By Ric O’Barry
While the Taiji boats went out today, the dolphin killers were unable to find any dolphins to kill. We were also told, as reported by Leah Lemieux in yesterday’s blog, that the demand for dolphin meat is down.
I returned to the Taiji Whale Museum today:
Our friend Heather Hill, who has been here at Taiji as a Cove Monitor since the middle of December, often alone, has left for home, and we will all miss her. She did a tremendous job as a volunteer for Save Japan Dolphins. I want to thank her and all of our volunteer monitors who are here and will be here for the rest of the hunting season.
Heather wrote this blog over the holidays when the dolphin hunts were suspended. It is an excellent resume of the facilities for captive dolphins here in Taiji, one of the most important sources for blood dolphin$ around the world.
Taiji: First Step of the Dolphin Slave Trade
By Heather Hill
The dolphin fishermen ended 2011 by giving us a stark reminder of why we are here: the captivity industry. On December 21st, a pod of more than 30 bottlenose dolphins were spotted swimming off the coast of Taiji. The fishermen used their sophisticated, high powered banger boats to chase this pod into the Cove, and left them there overnight. The next morning dolphin trainers lined the beach of the killing Cove, and ten dolphins were purchased and shipped to captive facilities in Taiji and beyond. Vast sums of money were given to the fishermen, and they proceeded to kill the remaining dolphins not selected for dolphinariums.
There are three dolphinariums in Taiji that give money to the fishermen and in turn participate in and subsidize the dolphin slaughter. The largest of these is the Taiji Whale Museum. This is, in my opinion, the saddest place on Earth, and the last place any cetacean would want to end up. There are a variety of enclosures, ranging from sea pens, to traditional concrete tanks, to indoor glass enclosures. At the entrance of the aquarium is a concrete tank separated into three segments by gates. Seven dolphins live in this tank; four bottlenose dolphins, two Pacific whitesided dolphins, and one striped dolphin.
The smallest of these enclosures is only a few feet wider than the length of a bottlenose dolphin, which it currently houses. Several times throughout the day these dolphins are subjected to loud music and must perform the same monotonous routine for a small crowd of visitors. At the end of this performance, a dolphin must beach itself on the platform so visitors can line up to have their photo taken with it. During this time the dolphin is being crushed by its own weight, which is normally supported by its aquatic environment, while its skin is burned and dried by the hot sun blazing down. This can last for many minutes.
Continuing through the museum, the next dolphins one would encounter are two pantropical spotted dolphins. These dolphins have the saddest existence of all. They are housed indoors and never see the sunlight. Their tank is deplorable; so small that they can only pump their flukes three to four times before having to turn around again. These dolphins are clearly in a deep state of depression. They tuck themselves in the corner, floating lifelessly just at the surface, until trainers come to feed them. They, too, are forced to do tricks for fish.
There is a natural lagoon, walled off from the sea, that is part of the museum as well, and at least a dozen or more dolphins live in this enclosure, some in small sea pens, others swimming in a larger enclosure. This lagoon contains pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins, false killer whales, and bottlenose dolphins. A ‘whale show’ takes place in this lagoon throughout the day as well, in between the dolphin show times. Visitors can buy a bucket of small fish and walk out on a floating dock into the middle of the lagoon and feed the dolphins, who swim right up to them, mouths open and waiting. There are no guard rails or safety precautions to ensure people do not fall in, or keep people from touching the dolphins, or the dolphins from biting fingers. In the wild, reports of dolphin aggression towards humans are rare, but in captivity it is all too common. The stress of captivity has caused dolphins to not only severely injure people, but kill them as well (facts the captivity industry hide as best they can).
The final dolphin display was inside another building, and visitors can walk through a glass tunnel and see four bottlenose dolphins swimming around them. This exhibit is home to the four-finned bottlenose dolphin, an evolutionary marvel. Her family was captured in a typical drive hunt, and she selected for captivity because of her unique extra set of fins. There is a short video playing that shows images of the banger boats in drive formation, dolphins netted off in the cove, and trainers examining and choosing her because of that very reason. There was no mention of the slaughter that follows the capture process. In fact, while there is a lot of whaling history displayed at the Taiji Whale Museum, there is no mention about the dolphin drive hunts that take place just down the road.
Aside from the Taiji Whale Museum, Dolphin Base is another Taiji-based captive facility that has about 30 dolphins in its seven sea pens. I have seen so many dolphins chased by fishermen from freedom in their vast ocean world into the shallow cove, only to emerge as the new ‘property’ of Dolphin Base. Some of these dolphins will be trained and sold to various aquariums, while others are kept to perform for a Katsuura-based passenger ferry that advertises “dolphin watching” tours. Next to Dolphin Base is Dolphin Resort, a small hotel that houses dolphins in tanks, and was home to “Misty”, the lonely bottlenose dolphin that was discovered by activists last season. In addition to these three facilities, many more dolphins are kept in sea pens in the Taiji harbor and are constantly subjected to the banger boats’ auditory reminder of what happened to their families and how they came to be locked up as the boats steam past them for further hunts.
There must be roughly one hundred broken-hearted wild-caught captive dolphins in this one town alone. This is a major reason why the dolphin slaughter continues year after year. It all comes down to the money, and the money comes from the sales of live dolphins. Even those Taiji residents not directly involved in the hunt benefit from the extra wealth being spread around town.
It is important to remember however, that this is not only a cruel practice, but it is an unsustainable practice as well. If the dolphin drive hunts continue, there will no longer be wild dolphins swimming along the coast of Taiji; they will have all been captured or slaughtered. This has already happened in other parts of Japan.
There is a solution though, one that can benefit both the people of Taiji and the dolphins, and that is eco-tourism. Whale watching brings in over $2 billion dollars in revenue worldwide, and is set to grow about 10% each year. If Taiji ceased the hunts and instead began wild dolphin and whale watching tours, they would attract visitors from all over the world, and the entire area would benefit from the profits.
Taiji and the Cove are already notorious around the world, why not change the reputation to something positive, while there’s still a chance?
Take the Pledge: Don’t buy a ticket for dolphin shows