Taiji, Wakayama, Japan

The Drive Hunt

The Hunting Boats

At first light, twelve dolphin hunting boats leave Taiji harbour in search of wild dolphins. The boats fan out beyond the horizon to cover a large expanse of ocean, in order to effectively search well-known migratory routes.

Once a pod id found, the dolphin hunters radio each of the other boats, giving their location in order to start the ‘drive’ of the pod into 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 around the family of dolphins. The dolphin hunters then use a long metal pole attached to the side of each boat, hammering the flanges on top to create a deafening “wall” of sound. The banging sound terrifies the dolphins, causing them to swim away from the sound – driving them straight toward the Cove.

The hunters chase the dolphins toward Taiji Harbour until they have been forced into shallow waters, following the coastline into the Cove. Once successfully driven into the Cove, the dolphins are netted. Hunters arrive in small hand motor-powered skiffs to work side-by-side with dolphin trainers to select dolphins 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.

The Killing Process

Entire extended family units – pods – are caught this way.  Elders, adults of reproducing age, pregnant females, juveniles and babies are all driven into the cove. Sometimes the pod will escape the boats, or some dolphins will get away as a pod is separated, successfully evading death or a life of imprisonment., However, more often than not, the entire family unit is driven into the killing cove – multiple generations wiped out in a single hunt.

Once the dolphins are netted within the cove, their fate is sealed. The captive selection and slaughter process commences.

Marine mammal trainers from Dolphin Base, Hotel Dolphin Resort and  Taiji Whale Museum 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 movie “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 blood red.

In an effort to reduce the amount of blood spilled into the water and into the sight of the world, the hunters use a killing technique known as “pithing.” A metal rod is pushed into the spinal cord, causing paralysis. Then, a wooden plug is forced into the wound. The dolphins are still conscious, breathing and struggling as they watch their families slowly die. In the case of larger pods, a blood-filled cove is still seen and documented.

Simultaneously, the dolphin trainers are taking part in the live capture process; here we are shown the direct, bloody link between the mass dolphin killings and the captive industry.

The dolphins chosen for the entertainment industry 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 dolphin hunters then tether the flukes of the remaining dolphins – sometimes several dolphins at once – in order to control and manoeuver the dolphins. The panicked 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, dolphins still struggling as their bodies are tethered to skiffs and dragged to the butcher house have been documented. This method of killing is far from humane, despite claims from Taiji Fishermen’s Union and Japanese government officials.

Death is only the beginning of the suffering for dolphins captured in Taiji. Taiji, Japan is “ground zero” for the international slave trade of live dolphins.

The Captive Industry

The captive 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 the dolphin drive hunts 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.  These figures can skyrocket from $32,000 USD 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.  Supporting a live dolphin show or participating in a confined swim-with-dolphin program anywhere in the world is the same as killing a dolphin in Taiji.

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 know their own ocean.

It is now illegal in the United States to import a dolphin that 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 US each year are actually wild-caught.  Even the captive-bred dolphins most likely have close 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.

Credit: Facts from Cove Guardians – Videos from  Martyn Stewart

Follow: Dolphin Project

Please never buy a ticket to a dolphin show, marine park or a swim with dolphins facility. If you love dolphins then let them be  – wild and free to roam their home – the ocean. Thank you.