Operation HenkakuSea Shepherd Conservation Society’s first international team of volunteer Cove Guardians is on the ground in Taiji, Japan for the official launch of Operation Henkaku (Operation Metamorphosis), the sixth consecutive year of Sea Shepherd’s Dolphin Defense Campaign. The team arrived over the weekend and is on site for the start of season in Taiji on Sept. 1.

The Cove Guardians will once again be present for the entire six-month hunt season, from Sept. 1 until March, documenting and live streaming every capture and every slaughter of dolphins and small whales, bringing continuous pressure upon Japan to end the bloodshed. Each year, the drive hunt conducted by the Taiji Fishermen’s Union drives more than a thousand cetaceans — entire pods at a time — into Taiji’s killing cove. Once netted in the shallow waters, the dolphins or small whales face brutal slaughter before the eyes of their family or violent capture for a life of imprisonment in captivity. In recent years, the hunt has sparked massive international outrage and media firestorms, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians – the only group on the ground in Taiji daily throughout the hunt season each year since 2010.

Captive Cetacean Industry

This season, Sea Shepherd’s campaign will also have an increased focus on raising crucial awareness of the inextricable link between the slaughter in Taiji and the global captive cetacean industry. It is widely believed that the drive hunt could not be sustained entirely by the sale of dolphin meat for human consumption. Sea Shepherd has long maintained that it is the highly lucrative international trade in live cetaceans for captivity that is the economic fuel driving the hunting boats as they leave Taiji Harbor daily in search of pods. In May of this year, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) voted to end purchases by its member aquariums of cetaceans captured in Taiji, in response to a statement from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) that JAZA must take this action or lose its WAZA membership. Though not yet an end to the hunt, JAZA’s decision is an important step that will decrease demand for Taiji-caught cetaceans, who end up in captive facilities in Japan or overseas. However, it is imperative that the global demand for captive dolphins and whales be ended. Because the Taiji hunters can sell just one trained captive dolphin for as much as $250,000 USD, there is much economic incentive to supply these wild-caught marine mammals in the captive trade.

Taiji Fishermen's Union Quota

The quota, self-allocated by the Taiji Fishermen’s Union, allows for a total of 1,873 cetaceans to be captured and slaughtered during the 2015-2016 hunt season. This figure includes 462 bottlenose dolphins, 450 striped dolphins, 400 pantropical spotted dolphins, 256 Risso’s dolphins, 134 Pacific white-sided dolphins, 101 pilot whales and 70 false killer whales.

“As Sea Shepherd has done annually since 2010, we will continue to document and live stream from the cove to expose this senseless massacre that claims entire pods of dolphins and small whales. The work of our Cove Guardians has brought these atrocities to the eyes of the world – and the world has spoken up and said these wild, migrating cetaceans are not Japan’s for the taking,” said Sea Shepherd Campaign Coordinator, David Hance. “This year, we will also be raising more awareness than ever before of the captive industry’s role in the slaughter. The aquariums, marine parks and other facilities around the world that hold cetaceans captive have blood on their hands. Sea Shepherd believes that ending the global demand for captive dolphins and whales will ultimately bring an end to Taiji’s drive hunt.”

Cove Guardians Denied Entry into Japan

On Thursday, Aug. 27, veteran Sea Shepherd volunteer Karen Hagen of Norway was detained by Japanese Immigration upon arrival in Fukuoka, Japan by ferry from Busan, South Korea. After being interrogated for two hours and held for more than six hours, she was refused entry into the country and deported to South Korea. Immigration officials repeatedly changed their stated reason for denying Hagen entry, and when these reasons were refuted, they ultimately did not provide an explanation. Over the weekend, another veteran, Linda Trapp of the USA, was denied entry because officials said her reasons for visiting did not comport with tourism. Last season, several returning Cove Guardians were detained and sent home upon their arrival to the country. No reason has been given for the denials, but Japan has claimed that the volunteers arriving with tourist visas are not tourists.

Sea Shepherd believes these refusals are evidence that Japan is becoming increasingly desperate in its attempts to hide the shameful acts of Taiji’s dolphin killers, and increasingly aware that Sea Shepherd has been effective in exposing these acts globally. “Despite these entry denials, we have Cove Guardians on the ground, and we will all season,” said Hance. “Sea Shepherd’s volunteers are dedicated people who travel from the around the world to Taiji because they are committed to ending the slaughter. Japan cannot stop a movement driven by compassion.”

Volunteer to be a Cove Guardian

Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians document as a pod of Pacific white sided dolphins faces captive selectionSea Shepherd Cove Guardians document as a pod of Pacific white sided dolphins faces captive selectionSea Shepherd invites supporters and individuals concerned for the dolphins and small whales to join us on the ground in Taiji. Those who are interested in volunteering as a Cove Guardian this season, should email  groundcrew@seashepherd.org to express their interest.

For six months of each year, entire family units, or pods, of dolphins and small whales are driven into the cove. Banger poles are struck against the side of the hunting boats to create a “wall of sound,” disorienting the sound-sensitive marine mammals and making it nearly impossible for them to escape the drive. The members of these frightened pods will face either imprisonment in captivity or brutal slaughter before the eyes of their families. Killers and trainers work side-by-side to select the “prettiest” dolphins and whales for captivity, those without visible scars. The others are mercilessly stabbed with a metal spike inserted into their backs, just behind the blowhole, to sever their spine. The dolphins slowly and painfully bleed to death or drown in the blood of their family members – others may die slowly as they are tethered and dragged to the butcherhouse, where the once living and free cetaceans are butchered and processed into meat. These inhumane killings are a blemish upon Japan, whose government refuses to sign on to many protection efforts and regulations for marine mammals, despite most of the world recognizing the need to protect these self-aware, beloved and imperiled animals.

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