Taiji : the Dolphin Torture Chamber

Once again, One Voice has been to Japan to monitor and document the annual slaughter of dolphins. This time we have teamed up with Earth Island Institute (EII) of the United States and Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan. Ric O'Barry -- Marine Mammal Specialist with One Voice -- and our Field Correspondent Helene O'Barry have spent an entire month in Japan, monitoring and documenting the brutal methods used to capture and kill these intelligent and gentle marine mammals.

The fishermen in Taiji have told us not to take any photographs of them and to stop informing the world about the dolphin slaughter. They say that if our photos get out to the rest of the world, the authorities in Tokyo will be under pressure to deny them a permit to continue killing dolphins. This tells us that our strategy is working, and we will continue to return to these remote fishing villages in Japan to document and photograph the dolphin massacres. The following is an excerpt from our team‚s journal from Taiji where more than 2300 dolphins and other small whale species will be killed and butchered this season.  

Sometimes the dolphins win...

October 24th and 25th the fishermen, who operate with thirteen motorized boats, went out to search for dolphins at sunrise. But the weather was too rough for a dolphin hunt, and the boats returned to the harbor with no dolphins.

But most of the time they don't...

The fishermen went out at 6 AM on October 26th. Two hours later, banging on iron poles submerged in the water, they drove a pod of about 50 bottlenose dolphins into the killing lagoon. They quickly placed two nets at the mouth of the lagoon, thereby cutting off the dolphins‚ escape. The dolphins spent the remainder of the day and the entire night desperately trying to find a way out of this trap. They would be killed at sunrise the next day. The fishermen had placed several large signs by the killing lagoon: "Danger, keep out" and "No photography." They are paranoid about being photographed. They don‚t want us to show the images of the dolphin massacres to the rest of the world, and with good reason: If people knew how brutal the dolphin slaughters are, they would help us stop this madness.  

Dolphinariums support the massacre

At 5 AM on October 27th several fishermen were gathered by the killing lagoon. They were accompanied by about 20 young people in wetsuits, of which some displayed the logo of the Taiji Whale Museum, World Dolphin Resort and Dolphin Base. All these dolphinariums are located in Taiji, and the young divers were obviously dolphin trainers/handlers. They were here to select the best-looking dolphins for dolphin swim programs and dolphin shows. The bottlenose dolphins captured yesterday were still swimming in a tight circle, huddled together for safety.

Dolphin trainers cover up their cruel activities

In January this year, One Voice succeeded in videotaping the gruesome scene as dolphin trainers, working side by side with the Taiji fishermen, drove a pod of more than 100 bottlenose dolphins into the killing lagoon to select the ones that fit the desired criteria for public display. The trainers killed at least four dolphins in the selection process. October 27th the same violent scene was repeated, but this time the trainers made sure we couldn‚t videotape it. Instead of carrying out the selection in the large cove that can be videotaped from a public road, they drove the dolphins into a smaller cove that is hidden between two mountains, out of our view. The fishermen and trainers locked the selected dolphins up in small steel cages in Taiji harbor. These cages already contained several dolphins from this season's dolphin hunt, awaiting shipment to various zoos and aquaria. Meanwhile, the dolphin trainers let the fishermen kill all the dolphins they didn‚t want.

All the babies are killed

There were several very small babies in the pod. They still depended on their mothers‚ milk for survival and were too young to train. So the fishermen killed them, and the dolphin trainers did absolutely nothing to help them. The dolphins cried as the fishermen slashed them with hooks and knives and the lagoon filled with their blood. It takes a dolphin up to six minutes to die, a former fisherman from another Japanese fishing village has told us. "And they cry the entire time, with their eyes wide open," he said. The dolphins fought for their lives, even as their guts were ripped from their bellies and blood gushed out of their blowholes. But their screams had no effect on the trainers.  

A never-ending killing machine....

October 28th the fishermen captured another pod of dolphins. At 9 AM about 50 Risso's dolphins were forced into the killing lagoon. But even this large number of dolphins was not enough for the fishermen, and they went out to sea again to search for more. Thankfully, they returned empty-handed. The fishermen spent the rest of the day at the slaughterhouse, making up more signs and large banners to prevent us from filming: "No photography" and "Keep out!" the signs read. The fishermen were fuming with anger. "Go home!" they yelled when they saw us. When we were in Taiji in January, they would push us around and threaten us with throat-cutting gestures. This time, however, the police has warned them not to use violence against us.  

Entire pod of Risso's dolphins eradicated

At sunrise October 30th the fishermen began the process of killing the Risso's dolphins they had captured the day before.  During this massacre, we saw the logos of all three captive dolphin facilities located in Taiji: Dolphin Base, World Dolphin Resort and Taiji Whale Museum. It took the fishermen almost five hours to kill and butcher this large pod of dolphins. They have made it impossible to videotape and photograph the butchering process. White blinds and large curtains of blue tarp cover the entire slaughterhouse. Once again dolphin trainers were working side by side with the fishermen, selecting some of the dolphins for dolphinariums and letting the fishermen butcher the rest.

Sentenced to a slow death

In the afternoon of November 1st, when they knew it was too dark for us to videotape, the fishermen and trainers helped each other load some of the dolphins from the steel cages in Taiji harbor into a large truck. The dolphins were trucked to the nearest airport and sent to an unknown destination. The dolphinariums that buy dolphins from the Taiji fishermen claim that they have saved the dolphins from being killed. In reality, however, they have sentenced the dolphins to a slow and stressful death in captivity. Furthermore, they are fuelling the dolphin massacres by doing business with the fishermen.

A dolphin pod escapes

On November 5th the fishermen went out at sunrise as usual, and at 9 AM their boats were all lined up in the horizon, perfectly evenly spaced. They had found dolphins and were trying to drive them toward Taiji. The boats were spread out over a large area, which told us the fishermen had located a very large pod of dolphins. They seemed to have difficulty gaining control over the pod, and the dolphins kept breaking away from the boats. Every time the pod succeeded in swimming around or under the line of boats, the fishermen chased them down and, by banging repeatedly on the iron poles, were able to once again trap the dolphins between the underwater wall of sound and the shoreline. The chase went on like this for several hours, with the dolphins constantly escaping and the fishermen terrorizing them with sound to herd them back toward the shore. Sound travels much faster in water than in air, and the sound produced as the fishermen bang on the iron poles with hammers must terrify the dolphins. Perhaps this particular pod was simply too large for the fishermen to control, and for once the dolphins won. At 4 PM, having been tortured for more than seven hours, the pod finally escaped and swam back into the open sea.

The dolphins‚ panic is enormous

The next day the dolphins found no such luck. In the morning the fishermen drove a large pod of Risso‚s dolphins into the killing lagoon. The dolphins were absolutely panic-stricken, racing around in a tight circle and accidentally crashing into one another as they tried to find a way out.

The dolphins are chased to exhaustion

Immediately after the fishermen had sealed the mouth of the lagoon with two nets placed 50 feet apart, they headed back out to sea and in the afternoon drove another large pod of Risso‚s dolphins toward Taiji. This drive, too, went on for many hours, and by the time the dolphins were close to shore they were simply too tired to swim any further. We knew the dolphins were doomed. We have witnessed so many of these drives; we know that once the dolphins get this close to Taiji harbor, they never get away. It was heart breaking to watch as the dolphins, utterly exhausted and no doubt in shock, remained completely motionless in the water. The moment the dolphins stopped moving, the fishermen ceased banging on the poles and positioned their boats in a large circle around the dolphins, preventing them from making a last-ditch attempt at escaping. As soon as the pod moved on at a very slow speed, the fishermen once again started banging on the poles in order to make the pod swim in the direction of the killing lagoon.  Some of the fishermen, working from two smaller boats, constantly threw hand lead-lines (a lead-line consists of a long piece of rope with a lead weight attached to it and a hand-held reel upon which the rope is wound) into the water. This served the purpose of frightening and confusing the dolphins, forcing them to keep moving toward the lagoon.

No sign of mercy

The dolphins were exhausted. A very small dolphin and an adult, most likely the baby‚s mother, fell behind. The baby was lying on its side, motionless. The adult swam up to the baby. Both dolphins were hyperventilating, their breath sounding like a human cough. We were praying that the fishermen would show some mercy and let the mother and her baby go. But they didn‚t. Instead, the fishermen working with the lead-lines positioned their boats right behind them and by repeatedly throwing the lead-lines into the water forced the dolphins to keep moving. The entire pod was herded into the killing lagoon this way, and when the fishermen placed a net across the lagoon, the dolphins‚ fate was sealed.

More than 100 dolphins killed in one day

The fishermen had captured over 100 Risso's dolphins in just one day. They killed and butchered the two pods two days later. As usual they placed large signs by the path that leads to the killing lagoon. "Keep out. Falling rocks!" one of the signs read. There were no falling rocks, of course, only the cries of the dolphins as they were stabbed to death with butcher knives and fishermen‚s hooks - the same tools the fishermen use to kill tuna fish.

We will never go away

These dolphin massacres must stop. They are inherently brutal and cruel. No argument exists that can justify them and the fishermen, who have admitted to us that they intend to exterminate as many dolphins as they can get away with, can be sure of one thing: They can harass and threaten us as much as they want, but they will not be able to make us go away. We will not allow them to conceal their dirty little secret from the Japanese public and the rest of the world. We will continue to expose them for as long as it takes to make them stop torturing dolphins. We are convinced that exposing these crimes against nature to the rest of the world is the key to stopping them, once and for all.

And we are having an effect. A fisherman from a nearby village told us that the Taiji dolphin hunters hate us. „They hate you because since you came to Taiji last year, people in this area have begun to debate the issue of the dolphin slaughter. And not everyone here agrees with the Taiji fishermen. Some local people want to see the dolphin slaughters stopped.‰  

 This, of course, is very encouraging news to us. It tells us that exposing the dolphin eradicators of Taiji works. Their time is running out.   

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