Taiji: A Mixed Forecast
By Leah Lemieux
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute
As the interminable blue skies were steadily swallowed by an eerie overcast, we realized, on this cold winter morning, that the banger boats appeared to have found a very large pod of dolphins. From the lookout point we watched as the banger gang chased the frightened dolphins at an exhausting speed closer and closer to the killing Cove. Soon we could see the beautiful dolphins leaping from the waves as the merciless hunters roared after them, and we heard the terrible banging that whips these acoustically sensitive creatures into such panic and confusion. With our eyes trained on this all too familiar drama, we realized that the dolphin pod was employing one of its most effective tactics –splitting up, and we could see a number of the dolphins escaping the onslaught in this way and heading back out to sea. But the Bangers still had a very large group. Once the dolphins had been herded close to the mouth of Taiji's harbor, some of the hunters went to get the skiffs – signaling they were now confident the dolphins would not escape and were ready to drive/capture them.
We knew the dolphins were in trouble, but how we wished for some impossible miracle that might save them....
Then something happened.
Two banger boats began herding half the pod of dolphins slowly back out toward the lookout point! We really were disbelieving our eyes, but they continued on, pushing half the pod of striped dolphins all the way back out to sea where they leapt at full speed away from the horrible hunters!
Of course we realized this was not done out of compassion, but rather a calculated move on the part of the hunters, indicating that demand for dolphin meat remains low, and so there was simply no requirement for such a large kill.
However, our hearts fell again, as they soon set upon the remaining 30 or so striped dolphins, driving them deep into the cove and under the killing tarps. The hunters used their boats to try and block our cameras, as some dolphins hit the nets trying to escape. For the second time, I saw one of the divers grab hold of a terrified dolphin stuck in the net and actually help himself to a dorsal fin ride – right beneath the tarps. Just awful! And then with Taiji officials prowling and growling behind us where we stood photographing and documenting, the chilling sound of the dolphins thrashing tail flukes as they were one by one subjected to a painful death. Afterwards the terrible silence fell leaving us cold and, as ever, stunned at the needless cruelty.
But things ARE changing here, and we are dedicated to maintaining a positive presence here and seeing an end to the Taiji dolphin slaughter. The day WILL come.
Photography by Leah Lemieux www.RekindlingTheWaters.com.