Thursday, December 22, 2011

Taiji Take Two: Captivity Kills

It has been a difficult 24 hours for those of us keeping an eye on the bottlenose dolphins in the Cove, either in person or through internet updates.  I spent a lot of time with them yesterday, knowing that for many of them, it would be their last night in this world.  After I could no longer stand the numbness in my fingers and toes, I guiltily headed back to the warmth and comfort of my hotel room. 
At around 10pm last night, we checked on them again.  The cove was lit up with lamps, to ensure no one could cut the nets and free the dolphins in the middle of the night.  Fortunately the lights were not terribly bright, nor were they shining directly on the dolphins, so hopefully this did not disturb them even more on their last night here. 
I could not see the dolphins, but I sat in silence and listened to their breathing.  There were long moments of silence, followed by the thunderous sound of many exhalations, one after another.  I'd hoped their synchronized breathing was an indication that they were resting together.  It brought me a little comfort to know they were relaxed enough to sleep, but I knew they must have been so terrified.
We arrived at the Cove before sunrise this morning and had to walk right past three guys in wetsuits to walk down to the beach.  I'm not sure if they were the dolphin killers or trainers who would be selecting dolphins for captivity, but either way it sent a chill down my spine. 
The sun began to illuminate the Cove, and the day's “work” began.   A boat full of trainers drove into the killing Cove, and the dolphins were pushed out of our sight.  All that we could perceive of them were their whistles which were picked up by a hydrophone.  In total, ten dolphins were placed in slings and dragged away from the Cove, their family, and their freedom.  Shortly after the last live dolphin was taken away, the whistles were silenced.  The boat full of trainers emerged from the Cove, followed closely by skiffs dragging the bodies of the remaining pod members.  Initially we estimated that there were about 25 dolphins in this group, but the information we received today is that 23 dolphins were slaughtered, so there must have been 33 dolphins total.

For some of this pod, life has ended.  It was much too soon, and at the hands of people who had no right to make this decision.  For the rest of the dolphins, life as they know it has ended, and now they must carry the pain of losing their family, home, and freedom, as they are shipped to who knows where in the world, all in the name of entertainment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Taiji Take Two: Dolphin Base

Following the response of the livedoor blog's statement:

(livedoor blog)

To Heather,
Good to hear you admitting that you don't really know what's happening in Taiji, without making wild assumptions. You should ask yourself why pets stay around their owner. If you wish to have a conversation with Dolphin Base staffs, bring a good translater at your expense. (Don't assume they would speak/write to you in English - that's arrogant.)

Dear Japanese blog/Dolphin Base:

First off, apologies for the delayed response. I did not notice this comment until recently, and then it was a very stressful and hectic week of slaughters so I did not have the time to respond, but here you go!

I wouldn't go as far as to say I don't know what is happening in Taiji, because I see it everyday, but I will say that I don't fully understand the perspective and thought process of Taiji residents. I know what is happening, I just don't know why it is happening. And when I said in my previous post that I didn't understand, I was referring specifically to the 3 bottlenose dolphins enjoying a bit of freedom, and not understanding why or how. We can definitely make this a generalized statement, though, as well.

I would like to understand, though. I feel as if so many people look at this whole situation through their own eyes, their own way of thinking, and assume they have it all figured out. Clearly we do not think the same way though; we've grown up in completely different worlds and I think it takes more than limited observation of each other to understand one other. For instance, it's hard for outsiders to comprehend that there are in fact Japanese people who are against the slaughter but do not speak out, because it's not a big deal to stand up in other countries whatsoever. This is a completely foreign concept to us. But, with discussion, I think we can understand each other, and I think that would be very helpful to all parties involved - human and non human.

Now, on the reverse side of this, let's look at these 3 bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately for them, we cannot have a discussion with them and 100% understand what they are thinking and why they do the things they do. The best we can do is to put ourselves in their shoes (flukes?) and discuss how we would feel, act, and what we would want, if we were in their positions. Now, it is in my personal opinion that they know what's best for them more than we could ever understand, so why wouldn't we just leave them be?

And no, I absolutely do not assume that the trainers at Dolphin Base speak English, and actually, I do have a translator and would love to have a 'get to know the other side' conversation with you (them?), if you would be open to it and could find the time. I have no intention or desire to sit down with you and simply pass judgement without really listening, so if you feel the same, I think we should make this happen! I will not be here much longer though, but again, you know where to reach me.

Now, one more comment for Dolphin Base:

I read this earlier today, and have taken it with a grain of salt because I did not hear the words directly, but I imagine the general idea is correct. Apparently the leaders of Dolphin Base have been in contact with the Fishermen's Union, asking that the pod of bottlenose dolphins currently being held in the cove right now not be slaughtered tomorrow.

Well, if this really is true, it is appreciated. HOWEVER, money will be given to the fishermen tomorrow, by possibly Dolphin Base, and certainly by other aquariums. I imagine the only reason these dolphins are still alive right now, as opposed to being slaughtered this morning, is because they are so popular in dolphinariums and not terribly common for the fishermen to encounter. Rather than just selling a couple to Dolphin Base, Dolphin Resort, and the Taiji Whale Museum, they can probably get many more aquarium representatives here and can sell quite a few and make serious money tomorrow. Then, when the profits have been made, why wouldn't they just kill the rest for meat that can be given away to local townspeople for free?

I can understand that you may be against the killing, but still want to purchase live dolphins, but do you not understand that if no one buys a live dolphin, and no one gives the fishermen money, they will not go out everyday looking for dolphins to bring into the cove? If there are no dolphins in the cove, none can be killed. Financially, they cannot afford this without the money from live dolphin sales. So please do not think that you should buy dolphins in order to save their lives (because those not purchased will probably be killed for meat), but instead voice your opposition to the slaughter by not financially contributing to it. Once you do that, I believe the drive hunts will end.

You've apparently asked the Fishermens Union not to kill dolphins tomorrow, and I'm asking you not to buy dolphins tomorrow. I think this subject is another 'unknown' between us that we can and should discuss.

Thank you for listening.

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.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Taiji Take Two: The Raid

Part one, taken from official Save Japan Dolphins blog:

Today was, and will probably always be, the longest and hardest day of my life.  Last week we saw five slaughters in six days.  The dolphin killers of Taiji took yesterday (Saturday) off, so we had one day of peace, but today they were right back at it.  My hopes were soaring high when we spotted several banger boats headed back in this morning, but suddenly the boats turned and sped off to meet others that had apparently located a pod of striped dolphins.
From the lookout on Takababe Mountain, I could see that this pod still had a lot of energy, despite being chased towards the shores of Taiji.  Unlike the striped dolphins caught a few days ago that were all too exhausted to panic in the shallow Cove, these ones were quickly frightened by their ever-tightening world.  The fishermen had already prepared nets in the Cove to try and keep the dolphins from throwing themselves out of the water and getting stuck on the rocks, but it made no difference.  Once the final net was drawn, terror broke out amongst the dolphins.  Skiffs tried to position themselves between the rocks and dolphins, and divers sat on the rocks to push and kick the dolphins that slammed their bodies into the wall, tearing their skin open and staining the water with blood.  One dolphin made a mad dash into the net and became entangled, wrapping itself tighter and tighter as it thrashed, trying to get a desperately needed breath of air.  A diver jumped in to set it free, knowing we were watching with our cameras.  The chaos ensued for what felt like an eternity, and we tried in vain to put our cameras between the situation and us, hoping to make it seem less real and therefore easier to document.  I later had to clean the dried salt off of my camera from all the tears that had dripped down the view screen.

Finally the skiffs were able to push the frightened dolphins underneath the tarps.  They could hide the sight of what happened next from our eyes, but we could hear everything.  The 34 or so dolphins continued to thrash in the shallow water of the Cove.  Blood seeped into our view.  After what felt like forever, the thrashing began to be reduced, and finally ended altogether.  The dolphins were all dead, having suffered right up to the very end.  I felt dead inside.  I thought it was over, until I heard a loud thud, followed by another, and another.  The fishermen were tossing the dolphins' bodies into skiff to transport them to the slaughterhouse.  I have never been affected by a sound so much in my life.  This is a day that will be with me until the day I die.


Part two:

After watching the slaughter, Nicole and I went back to our hotel, still very upset. A police van followed us the whole way from Taiji, but there's nothing new there. I ran to my room for two seconds to drop off my camera bag, and then headed back to the lobby to hang out with Nic for a half hour until her train arrived. I walked into the lobby and found a ton of police, and they wouldn't let me upstairs to Nicole's room, or leave the lobby for that matter. I sat down and started sending out a quick message on my phone so someone would know something was up, but apparently that wasn't ok, either. I had no idea what was going on, and no one spoke English. I kept asking for our uniform police and they just kept saying no. I was already so upset by the so very recent slaughter, and this wasn't helping anything. I thought I was going to pass out, or have a mental breakdown, or spontaneously combust or something. They kept saying my name over and over again, but I had no clue what it was in reference to. I knew I'd done nothing illegal, but I still had to keep talking myself down. Finally, someone who did speak English came downstairs and explained that they had a warrant to search through all of our belonging, "because of our friendship with Erwin", the Sea Shepherd volunteer who was arrested a couple days ago. So they showed me the warrant, which was of course in Japanese, and I led ten of them to my tiny room. They looked through my belongings, my computer files, my emails, my camera memory cards, everything. They even frisked me. During this time Nicole was free to go catch her train, but instead of getting to walk with her to the train station, I could only hug her quickly in my room while surrounded by police, one of which was filming the whole thing. As soon as I got to see her, I lost it again. The stress of today was just absolutely insane.

Then they said they had a warrant to search my car, and they started looking under the hood and opening the gas tank, apparently looking for drugs. What? Why would you suspect I had drugs? And what did that have to do with Erwin? And if I DID have drugs, why would I put them in my gas tank??

After that it was over, for me, but they still wouldn't let me talk with the others, and I had no idea if they'd planned to make any arrests. At the end of the day none of us were taken in, however they did confiscate all of Sea Shepherds computers, hard drives and SD cards.

And that my friends, was my day. We're at 6 slaughters in 8 days. Here's hoping we get some much needed rest tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Taiji Take Two: Boiling Point

The tensions have hit an all time high here, as a result of the continued pressure of activists mixed with an absolutely horrible week of five slaughters in six days. I think each one of us are feeling at our wits end.

I can't believe that once again there was a slaughter yesterday. I have already seen more slaughters during my first week here this time around, then in my entire first trip, and there are still six more hunting days until the fishermen call it quits for the holidays. We have all breathed a huge sigh of relief because like we were told, the fishermen took today, Saturday, off, and the dolphins are safe for at least 24 hours.

Not only was yesterday stressful because of another horrendous slaughter, but the police arrested Sea Shepherd activist Erwin Vermeulen while he was trying to document the transfer of Risso's dolphins from the harbor pens into the above ground pools at Dolphin Resort, for allegedly pushing a Dolphin Resort employee. I was able to speak with the police about the future possibilities today, though a lot is still uncertain. According to Japanese law, he may be held for several days without being allowed contact with his fellow Sea Shepherd teammates, and even after that it could be another 20 days without visitation, depending on if there is an investigation and how it progresses. In my short, one hour watch on the rarely utilized mountain pass road this morning, I spoke with our Safety Police, and was intentionally driven past by the Coast Guard once, and Riot Police twice. One thing is for sure, things have definitely changed here in Taiji, and will likely continue to change as this case progresses.

Here is my official Save Japan Dolphins report from yesterday's slaughter and capture of yet another innocent pod of Risso's dolphins. More to come later...


It feels like Groundhog Day, and we're being forced to live the same day over and over again, here in Taiji, Japan.  

All twelve banger boats left on the hunt for dolphins this morning and found them almost immediately.  It was yet another small pod of approximately ten to twelve Risso's dolphins.  Since the boats had found them so close to shore, the dolphins still had a lot of energy and fight in them, and resisted the fishermen's efforts to push them into the Cove, at least for a short while.  We've never heard of the dolphins escaping once the boats have pushed them to the harbor entrance, but we were hoping today would be a first.  We watched the drama unfold in front of us, and it all felt way too familiar.  Once they were in the Cove, we could see several babies surfacing alongside their mothers. 
There was one dolphin swimming around with a fresh injury to its dorsal fin; the whole top had been severed off.  It looked as though it had run into a propeller, which wouldn't be a surprise after watching the small skiffs speed right through the center of the pod so many times in an attempt to control their movements.

Again, trainers from Dolphin Base arrived and disappeared under the tarps in the killing Cove to make their purchase for captivity.  Today they chose only one juvenile.  Once again I left the scene of the slaughter in order to meet them at the sea pens.  The skiff carrying the baby motored over to the same pen the two young Risso's from yesterday's capture are now living in.  The trainers kept this little dolphin in the sling for a few minutes and were huddled over it, taking measurements.  Finally, two trainers got in the water and nursed it into the pen.  It immediately joined the other Risso's dolphins.  I wonder if they'd ever met and played together in the ocean. 

Back at the Cove, a skiff departed carrying two to four live dolphins underneath a tarp, drove a ways offshore, and returned empty handed.  It is unknown what the fishermen were doing.  It could be that they were taking the mothers and juveniles back out to sea; however they have killed babies in the past, and if that is what they were doing, why would they cover it up?  I also wonder how they would identify the proper mother in such a chaotic grouping of dolphins.  If these dolphins did manage to survive today, they will be forever emotionally scarred from the loss of their family.  What a lonely night this will be for them.

The rest of the pod was killed in the secrecy of the Cove.

No dolphins were taken to the harbor pens today, but all was not quiet.  Two skiffs filled with trainers from Dolphin Resort were loading Risso's dolphins into slings.  I drove to the resort, hoping to document the crane lifting the dolphins out of the water and into the pools high above ground level, but they had gotten permission from local police to temporarily close the roads leading to the ocean side of the resort, so I was unable to watch.  Clearly they do not want us to share with the world their involvement in the dolphin slaughter.  At least we were able to verify who had purchased the dolphins.

Tomorrow is Saturday and supposedly the fishermen will have the day off, along with the next two Saturdays, until the hunting resumes again after their holiday break. I know I could use a day off to rejuvenate, and the dolphins will hopefully take tomorrow to continue on their way, far from this country.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Official SJD report from 12/16 Risso's slaughter & capture

The hits just keep on coming here in Taiji.  More blood was spilled into the Cove today, marking four out of the last five days as kill days.  Watching a slaughter is never easy, though those who have been here will tell you that some are harder to watch than others, and for me, today was an especially hard day.

I almost refused to believe it when we saw the drive formation this morning.  They could not possibly kill more dolphins today, but unfortunately that's exactly what happened.  Again we hiked up Takababe.  I noticed I started getting tired sooner and sooner into the climb, since my muscles haven't had any time to rest.  I can't complain though, because with every step I take I know the dolphins are pumping their flukes like crazy, trying to swim away from the terrifying sound being produced by the banger boats and are ten times more exhausted and frightened than I am.

The fishermen had found yet another pod of Risso's dolphins.  Like the striped dolphins murdered yesterday, this pod was too tired to put up much of a fight and was slowly pushed into the cove.  The dolphins were then netted off in the killing cove, and dolphin trainers arrived on a skiff.  At first, two dolphins had managed to stay on the other side of the net, just outside the killing cove.  They watched and listened as their family was run right up onto the rocky beach.  I guess the dolphin trainers wanted to see all the available 'merchandise' though, because they did not make their selections until the other two had been driven into the killing cove as well. 

Three dolphins were purchased from the dolphin killers for captive display.  One was taken to the harbor pens, the other two were taken to Dolphin Base.  The remaining seven or eight were murdered.  At this time I descended back down Takababe and drove to Dolphin Base to watch the Risso's begin their degraded life of slavery in the tiny sea pens.  This turned out to be the absolute worst thing I've ever seen in my entire life.

I know that the slaughter and captivity are directly linked – that becomes obvious when you follow the money trail – but I'd never before witnessed the link in its entirety. Dolphin Base already had two Risso's recently purchased from two separate drive hunts, but they are currently in a very small pen along with two bottlenose dolphins and one pilot whale; very crowded.  The dolphin trainers must have decided there was not enough room for two more Risso's, so they put them in another pen along with two false killer whales.  Watching this happen was excruciatingly upsetting.  After the first dolphin was pushed through the small opening in the net, the trainers gazed down into the pen.  I watched for it to surface, but saw nothing.  Eventually the trainers seemed to panic and one dove into the water.  After a moment he reappeared at the surface, put on his fins, and dove back down again.  Another trainer joined.  When they resurfaced they brought the Risso's dolphin with them, holding it up.  It then tried to swim right through the net, and they had to turn it around.  The second dolphin was pushed into the pen, and the same thing happened.  Both Risso's were held at the surface for a while by trainers and had to continually be turned away from the nets.  This is an example of capture myopathy – the dolphins are so stressed by the capture process that they go into shock.  Many dolphins go into cardiac arrest during capture and die.  After the trainers were confident the dolphins could swim on their own, they tied up the skiff and left.  The Risso's began swimming in a very tight circle with one another, around and around and around, in the same small section of the pen.  They had no idea how to exist in the confines of the nets.  For wild dolphins, boundaries are an unknown concept that they are mentally unequipped to deal with.

As if their kidnapping from the ocean, murder of their family, and entrance into prison weren't enough for them to deal with, I also worry about their pen mates.  False killer whales have been known to attack and feed on smaller dolphins, as well as sperm whales and humpback whales.  I can only imagine that this tendency would be exacerbated by the small confines and stressful environment.  The two Risso's that were captured today were juveniles and are terrified and vulnerable, and now intruding on the false killer whales’ space.  I hope their shared painful memory of capture helps them bond and support one another, rather than create a more dangerous situation for the Risso's.

When the sun rose this morning in Japan, three dolphins frolicked with their family in the seemingly endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean.  In a matter of hours, the fishermen took everything away from them; they've taken them away their home, they've killed their family, and they've stolen their freedom.  The aquariums that gave large sums of money to the fishermen in exchange for the unrightful ownership of these dolphins rewarded them for this and ensured that the captures and slaughters will continue. 

Those who buy a ticket to a dolphinarium anywhere in the world are unwittingly telling the aquariums that days like today are not only acceptable, but should continue.  Those who buy a ticket to a dolphinarium unknowingly have just as much blood on their hands as the fishermen of Taiji.  Knowledge is power, and now you know.  Regardless of your views on captivity in the past, please understand the link between today's events and make a pledge to never again support this cruel industry.

Taiji Take Two: So absolutely tired.

The summery of our week so far: 5 days, 4 slaughters, 2 species, 7 captures, and about 50 dead dolphins.

So, needless to say, I am exhausted. In fact, the whole town of Taiji is tired for one reason or another. Halfway through the day, myself and the Cove Guardians are about 100% drained from the stress of watching a slaughter and capture, trying to figure out what goes on behind the scenes, and attempting to capture footage that will inspire people to do more to help end this. Then we have to spend the rest of the day sorting through footage (I typically take a minimum of 1,000 pictures on a slaughter day) trying to come up with an accurate dolphin count, and reporting to the world the tragedy that we've witnessed and the dolphins have endured. We're (or at least I am) tired from waking up before the sun every morning, running around town, and hiking up Takababe. I'm tired of the senseless and unnecessary slaughter of some of the smartest and most social animals on Earth; animals who possess their own culture, a culture that understands sustainability and does not involve enslaving other species or coming onto land and inhumanely chasing down and murdering entire family units. I'm tired of the continued imprisonment of these animals, in unnatural environments, in the name of bad education and twisted entertainment that teaches children nothing about the natural lives of dolphins, only that it is ok to exploit them. I'm tired of people still buying tickets to dolphin shows despite being taught this information. I'm tired of meeting so many amazing people, only to have to turn around say goodbye. I'm tired of this whole situation, and yet I will never turn my back on it.

We're not the only tired ones though. The police are, I'm sure, exhausted from working 24 hour long shifts which are spent following us around town, making sure we're acting within Japanese law, and keeping everyone in Taiji safe. I imagine they are tired of being in Taiji altogether, and would much rather be at home with their families. Hopefully they're at least getting paid very well for this.

The fishermen must be tired of this situation as well. They now have to cover up their every move, which at least doubles the amount of work they do in a day. They're probably tired of not finding as many dolphins as they used to, as well, but that's because most of them have already been killed. I think they're probably pretty tired of the criticism, too. Same goes with the dolphin trainers, the meat buyers, etc., etc.

The dolphins are especially tired. Tired of running, tired of being hunted down in their own ocean, tired from the stress of watching their family die,  and tired of being starved, imprisoned, and forced to do unnatural behaviors in captivity. They're tired of watching their pen mates suffer, like Jiyu, a dolphin who was completely mentally unable to handle the stress of it all, and in the end was killed by the same fishermen who killed his family.

Someone, somewhere, is tired of pumping so much money into all the extra police and coast guard detail, and cover up expenses.

The citizens of Japan who consume dolphin meat are probably tired, because mercury poisoning often increases fatigue. Since dolphins have such high levels of mercury and other toxins, if you consume it, you can expect to have mercury poisoning.

Sorry, but despite our exhaustion and your own, we're not going anywhere. What's happening here in Taiji (and so many other places in the world) is wrong and we will continue to fight for the dolphins until you realize why we are fighting so hard and decide to change for the better, or until the last dolphin of Japan takes its final breath. Until then, we will be here.

peering under the tarps, watching the distribution of the dolphin meat

a skiff carrying towing a newly purchased captive dolphin exits the killing cove and passes by a banger boat.

dazed and confused, two Risso's dolphins attempt to cope with the days events, as well as their new confiment
Seven or eight Risso's dolphins lost their lives in the cove today, while another three were sentenced to a life in prison for a crime they did not commit. I watched the process from beginning to end - from the dolphins swimming in the ocean, to being dumped into sea pens, confused at the unfamiliar concept of walls and boundaries, to the meat being distributed to disgusting, unsanitary warehouses in Taiji. Unbelievable how some people don't get the connection.

Official Save Japan Dolphin report on this to come tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taiji Take Two: 3 slaughters, 2 days, 37 dead dolphins

Three slaughters in four days – what an awful week it is shaping up to be here in Taiji.  Once again, only ten banger boats left the harbor to go hunting this morning; the other two were still quietly tied up in their slip for reasons unknown to us.  At about 9 o'clock we got word from others at a different lookout point that some boats appeared to be in drive formation far offshore.  From our view, we spotted three boats, all heading back into the harbor.  We knew they could be heading in to prepare nets and things at the Cove, so we held our excitement.  Soon enough I saw the drive formation for myself, and I was able to spot dorsal fins between the boats.  My heart sank; I couldn't believe there was going to be another slaughter.
From Takababe Mountain, I watched the fishermen and pod of 14 striped dolphins slowly progress closer and closer to shore.  These dolphins were not eluding the fishermen like some pods do; instead they were hardly moving at all.  They weren't trying to run away, but they did not want to go into the Cove, either.  They appeared completely exhausted at this point, having been driven in from so far offshore.  The banging on the poles was only sporadic by this point and no longer necessary.  Instead the fishermen slowly pushed the dolphins towards the entrance to the Cove until they were finally able to put up a net.
Striped dolphins are notorious for panicking in the shallow Cove, and they typically throw their bodies up on the sharp rocks and thrash around on them for many minutes before the fishermen get to them to kick their bodies back into the water.  What an agonizing last few minutes on this Earth!  So today, when we confirmed the species, I found it increasingly difficult to breathe for fear of what may happen.  Once the net had been drawn, the fishermen immediately got to work pushing them deeper into the Cove and out of our sight.  They didn't want our cameras to capture the bloody scene of dolphins beaching themselves and tearing their skin on the rocks just to escape from the fishermen and their murder weapons.  After the final push under the tarps, we could no longer see the dolphins, but we could hear them trashing around in the shallow water.  We could hear them dying.
The dead bodies of the striped dolphins were immediately thrown into skiffs and taken to the Fishermen's Union in the harbor for slicing and dicing.  The siren rang loud throughout the town, signaling to buyers that the meat was ready.  Several trucks backed into the slaughterhouse, and, after being loaded up with dead dolphin, they took off to various locations throughout the town and probably beyond, distributing the meat.  It's almost unbelievable that at the start of this morning, these beautiful dolphins were swimming free in the ocean.  Within four hours they'd been killed, chopped up, and absorbed by the town of Taiji, all before the warmth had even left their bodies.
No dolphins were sold into captivity today, so we can at least take comfort in knowing their suffering is now over.  They have been brutally ripped out of this world, but fortunately their pain did not follow them to the other side.  For the three Risso's dolphins captured at the beginning of this week, their heartache continues.  It has only been a few days since they lost their family and their whole world.  The profit of the meat sold today is nothing compared to the profits made by the pending sales of the captive Risso's.  It is not the meat that sustains this slaughter, but the captivity industry.  Without their financial backing this operation could not continue. 
We can end the slaughter by ending the demand for captive dolphins.  Do not support dolphinariums, captive swim-with programs, or resorts that own dolphins.  Tell your friends, family, and the world the link between aquariums all across the world and this little body of water here in Taiji, Japan.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taiji Take Two: Dolphin Base

After Sunday's slaughter and capture I drove to Dolphin Base to check on the Risso's dolphin captured just an hour prior. I was in pain, it was in more pain than I could imagine, and I just wanted to sit with it for a while. As I was gazing out at the Risso's, lost somewhere in my mind, I caught a glimpse of a dolphin surfacing on the outside of the pens. This was very confusing to see, I thought maybe I'd imagined it. It surfaced again, so no, I wasn't seeing things. Ok, next question, what was it doing there? Had it jumped out? Escape through a hole in the net? Did the trainers who were busy feeding the others know it was out there? Did they care? After more observation I saw that the trainers did indeed know, and there were two other dolphins out there as well, all bottlenose. Later, when I saw the others, Nicole told me that the trainers do occasionally let the dolphins out, but that she didn't know why. I wasn't able to visit Dolphin Base yesterday due to the lengthy slaughter, but when we visited it today I saw again these dolphins swimming free. It was starting to get dark though, and the trainers brought the dolphins back in the pens before leaving for the night.

These dolphins looked like they were having an absolute blast out there. They were ripping through the water, porpoising at high speed, as if they were finally able to stretch their muscles after being crammed in their tiny confinement. They circled the perimeter of the pens over and over again, spending time with the other captives. Whenever a boat drove past, the dolphins porpoised after it and began bowriding. My heart was pounding seeing this. I kept saying to myself, "Go, go go!" Get out of here, you have to go!!" But of course whenever the dolphins started following a vessel, it would slow down until they got bored and swam off. The drivers must have some sort of understanding with Dolphin Base so that they don't lead the dolphins out to open ocean. Every once in a while they would swim over to the main pen, and the trainers would rush over and start interacting with them. I could not tell what was going on, but the trainers did not appear panicked in the slightest. They gave the dolphins commands, tossed them a treat, and when the dolphins swam away the trainers resumed feeding the others.

What was going on here? I was so confused and wished I could ask for some sort of explanation from the trainers, but I don't know that any of them speak English and I didn't want them to misinterpret me, or think I was trying to harass them, so I just kept watching. At one point the trainers used fish to coax the dolphins back into the pen, but they did not pull the net closed and the dolphins once again swam free.

Why do the dolphins stick around? Why don't they swim far and fast, away from Taiji, never looking back? I have a few thoughts on this; the dolphins may not want to leave the others behind, or maybe they're terrified of the path of the exit back to the ocean. They constantly can hear the banging and cries of pods being driven in and killed, so if I were them, I'm not sure I'd want to swim that direction. Or perhaps they've become so brainwashed and broken by the stress of captivity that they're now mentally dependent on their trainers. During the process of Keiko's (Free Willy) rehabilitation, they actually had to teach Keiko how to think for himself again. If he came up with a new behavior on his own, then he'd be rewarded - but he would not get a reward for performing the same behavior twice, it had to be different, and a creation from his own mind. So many people want us to go out to the pens at night and cut the nets, but (besides being illegal) that would achieve nothing. With the probable exception of the newly caught dolphins, they would likely not swim away. They can all absolutely be released back into the wild, but they would need rehabilitation first. It's just like counseling after a traumatic event.

Those some possibilities I can think of from the dolphin's perspective, but what about the trainers? Why do they let the dolphins out at all? In doing so, they're more or less admitting that it is inappropriate to keep dolphins in confinement. If they're so confident that they can let the dolphins out and they will not leave, then why keep them locked up at all? Why not just cut the nets and let the dolphins swim freely, and still coming back for feeding and training sessions? Seriously, if there are any trainers out there reading this, I'd love to know. Please feel free to share your reasoning behind this, I would love to have an actual conversation with you, I think we would both learn a lot.

I do have to say, it has been really really nice seeing the dolphins playing free, even though I know it is only temporary. The only dolphins I've seen since I've been here have been either swimming for their lives, or being held prisoner as some sick form of entertainment and bad education. Watching the bottlenoses zip around and play alongside the boats has helped to heal my soul a bit, after a couple very difficult days in Taiji, Japan.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Taiji Take Two: Another day, another slaughter

Apologies for not getting my blog out last night. It was a very difficult night for me, having to deal with two slaughter and capture days in a row, and the stress got the better of me. I started to write last night, but I fell asleep before I finished.

Now I shall just pass on my Save Japan Dolphins report, and will blog again later today :)

After yesterday's slaughter, one might think that the dolphin killers of Taiji would take today off, but greed never rests.  Only 10 banger boats went out this morning, but they were successful in finding yet another pod of Risso's dolphins.  They drove them into the harbor entrance, but they were unable to drive the whole pod into the Cove in one swoop.  After pushing the first four through the entrance, they sealed the Cove off and went back for the rest of the group.

This turned out to be a very tough fight between the dolphins and dolphin killers; it was if the dolphins knew what fate waited for them around the corner.  Time and time again the nine Risso's managed to slip underneath the seven boats chasing them and make a mad dash for safety, but the speedy skiffs and banger boats were always able to maneuver around them and scare them back towards the Cove.  I was amazed how often I saw them leap completely out of the water – I know they had to have been absolutely exhausted at this point.  They were making an extremely valiant effort in the fight for their lives, but just couldn't find a safe route back to open water.  The fishermen were getting extremely frustrated with the chase as well.  We could hear it in their voices as they shouted to one another above the roaring engines and pole banging.  After about an hour of this, the fishermen had not gotten the dolphins any closer into the Cove, and finally they strung a net between two banger boats and encircled the pod, and basically dragged them in. Once the net separating them from the rest of their family was removed, they joined together in a tight group, terrified and exhausted, but together.

Just like yesterday, two skiffs of dolphin trainers arrived on scene to assess the catch.  Dolphin Base trainers left empty-handed, but another skiff of trainers towed one dolphin alongside in a sling to the harbor pens, where it joined the two captured in yesterday's drive hunt.  Hopefully they can find comfort in each other, now that they share a similar and tragic story.

The other twelve pod members were murdered and their bodies towed to the butcher house for processing and distribution.

All dolphins deserve to live.  We have absolutely no right to end their lives for any reason; however these ones seemed to deserve it a little more.  They fought bravely and gave their all in the effort to simply go on living in their ocean world, but in the end greed, money, and technology won.  Another innocent family was removed from our world, and one poor captive dolphin will forever be haunted by the memory of today.

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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Taiji Take Two: May peace prevail on Earth

We've been told that the fishermen will not be working on Saturdays anymore until after the new year, and when we went out to check this morning all was calm and quiet in the harbor. What a great way to start the day, knowing that no dolphins will be slaughtered in Taiji! The fishermen took the day off so we got the day off as well! I got to play tourist today and visit areas outside of Taiji and KiiKatsuura. We took the opportunity to drive to Nachi Falls, the highest waterfall in Japan, and see the nearby temples. It was a long and exhausting hike up the rock stairs, but once we got to the top we had a spectacular view. It was such a beautiful area, both the natural scenery and the cultural architecture. As we were walking through I saw a post that said in English "May peace prevail on Earth" and what I'm assuming is the Japanese translation. What a beautiful and powerful thought, in such a cultural area of Japan. I couldn't help but think about the war at the cove. After looking around for a while we walked back down and continued past the parking lot to a viewing area at the base of the waterfall. There was an area for prayers and candle lighting, so I lit a candle and said a prayer for the sentiments of that sign; I prayed for peace to prevail for the dolphins of Taiji.

It has been six days since dolphins have been slaughtered in the cove. If the weather is decent tomorrow, which it's supposed to be, I imagine the fishermen will be working hard to find another innocent pod to eliminate or enslave. Their catch this year is extremely far behind where they were at this day last year. As of December 10th 2010, about 440 dolphins had been killed. This year they've only killed about 50% of that. We're halfway through the season and they've caught about 10% of their total kill quota. This is good news and bad. Good, for obvious reasons, fewer dolphins have been murdered. But WHY have fewer dolphins been killed? The pod sizes they're driving in are much smaller this year, and there have been many days that they've come back to the harbor empty handed. It's definitely possible that they're finding pods but unable to drive them in, but there's also the fact that there are fewer and fewer dolphins now swimming along coast of Japan. Many (if not most) have killed here at the hands of these fishermen. It would be interesting to know the population size from year to year, but of course no research has been done on this.

It's a beautifully clear night here in Japan. We sat in Taiji for a while and watched the full moon rising in the sky, throwing a bright reflection into cove. Dolphins will look up at that sky tonight and see the twinkle of stars surrounding an eclipsed moon. For some, this may be the last time they see the moon and the stars. Hopefully our candle burns bright through the night and our prayers are answered, and peace will prevail on Earth.

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