By Ollie Blackmore

Tanabe to Taiji

Iset off just before 8am, knowing I had a shorter ride planned to get into Taiji to meet Ric and Tim from the Dolphin Project. It was a fairly hard 60 miles with some challenging lumps and a sea breeze. The coastline here is stunning. I could have stopped dozens of times to take it in but wanted to get to Taiji by lunchtime to meet Ric and Tim. My legs were in autopilot today, my mind was racing with the reality of being at The Cove for real. It was like I was about to go onto a film set, to see where everything is filmed. But this set is real, all of it.

I stopped at a store to get some water and saw a guy with a bike loaded up with panniers talking to a local dude. The local guy looked at my jersey, pointed and said ‘Dolphin Project!’ straightaway. I was amazed he’d heard about my ride. I spoke to them about what I was doing in more detail, the cyclist translated.

The cyclist reeled back a little and said its tradition to hunt whales and it would stop the income of the fisherman. I explained that there are better alternatives that would bring more people here and that its about working with the Japanese people. I said that traditions don’t have to last just because they are one. They die out. Today’s traditions become tomorrow’s lessons learned.

He said that he should take more time to think about animal welfare once is explained what happens to Dolphins there. It’s going to be difficult to convince people who get a twisted version of the truth. But the more people know about this, the more likely it is. That’s why I’m doing this challenge. I’ve met over a dozen people in Japan and talked to them about the ride and why I’m here. Not many, but it’s a start.

Many of my friends now understand that captivity is cruel, not just because of the way Dolphins have to live in tanks, but by the methods they got there. I shook hands with the guys and carried on towards Taiji. I was about 10 miles out when I heard a car beeping at me. It was Ric and Tim who spun around and greeted me! It was great to see them, they were streaming live and followed me as I cycled into the town.

tanabe to taiji

As you enter Taiji, there are whale tails sticking out of a roundabout and a big old whaling ship with ‘research’ written on the side.

I pulled up at the hotel I had prebooked and greeted Ric properly as he swooned over my bike! I wasn’t able to check in, in Japan they only let you have your room at 3pm sharp. The hotel was empty and the room would have been ready, but that’s how they roll! Instead, I got changed in a bathroom and headed out with Ric and Tim.

First stop was the police station they have built right on the cove. It was never there before the film and has expanded in size over the years. They knew about me coming and knew all about me. I had to fill in a specific form for my visit to Taiji and say what I thought about the fishing they do here.

To avoid a debate and risk of arrest, i purely said there are better alternatives. The form asked what hotel I was in, which I’d forgotten. The policemen told me as they knew already, this was all a formality. The police officer was very polite and really interested in my ride, he was keen to see my bike. Not sure if I will get a chance though. He asked that I keep my passport on me at all times and to obey the laws. Job done, I could leave.

Ric then showed me the cove and pointed out the killing cove just the other side. There were fences up and a brand new wall blocking the entrance to paths and walkways. There were cameras up all over too, they really didn’t want anyone being able to see the killing cove or have access to see it from above either.

Ric showed me where the dolphin had landed on the rocks at his feet a few days ago when it and another had escaped two nets. The fishermen dragged it back into the cove where it sank and died. A result of being driven 20 miles with its pod, exhausted, scared and injured. I couldn’t believe I was stood were it all happens. To see all the measures to stop people seeing what they do when they kill the Dolphins.

They use tradition as an excuse. Why are they hiding what they are doing? If it was a tradition, they would want to be proud of it and share it. But they hide it because they know people see it for what it is, cruel and needless.

We then drove into the harbour where the boats dock, I could see a few pens with one or two Dolphins in. Tiny pens, who know when they got there or what their fate will be.

We went up the hill and saw a beautiful view of the town. It is stunning, but tainted by what they do here.

Down in the harbour is the slaughterhouse where they butcher the dolphins. They cover with tarps when they do this. If this is tradition, why so secretive?

tanabe to taiji

They guys dropped me off at the hotel, I can see the Taiji Whale Museum from my window. I couldn’t resist going to see for myself. You walk in and are overshadowed by a huge whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. A gift shop selling whale meat and cute cuddly Dolphins and toy whales to your left with a cheap model of the coastline with 17th century boats netting and harpooning whales.

Outside there is a seated area with 3 tiny pools with 5 Dolphins in, thrashing around in circles, over and over again. One dolphin in the bigger of the 3 pools is sat waiting for food, constantly bobbing out of the water. In order to train Dolphins, trainers starve them so they do what they are asked, basic conditioning from the dark ages.

I walked down to an even bigger whale skeleton which was right in front of a larger sea pen with 2 or 3 pilot whales in. In that pen were more tiny sea pens with 3-4 Dolphins in each.

Trainers were milling around looking busy, taking buckets of squid and fish to feed them. Nobody blinked an eyelid at me in my Dolphin Project tee, taking photos, looking disgusted and upset.

I thought that was it. But I remembered Angel, the albino dolphin captured a season or two ago was here too.

I entered another building and walked through a glass walkway underwater. There were 5 or 6 striped Dolphins and Angel. They too just swam around in circles, what else could they do. The space they live in is just so small I can’t comprehend why anyone would think its humane or suitable.

I was in awe at their beauty, how graceful they swim, but this is not where they should be. Several of the Dolphins came close to the glass slowly and looked at me as I looked back. It was quite something to look into the eye of these amazing animals. Then Angel came and did the same.

I stayed as long as I could but it was horrible being there. It was a struggle to keep composed. Being there has given me even more motivation and determination than ever before. I haven’t witnessed a red cove and hope not to, but I have seen first hand the reality of captivity and what it stems from.

I then went and sat on the pebbly beach at the cove for a while to take stock of the day so far. The response to what I’m doing has been amazing, lots of support, donations and comments from all over the world. Thank so much. I’m just riding my bike, something I love to do and exploring an amazing country for a cause that I really believe in. Tomorrow I join the team for an early start as Cove Monitor. I hope it’s blue cove day.

Follow Ollie’s Cycle Challenge:
Dolphin Project | Facebook  | Instagram | Twitter