with them, holding it up. It then tried to swim right through the net, and they had to turn it around. The second dolphin was pushed into the pen, and the same thing happened. Both Risso's were held at the surface for a while by trainers and had to continually be turned away from the nets. This is an example of capture myopathy – the dolphins are so stressed by the capture process that they go into shock. Many dolphins go into cardiac arrest during capture and die. After the trainers were confident the dolphins could swim on their own, they tied up the skiff and left. The Risso's began swimming in a very tight circle with one another, around and around and around, in the same small section of the pen. They had no idea how to exist in the confines of the nets. For wild dolphins, boundaries are an unknown concept that they are mentally unequipped to deal with.
As if their kidnapping from the ocean, murder of their family, and entrance into prison weren't enough for them to deal with, I also worry about their pen mates. False killer whales have been known to attack and feed on smaller dolphins, as well as sperm whales and humpback whales. I can only imagine that this tendency would be exacerbated by the small confines and stressful environment. The two Risso's that were captured today were juveniles and are terrified and vulnerable, and now intruding on the false killer whales’ space. I hope their shared painful memory of capture helps them bond and support one another, rather than create a more dangerous situation for the Risso's.
When the sun rose this morning in Japan, three dolphins frolicked with their family in the seemingly endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean. In a matter of hours, the fishermen took everything away from them; they've taken them away their home, they've killed their family, and they've stolen their freedom. The aquariums that gave large sums of money to the fishermen in exchange for the unrightful ownership of these dolphins rewarded them for this and ensured that the captures and slaughters will continue.
Those who buy a ticket to a dolphinarium anywhere in the world are unwittingly telling the aquariums that days like today are not only acceptable, but should continue. Those who buy a ticket to a dolphinarium unknowingly have just as much blood on their hands as the fishermen of Taiji. Knowledge is power, and now you know. Regardless of your views on captivity in the past, please understand the link between today's events and make a pledge to never again support this cruel industry.
Photography of captive Risso's dolphins by Heather Hill.
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