Today in Taiji the sun was shining brilliantly and warming up the crisp, chilly air by 9am. The sun floated on the Pacific Ocean creating tiny mirrors reflecting the beauty of the mountains all around it – it looked a bit like heaven might look from my viewpoint at our Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian lookout. My comrades the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians were feeling hopeful. Pre-dawn, we had already greeted with our cameras the killers as they left the harbor for their daily dolphin hunt and by 9am saw three banger boats return empty handed to the dock. We started to cautiously smile at the thought that today just might be a Blue Cove day where no dolphins lost their lives in the Cove- and while there are always captive dolphins to mourn for here in Taiji, a day where the Cove remains empty is always a day to celebrate. Dare I say, we were feeling optimistic. Then by 9:21am the sight we all dreaded was before us, several banger boats heading toward us in a drive formation. Before them a splashing, confused family of approx. 40 to 45 striped dolphins that were unfortunate enough to swim past Taiji on their migration and get spotted by the killing boats. We got into position and began to live stream what we were seeing and hearing, namely the familiar sickening sound of the banging poles that are deafening to dolphins underwater – sounds that will will haunt all of us for the rest of our lives. As the drive came closer we saw the killers aggressively throwing rods on ropes at the dolphins that echo underwater and scare the family, moving them faster toward their bloody fate. The striped dolphins, like all the other pods we have seen driven into the Cove never strayed from their family members. They never abandon each other in their time of panic-they fight to stay together till the bitter bloody end.
The pod fought to get away but the killers were relentless. As the dolphins were finally all herded into the killing cove one small dolphin got tanged up in a net, fighting to free herself as her frenzied family swam, splashed and jumped around her. Another small dolphin, driven by the loud motors of boats that often drive right over the still fighting bodies of family members as they move them from the larger nets to the smaller nets to the covered area of the cove where the final killing is done, got stuck between a sharp rock and the nets in the chaos. She flailed and twisted her body in a mad panic to get back to her family and we witnessed her desperate thrashing for what seemed like an eternity. Finally having crashed against the hard rocks multiple times, separated from her family and trying with everything she had to re-join them her body was pierced by the rocks. Blood poured out of her with force and the cove began to turn red. We heard her wail and cry in unimaginable pain. Obviously fearing that she would damage the precious nets, a killer in a dive suit swam to her and aggressively threw her back into the killing cove, her body swimming with a trail of blood. Other family members battled with the killers as they tied their fins with ropes, tethering them to the side of the killing boats dragging them into the cove. Dolphins not yet herded into the final net could see and hear the cries underwater of their family being brutally murdered. They swam in confused circles not knowing where to turn. Finally after a long final chase, drag and push where killers swim inside the nets with the terrified pod, punching and manhandling them violently, the entire pod was under the tarps splashing and thrashing in their final moments- each having to endure being paralyzed by a sharp spike plunged into their necks behind their blowhole, which doesn’t kill them instantaneously as the Japanese govt would like you to believe. This torturous method leads to mass hemorrhaging and likely paralysis, which is a slow death for these gentle sea creatures. The killers go through so much to keep the actual killing area covered from our view and even put corks into the fatal wounds so that we don’t get photos of the bloodbath – but there is little they can do to keep the cove from running red with that much carnage. Even when we are documenting the time after the wild, loud panicked thrashing of death stops we know that chances are high the dolphins are still dying slow deaths, even as the skiffs come to load them into their boats to take their bodies to the butcher house. The skiffs carrying the now dead bodies of a family we saw so alive just hours ago almost looked as if they may sink, heavy from the weight of the freshly killed.
One lone dolphin was carried away by five killers in a sling. She was stolen from her now deceased family to endure a lifetime of torture where she will be forced to do tricks in tiny pens for food. Her pain will continue long beyond the bloody ordeal of this morning. All of these captive dolphins will continue to suffer as long as people buy tickets to marine parks and swim with dolphin programs.
Becoming a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian who speaks on the live stream is a delicate balance for me. While it’s important to try to keep our emotions in check to be able to accurately report on the brutality being shown through our lenses I also allow my tears to flow in as much of a controlled way as I can muster. It is important, in my opinion, that people understand that we are reporting on what is truly unfathomable and unspeakable. Putting words to it is very difficult when there are truly no words to accurately describe it. I am always so proud of the Cove Guardians, Melissa, Georgie and Ashley who create a balance that is both personal and professional when they have the live stream mic.
There is nothing but greed pure and simple pushing these drives. A dolphin means big business for the Japanese. Taiji is ground zero for the international trade of dolphins – with each dolphin captured earning the Japanese about $ 32,000. Trained dolphins are sold for a significantly higher number so each ticket bought at a dolphin show continues to drive demand for these imprisoned dolphins.
I will forever be haunted by the sounds and sights of these striped dolphins fighting for their life and the lives of their family. I will never be silent so that these dolphins didn’t die in vain. My heart will also ache forever for the captive dolphins, like today’s striped victim, who will suffer for the rest of her life in a prison hell. To me, these dolphins are heroes – the images of their lives are messengers of change. Their blood carries a message that will eventually change this atrocity in Taiji, because it simply MUST. I know a groundswell is coming. People are learning about the way captivity kills and the more we get our images out to the public the more enraged I believe they will become that this is still going on in Taiji. I will never be silent for the dolphins, until every tank is empty.