Dolphin Hunting Boats
There are currently twelve dolphin hunting boats operating in Taiji, and each of these small vessels departs Taiji harbor at first light of day in search of wild dolphins. The boats fan out upon and beyond the horizon to cover a large expanse of ocean, searching well-known dolphin migration routes.
Upon locating a pod, the dolphin hunters radio each of the other boats, giving them their location in order to start the ‘drive’ of the pod toward the killing cove.
The boat that initially discovered the dolphins remains with the pod until other boats arrive. Once there are five or more boats on the scene, the hunters will initiate the drive.
The boats form a v-shaped wall, partially encircling the family of dolphins. The dolphin hunters then utilize the long metal pole attached to the side of each boat, hammering the flanges on top to create a deafening “wall” of sound. The banging terrifies the sound-sensitive dolphins, causing them to swim away from the source of the sound, driving them straight toward the cove.
The hunters chase the dolphins toward Taiji Harbor until they have been forced into shallow waters, following the coastline into the cove. The dolphins are then netted into the small shallow area, sealing their fate. Hunters arrive in small hand motor-powered skiffs to work side-by-side with trainers to select the “prettiest” dolphins (those without visible scars) for a life in captivity. The skiffs are also used to force the dolphins onto the rocky shore of the cove, segregate the family pods, and to transport the dead bodies of those slaughtered to the butcher house. If there are remaining pod members still alive and not chosen for captivity, they are dumped back out to sea where they are left to fend for themselves; these dolphins — who may be injured, have endured the trauma and stress of the drive into the cove, and witnessed the murder or capture of their family members — are often juveniles with little hope of survival without the safey of their mothers or pods.
The Killing Process
Entire extended family units (or pods) are caught this way. Elders, adults of reproductive age, pregnant females, juveniles and infants are all driven into the cove. Sometimes the pod will manage to outsmart the hunters and escape the boats, or some dolphins will get away as a pod is separated, successfully evading death or a life of imprisonment. However, dolphins are highly social and form strong bonds between family members, and will often stick together. This trait, combined with the nearly inescapable drive of the boats, means that more often than not, the entire family unit is driven into the killing cove – multiple generations of one of the world’s most majrestic and beloved creatures wiped out in a single hunt.
Once the dolphins are netted within the cove, their fate is sealed. The captive selection and slaughter processes commence. Despite claims from trainers and the Taiji Fishermen’s Union that the selection process for captivity is carried out separately from the slaughter, Sea Shepherd has documented many times over that these processes occur simultaneously.
Marine mammal trainers from the nearby Dolphin Base (swim-with-dolphin program), Hotel Dolphin Resort (live dolphin show) and from the Taiji Whale Museum (live dolphin show) will often join the dolphin hunters in the shallow waters of the killing cove, selecting individuals – the “prettiest” and “juvenile” dolphins without scars or visible flaws - for the captive entertainment industry. Sometimes, the remaining dolphins will be released, but most often, they are all brutally slaughtered for human consumption. No compassion is shown, as grandparents, parents, pregnant females, and babies are all killed.
When the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove was filmed, the dolphins were killed by spear thrusts. This resulted in a massive amount of blood spilling into the water, turning the cove from a peaceful blue to a horrifying blood red.
More recently, in an effort to reduce the amount of blood spilled into the water before the eyes of of the world, the hunters use a killing technique known as “pithing,” in which a metal rod is hammered into the spinal cord of the dolphins, just behind the blowhole, causing paralysis.
The dolphins are still conscious, breathing and struggling as they watch their family members slowly die. In the case of larger pods, a blood-filled cove can still be seen and documented by the Cove Guardians. As the slaughter takes place, dolphin trainers take part in the captive selection – a violent process that matches the slaughter in its brutality. Here we are shown the direct, bloody link between the mass dolphin killings and the captive industry.
The dolphins chosen for captivity are transported via skiff and sling either to captive sea pens in Taiji Harbor, or straight to Taiji Dolphin Base, Dolphin Resort Hotel or Taiji Whale Museum.
The hunters then tether the flukes of the remaining dolphins – sometimes several at once – in order to control and maneuver the dolphins. The panicked and thrashing animals are then dragged onto the shallow and rocky shore or tethered to the cliff edge.
It has been documented that some dolphins and small whales have taken more than thirty minutes to die. The dolphins struggle in a pool of their own blood and the blood of their families, slowly suffocating and internally bleeding. On several occasions, Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians have documented live, conscious dolphins still struggling as their bodies are tethered to skiffs and dragged to the butcher house, left to drown on the way. This method of killing is far from humane, despite claims from Taiji Fishermen’s Union and Japanese government officials.
The Captive Industry
Death is only the beginning of the suffering for dolphins captured in Taiji. This small town is “ground zero” for the international slave trade of live dolphins.
The captive dolphin industry has become a billion-dollar worldwide trade, with all money made from the exploitation, imprisonment and lifelong suffering of these sentient beings. It is arguable that Taiji’s drive hunt would not even take place if it weren’t for the amount of money made from the lucrative sales of live dolphins. The dolphin drive hunt itself as an operation is expensive. The dolphin hunters make approximately $32,000 USD for each live dolphin they capture. This figure can skyrocket up to $250,000 USD for a trained captive dolphin.
The captive dolphin entertainment industry and the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji are directly and inextricably linked. Buy a ticket to a marine park and you are supporting the slaughter of these innocent, sentient beings. Paying to attend a live dolphin show or participate in a confined swim-with-dolphin program anywhere in the world is equivalent to driving a dolphin into the infamous killing cove for slaughter.
Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians have documented that it is the dolphin entertainment industry that drives the hunt. Well-intentioned marine mammal trainers and members of the dolphin show-viewing public all have the blood of innocent dolphins on their hands.
For the dolphins stolen from their families and sold into captivity, life is beyond unbearable. The dolphins born into a life of captivity exist in prison-like conditions and never live as nature intended, knowing their rightful ocean home.
It is now illegal in the United States to import a dolphin who has been caught in the wild; therefore the captive-bred dolphin business has exploded. One must wonder how many of the so-called captive-bred dolphins imported into the U.S. each year are actually wild-caught. Even the captive-bred dolphins most likely have closely related ancestors who were captured in Taiji.
The global aquarium industry’s link to the killing of dolphins and small whales in Taiji is undeniable and unavoidable. Taiji is the international hub for dolphin capture and slaughter.