By Tim Burns
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project
Today started off the same as everyday between September and March in Taiji. Our Dolphin Project’ volunteer Cove Monitors woke early, checked the weather report, and prayed for wind. The four of us, Dekin, Becca, Heather and myself, piled in the car for the 15min drive to the banger boats’ harbor in Taiji. As we pulled around the corner and saw that they were already heading out of the harbor, we all groaned. The water was perfectly flat as the banger boats fanned out in search of dolphins.
By about 7:30 we noticed the undeniable shape on the horizon of 7 banger boats in drive formation heading our way. At about a mile we could make out the dolphin pod between the boats being pushed north towards the cove. It’s unclear if the dolphin hunters then broke the pod into a smaller pod intentionally or if some got away. 30 striped dolphins were in the notorious Cove by 9am.
We moved up to Takababe Mountain, overlooking the Cove, to get a better vantage point of what was happening. Immediately we noticed something different. There were a lot more police and Town of Taiji officials. Everyone was a bit taken by it, but no time to figure it out; we needed to get into position to document what was happening.
The skiffs came back into the killing Cove loaded with people. As the boats back down on the dolphins, the scared and exhausted succumbed to the will of the hunters and glided under the tarps, never to be seen alive again. Within 30 minutes all the yelling and tail slapping halts.
As the water turns red from large amounts of blood, the first skiff finally comes out weighed down with the bodies of the formally free-swimming striped dolphins. They cover them with tarps to hide them from our view. A second boat follows closely behind also covering the bodies. By now Takababe Mountain is silent. No one is talking; all are staring at the boats as they head around the point to the harbor. Nobody knows what to say at this point, and all feel helpless. Dekin, Becca, Heather and myself walk down the mountain to our car with a police escort. Still not understanding why we are being given so much attention today, we decide it is best to get in our car and head over to the harbor parking lot to document the boats bringing the bodies back to the Fishermen’s Union, where the slaughterhouse is located.
As we drive into town we notice there is some kind of a marathon event happening. The streets are lined with fans cheering runners on. It dawns on us that all the extra police and Town of Taiji officials were watching us to make sure no one would be getting out of hand while they had all these people in town for the event. I can’t help but think that an extra 500 people were in Taiji today, and not one knows what was happening a quarter mile away. All were happy and cheering, waving flags and having a grand time.
30 striped dolphins will never swim a mile again. 30 striped dolphins will never take another breath. All hidden from the Japanese people participating in the race.