Monday, December 19, 2011

Taiji Take Two: 9 Days, 7 Slaughters

  It wasn't long after the banger boats left the harbor this morning that they found a pod of about 20-25 striped dolphins.  The dolphin hunters positioned themselves behind the pod and began to drive them towards the shores of Taiji.  They pushed them past the harbor entrance, but that's when the progress came to a complete standstill.  These dolphins looked exhausted, but this did not stop them from putting up an epic fight for their lives.
After about an hour-and-a-half of unsuccessfully trying to push the dolphins the short distance to the Cove entrance, the frustrated fishermen tried another tactic.  Two skiffs spread a net behind the pod in a horseshoe shape, in an effort to corral them into the Cove.  They must have been concerned about the dolphins becoming entangled in the net in plain view, because they drove very slowly, and three skiffs buzzed around, using their motors to frighten the dolphins away from the net.  The pod dove and disappeared, and when they surfaced again they were on the outside of the net.  The banger boats quickly caught up with them to prevent their ultimate escape, but it was amazing to see the dolphins causing trouble for the dolphin hunters.  The drive was put on hold while the skiffs rushed together, and the fishermen pulled the net back in as fast as they could.  The drive resumed.  The boats once again laid out the net behind the dolphins.  The dolphins once again escaped.  The hunters had to pull the net up for a second time.  As they laid it out for the third time, I looked down from the mountain and stared, in awe of the situation.  The sounds of terror filled the air.  Along with the voices of angry dolphin hunters, I could also faintly hear the peppy narration of the Taiji Whale Museum's dolphin show nearby, around the corner from the Cove.  I wondered if that meant the trainers, attendees, and dolphins could hear the shouting fishermen and noise from the banger poles at that moment, too?
The pod had outsmarted the fishermen all morning long.  Surely this meant they deserved to live, right?  In the eyes of the dolphin killers, no.  During the third attempt to drag the dolphins into the Cove, the boats were less patient, and two dolphins struggled to break through the net and swim away to freedom.  They quickly became stuck, and a diver jumped into the water.  After a minute or so, a tarp was held up on the skiff to block our view, and they pulled the now dead bodies into the boat.  The boats continued pulling the net, and eventually they sealed the remaining dolphins into the Cove. 

Though the pod had been fighting for at least five hours, they still went into panic mode as they were pushed closer to the beach.  They swam into the net, and they thrashed on the rocks.  Just like yesterday, we could hear the dolphins thrashing in the shallows after they'd been driven under the tarps.  Again, it seemed to last an eternity.  Every once in a while, the thrashing subsided, and we thought they'd all been killed, but then it would start up again.  One of the last living dolphins let out a very loud and unnatural scream that echoed throughout the Cove, piercing my heart like a knife.  It sounded a bit like captive dolphins when they are told to vocalize, but with so much more pain and fear behind it.

I have never before witnessed a pod put up such an equal fight against the high-tech fleet of dolphin-killing machines.  There were no survivors, but my heart is forever touched by their courage.  Rest in peace, brave little ones.

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