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By Ollie Blackmore

Cove Monitor in Taiji

Today was always planned to be a day off the bike. Being a cove monitor involves a very early start to get down to the Taiji harbour by 5:15am. Ric and Terran picked me up and headed there, a 2 minute drive from my hotel. We drive past all 12 boats still tied up. A good sign, it was windy and it looked like it was going to get worse. We parked up just around the corner and the boats began to head out to sea 10 minutes later. It was a horrible feeling knowing why they were heading out. The police were there again, as they always are.

As all boats left our sight, we heads up onto a peninsula up a hill which was beautiful. Rocky coves surrounded the viewing area next to a temple. There is a great view up there, you can get a panoramic view of the sea. The wind started to get stronger and clouds darkened, it looked like a storm was brewing for sure.

ollie & Ric

The boats spread out across the horizon and were out of sight. They will travel 20-30 miles offshore where migrating Dolphins pass by. We had a little time so Ric showed me one of his favourite spots down on the rocks. It was down a steep climb onto rocks which have been carved into smooth shapes over millions of years.

We headed back up and I admired the whole view, to my right was gorgeous coastline, to my left, rocky islands, outcrops and hotels and buildings, including those in Taiji.

It’s such a beautiful place. There should be diving, kayaking, whale watching, climbing, boat trips. People would swarm here from all over the world. It’s just immaculate, I wish I’d brought a snorkel, but I’d be arrested entering the water here for ‘Interrupting Commerce’! Instead, a corrupt mayor controls the town and profits from the sale of Dolphins. The fishermen are some of the best paid people in the area, live in the best houses and have a power which nobody seems to be able to crack.

People can’t speak out and oppose what happens, even though many think what happens is disgusting. People fear that they will be ostracised, which is why nobody has the confidence to do anything. The media also twists the truth, saying its a tradition to hunt Dolphins. But it isn’t. Taiji has been whaling since the 17th century, but that has nearly died out. They only started hunting Dolphins in the last 30-40 years.

The tourism, the economy and the pride that community would gain by seeking alternatives would be staggering. There could be so much to see and do here. Shut the museum down, rehabilitate the captive dolphins using money raised from increased tourism, create a sanctuary for other captive dolphins for release, it’s an absolute no brainer.

This place has the potential to be on the world stage for Eco tours and cetacean welfare. But corruption and hostility stands in the way, for now. I honestly believe that if given the chance, some of those involved in the hunts would want to speak about what really goes on if they had no reprisals. Possibly some may want to get out of it. I hope there is some humanity in that community.

The 12 boats will spread out in formation for a better chance of spotting a pod of dolphins. When one sees some, they will lower a huge metal mast into the water. At the end of the mast is a bell shape.

It wasn’t long before we spotted a tiny dot on the horizon heading our way with the binoculars. We couldn’t be sure it was a Taiji boat at first, but Terran and Ric have been doing this for 13 years, they know what to look for.

Sure enough it was. Then we saw another and another from all across the horizon starting to head our way. They are still miles and miles away still so nobody is going to call a blue cove day unless all boats are back, despite the promising signs.

They surround the pod and all start banging the 12 masts with hammers covering a huge area underwater. This creates a huge wall of sound which scares the shit out of Dolphins, and other sea life for that matter! They can’t use echolocation because of all the noise and are driven in whatever direction the boats drive them in, towards the cove.

Once close enough, they throw nets out to stop them escaping and push them further towards the shallow cove waters. By now, they will have been driven at high speed for 20-30 miles. They are scared, exhausted and often die doing this.

It’s then that the slaughter and captive selection process begins, when the fisherman can push them all around into the killing cove. They have blocked all access, covered it in tarps and hide it from the world.

They used to stab the Dolphins to death, making the cove run red, hence blue cove and red cove. But because blood would flow out of the killing cove for everyone to see, they now change how they do it for less dramatic effect.

They will drive a sharp point into the dolphin’s blowhole in an attempt to kill it. It’s not humane at all, videos show there is no way to do this quickly, a dolphin will flip around in fear, making it impossible for any kind of accuracy. The result is the fishermen will stab the Dolphin’s blow hole many times until they think they can move onto the next. They then cork the blowhole to stop blood pouring out into the sea, they only do this to hide the slaughter from us. Many live Dolphins have been stabbed in this way only to be dragged to the slaughterhouse by boat still alive with is dead pod. The fishermen don’t know what to do with live Dolphins at this stage so just carry on like it’s been dispatched.

Today though, I was very lucky not to witness that. I’ve seen it documented hundreds of times via Cove Monitors who give up their time and money to come here to volunteer. It’s not for the faint hearted, but there is a fantastic team at Dolphin Project who work tirelessly to bring this to everyone’s attention each day. If you’d like to help as advice monitor, please visit www.dolphinproject.net or contact me, I can put you in touch with the right people. Or if you want to help in other way, please get in touch with team.

While we waited for the boats to come in, the police officer who arrested Ric, interrogated him and questioned me yesterday came along to keep an eye on us with a colleague. His name is Ige (pronounced Ee-gee). He speaks great English and is a really good guy, just doing his job.

They don’t make you feel threatened, they are there to keep an eye on things, under orders.

He and I had a chat for 30 minutes or so. He had a million questions about my bike, the challenge, what it’s like in England, accents in Scotland, Wales, cost of living and general stuff. It was like we were talking like friends. He would love to travel and is welcome to see my side of the world and Ric is happy to show him Denmark too. I talked about the delays riding here with traffic lights and that we have roundabouts in England. He was fascinated by this and even google image searched what they were. It made immediate sense to him, I couldn’t believe I was helping as a cove monitor, discussion roundabouts in England with the police in Taiji. It was a funny situation, surreal and helped relieve what is a very stressful thing to do, waiting for boats to come back and not murder Dolphins.

Once all boats were back, we headed for breakfast. All of us relieved it was a confirmed blue cove day.