Operation Henkaku - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Sea Shepherd's Dolphin Defense Campaign in Taiji, Japan Donate Now

From Taiji to Tanks: The Inextricable Link Between Captivity and the Blood Spilled in the Cove

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In 2003, Sea Shepherd was the first to release shocking pictures of a blood red cove, sparking global outcry against the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Since 2010, Sea Shepherd's volunteer Cove Guardians have been the only group to stand along the shores of Taiji – ground zero for the international trade in captive dolphins – each day throughout the six-month annual hunt season. The Cove Guardians document and live stream to the world each drive, capture and slaughter of dolphins and pilot whales. Those cetaceans who are not ruthlessly killed in front of their family are sold to captive facilities in Taiji or elsewhere around the world, doomed to a life of imprisonment. Captivity is inextricably linked to the slaughter of these sentient, socially complex cetaceans, and this year Sea Shepherd will continue to expose the captive industry's role in this 'ecocide' of ocean wildlife.

During the hunt, entire pods of dolphins and pilot whales are driven to the shallow waters of Taiji’s infamous cove, swimming wild and free before they are forced to flee the nearly inescapable “wall of sound” created by the engines of the hunting boats and metal poles struck against the sides of the vessels. Once netted within the cove, the dolphins face one of two horrific fates – brutal slaughter before the eyes of their family members or a lifetime of imprisonment in captivity.

Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians have documented and exposed time and time again that the captive selection process takes place simultaneously to the slaughter, as killers and trainers work side-by-side to select the “prettiest” dolphins (those without visible scars) and tear them away from their family pod for captivity.

The newly captive cetaceans are trained and conditioned to eat thawed dead fish, sometimes being force-fed by trainers. They are sold to dolphinariums and marine parks in Japan or overseas, transported in tiny, dark, coffin-like crates sometimes for thousands of miles. These highly intelligent and socially complex marine mammals, taken from their expansive ocean home, are not well suited for captivity, where they are forced to live in small barren tanks and to perform tricks for noisy crowds in order to be fed dead fish. Their natural environment, their natural behaviors, and the right to live in their natural family groupings are denied to them.

It is widely believed that Taiji’s drive hunt could not be sustained solely by the sale of dolphin and pilot whale meat for human consumption. As the demand for the meat sinks to an all-time low, it is clear the hunt is increasingly a result of the demand for live cetaceans to be sold in the lucrative captive trade – the economic “fuel” that drives the hunting boats in search of pods. Just one captured and trained dolphin can be sold by the hunters for as much as $250,000 USD.

In May 2015, members of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquarium (JAZA) voted to end their purchases of dolphins captured in Taiji, to avoid JAZA’s suspension as a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which prohibits its members from buying Taiji-caught dolphins for display. Though the decisions from WAZA and JAZA will not yet entirely end the captures in Taiji due to sales of captured dolphins to other countries, they are important steps toward ending this ‘ecocide’ against oceanic wildlife. In order to end the slaughter, we must end the global demand for captive cetaceans. During Operation Henkaku, Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians will continue to document and live stream from the cove as they have done each year since 2010, but this year Sea Shepherd’s Taiji Dolphin Defense campaign will have a stronger focus on the slaughter’s inextricable link to the captive trade.   

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