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 Impressions from the Front Lines

Operation Infinite Patience 2011-2012 saw volunteers from across the globe travel to Taiji at their own expense to participate as Cove Guardians. This international crew included volunteers from the US, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Canada, UK, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Japan. Members of this campaign have selected images that are particularly meaningful to each of them. These words and images are personal accounts of these brave volunteers' experiences in Taiji as Cove Guardians.

Adriane Bhattarai, Canada

Though my time in Taiji was short, fit between my wedding and honeymoon, and I was so grateful that during this time all the pods found managed to evade capture, watching the process after capture has continued to weigh heavily on my heart and spirit. Hour after hour, day after day sitting in silence; watching, filming, photographing. Seeing them all fade away so quickly. Seeing the ones that give up right away, breaking my heart at every glance. The first time at the Dolphin Resort I stood watching the pens, counting. Counting in my mind the measurements of the pens, counting and wondering how many people have the numb conscience to work there, counting how many fins broke through the water's surface. As the fins kept coming I thought there could not possibly be anymore dolphins in a single pen, then one more would show up until it seemed as though there was more body than water.  Upon arrival I was told that there were two dolphins who had managed to escape their pen but were still circling the floating enclosures. They do tricks, flips, head bobbing, and high jumps for the attention of the trainers. They were begging to be fed and though they were free from the pens they were trapped in their bonds with the other pod members and the formation of the land around them. I do not know how long that had gone without food inside the pens but the difference of only a few days without showed their skeletal structure. They were wasting away and those responsible would not care.

The day they were recaptured, lured in by food with the wall of nets dropping behind them, that day haunts me. The morning after, they were free once more and the elation from us all was outstanding to feel. The next evening we sat on the stones waiting, hoping to see those flukes pop up on the free side of the nets. At first there was hope they had found their way to open waters. An hour of counting fins and waiting, hoping to not see any more in that far rear enclosure crashed down us. There was no denying they had been captured for yet a third time in their lives. Staying with them until the sun began to set that evening I snapped this photo. They were jumping so far and so high at times I thought for sure this leap would be the leap of escape, ending always in a splash on the wrong side of the pen. In this photo walls cannot be seen, nets cannot be felt, and hands cannot hold down.  When I see this photo now all I want to say is, "if you will not let them swim, just please let them fly."

Upon my arrival in Taiji, I was told that there were two dolphins who had managed to escape their pen but were still circling the floating enclosures. They were begging to be fed and though they were free from the pens they were trapped in a bond with their other pod members and the formation of the land around them. I do not know how long they had gone without food inside the pens, but the difference of only a few days without showed their skeletal structure. They were wasting away and those responsible would not care. The day they were recaptured, lured in by food with the wall of nets dropping behind them, that day haunts me. They were able to get free once again and again were captured. Staying with them until the sun began to set that evening I snapped this photo. They were jumping so far and so high at times I thought for sure this leap would be the leap of escape, ending always in a splash on the wrong side of the pen. In this photo walls cannot be seen, nets cannot be felt, and hands cannot hold down.  When I see this photo now all I want to say is, "if you will not let them swim, just please let them fly."

Ashley McDaniel, USA I took this picture on March 29th, 2012. It was the third day in a row that we caught some fishermen, not the banger boats bringing in harpooned dolphins. We had just finished watching a boat, before this one, transport two harpooned dolphins to the butcher house covered by the blue tarps. I was standing there just waiting to see what would happen next when this boat came in and started heading towards the butcher house. I noticed he had something hanging from the back of his boat but from the angle I thought it had to be a very large tuna. When the boat started to swing around the animal flipped over and I saw that it was a dolphin. I was completely caught off guard because I did not expect one of them to just drag in a dolphin completely uncovered like that. I was kind of in shock seeing the whole thing. The thought of him harpooning that dolphin out at sea and then dragging it behind his boat all the way to the butcher house absolutely crushed me. I kept thinking about how that dolphin had just witnessed some of his family harpooned in front of him and then being harpooned himself and tied to the back of the boat and dragged, probably still alive all the way into the harbor, and the absolute terror he must have been feeling. That was the hardest thing for me to see while I was there, but as hard as it was, this dolphin did not die in vain. Because of him, we have the proof to show people that we need to be there year round. The killing does not end with the “end of the season.” Biaggo Comeriato, USA In Taiji Japan, the dolphin killers of Japan are so organized so precise, operating like a well-oiled killing machine. Everyday at the exact same time, it’s the same routine- meet by the fire and head to the hunting ships. They drive their boats in a single file line out to sea in what I call "The Death March" to spend hours on end searching for their next victims, dolphins, porpoises, and whales. Once found, the killers gather all their ships at sea in an evenly spaced line, side by side forming a wall on the horizon heading towards the shore, scared whales and dolphins at their bow, being chased towards a killing cove. The sounds of banger poles echo off the ocean’s waves as they chase and scare their victims into the Cove. A handful of killers are waiting on the shore and in smaller boats ready to slaughter an entire generation of beautiful beings. They carry on the slaughter in shame, hiding under tarps; screams and splashing fill the air. The innocent watch as each and every one of their family members gets a metal spike driven into their skulls and drowns. The cove turns red. Then its dead silence, they drag the bodies out of the cove to have their flesh and meat processed for eating.

This was in January of 2011 on the second half of the first ever land campaign by Sea Shepherd in Japan for the Dolphins. After 7 days being in Taiji I had witnessed over 90 dolphins and four different species lose their lives in the cove and I felt I had to enter the water and meditate if they were going to kill anymore!

Libby was the leader of this second half and took the photos of me in the water. I was in the water for approximately 30 minutes in silence while the banger boats were driving in a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. It was a powerful moment for me to ignore everything around me like the Fishermen Union boss, the local Taiji police, and the Coast Guard who all wanted me out of the water. I also was told by Rupert the police heard I was in the water and put their bullet proof vests on prior to coming near me.

Chasity Reed, USA On February 17th 2012, my last full day in Japan, the Kyo-maru No. 1 was towed in to Taiji. The ship was being decommissioned and was being put on display at the Taiji Whale Museum. This ship has been involved in the deaths of who knows how many whales, both in the Southern Ocean and in the waters of the Pacific. To have Sea Shepherd Volunteers there, and to be there personally, was awesome. Knowing that this ship would never be part of killing another whale... the feeling was overwhelming. This picture is priceless to me. I was in Taiji to stand against the death of dolphins and whales, but at the same time, we witnessed the death of a whaling vessel! Dayna Rozental, USA The above photo shows the banger boats circling a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins. They spent most of the morning repeatedly losing the pod, then finding it again, going clockwise, then turning counter-clockwise, back and forth, like a gruesome comedy routine. Though they started out driving hundreds of dolphins (the largest pod any of us had ever seen), even with the help of three skiffs and ten divers, they ended up taking only two exhausted, battered, and bleeding dolphins into captivity in the Taiji Fishermen's Union harbor pens. Clearly Taiji's dolphin hunt is as efficient as it is humane. Emilie Richard, Switzerland This picture was taken on February 27th. 98 Pan-tropical spotted dolphins died that day. The picture shows a pod of dolphins, they seem to be free in the ocean, but this is minutes before they all got slaughtered in the Cove. It was my last day in Taiji, the last slaughter I would witness, and there were mostly babies and juveniles in the pod. Back at the hotel, when I enlarged the picture, we saw the baby in the middle...one of the worst feelings I experienced in Taiji. Those healthy and young animals were all ripped away from the ocean, no one will ever replace them, they were unique and now they are gone forever. When the last pod of dolphins is dead, it will be too late for regrets; we have to wake up now! Erwin Vermeulen, Netherlands

In the photo I chose you see at least two live Risso's dolphins being transported on one of the dolphin killers' skiffs. Even though they try to hide what they do under the blue tarps, you can see the dolphins heads sticking out. The skiff disappeared out of view beyond a promontory and the dolphins were dumped back into the ocean. Why, I don't know; there is seldom any logic to what happens in Taiji. The survival chances of these dolphins are slim. At the same moment that they were taken away the remaining members of their family were butchered after three of them were condemned to a life of slavery.

This is the last photo I took before being arrested and never saw it until after 64 days in jail and the not guilty verdict on February 22nd when the memory cards were returned to me. The police had seized my cameras and laptop as evidence in the court case. As I committed no crime, they found nothing they could use.

All my equipment however was full of evidence of crimes being committed in Taiji: Photo's like this one...

Ethan Wolf, USA The dolphin killers want to keep their bloody little secret just that- a secret. Despite their best efforts to block our views with tarps, despite the laws that prohibit us from our best vantage points, and despite the attempts to keep the dolphin blood out of the water, nothing can stop the truth. The blood filling the water symbolizes the truth of Taiji’s bloody secret being spread. The more the dolphin killers try to hide, the more we are there to expose them. Gerald Millington, Australia

This scene at Dolphin Base in Taiji, was one of the particularly hardest things to witness. For the public, it is this shiny lie covering the slave and murderous trade of cetaceans for captivity. For mere human entertainment, one or two dolphins from a pod will be selected by whale and dolphin amusement parks around the world. They will then be coerced into a life of servitude and never be with their family again. The rest of the population are brutally and painfully murdered at the infamous Cove by the so called fishermen who bully them there in the first place, linking the killings to cetacean captivity and not culture.

The food is controlled and makes them keen to perform. The performance accidents around the world are many, and too regularly they are fatalities. Some cetaceans are permanently disfigured, occasionally resulting in the execution of a dolphin since it is no longer pleasing to the eye of the audience. All medical operations, no matter how serious, are carried out fully conscious as dolphins will suffocate if rendered unconscious. Behind the camera Cove Guardians line up along the sea wall to display, for tourist photographs, the strong presence we have in Taiji.

We are Cove Guardians. We will not stop.

Guilherme Pira, Brazil This picture shows a few of the trainers that works at Dolphin Base. During the slaughter, I saw those guys diving on the bloody water and choosing dolphins for life in captivity. That shows the connection between the slaughter and captivity. Afterwards, those trainers couldn’t even look at my eyes, even though I´m staring at them. They walked out of the holding pens, where they train and feed the dolphins, looking at the ground and with shame on their faces hiding from our cameras. This picture shows the mixture of anger and contempt I was feeling at that moment for those dolphins molesters. Jackie Legg, UK

Several times I questioned the decision to take Sarah, our 17 year old daughter, with us to Taiji. John and I were traveling there in the October not long after Typhoon Talas had caused such devastation. People had died, the hotel we were booked into had been without water... roads were closed... Put that on top of the threats from Japan's Right Wing.. the on-going radiation issues.....etc..

I didn't know I'd made the right decision until we landed at Osaka and John was detained for an hour. Sarah was completely unfazed. She was strong, calm and totally focused on the job she was there to do. Every time I look at this picture of Sarah being followed by the police while she's trying to get photographs of dolphin meat being transported I know I made the right decision.

Jochen Bussman, Germany I chose this picture because it would be great if all cameras in Taiji were facing the real problem- the slaughter. John Legg, UK

On the 2010/11 campaign I had taken photos of captured dolphins being loaded onto a truck for transportation. Later I was asked if I’d not thought to follow the truck. I hadn’t.

So when the following year I had the opportunity to follow a truck transporting one of the False Killer Whales I’d witnessed being caught only a few days earlier I grabbed it.

I was determined not to fail and despite their best efforts to stop me I stayed with the truck the 90 km to its destination.

In this picture the truck has been rushed through the security gates of the dolphinarium which were closed quickly behind them to stop me following. The police are running towards me. I was a little worried as I didn’t know if they intended to arrest me and I was alone, but I was also feeling a great sense of achievement. Not just because we knew where the FKW had been taken, but because I’d been able to learn from an earlier regret. It felt like I’d done it not just for this FKW, but for the Bottlenose dolphins I’d not followed.

Kyle Menzies, Canada I chose this image because I think it captures what can become quite a frenzied experience. Once we conclude that the dolphin killers were indeed driving a pod, our group tends to split up into small teams in order to record the drive and slaughter from as many vantage points and as comprehensively as possible. This could involve running through and scaling a variety of types of terrain, camera in hand, in hopes of capturing some kind of image that will help to expose the brutal cruelty of this archaic practice. In this case I was on the ground at the beach area of the Cove. The killers are working to complete the driving and netting of a large pod. The count of slaughtered dolphins ended up being in the high 90's. Luca Frattini. Italy I've chosen this particular photo because even if I consider the dolphins slaughter inhumane and brutal and the most despicable act that a human being can do, I would prefer to be dead rather than be a prisoner in a small tank for my entire life, forced to do stupid tricks for human entertainment. I titled this photo "Abduction in Taiji." Maria Cristina Cely, Ecuador

This dolphin who has survived death, who has witnessed the killing of absolutely all his loved ones and has lost everything that gave him joy, including his freedom. He was a reminder that the victims of Taiji go far beyond those of the “Cove” and those of the slaughterhouse. In those days in which the Cove maintained its clear blue waters, a visit to the Dolphin Resort or the Whale Museum was necessary so that our soul wasn’t misled to fill with joy. Sadism or reality, You can call it what you like but the faces of the dolphins being held in these tanks are never going to leave my mind. Who had more luck, the one who died or the one who now seemingly tries to remember the stolen freedom with those raindrops on his face?  To see him close his eyes and enjoy the rain made me spill the tears I was trying to contain. It was like watching a scene out of some war movie in which a prisoner finally receives some wind on his face or a warm meal after having suffered for who knows how long of cold and hunger, I saw that very same expression on this dolphin’s face.

Sometimes people concentrate on the dead and forget the other victims, those souls that day after day live remembering the very moment they were incarcerated; those that will have to live with the images of a stampede of 12 relentless machines, the deafening and terrorizing sound of the poles, the screams and calls of sons/siblings/fathers, the red color and the sensation of blood all over their bodies and finally being sequestered out of the water to a state of terror and disorientation.

SPANISH

Un delfín que ha sobrevivido la muerte, que ha presenciado la muerte de absolutamente todos sus seres amados y todo aquello que le significaba felicidad, incluida su libertad.

Un recordatorio constante de que las víctimas de Taiji sobrepasan a la “Cala de la Muerte” y al despostadero, porque en aquellos días en los que la Cala mantenía sus aguas azules… una visita al “Dolphin Resort” o al “Whale Museum” eran necesarios para que el espíritu no se llene de júbilo.

¿Sadismo o realidad? -Puedes llamarlo como quieras pero el rostro de los delfines presos en estos tanques no me los quitará nadie de la mente.

¿Quién tuvo más suerte? ¿El que murió o el que ahora al parecer busca en las gotas de lluvia un poco de sensación de libertad? -Verlo cerrar los ojos y disfrutar de la lluvia me hizo derramar las lágrimas contenidas. Era como ver una película de la guerra, cuando los presos reciben el viento en sus rostros, o una ducha o alimento cálido después de quién sabe cuánto padecer hambre y frío. ESA MISMA EXPRESION tenía este delfín.

A veces la gente se concentra en las muertes y olvidamos a las otras víctimas, aquellos espíritus que día a día viven con el recuerdo del día en que fueron presos…aquellos que deberán vivir con imágenes de una estampida de 12 máquinas implacables, con el sonido estremecedor y arrasante de los postes, con los llantos y llamados de sus hijos/hermanos/padres, con el color rojo y la sensación de sangre cubriendo sus cuerpos y finalmente con el traslado a sus celdas aún en estado de terror y desorientación.

A menudo me siento a ver las fotos…los vídeos, no quiero que mi corazón y mente lo olviden o lo superen…me obligo a sentir rabia y dolor una y otra vez PARA NUNCA OLVIDAR POR QUIEN Y PARA QUIEN LUCHO. Y así volver una y otra vez, hasta que esto termine.

Marley Daviduk, Canada I chose this picture because of the difficulty it took to capture it. We knew we had to get pictures of the dolphin intestines, as no one had been able to yet. Carisa set herself up at the slaughterhouse with the radio while Rosie and I hid around the corner in our car. As the truck left Carisa radioed us the plate number and we waited. As soon as we saw the vehicle we pulled in behind him and started to follow. The man driving the vehicle realized we were following him and stopped the vehicle to try and turn around. I jumped out while he was stopped and ran up to the back and almost fainted at the sight of the massive container of offal. He didn't want me to capture the picture so he started reversing and pulling forward really fast as he was wedged between two buildings while I ran to try and keep up. In his panic he actually backed his vehicle into the side of the building, denting the back of his truck and chipping the stone on someone's house. I could almost feel the heat radiating off the giant vat of guts from dolphins who had been alive only an hour earlier. That day we watched 30 striped dolphins get hacked to pieces and I will never forget what I witnessed. After we obtained those pictures of the intestines and slabs of dolphin meat we heard that the trucks leaving the slaughterhouse had to have police escorts on scooters to take them to the processing plants. I take a lot of satisfaction in knowing that we are costing them even more money by acting as Cove Guardians. I will return to Taiji every year until this terrible slaughter comes to an end and I hope even more people join us next year. Matt Rouzer, USA I thought long and hard about which one of my many photos to choose to tell my story about my stay in Taiji. I could not bring myself to choose any of the many photos that show the brutal death to the thousands dolphins that swim too close to the Japanese shore of Taiji. I decided to take a different route and post a picture I took of my fellow Cove Guardian, Jeff H. from Texas. Jeff, as well as many others there, inspired me everyday to do my best to help the dolphins. I feel this picture I took of him not only shows his dedication to our cause but it also shows that one man standing alone can make a difference. Our founder Paul Watson was one man who stood alone to make a difference and now he stands with thousands of supporters that all have the same ideals. I see a lot of Paul's passion in Jeff and that is why I choose this photo. Melissa Sehgal, USA The last five Cove Guardians Elena Larrea, Ashley McDaniel, Melissa Sehgal, Guilherme Para and Gerald Millington sitting at the cove having a quiet moment. A symbol of friends, teamwork, and unity. This photo is a reflection of the bond we have with our fellow Cove Guardians. We share different emotions and support one another. Each day is different and how it effects us. We cry and we laugh. We build friendships and overcome obstacles while standing together. We travel from all over the world because we care and strive for change. We are all dedicated to the dolphins. I am truly thankful to have met many amazing and compassionate souls during my time in Taiji. Thank you to all Cove Guardians." Nikki Botha, South Africa After a hunt we all went to the butcher houses where the dolphin meat is processed for consumption. This was my first time here. We came across a room that resembled something out of a horror movie. Meat from dolphins, who swam freely just a couple of hours ago, was boiling in a large, unsanitary cauldron. The room was disgusting. The most overwhelming thing, the thing that I remember most was the smell. I have never in my life smelled anything like it. It was so pungent that most of us dry heaved. You simply couldn't breathe. It is a smell that I will never, ever forget. I decided on this photo because this dolphin had such an influence on me and created such a huge outcry around the world. Jiyu will stay with me for the rest of my life...in front of my eyes she deteriorated, became very depressed, refused to eat, and displayed repetitive, neurotic behavior. She refused to give into a life of captivity and eventually she was killed. She showed the world the horrors and cruelty of keeping these beautiful animals in captivity! Stephen Wiltshire, Canada

My first day in Taiji the Banger boats stayed in harbour due to high winds. Scott West had some books and personal items he wanted to take to the Wakayama Detention for Erwin and asked if I would like to go with him.This was a perfect opportunity to learn more about the campaign and get to know Scott so I agreed to go along. The four hour drive there was very enjoyable and went by way too fast the scenery was magnificent, Scott made me feel welcome and right away I knew being a Cove Guardian was in my blood and coming to Japan was a good decision.

When we walked into the parking lot of the Wakayama Detention Center I was not prepared for how I would feel. The injustice that was happening to Erwin caught me off guard and overwhelmed me with sadness. I tried to imagine the loneliness Erwin must be feeling at that moment. I stared up at that evil building, and wondered did he have any idea of the worldwide support he was getting . Did he even have a window. What was he eating. Was he safe?

The drive home seemed much longer the scenery less beautiful. I began to realize why we all came to Taiji, and one man was losing his freedom for doing just that. I said to Scott that driving away from Erwin was difficult and his reply was "Erwin knows the Campaign always comes first no matter what" and we need to get back to Taiji. I will never forget the conviction in Scotts voice when he said that. We both spoke little on the drive back.

A little over one month later when I was back home in British Columbia my wife Diane woke me up at 1am to tell me Erwin was free and showed me this picture of him standing outside the Wakayama Detention center.

I have hundreds of photos from Taiji, however this one photo for me speaks volumes of a Cove Guardian's character and convictions Erwin walked out of this building a true hero. Thank you so much Erwin.

Tarah Millen, Canada

I chose this photo because of what it represents to me. Spending hours each morning on the promontory watching the killer boats weave their grid pattern over the ocean, racing in, spreading back out into formation, chasing white caps, and chasing dolphins. The moment that we realize the fate of the dolphins that day; the dread that we feel when the banger boats form a v-line, banging their mallets against steel rods with dolphins rushing, terrified towards shore. Or the profound relief that washes over us as the dolphin killers come slowly back in without dolphins, knowing that for one more day the dolphins will swim free in the ocean.

This was one of those days. Almost a cause for celebration until you remember that tomorrow it will start all over again. The waiting, the fight, and the inevitable slaughter that will follow. The days of happiness in Taiji are few and far between, but to keep your sanity you must be grateful for their one day of freedom, willing it to be enough. A day with nothing to report is a good day.

Troy Coyle, Australia In Taiji, everything is not as it seems. If you didn't know what happens in the killing Cove, you would think that the town loved dolphins. There are images of happy dolphins and whales everywhere. When you arrive at the train station, there are signs featuring happy cetaceans, there are images on the wind turbines, drain grates, bridge posts, murals, statues, paintings, boats shaped like whales, etc. In this photo, all is not what it seems either. It looks like we are in trouble but actually we are talking with the policeman about a fermented soy bean curd dish which he is recommending.

 
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