Thousands of dolphins and others small whales are killed in the
so-called drive fisheries. Most are butchered and processed into
meat for human consumption, despite the fact that recent studies
have shown that dolphin meat is contaminated with toxins such
as mercury. We have received information that dolphin meat is
occasionally turned into pet food and fertilizer. Some of the
dolphins are sold alive to dolphinariums in Japan, Hong-Kong,
Taiwan, and other countries : the majority of the about 500
captive dolphins in Japan were obtained through the drive fisheries.
The total number of cetaceans killed annually in Japan is estimated
More than 400,000 small cetaceans have been killed by Japanese
hunters in the last two decades.
The Japanese drive fisheries are carried out this way: whalers
go out to deep water where the dolphins migrate. The dolphins
have been using these migratory paths for thousands of years,
and the hunters know exactly where to find them. When a pod of
dolphins swim by, the boats line up one behind the other. The
whalers then lower several stainless steel poles into the water,
one of each side of each boat. The poles are flared out at the
bottom much like a bell, which amplifies the sound produced when
the whalers repeatedly hit the poles with hammers, they are literally
creating a wall of sound underwater, causing panic and confusion
among the dolphins. Trying to get away from the terrifying sound,
the dolphins swim in the opposite direction. The whalers drive
them into a lagoon this way like sheep, and here they are doomed:
the whalers seal the mouth of the lagoon with nets and, with the
animals trapped in a small area, it is an easy task for them to
drive them into shallow water and drive fishermen’s hooks
and knives into their bodies, bleeding them to death.
In Taiji, the drive fisheries take place from October through
March. This year the whalers of Taiji have been given a permit
to kill close to 2,400 cetaceans: 300 short-finned pilot whales,
300 risso’s dolphins, 40 false killer whales, 890 bottlenose
dolphins, 450 striped dolphins, and 400 spotted dolphins.
21st January 2004 :
We go on patrol at 6am. The 26 whalers are gathered around 50-gallon
drum fires. They operate with a total of 13 boats. But they don’t
go out today, even though the weather is perfect for a dolphin
22nd January 2004 :
Again the weather conditions are perfect, but the whalers do not
go out. We check out the lagoon used to trap the dolphins. A large
piece of blue tarp is stacked away on the beach, and this tells
us that the whalers are still in business: the tarp will be used
to cover the lagoon when dolphins are being killed, to prevent
us from witnessing and documenting it.
We contact our Japanese contact in Taiji. He tells us the whalers
know we are here, and this is why they haven’t gone out. “The
whalers don’t know what you plan to do, and this make them
nervous”, he says.
It is important for us, to ensure the authorities that we have
no intention of breaking any law, that we are simply here to document
the dolphin hunt. With this in mind we go to the police station
in Taiji, to let them know we are here and what our intentions
23rd January 2004 :
The whalers leave port at 6:30 am, returning at 10am, empty-handed.
We receive a phone call to attend a meeting at Taiji city hall
Present at the meeting are:
- Mr. Surimori (fishermen’s union manager)
- one of the whalers
- the coast guard
- Shingu police officer
- various city officials including Nambu Hiromitsu
- an American translator
The Shingu police say that the whalers are upset we are here.
Mr. Surimori says the whalers don’t want footage of the
dolphin slaughter to be seen by the rest of the world.
Referring to a report published by the Environmental Investigation
Agency (EIA), we bring up the issue of mercury-poisoned dolphin
meat sold in Japanese food markets.
EIA carried out four surveys of Japanese supermarkets from March
2001 to February 2003. But Mr. Surimori refuses to even discuss
the issue of mercury-poisoned dolphin meat, and the whaler sitting
next to him says : “Dolphin meat is perfectly safe
We then present them with another proposal: would they stop killing
dolphins if a large coalition of animal protection groups bought
up their quota, in other words gave the whalers the same amount
of money they would have made killing dolphins and selling their
“This won’t work” says Surimori “we
don’t just hunt dolphins for their meat, we also kill them
because they eat too much fish”. The translator adds: “you
might say the whalers view the dolphin hunt as a form of pest
We point out to them that the oceans are depleted due to overfishing
and pollution. But they didn’t want to hear it.
We also point out that the Japanese dolphin slaughter has outraged
the international animal protection community, and that this is
the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world. We ask Surimori
if he is at least aware of the tremendous suffering the dolphins
are subjected to during the kill. His reply: “you westerners
view dolphins as cute. We don’t. We view them as something
to be eaten”.
We bring up the ethics of subjecting any animal to such a brutal
death, but it’s hopeless. The whalers don’t seem to
have any understanding of what cetaceans really are: large-brained
and highly evolued marine mammals, exhibiting a high level of
intelligence as well as a complex behavioral repertoire, including
the ability to communicate and cooperate.
The Japanese character for whale translates into ‘monster
fish’ or ‘giant fish’.
At the end of the meeting we are presented with a map of Taiji.
Certain areas have been highlighted in red. We are told to stay
away from these areas when a drive, kill or slaughter takes place.
This restriction serves the purpose of preventing us from filming
and photographing the dolphins being killed.
In closing, the authorities say One Voice is the only western
organization that has sat down and talked to them. They thank
us for doing so.
24th January 2004 :
The 26 whalers go out at 6:45am. They return four hours later.
They have found dolphins.
As the boats get closer, we can hear the sound of the whalers
banging on the metal poles, driving the dolphins toward Taiji.
The moment the last dolphin has entered the lagoon, two nets -
about 50 feet apart - stretching across the mouth of the lagoon,
and the dolphins are trapped. They look like false killer whales,
a species of dolphins. There are about 10 of them, 2 of which
are just babies.
The dolphins are terrified and exhausted, but their ordeal is
far from over. They will be butchered in the most gruesome way
imaginable - but not until the next morning. They will spend all
day and all night like this, scared and confused.
Some say there is a specific reason why the whalers don’t
kill the dolphins right away: the high stress-level induced in
the dolphins during the drive gives the meat an undesirable taste,
and so killing the dolphins several hours after the capture is
supposed to make the meat taste better.
25th January 2004 :
When we arrive at the lagoon the following morning, some of the
whalers are already there, we communicate to them that there are
babies among the trapped dolphins, in the hope of some compassion.
But the whalers just laugh at us. They have placed signs by the
public path that leads to the lagoon: ‘‘Danger, keep
At 6:20am, three boats drive the dolphins towards a rocky beach,
where they will be killed. The beach is located in a valley between
two mountains, out of our view. The whalers cover this part of
the lagoon with blue tarp, much like a roof, to make sure we can’t
film the massacre from the mountain top.
We rush to the slaughterhouse which is located in the harbor,
and at 7am a boat arrives with the dead bodies. The whalers use
large pieces of tarp to cover the dead dolphins as they unload
them onto the pier.
The slaughterhouse is equipped with white shades that are pulled
down when dolphins are being butchered. But the shades don’t
reach all the way to the ground, and we can see the dolphins being
cut up with knives and saws, their dismembered bodies scattered
all over the concrete floor.
Several men are assigned to preventing us from getting footage
of the slaughter. They put large signs in front of our camera
lenses. The signs read ‘‘no photography’’.
These men follow us wherever we go.
26th January 2004 :
The boats leave port at 6:20am, they usually stay out till at
least 11am, and when we return to the harbor at 9:45am we are
surprised to see they are back.
When we reach the slaughterhouse, the white shades are pulled
down, the whalers have captured dolphins, and now they are butchering
them. On the concrete floor are about a dozen bottlenose dolphins.
We can see the flesh marks from the hooks on their bodies. Some
of them look as if they had their throats slit.
27th January 2004 :
The 13 boats go out at 6:25. At 10:25am, all boats are lined up
in the horizon, they are doing a drive. At 11:20am the signs are
placed by the public path that lead to the lagoon: “Danger,
keep out”. At 11:37am the boats are heading toward Taiji.
There are two large pods of dolphins. In front of them, about
half a mile apart, the whalers are banging on the metal poles
with hammers, and the dolphin are running for their lives. Their
survival instinct tells them to swim away from the sound, and
this brings them closer and closer to shore.
At 11:45 am one of the pods succeeds in breaking away from the
whalers, and we see the dolphins leaning above the surface of
the water as they escape back into the open sea.
The other pod is not so lucky. This pod is driven all the way
to Taiji, and, as they get closer, we can see they are bottlenose
dolphins, at least a hundred of them.
In a last ditch effort to break away from the boats, the dolphins
swim towards the harbor. One of the boats races past them and,
banging on the poles, the two whalers onboard force the dolphins
in the opposite direction.
A pod of this size consists of dolphins of all ages: adults, juveniles,
pregnant and nursing females, and several babies. They are absolutely
panic stricken. They are hyperventilating, breathing rapidly and
very hard, their breath sounding like a human cough. Swimming
fast in a tight circle, the dolphins are beating each other with
their tail flukes, and colliding forcefully in their desperate
attempt to find a way out. The strong turbulence created by the
dolphins’ panic makes it look like they are in a giant washing
January 2004 :
When we arrive at the lagoon at 5:45am, 20 trucks are already
here. One of them carries the logo “World Dolphin Resort”.
World Dolphin Resort is a resort/ dolphin swim program located
right down the street from us. It is connected to a company called
“Dolphin Base”, also located in Taiji. “Dolphin
Base” brokers dolphins from the drive fisheries to various
dolphinariums in Japan and abroad.
Dozens of people are gathered on the beach, wearing drysuits.
They are divers from the dolphin captivity industry, which tells
us that some of the dolphins will be selected for dolphinaria.
29th January 2004 :
The boats leave port in the early morning, and at 1:25pm drive
a pod of more than 120 bottlenose dolphins in the lagoon.
The scene that follows is characterized by the exact same chaos
and confusion as the one we had seen two days earlier.
In Taiji harbor 8 small sea cages have been built. Some contain
false killer whales. The fishermen’s union tells us they
were captured during a drive fisheries operation and will be sold
to dolphinariums in Japan.
Five new small sea pens have been built. We can’t get close
to them but suspect they contain bottlenose dolphins selected
by divers from the dolphin captivity industry during the operation
that took place in the lagoon yesterday morning.
30th January 2004 :
When we arrive at the lagoon at 6 am at least 50 divers from various
dolphinariums are gathered on the beach around a fire, wearing
wetsuits. The whalers are also there but they remain at a distance
The dolphins are staying at the far end of the lagoon, no doubt
scared and confused.
At 6:30 the process begins to drive them toward the beach. This
is done by dragging the net closer toward the shore. The dolphin’s
panic increases as the space they are confined in gets smaller
and smaller. The divers get in the water with long pieces of rope.
They use to rope to tie around the dolphins’ tail flukes
and drag them onto the beach. There is a lot of yelling and turmoil
as the divers subdue the dolphins and drag them ashore. Mothers
and babies are separated as the dolphin trainers pull the animals
out of the lagoon, one after the other, and we can hear the dolphins’
call of distress.
The trainers, of which some carry the logo of ‘Dolphin Base’
on their wetsuits, line the dolphins up in very shallow water,
close to the rocky beach. The dolphins have never experienced
gravity before. Helplessly grounded like this, all their body
weight puts pressure on their internal organs: lungs, liver, and
heart. This is extremely stressful for them especially the pregnant
Tents from blue tarp have been raised on the beach, to prevent
us from filming the stranded dolphins, but once in a while the
tarp flares up, and we can see the many dolphins literally piled
up on one another, bashing violently on one another.
The dolphin trainers begin the process of selecting the dolphins
that fit the desired criteria. They are typically looking for
young females with no blemishes. Dolphins that have been injured
as a result of the rough treatment are obviously not desired.
The selected dolphins are forced into stretchers and, hanging
from the side of a boat, they are taken to the awaiting sea cages
in Taiji harbor.
In nature a bottlenose dolphin will remain with her calf for at
least 5 years. During this time they are inseparable, nurturing
a relationship characterized by a profound affection. It is easy
to imagine the torment an adult female must experience as her
calf is torn away from her like this.
The selection process drags on for hours. The dolphins that have
not yet been dragged ashore are absolutely panic-stricken. Some
collide with the capture nets in a massive effort of escape. They
get entangled in the nets underwater and, unable to reach the
surface to breathe, they will suffer a slow and painful death
We constantly look at the trainers to see a reaction, and they
simply don’t seem to care. Dolphins are suffocating and
sustaining injuries all around them, but their cries for help
are met with complete indifference and lack of compassion from
the trainers. It is shocking to see.
A large dolphin struggles to get free of the nets for more than
20 minutes, but the trainers do nothing to help the dolphin out
of its misery.
A dolphin calf, less than a year old, is swimming all by itself
in a corner of the lagoon. The calf got separated from its mother,
and it looks so lost in the chaos. This calf is among the last
to be rounded up. It is too young to fit the dolphinariums’
criteria and is not among the chosen.
When, after more than 3 hours, the trainers have finally selected
the dolphins they want, the dolphins that are too old, too young,
too big, have too many blemishes or are injured, are hauled back
into the water. They will be killed.
How many of them have suffered internal injuries from the ordeal,
we will never know. Many have difficulty swimming, showing signs
of broken and dislocated pectoral fins, swimming erratically and
breathing very hard. Some simply sink to the bottom, never to
31st January 2004 :
The boats don’t go out today.
1st February 2004 :
The boats go out at 6:25am and at 9:30am drive 7 – 10 dolphins
into the lagoon. We can’t tell what species they are.
There are several dolphin trainers by the newly captured bottlenose
dolphins. They keep throwing fish into the pens, but the dolphins
are not eating. They are still in shock and it may be a long time
before they will accept any food.
2nd February 2004 :
We managed to see the logo “marine park staff”. Other
than that, we have received no indication of which dolphinariums
The capture dolphins are still not eating.
3rd February 2004 :
The boats go out at 6:30am. At 8 am, they drive 5–7 dolphins
into the lagoon. They look like Risso’s dolphins. But the
whalers are not through for the day: some of them go hunting again
and at noon drive another pod of dolphins into the lagoon. They,
too appear to be Risso’s dolphins. The number of dolphins
captured today is about 20.
4th February 2004 :
The Risso’s dolphins that were captured yesterday are butchered
in the early morning.
They leave port at 7am and at noon drive another pod of dolphins
into the lagoon. The pod consists of 15-25 dolphins. We think
they are Risso’s dolphins, too.
5th February 2004 :
The dolphins captured yesterday have been killed and processed
into meat by 7am. This time we catch the whalers by surprise and
see large chunks of dolphin meat scattered all over the concrete
floor. At least 6 large dolphins are lined up on the floor, blood
running from their maimed bodies.
As they grounded in shallow water and the whalers begin to stab
them with hooks and kitchen knives, they hear the screams of their
Mothers see their calves dying a most agonizing death, and although
they want to protect their offspring from this pain, all they
can do is watch and wait their turn.