Friday, December 9, 2011

Taiji Take Two: Family.

Well, here I am, back in Taiji! I knew when I departed I would be back, but I didn't realize it would be so soon. It feels like I never left, I feel right at home here, back in our cozy hotel lobby. When I picked up my rental car they even gave me the same one I had before. Driving here feels more natural than driving back home now, and I was surprised when I flipped on my blinker without thinking and the windshield wipers didn't start - the blinker and windshield wipers are on the opposite side of the steering wheel here. Guess it all came back quickly!

Today was my first full day here, so I was able to go into Taiji this morning and watch and wait for the fishermen to decide whether or not to take the boats out and search for dolphins. The wind was supposed to pick up offshore, and the fishermen stayed in. I stayed up on the lookout and watched the activity in the harbor. The fishermen were loading massive amounts of nets on the gutting barge, but I have no idea why, since they haven't used the gutting barge since last year. To be honest, rarely do I understand why these men do what they do.

Since we had the day off I took the opportunity to check on how the captives have been doing since my departure. At Dolphin Base the pilot whale was logging in the same corner I last saw it. It is clearly very depressed, and makes little effort to move. From what I can see of it, which isn't much, it doesn't look terribly emaciated, so it must be eating something, but it is clearly unhealthy. One difference since I was here last is an additional dolphin in the pen. On December 4th a small group of about ten Risso's dolphins were driven into the cove and three were handpicked by dolphin trainers for display before the others were slaughtered. One was transported directly to Dolphin Base, and put in the pen with the pilot whale and at least one bottlenose dolphin. The other two were taken to the harbor pens, and yesterday they were moved into a tank at Dolphin Resort via cranes and slings. How awful. One week ago these dolphins were wild and free and in the company of their family. Then just five days ago they were intercepted by humans and their lives were ruined for forever. I wonder what is going through their dolphin minds right now.

At the Taiji Whale Museum I really wanted to check on the status of the striped dolphin, but they've erected so many dead branches to block our view from the parking lot that I was unable to see if the poor thing was even still there. It's just like how the fishermen cover up the slaughter; if they don't think they're doing anything wrong then why are they going to so much work to hide it? We walked around to the back of the museum and saw the captives being held in the sea pens there, which I hadn't seen before. From what I gather they have an inlet netted off and several sea pens inside. For performances they let certain dolphins out of their pens, and when the show is over they call them back into the pens. At least these ones have a slight hint of a natural environment, unlike the dolphins up top living in concrete tanks, but it was still incredibly heartbreaking to watch. The performance we saw involved three dolphins; a pilot whale, a false killer whale, and a Risso's dolphin. This is my first time seeing a false killer whale, and my first time seeing more than a fraction of a back of a pilot whale. Unfortunately I've seen many Risso's, all at the cove. After the show ending, a couple trainers put a tube down a dolphin's throat and poured water and some dark colored mixture down the tube. Perhaps they needed to give it some medicine? They also shoved a tube up the genital slit of the pilot whale and Risso's and appeared to be reading some instrument. This may be for taking temperatures. What a life these poor creatures are forced to endure.

Later on we were gathered in the lobby and I watched video footage of the pilot whale/Risso's/falsie show. As I watched the three float almost lifelessly, together but still alone, I was overwhelmed with sadness for how incredibly lonely they must be, especially since these species all have very tight, long term bonds in the wild. I wonder if they take comfort in each others company, and if they have forged a friendship. While I was thinking about this I heard a familiar tune on the hotel speakers, it was Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You. I've heard this song a few times while I've been here, and of course it reminds me that I will be missing Christmas with my family this year, for the first time ever. That's a pretty lonely and depressing thought. And then my mind went back to these three dolphins. These three dolphins will be without their family this Christmas, too. In fact, these three dolphins will never see their families again, because they've been slaughtered. I can't feel sad about missing a few days with my family because soon I will return home to them. These dolphins will never get that opportunity. Their pain and loneliness is stronger that any of us can probably comprehend. To make things worse, on top of their heartbreak they are forced to obey the commands of humans every day just to get a bit of food.

I absolutely believe that some trainers do love dolphins. If they didn't, we wouldn't see ex-trainers coming out against this industry, because they wouldn't care about the effects captivity has on dolphins. I also believe that many of the people who sign up to be a dolphin trainer simply enjoy ordering another being around. In regards to those trainers who do love dolphins, I'm certain they have blinders on. They either don't understand the difference between captive and wild dolphins, and they don't see or understand why captivity is so mentally and physically harmful to them, or they are in absolute denial. I'm sure there are many aspects of captivity that make certain trainers uncomfortable or maybe even downright upset, but they somehow twist it and justify it in their heads, probably with the help of their coworkers and superiors.

For those trainers, there is hope for change, and this can come in the form of education and a willingness to listen and talk. To the dolphin trainers of the world, while you're spending time with your family this holiday season, take a moment to think about the dolphins that were kidnapped from their families and forced into a life they weren't meant for. Think about how you would feel if your whole family and all of your friends were murdered and you would never get to see them again. Think about it, ask questions, have a discussion with someone who has an opposite viewpoint on captivity, and then keep that line of communication open. Watch dolphins in the wild, be it in person or a documentary, and compare their behavior to captives. If you really do love dolphins, you'll understand why captivity just doesn't work, you just have to open your eyes. In the meantime, my door is always open for those who would like to have such a discussion.

left to right: Risso's dolphin, pilot whale, false killer whale

false killer whale

pilot whale performing a trick, Risso's with tube inserted

beautiful belly of a Risso's dolphin

depressed pilot whale at Dolphin Base


  1. We're extremely proud of you for taking a stand and making such a sacrifice. Christmas will be quite different this year, but you've given us something very meaningful to focus on and we'll have you back with us soon. I hope and pray that your efforts and those of the other volunteers will continue to open peoples eyes and dolphin drives will become a dark part of history very soon. XOXO

  2. So proud of you-you're my animal activist hero! I hope to someday take a meaningful stand against the animal cruelty in our country as well. Keep fighting the good fight and know that you have so much support and love back home! :)