Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 19: Where are you now?

What a beautiful morning it was, complete with a perfectly pink sunrise. I've always had the ocean to the west of me, so every sunrise I've ever seen has been over mountains and land. Here, I get a sunrise over the ocean. I love beginning my day this way, waking up with the ocean.

The banger boats went out and we began our waiting game. A few hours went by, and we started to worry because weren't seeing them heading back in, having given up their search. Then we spotted a group of evenly spaced dots on the horizon - they were banger boats, and they had found a pod and were in drive formation. They eased the pod in, ever so slowly. The progress was painfully slow, which allowed us to have hope that the dolphins could still escape. It never happened. It is a horrible feeling watching the banger boats drive the dolphins into the harbor and past the point of no return. I can't even imagine the fear they felt, and what the captive dolphins in the harbor pens were feeling as well, having to listen to their cries.

Once they were in the cove it was sheer panic. The water looked like it was boiling with Risso's dolphins. Amongst the Risso's, we occasionally caught a glimpse of another dolphin species, a species with a beak. After a bit more observation we discovered there were two rough toothed dolphins in the mix. Not only are these dolphins quite rare to encounter, but Japan has no permit for catching or killing this species.

The small skiffs went into the cove and pushed the dolphins out of sight, into the killing cove. After a few minutes the two rough toothed dolphins reappeared, swimming together just outside the net separating them from the rest. Then, Risso's began to appear. Suddenly there were ten dolphins swimming in the tight group - eight Risso's and the two rough toothed dolphins. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the rough toothed's swimming in such close proximity to the Risso's. It was so obvious that, even though they are a different species, they were terrified and needed the comfort of a pod, even if it wasn't their pod.

The dolphin killers were busy murdering their family in front of them, and when the killers were done they started dragging the bodies out of the cove. The skiff drove right through the center of that tight grouping of Risso's and rough toothed's, and split them on either side of the boat. The ones who were pushed to the right had to watch as their now dead family members were pulled through the water, just inches from them. I can't even begin to think about what that must have been like for them.

After the carcasses were taken around the corner to the butcher house, all the boats left the scene, and left the ten dolphins still netted off in the cove. We weren't sure what the fishermen's next move would be. Time stood still. I have no idea how long we sat there, mostly in silence, trying to cope with the events we'd just witnessed. We were hot, thirsty, and exhausted, but there was no way any of us would even think about taking our eyes off the still living dolphins for fear of what might happen.

After what felt like days, we began to hear boats returning. First came two skiffs, followed by seven banger boats. One skiff drove into the killing cove, and when it reappeared we realized that it had dropped some killers back off onto the beach. I felt a burning anger engulf my mind and body. Were they really going to kill them? Now? After making them suffer for so long? No, no they weren't. Instead, they drew back the net sealing in the cove, and after a skiff scared the dolphins out out, the banger boats began a reverse drive - they started driving the remaining dolphins back out to sea. The drive out looked like a mess. The pod kept splitting, not surprisingly though because they were even more tired at this point, plus they now associated death with the banging noise. From what we could see, it looked like the boats got them out of the entrance to the harbor, continued a short ways, and turned back for home.

Why did they let them go? As far as the rough toothed dolphins are concerned, that's pretty cut and dry. They had no permit to catch them, and they had to know we would see them. But why did they release just under half of the Risso's they'd worked so hard to get in the first place? The first dolphins that we saw after the final net was drawn were the rough toothed's. It wasn't until later that the Risso's were let out, it was absolutely deliberate on the dolphin killer's part. Why did they decide not to kill them? How did they decide how many and which individuals they would spare? I have no answers, only questions. I wish the fishermen had a public blog like all of us, and we could see into their minds like they see into ours. Perhaps we'd get a bit further if this weren't such a one sided conversation all the time.

With a full on slaughter, once it's over, it's over. The suffering has ended and hopefully the dolphins can be at peace. Today, there was death, but lives were also spared, and these dolphins are far from peace. My thoughts have been with these ten dolphins all day, and I know they will be with them for forever. 

Where are you now? Were you able to navigate past all the fishing nets and boats and unfamiliar inshore waters, back out to the continental shelf? Or are you scared, lost, and confused, swimming circles in a place that must resemble hell to you, waiting in vain for the rest of your family to join you? Will you make it out of here before the banger boats go out again tomorrow? Which members of your pod are now missing? And what about you, rough toothed dolphins, where will you go? You witnessed an inhumane, heartless act that no one should ever have to endure, and the trauma must be affecting you terribly. Will you stay with the Risso's? Or are you two all alone?

The sun has set on this nightmare of a day, and I hope and pray that you can find some sort of peace so that you may rest your eyes and sleep, taking comfort in the company of one another. I'm so sorry for what my species has done to you, and I'm sorry for just standing there and watching it all happen. You have every right to live on this planet, and I hope that the people here will soon understand that. Rest in peace, both in life and death, beautiful dolphins.

And where are you, Taiji dolphin killers? In the comfort of your home, surrounded by your family? Will you even give a second thought to the family you destroyed just hours ago as you lay in bed tonight? Or will you sleep soundly, a belly full of dolphin, ignorant to the sufferings you've caused? You should be the ones mentally tortured right now, not the dolphins. Such a disgrace. Your actions make me embarrassed to be a part of the same species as you.

Huddled together for comfort, rough toothed's on the left outside

Skiff dragging bodies, pod just in front

Rough toothed dolphins, the bottom one has a bloody beak

Swimming for their lives

Terrified and heartbroken at the loss of their family, the dolphins huddle close to one another for comfort

Many of the dolphins were cut up after exiting the killing cove, like this one shown here

More injuries, this time to the dorsal fin. What did these fishermen do to them before deciding not to kill them?


  1. It is hard to know why the dolphin killers make the decisions they do. Perhaps it was going to be too difficult to separate the rough toothed from the Risso’s or in doing so, the rough toothed dolphins might be fatally injured and that would be documented. Heather, thanks to you and all those who stand with you in the Cove, the rough toothed dolphins are still alive. I don’t think they would have been spared had you not been there. Janice Oceans

  2. Great blog Heather. Those fishermen are a disgrace. Waking up each morning and looking at themselves in the mirror must be one of their greatest challenges. Thank you for your constant updates.

  3. I hate the dolphin killers. They are monsters. Thank you Heather for bearing witness.