Part of My Heart and Soul Remains in Taiji
By Tia Butt
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute
I leave Taiji today and was hoping that it would be day five of peace here before I went, but it was quite the opposite.
It was a very cold morning today as usual, but driving towards Taiji harbor, through Katsurra, I noticed the sea was like a sheet of glass. I had a feeling that this could very well be a bad day for the dolphins.
After around an hour and a half of the boats going out, we noticed 3 banger boats arriving back. It was way too early for them be returning, and I had a feeling that this could be to prepare nets for a possible pod that may have been located offshore. Another hour later, we noticed the remaining 8 banger boats in a clear drive formation on the horizon. They were far out so there was a chance of an escape, I kept telling myself, but I could also see that the boats were in formation, and this was not a positive sign.
Soon enough the boats were getting closer to shore, and then we saw this poor pod being driven in. I was even more sad to see that this was a large pod of dolphins, later to be confirmed as striped dolphins. As I moved position up to Takababe Mountain above the Cove, they approached the harbor area, and the dolphins were clearly exhausted and some were showing signs of stress. I even noticed one spy hopping – I could see this dolphin’s face. I still see it now.
The pod split into two as some broke away and started to try and get away. A couple of bangers started chasing them again, but I knew they were not getting away. The other part of the pod was too tired and was just swimming aimlessly. Eventually they were netted in, with the other part of the pod that had split, still outside the Cove area. The dolphin hunters decided to release these dolphins and started driving them back out to sea. (Ric has told me that until The Cove movie came out and our campaign in Japan really kicked into high gear, he had never seen the dolphin hunters let dolphins go. The fact that this is now happening fairly regularly at the Cove is another small measure of our progress, albeit painfully slow.)
The dolphins that were doomed to the Cove were panicked, some throwing themselves on rocks, causing them to bleed, and I noticed some getting tangled in the nets. The hunters finally got them under the tarps, and the killing began. I could see no dolphin trainers had arrived to select any for slavery, so I knew that all of the dolphins would be killed today. The thrashing began, and we fell silent thinking of the terror and the pain inflicted on these beautiful animals while listening to them die. I kept thinking of the one that was spy hopping, whether he/she was in here getting killed, or if this sweet dolphin was out with the other group that were released? As I have said, I still see this dolphin's face in my head. I won't forget it.
After the bloody kill (I estimate around 35-38 striped dolphins killed), I noticed that the dolphin hunters had still not managed to get the others out to sea. This only made me think that these dolphins were probably hanging around and perhaps wanting to know where their other family members were. We know that they travel as families, and stick together – they were probably not making a dash for it back out to sea so quickly as they were wondering where their family members were.
Eventually the hunters got the pod back out to sea, a familiar sight that I have seen twice now, since this trip. That is what I am focusing on while writing this and after documenting these lives being lost. I am trying to think about the ones that escaped the Cove today. Local sources informed me that the dolphin hunters had located a huge pod of 200 dolphins today out to sea, and that they divided this pod and drove the ones that we saw die and the ones that were released. Why? Again, demand for this particular dolphin meat is down, and the market price is low. That is what needs to be focused on, the positive success of our campaign so far.
A couple of days ago I went to Dolphin Resort and to the captive dolphin pens at the harbor. I wanted to be close to the Risso's dolphins that were captured last week. As reported, two pods of Risso's dolphins were slaughtered. I saw the skiff boats going to feed the dolphins that were kept for a life of captivity. When the dolphins at these pens know its feed time, they move more and some jump up. When the boat arrived, the bottlenose dolphins that are trapped in some of these pens started jumping up, but there was one pen at the harbor where they were not jumping up or moving much. I had a strong feeling that these were the Risso's dolphins that were captured and confined to this place days ago. They had seen their families killed and were now kept in a 40ft by 40ft net pen. Eventually they would be trained and would perhaps start to eat the dead fish that is being offered to them. It was heartbreaking to see this man kneeling down tossing fish into this pen to dolphins that were swimming free, catching and eating fresh fish of their choice in the open ocean a week or so before.
While it is difficult for me to leave this place again, especially after today's events, I know I am proud to be part of Save Japan Dolphins, and I know as long as I am able to, and the dolphin slaughter carries on, I will and hope to return here.
I am leaving a big part of my heart and soul here in Taiji along with the other souls that have passed.
Photo of Tia Butt by Tim Burns. Video by Tia Butt.
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