Graham, Mary, and Wayne - three of Sea Shepherd's Operation Henkaku volunteers. Photo: Sea ShepherdGraham, Mary, and Wayne - three of Sea Shepherd's Operation Henkaku volunteers. Photo: Sea ShepherdAs September draws to a close, the Cove Guardians are reflecting upon the first month of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Henkaku as they prepare for the next five months of this emotionally grueling campaign to expose the capture and slaughter of cetaceans in Taiji’s infamous cove. In the sixth consecutive season of its Taiji Dolphin Defense Campaign, Sea Shepherd will once again be present throughout the entire six-month drive hunt season to bring the atrocities in Taiji to a worldwide audience via real-time reports, video and photographic documentation, and livestreaming.

Japan Tries to Hide the Bloodshed

Again this season, returning Cove Guardians have been denied entry into Japan by Immigration and deported from the country, without any official reason. Veteran Sea Shepherd crewmember Karen Hagen of Norway and two-time Cove Guardian volunteer Linda Trapp of the USA were both detained, interrogated and held for hours and ultimately deported from Japan.

Sea Shepherd believes that these denials are attempts by an increasingly desperate Japanese government to hide the massacre of wild dolphins and small whales in Taiji from the eyes of the world. Despite all obstacles, Sea Shepherd has had a team of Cove Guardians on the ground since the launch of the hunt season on Sept. 1 and continues to monitor and document the shameful actions of the Taiji Fishermen’s Union.

First Slaughter of the Season – Risso’s Dolphins

SS Taiji hunters drag a Rissos dolphin to be slaughtered. Photo: Sea ShepherdTaiji hunters drag a Risso's dolphin to be slaughtered. Photo: Sea ShepherdThe 2015-2016 season began with a peaceful streak of ten consecutive Blue Cove Days, during which no pods were captured or killed. Day after day, the hunters were forced to keep their boats in port due to the weather conditions or they returned to Taiji Harbor empty-handed, after their greedy search for wild dolphins or small whales did not turn up any victims to harass and murder.

Sadly, on the 11th of Sept. the blue streak was broken, as the first slaughter of the hunt season claimed the lives of 10 beautiful Risso’s dolphins. The panicked members of the pod fought for their lives, and following a stressful drive into the shallow waters, they threw themselves onto the rocks along the cove in desperation.

One Risso’s dolphin managed to jump over the inner nets and ended up stranded. The heartless killers paid no mind to the plea for compassion, dragging the distressed Risso’s dolphin back into the water and toward an inescapable fate. No member of the pod was spared.

From the Cove to Captivity: Bottlenose Dolphins Captured

On Sept. 19, a pod of approximately 80 bottlenose dolphins fell victim to the true economic force behind the drive hunt – the captive industry. When the Taiji killers spot a bottlenose pod, they know it is to be a lucrative day, as this species is the most profitable and therefore the most sought-after in the international captive trade. Once this pod was netted within the cove, a brutal captive selection process ensued and 18 wild dolphins were taken prisoner.

Panicked bottlenose dolphins huddle together during captive selection. Photo: Sea ShepherdPanicked bottlenose dolphins huddle together during captive selection. Photo: Sea ShepherdThe remaining pod members were held overnight in the cove without food or shelter – a regular occurrence in Taiji’s cruel hunt – and faced hours of captive selection the following day on Sept. 20. In total, 50 bottlenose dolphins were kidnapped from this decimated family and from the sea, transferred to the Taiji Harbor pens where they await a lifetime of imprisonment in captive facilities in Japan or overseas.

Those dolphins who were not chosen for captivity were driven back out to sea, likely traumatized, stressed and possibly injured from their two days of hell in the cove, after having lost most of their family. These 28-30 dolphins were mostly juveniles who stand little chance of surviving without the protection of their mothers and pod. Sea Shepherd has previously documented the bodies of dolphins who have washed ashore shortly following these exhausting drives back out to sea.

Will the Killers Exceed their Risso’s Quota Again this Year?

In the second slaughter of the season, another Risso’s pod was callously wiped out by the hunters on Sept. 23. One dolphin, paralyzed with fear and exhaustion, drowned before the killers were able to claim his or her life by slaughter, though they are still responsible for the dolphin’s death. The remaining 10 members of the pod were quickly driven deeper into the cove and mercilessly killed.

The number of Risso’s dolphins allowed in the hunters’ self-allocated quota this season is 256. Last year, the Risso’s quota of 265 was exceeded, with no regard for the effects on Risso’s populations. It remains to be seen whether the killers will once again exceed their quota, for which they have faced no penalty from Japan in the past. Not only is Taiji’s drive hunt unthinkably cruel, but it is quite possibly driving numerous dolphin species from existence in these waters.

Another Blue Streak in the Cove

A bottlenose dolphin gets trapped in the nets. Photo: Sea ShepherdA bottlenose dolphin gets trapped in the nets.
Photo: Sea Shepherd
In the wake of the slaughter on the 23rd, the waters of the cove have remained blue for seven consecutive days, with torrential rain keeping the boats in port on Sept. 24 and the hunters returning empty-handed the remainder of the days closing out this month.

Even on Blue Cove days, Sea Shepherd volunteers are still on duty, keeping a watchful eye on the captive dolphins in the Taiji Harbor pens. Their presence is a constant reminder that though there were no slaughters or captures on a given day, this hunt will end only when the global demand for captive dolphins and whales is ended. Sea Shepherd believes that the drive hunt could not be sustained solely by the sale of dolphin meat for human consumption – as demand for dolphin and whale meat continues to sink to an all-time low. That is why this season, along with continuing to document and live stream each capture and slaughter to apply continuous pressure upon Japan, Sea Shepherd has strengthened our focus on raising vital awareness of the inextricable link between the slaughter in Taiji and cetacean captivity around the globe. Please stand with us and our Cove Guardians as we break the vicious cycle that flows “From Taiji to Tanks.”

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