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A One Voice Team, Helene and Ric O'Barry,
was present in Japan during the dolphin slaughters

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20th January 2004

We arrive in Taiji, a fishing village located on the southern part of the Japanese archipelago at the tip of the peninsula that extends into the Pacific Ocean. This is where, about 400 years ago, whaling began in Japan.

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 at 22,000.
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 hunt.

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 are.

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 at 2pm.

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 to eat.”

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 meat ?

“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 control”.

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 out’’

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 machine.

28th 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 from us.

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 females.

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 of suffocation.

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 surface again.

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 are involved.

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 pod members.

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.

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