In Their Own Words: 2012-13 Operation Infinite Patience Cove Guardians Recall Their Experiences Defending Dolphins in Taiji
Since 2010, Sea Shepherd has coordinated the Cove Guardian dolphin defense campaign in order to document and expose the dolphin-killing activities in Japan’s coastal town of Taiji. Over 30 volunteers from all around the world participated in the 2012-13 Cove Guardian campaign, traveling to Japan at their own expense to bravely document the brutality and ill fate bestowed upon these highly intelligent mammals who are either butchered for their meat, which is ladened with toxic levels of mercury, or sent to a dolphinarium for a shortened lifespan in captivity serving solely as human entertainment.
In preparation for the 2013-14 Cove Guardian campaign, we asked last year’s volunteers to recount a life-changing experience or memorable event whilst at post in Taiji. Each Cove Guardian submitted a photo to illustrate the brutality or neglect they witnessed along with an accompanying narrative or quote to express their experience while standing watch in Taiji.
Although the big media wave surrounding the dolphin trade came and went, we must continue to expose the dreadful activities with which the town of Taiji plagues the world. Remember that the mass killings of whales and dolphins still occur annually as a result of consumer demand to see and experience whales and dolphins in dolphinariums and captive swim with dolphin programs. One of the simplest things you can do to help these magnificent beings is to NEVER support a dolphinarium and remind your friends and family to do the same. To volunteer for the upcoming 2013-14 campaign, which begins in September, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for an application package. To donate to the Cove Guardian campaign, please click here. Even though the volunteers cover their own expenses, Sea Shepherd still incurs considerable expense for this campaign. We pay for equipment, car rentals, and live streaming.
Thank you to all the brave and selfless volunteers who joined Sea Shepherd’s Operation Infinite Patience and became Cove Guardians.
This photo represents the final day this dolphin was likely to spend anywhere near the ocean, its natural habitat. In the early hours of a cool morning, this dolphin was pulled from the Taiji Harbor sea pens, hoisted in a sling attached to a crane, and placed on the ground before being transported in a truck to a captive facility. The pain felt by this dolphin would have been immense. Already suffering from the shock of capture after witnessing the slaughter of an entire pod, this dolphin now suffers the pressure of gravity and the stress of being surrounded by noisy machinery and people. This pain and suffering could be avoided if captive facilities were not popular and the demand for live dolphins did not exist. On my last day in Taiji, the killers located a huge pod of striped dolphins and drove them into the Cove. Each pod of dolphins driven into the Cove behaves differently. This pod of striped dolphins swam incredibly close together, continuously spy-hopping and moving closer to the killers when they heard the distress cries of their dying pod members. Although the noise and confusion of the killing must have been terrifying for these dolphins, they did not swim to the other end of the Cove, as they so wanted to be with their pod members who were in fear and pain and were taking their last breaths. It was incredibly harrowing to witness. This photo shows one section of the pod group spending their last moments together, in the blood of their murdered family members. While I will remember every pod slaughtered while I was in Taiji, the memory of this pod is especially haunting. As we monitored the captive dolphins and whales at Taiji Dolphin Base, we noticed this pilot whale stick his tongue out at the trainers. It was a bit of a sigh of relief, as this whale appears to be ill and lifeless most of the time. This was his only defense and protest against the daily routine of performing tricks for dead fish. I captured this photo before this Risso's Dolphin family was dragged to shore for slaughter. The water mist above the struggling dolphin pod formed a skull, often referred to by people as a symbol of death. As this photo depicts, the dolphins know exactly what is happening to them and that slaughter is near. I can only refer to what is defined in Hebrew as Koev Halev: identifying with the pain of others so much that your heart hurts. My heart is for the dolphins and whales of Taiji. A pod of white-sided dolphins were netted at sea, just outside of Taiji harbor. The dolphin killers were vicious and careless as these innocent creatures fought for their freedom. One by one, the killers yanked and pulled the dolphins up into the skiff. Bloodied and injured, they were taken to the captive pens for a life of imprisonment. This day depicted the brutality of captivity – slavery still exists today. This photo was taken on September 28th, 2012 when a family of pilot whales were driven into the Cove. Terrified, this pilot whale broke through two different nets and into the shallow waters near the shore in an attempt to free itself from the killers. The currents were rough and she was thrown around on the jagged rocks, leaving her injured and bloody. At one point, she lay bleeding within a few feet from where I stood. I could do nothing but look into her eyes and hope she knew that people were fighting for her. This day and this whale changed my life. The absolute horror that we witnessed that day is something that will never leave me. Nothing about this slaughter is humane. The most meaningful photo I have from my trip to Taiji is one of a captive pilot whale. I do not know how long he has been in captivity, but the sight of him broke my heart. He holds a very special place in my heart, and is the inspiration for me to do more for the dolphins in Taiji, and for others trapped in captivity. Through those actions, I hope to educate and assist others in their journey to Taiji to do the same. This image has stayed in my thoughts since my return home. It shows the last individual pilot whale selected for slaughter, while her remaining family members swim in the blood of those taken before her. This is the ultimate price these many souls pay to profit those who will exploit them - it is a cost too much for me to bear. "Dreaming of freedom without any hope to be released. Staying motionless day in and day out. An endless time at exactly the same spot. One day he will not be there anymore and soon he will be forgotten by the ones who captured him."
“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”
There’s no denying the extraordinary beauty of these magnificent beings, and yet this photo represents to me just how delicate we all are. These four Risso’s dolphins lost their fight for freedom on January 27, 2013 due to human ignorance and greed. Our time on this planet is precious, and I can only hope that one day, man will realize what they have done, and stop this tragic and unforgiving slaughter.Just a few days before Christmas, we were photographing the trainer/killers force-feeding the latest transferees from a super pod of bottlenose dolphins. This is part of the barbaric practice of conditioning from wild and free to captive and docile. This is my favorite photo because it shows us doing the job we went to Taiji to do - gathering evidence, documenting, and exposing the evil that exists all around that town. It demonstrates our teamwork. As individuals from countries all over the world, we were united in our love of dolphins and our hatred of the evil some people have inflicted on these incredible animals. It also reminds me how naïve I was before going to Taiji - I thought the story was all about dolphin murder. It turns out the story is really about the international trade in live dolphins for huge sums of money, murder just being a particularly nasty sideline for these heartless thugs. While trying to select a photo for this project, I realized this one sums up the essence of Taiji's dolphin drive hunt. The photographed truck is transporting dolphins from Taiji to a port in Osaka, followed by Cove Guardians (white car) and Japanese police (van). We have all seen images of the bloody slaughter, but why does it exist? Fewer and fewer people are eating dolphin flesh and it often sells cheaper than beef. However, trained dolphins brought in by the hunt are sold for tens of thousands of dollars all over the world and new marine parks are opening all the time. The hunt is supported by the captive dolphin trade and aided by the Japanese government. It is understandable that the dolphins' owners (as if anyone could ever own another living creature) would want extra security for their valuable investment, but instead of hiring a private company, they are escorted by the police at the taxpayers' expense. Without that truck and van, there would be no dolphin hunt. As live dolphins are being shipped around the world, dead dolphin flesh is being sold. We speak out for those who have been silenced and sacrificed for profit. In this photo, two trainers at Taiji Dolphin Training Base stick their arms into the stomachs of dolphins to retrieve bits of plastic or trash the dolphins may have eaten. For all the cries of tradition and claims of culture, this symbolizes the true nature of the Taiji dolphin drive - profiting off the captivity of these beautiful sentient beings. We chose this photo because it was the closest we came to being able to look a dolphin in the eye. It was the closest we could get to tell them we are doing everything that we can to put an end to their suffering. Everyone knew who we were and why we were there, from the Taiji Police, Japanese Coast Guard, Wakayama Police, and even the supporters back home. We wanted the dolphins to know why we were there too. As long as the Taiji slaughter and capture continues, and as long as we have the means, we will return to stand up for them. This beautiful guy is one of the bottlenose dolphins who lived in the tiny middle pen at Dolphin Base. On this particular day, he spent hours going around the pen, picking up any piece of debris he could find. He would take it to where the trainers were preparing the cocktail of drugs for the day. He would stay there, flicking the piece of debris up and down, begging for attention. Eventually, a trainer would reach down and pick up the piece of debris. He would scoot off to find another piece to play with, hoping to get more attention. It was beautiful and heart breaking to see. When I witnessed this, I began to see how super intelligent and sensitive these creatures are, and how dire their new conditions – they are now forced to live in tiny pens, deprived of the right to play and to surf the waves. This photo shows how ironic things can be in Taiji - police surrounding Cove Guardians holding the Sea Shepherd flag, as if we were the bad guys, while a dolphin trainer walks out of the holding pens area at Dolphin Base, as if he was the good guy. We are in Taiji to document, monitor and support the dolphins and whales. We do that proudly showing our faces and the Sea Shepherd flag. We are not torturing and killing anything under masks, tarps and barricades. And still, the government of Japan chooses to spend Japanese taxpayers’ money on police to watch us, while the real criminals sneak away. This mother is helpless as she watches her young calf drown under the weight of the net while being entrapped by the rocks. The killers, too interested in the murder of others in the pod, do not notice the drowning calf. It is a great disappointment knowing that this kind of destruction of socially complex animals exists. They demonstrate a strong family bond, not unlike those of humans. It is difficult to accept that they are slaughtered or captured in the name of profit and cheap feed. I vow to see this injustice brought to its end. Photos speak for themselves. When imprisoned, dolphins have to entertain to survive - one of those places is Dolphin Base. If there is happiness and enjoyment, it is certainly not there. Of the hundreds of photos I took in Taiji, this is still the one that stays in my mind. I cannot fully express how sad this photo makes me, an image of a child behind a fence, holding a dolphin balloon that is tangled in a ladder. Behind him is the view of a town imprisoned by their own incarceration of dolphins and small whales. This image makes me wonder what this child's view of cetaceans will be as he grows up. I sincerely hope that our presence here will in some way shift the mindset of this town. I hope that the school children we see passing the Taiji harbor in the early mornings remember us, and ask their parents who we are and why we are here. While they may receive misinformation about the Cove Guardians and our mission, I hope that one child will be curious enough to take the initiative to seek out Sea Shepherd and find out why we come to their town year after year. It is a difficult thing to be optimistic, since this is a culture that does not go against the norm. But, I cling to the dream because I do not want this child to grow up in a world with dolphins trapped like his balloon, with humans holding them confined in tiny sea pens. Nor do I want this child to grow up to be a dolphin killer or trainer. I want this child to grow up in world where the animals of the oceans are able to swim freely. I want this child to grow up in a town that can enjoy dolphins from a distance and respect them. This is a photo of two young and compassionate girls who are dedicated to the oceans. This gives me hope that one day the dolphins will be free. We felt a little bit of beauty and happiness on a day with no slaughter - a stark contrast to the ugliness that takes place in the Cove. Breathless. Literally scared to death. These beautiful creatures are approaching the killing cove while their assassins prepare their weapons for slaughter. This crude snapshot is not only a file I brought back home in my camera, but a picture that is still vivid in my mind. This photo is not the best quality, but it captures everything - not only what I endured, but also, what the whales had endured. It was the fourth day that a pod of pilot whales was held in the killing cove. Panicked, starved and fighting the strong ocean current, and only to face slaughter. It was pouring rain with extremely strong winds. Despite the horrible weather, the “fishermen” just continued killing more whales and transferring them from the Cove to the slaughterhouse. The wind was so strong that it blew my camera off the sea wall, which meant that I could not film any longer. I was drenched and frustrated. At that moment, I could not understand why Mother Nature was so against me, while I was doing my very best to help her beautiful creatures. But, it also gave me the opportunity to capture this killing boat transferring the whales. Thanks to the wind, it blew their carefully wrapped tarp away from the tails of the whales tied to the boat. As a result, Cove Guardians and the world could see the horrible way the killers treat them. This day pushed me to the brink of my sanity, but it also made me stronger and absolutely more determined than ever! This photo was taken at the start of a four-day nightmare. As a pod of pilot whales were netted off in the Cove, they became panicked with fear and desperation. As a result, they threw themselves onto the rocks and entangled themselves into nets as they tried to escape. Members of the pod continued to do this time and time again. At no time, while the killers pushed them back into the cove and they frantically tried to escape, did these gentle beings, even when their massive bodies, hurt a killer. “Change begins with Awareness.” There is nothing more heart wrenching than to see the dolphin killing boats driving a family of dolphins toward the killing cove and then having to put the scene into words for the world to hear. This particular morning, I was live streaming as a large pod of spotted dolphins were fighting for their lives. Standing close behind me, were two Taiji officials. As I was fighting back the tears, they were snickering at every word, as if mocking my emotions. I turned the iPad camera toward them for the world to see as I laughed at them. Our live stream coverage of the drive hunts, slaughters, captive transports and meat buyers reached tens of thousands in over twenty countries. We were able to reach more and more people and gain worldwide awareness through social media. The 2012-2013 dolphin drive season was the first time people at home were able to witness “live” what we as Cove Guardians see, hear and feel on the frontlines. On September 28th, Cove Guardian Ashley McDaniel captured this photo of the harrowing cruelty and the undeniable brutality of the Taiji dolphin drives. This victim lies helpless and bleeding on her side, her fragile body inches away from being torn open again by jagged rocks. Prior to this photo being taken, 20-25 pilot whales were driven into the Cove after a grueling chase. This lone pilot whale made a desperate, yet sadly futile, break for the shore, hoping to find safety. Instead, the whale was recaptured and forced into the notorious killing cove. In the Cove, she would have witnessed the merciless slaughter of her family members before succumbing to the spears of the Taiji fishermen. It is vicious scenes like these that will haunt me for the rest of my life and will galvanize me in my quest to defend our oceans. This dolphin swam freely in the ocean with the rest of his family until they were brutally hunted and captured by the so-called Taiji fishermen. Now, this dolphin is destined to spend the rest of his life in confinement. He, along with other captured dolphins, will be trained and sold for a large sum of money to marine parks around the world. Unfortunately, many people believe that dolphins kept in captivity are happy. Their smile is physiological and not because they enjoy being treated like clowns. They are fed a diet of dead fish full of medications because the environment they are forced to spend the rest of their lives in is unhealthy. This poor environment will eventually shorten their life expectancy. This dolphin washed ashore in Taiji. It most likely died of exhaustion and trauma after having been driven into the Cove, kept for days, witnessed his family die, swam in their blood and then was chased back out into the ocean. This dolphin was an innocent victim of the greed of Taiji. This bottlenose dolphin was part of a pod of over 200 dolphins that were forced into the killing cove on December 12th, and held there for a horrifying six days. Each morning, dozens of dolphin trainers arrived on the beach to select young and unblemished dolphins for life imprisonment. Over the course of a week, they violently captured 101 juvenile dolphins from the Cove and indifferently witnessed the slaughter of 25 more. This particular dolphin became caught between a net and a nearby boat propeller during the capture process. The propeller repeatedly lacerated the dolphin’s rostrum. The photo represents the absolutely shocking and horrific cruelty that is inflicted upon marine mammals in Taiji while being selected for captivity. For me, the photo is an example of why the global community must say NO to captive marine mammal facilities. Despite sad and dark days in Taiji, Cove Guardians remain strong for each other and incredible bonds of friendship are developed. We stand strong as a team of individuals for the same cause - to stop the dolphin slaughter. The Taiji dolphin killers make every attempt to hide their “tradition” from our cameras. This one even used his body weight to hold down the tarps over the dead dolphins as they were dragged out of the Cove to the slaughterhouse. He may have found the ride enjoyable, but we found the act distasteful. The dolphin in this photo was once, not long ago, swimming with his family in the wild, open ocean. As the sun came up that morning, he swam through the waves but, by nightfall, he was driven into the nets of the Cove by 12 terrifying boats. On this day, he witnessed the murder of his entire family as his freedom was ripped away. Being what humans consider an attractive specimen for entertainment, his life was both spared but ended at the same time. A day does not go by that I do not think of these dolphins and what has become of their lives. Torn from their freedom and family, they are now broken souls who are shipped around marine parks as though their lives never mattered. We all remember and mourn the slaughtered dolphins, but we cannot forget the dolphins still sitting idly in their artificial pools around Taiji. I can only imagine the sadness they feel. I will always fight for them. Just like the killers and trainers of Taiji, the dolphin meat buyers desperately try to hide their actions. Their arsenal is as diverse as their counterparts, with the use of tarps, boundaries, and sneaking their trucks through town to avoid detection. However, those tactics do not always work. In this photo, a meat buyer hid around the corner to avoid my camera. Once detected, the buyer recklessly sped off while a piece of meat flew off the back of their truck. Moments later, workers from another meat buyer came out, and with boisterous laughter, brought the meat into their processing facility. Not only did this photo show the lack of respect all involved have for the majestic creatures they steal from the oceans, but also, how little culture plays into the gruesome Taiji drive hunts. Standing high above the Cove with my camera focused on the wall of tarps, my heart was racing as I tried to control my breathing so I could steady my camera. At the same time, I was listening to the screaming and loud thrashing from these beautiful souls as they were being brutally slaughtered. Then complete silence, which seemed to be deafening to me. Then, the sound of the motors from the boats - I still hear these sounds in my soul. As I focused on the image of the boat coming out from underneath the tarp, the dolphin killers were standing on the bodies of dolphins. As the boat came into focus, I realized I could see the bodies and I began to shoot my footage, not realizing what the footage revealed was sick brutality. The killers were driving metal rods into the spines behind the blowhole to paralyze the dolphins. Some of these dolphins were still alive and suffering a slow death as the boats transported them to the slaughterhouse.
It is great to experience the positive feelings of how beautiful and peaceful our world could be. Humans from all over the world came together to fight the terrible crimes that happen in Taiji. There are no religious borders, no language borders - we are all the same. We are humans and we are there to be a voice for the voiceless.
On the other hand, you want to scream out loud to the people who still deny the cruelty in Taiji: “Are you blind on purpose? If you have nothing to hide, why are there shields all over the place and why are those police there?”This was the first slaughter that I witnessed. The full horrors occurring in Taiji sank in at this moment. I have no words for what I experienced in Japan - I thought I was prepared but I had no idea! I will return to raise awareness and bring an end to the murder of these amazing beings. I was proud to volunteer as a Cove Guardian for Sea Shepherd and to meet the wonderful activists there - Taiji will be with me forever. In this photo, a trainer is putting one of the false killer whales through their training program. That trainer would spend time with that individual whale every day for months. Trainers are involved in the whole process, from the capture and slaughter of the whales and dolphins to the training of the individuals until they are shipped off to become exploited performers. I find it impossible to comprehend how trainers do not feel empathy for the individual - for the horrific process of capture and bearing witness to the horrific slaughter of pod members in the Cove, for being isolated from their pod members and losing their freedom, for the grueling process involved in making them submissive, and for their pending miserable life in captivity. It is pure cruelty. The trainers, more than anyone else involved in the process, are the ones who should understand the plight of the animals, because they are the ones who are involved in the whole process and get closest to each individual animal. These animals fight not to be killed, fight not to be taken captive, and then, fight not to be subdued. Who can bear witness to that, let alone be the perpetuator? Taiji is definitely a whitewashed scene from Dante's Inferno- it is hell on earth for cetaceans. This photo has a chilling effect on me. The only words that I can use to explain my emotions when I see this photo are intense sadness. This photo was taken on one of my last days at the Cove. I stayed at the sea wall with Valentina, a fellow Cove Guardian, watching the final stage of a drive hunt. Valentina’s body language embodies what I felt during my stay in Taiji as I saw the horrors unfold right in front of me. My goal was to remain strong and be an important voice for the dolphins.