By Jaeny Colmenares
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project
Within minutes after arriving to the hotel in Kii-Katsuura, I was driven by my fellow Cove Monitor Sakura to nearby Taiji. It is standard for all Dolphin Project Cove Monitors to meet with the Taiji Police once we arrived. It was roughly a 10-minute drive to the mobile police station that sat across the way from the notorious Cove.
As we approached, my eyes were locked, my heart began to beat faster, and the reality of my presence quickly set in. This was the place. The infamous seaside town enriched with natural, majestic beauty, but with a deep, dark, unimaginable secret.
The next morning, I woke up at 4 AM to prepare for my first day. I’m a bit nervous and anxious for what’s to come, but I try to remain positive with hopes for a Blue Cove with no dolphins dying or incarcerated. We depart the hotel at 5:00 AM and head straight to the harbor. As we arrive, we see men boarding the banger boats with lights preparing for the inevitable hunt.
5:30 AM: The hunting boats, one by one, in a single file line, seconds from one another, begin to depart the Taiji harbor. My stomach begins to knot as my palms begin to sweat. This is really happening in front of me.
As the last boat departs, my fellow Cove Monitor and I jump back into the car and head over to a lookout point called Tomyozaki. It’s a breath-taking viewpoint as the sun begins to rise, warm winds begin to blow, and the deep blue color of the Pacific Ocean begins to show. Here, we wait for hours for the boats to appear back on the horizon.
8:08 AM: The winds begin to pick up, as the ocean begins to get choppy. Four hunting boats are spotted coming from the southeast over the horizon. Again, my palms begin to sweat, and my heart begins to race faster and faster. They’re far out and moving in slowly.
Taiji dolphin hunting boats head out to the ocean at dawn. Photo by Jaeny Colmenares.
8:11 AM: Six hunting boats are now visible, spread far apart, still moving in towards shore slowly.
8:13 AM: Now seven hunting boats are visible, four of them coming from the southeast and three straight ahead. At this point, the weather begins to change, and the ocean becomes choppier than ever.
8:18 AM: Nine hunting boats are visible, coming in spread far apart. By now, we are confident they are coming in empty-handed!
8:27 AM: All the hunting boats have passed Tomyozaki point and are headed back to the harbor. Yes!!
Another victorious day, with the help of Mother Nature! As we walk back to the car, my fellow Cove Monitor checks the forecast and informs me the weather will continue to take a turn. A typhoon is predicted to hit Taiji on Tuesday, and potentially through Wednesday. If so, no hunting boats will go out tomorrow and another Blue Cove day will ensure.
Very strange that bad weather is good weather for dolphins here in Taiji!
In Taiji Harbor, a dolphin hunting boat heads back to its mooring, without any dolphins on this day. To the right of the banger boat are some of the captive dolphin pens. Photo by Jaeny Colmenares.