Sunday, December 11, 2011

Taiji Take Two: Waiting for an absolution

I hate writing blogs on days like this, and today's been a long one.

The boats went out and within 40 minutes they'd spotted a pod of Risso's who'd unfortunately chosen to swim close to the shores of Taiji. They pretty easily drove the pod into the harbor entrance, and then into the cove. It was going to be a slaughter day. What I hadn't seen before was a capture. Obviously dolphinariums are directly linked to the slaughter, I don't have to see a capture with my own eyes to understand that, but today I saw it firsthand. After the dolphins had been netted off in the cove, two groups of trainers showed up - Dolphin Base and possibly Taiji Whale Museum trainers, who actually caught a ride into the cove on a banger boat. Lovely. They did their thing in secrecy, picking out the dolphins they'd save from death and instead sentence to a life of mental anguish and exploitation. After they'd chosen the special three, they put them in a sling attached to the side of two skiffs and off they went to Dolphin Base and the harbor pens. The trainers covered the dorsal fins in a white towel, which at first I thought was an attempt to cover up what they were transporting (as if you couldn't tell otherwise) but then I noticed they kept dipping another white towel in the water and it looked like they were keeping the dolphin's back wet. Really? You're ok with ripping a dolphin from the wild and from its family, giving copious amounts of money to people who murder dolphins, and being pretty much the sole financial backer to this whole inhumane and outdated operation, but you're concerned about a dolphin's back drying out during the 5 minute boat ride, as if that would be cruel? I must have that wrong. You guys gotta help me understand here...

After the captives were taken away, the fishermen started hauling out the dead bodies of the other 13 dolphins. They took three trips, passing the dolphins off to a banger boat waiting just outside the cove that could better handle the weight. During the transfer, the dolphins were tied up by their tails and were being dragged through the water, then all of the sudden a Risso's head popped up and then arched back down underwater. The poor thing was still alive. Unbelievable. So the fishermen had likely inserted their long metal spike into the dolphin's spine to kill it, but they had missed, as I'm sure they often do. Did the dolphin become paralyzed and the fishermen assumed it had died? Or did they just not care to take the time to put it out of its misery because they knew it would drown on the way to the butcher house? Unknown to us, but I can say that dolphin suffered. A lot. Completely needlessly. I wonder how often this happens.

This slaughter was a little different for me than the previous ones I'd witnessed. Because there are so many of us here now, we were able to spread out and cover different vantage points. For the first time I stood alone in silence as I watched today's events unfold. After I filled my first memory card, I put my  camera down for a moment and just took it all in. I am pretty good at distancing myself from what's going on by hiding behind my lens. Things like this are easier to watch through a view finder. But today I felt like I owed it to the dolphins to be present and in the moment for their last minutes in this world. Without the camera shutter or nearby voices I was able to hear each exhalation as panicked dolphins surfaced amongst each other. My heart was breaking in a million pieces because there was nothing I could do to save them. How is it that it's legal for these men to extinguish a small community just because they want to, but it is illegal for me to try and save the lives of others? This is such a messed up world we live in. It isn't just Japan, it's our whole species.

After it was all over I needed to go to Dolphin Base. I wasn't handling what had happened very well, especially knowing there were others struggling so much more than I was, so I wanted to go and sit with the Risso's survivor now in a pen at Dolphin Base. I don't think it knew I was there or felt my presence. I don't think it had any idea what was happening. But I wanted to sit there and send it my love anyways.

This morning a pod of Risso's dolphins were swimming in the blue seas off the coast of Japan, watching the sun rise over their ocean world. Because of the greed and arrogance of a group of fishermen, this family is now gone forever. The broken pieces cannot be put back together. The three surviving dolphins will have to carry the memory of this day with them for the rest of their miserable captive lives. And again, there's nothing I can do to fix this for them. If I could be alongside the Risso's at Dolphin Base right now, I would be. If I could stroke its head and tell it everything will be ok, I would. Instead, all I have is this computer and the few thoughts I've managed to put words to, and it's just not enough.


  1. I am heartbroken, everything you say is so true. How on earth is it okay fro them to decide to kill a family, a community, just because they can? Stay strong, you are doing an amazing and brave thing, exposing this attrocity and keeping others aware. Love to you. deb

  2. Thank you for writing this, Heather. It is horrid, and the world owes you a unique debt of gratitude for enduring this hell on earth to save them.

  3. I wont stop praying that someday this will stop!How can this be right??!! What kind of monsters are they!! Thank u for ur blog!! We cry with u and thank u for being there for them while we cant!:-(

  4. This is so sad!! Well done for this blog and sharing the horror that is Taiji. There are loads of us around the world that are campaigning for this to end. I just wish there was a way of brodcasting to the world that SeaWorld is behind this evil.