Today I woke up in Hell. Though the sun was shining, the air was fresh and crisp, graceful exotic birds flew overhead and I found myself surrounded by like-minded vegan angels clad in black Sea Shepherd gear there was no getting around the realization that if Hell exists it surely looks very similar to my view of the ocean through two twisted trees in Taiji, Japan where the water runs red. Red, with the blood of thousands of dolphins and whales, who are murdered here in Japan mercilessly every year so that the captive dolphin industry can remain a lucrative part of humans greedy thirst for enslavement entertainment via swim with dolphin programs/performing marine life acts and can continue to be poisoned by high mercury content in their food.
I arrived into Osaka airport, greeted by a defiant, bold Sea Shepherd flag being held by my friends Lead Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian Melissa Sehgal and Scott Cator. We had dinner at a quaint vegetarian/vegan restaurant and then made our nearly three-hour drive back to our hotel close to the site known internationally as “ The Cove “- an eerie pocket of water made famous in the academy award wining film of the same name. The police were aware of my arrival and sure enough as we neared the hotel a white van, carrying two uniformed police officers began to trail us. These faces, and the faces of other Riot police, have become a normal part of our daily lives. We literally can’t get a soda from a vending machine without having a police officer trail us having learned later if we prefer Coke or Pepsi. When we are perched at our lookout locations around Taiji they stand close – sometimes within three feet of us. I can only guess the police are there to let us know that we are under constant surveillance and probably hope that intimidates us. We have that in common, I suppose, because similarity our message is also that those involved in the Taiji dolphin slaughter are under Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians constant surveillance and yes, we hope that intimidates the killers. We may not at this point be able to physically “guard” the dolphins and whales and stop the brutal murders that happen here at The Cove, but we are able to guard the truth and deliver it in all its bloody, greedy glory to the rest of the world by any means necessary.
Any means necessary is made very clear when a new Cove Guardian arrives into Japan. Led by my friend, the tireless, long time activist and all around take no prisoners warrior Melissa Sehgal the message to the guardians is clear: We are not here in Taiji to make friends, nor are we here to make enemies. It is very clear here in Taiji who the bad guys (and females as well ) are – the trainers, nosy police, government officials and of course the killers. Each one is a part of the machine that churns out pain and suffering to innocent marine life here. It is they who rip apart families, terrorize dolphins and whales and force them into lives of enslavement. It is they who stand idly by as dolphins and whales swim freely being hunted and chased down by the deafening sound of banger boats, herded into the killing cove. Typically we see tiny babies clinging to the matriarch of the family along with the rest of the pod who in the wild look to her for comfort and direction. These family units are very strong and they fight to protect each other and stay together as a family for the entire bloody ordeal. If a pod is separated it is not uncommon for the rest to be herded into the cove the next day because the family members refuse to leave their loved ones. We are here to be the eyes and ears of the world and the voice of the dolphins and whales that count on us to deliver their story to the world. Our vow is to deliver that message which is written in their blood to as many people as we can to drive down demand for captive marine life and provide as much documentation as we can about the dangerous dolphin/whale meat being fed to many unknowing Japanese. We will not give any money to the businesses of Taiji and we will not try to align ourselves with the powers that run that town. If we are a nuisance so be it, if we cost the town more money for security, so be it. If they want us to leave, so be it or better yet let them tell the Japanese government that they want us to leave. And we will, under the condition that the whale and dolphin slaughters will end once and for all. Many Japanese activists have joined the fight and are fighting right along side of us. Sea Shepherd is a global organization and Cove Guardians hail from every corner of the world to be here in Taiji fighting for the dolphins. One day we know this kind of barbaric practice will be outlawed by the Japanese government. It simply HAS to. Until then, as the campaign name reminds us, we will have Infinite Patience.
Arriving with a police escort trailing us seemed strange when I arrived into town but I am now only on day two and already used to their presence. They followed us from our hotel to our first stop in the morning of my first day (two days ago). There are 13 Cove Guardians staying in my hotel and together some of us made our way to the Taiji Dolphin Resort where I watched in horror as three bottlenose dolphins were transferred in slings from holding pens in the harbor, scared and certainly longing for their family, into the above ground tanks at this prison. Female trainers in wet suits scurried around as police made sure to keep us at a distance. We saw their small fins poking through the slings as they were dunked into a life of enslavement. Then we got word from fellow Cove Guardians at the lookout post that the killing boats had begun to line up in a formation and were moving fast. In our world that means they have located a pod and are driving them from their ocean home into the killing cove. The Cove Guardians are strategically positioned all over the town of Taiji documenting every step of the dolphin’s ordeal., right through to their meat being sold.
Ascending many stairs onto higher ground where we would have a bird’s eye view of The Cove, we saw twelve banger (called banger boats because of the sound they use to drive the dolphins into the Cove) boats terrorizing and chasing a pod of Risso dolphins. With every mile as the boats came closer we would hope that they would lose the pod. It has happened before. But the boats bang and disorient the pod relentlessly pushing them toward the killing cove. This battle has at times gone on for several hours. Sometimes the pod wins. Today would not be that day. Today the family of Risso dolphins put up a fight but many were terribly young – tiny babies even – and mothers/fathers were trying to stay close and protect their young. Thirteen Risso family members eventually lost their battle and we saw them clinging together when netted into the killing cove. One got entangled in a net desperately trying to escape. Men in wet suits swam towards him and wrestled him out of the net and back into the cove with brutal force. The mothers and juveniles were almost attached they swam so close to one another, desperate to stay with each other. At one point the entire family were moving as one, trying to stay together in their last moments of life. As we watched in horror documenting and live streaming our eyes settled on two very young babies, their little fins so tiny next to their protective and panicked mothers. It was then I knew my heart would never leave this cove. The babies were heartlessly ripped from their family and then thrown onto a skiff under tarps that hid Japan’s shame. Our cameras caught a shaking terrified fin of a baby under a tarp, being stepped on and held still by the bodies of the fisherman killers and then the boat took off to dump the babies out to sea where they would suffer prolonged deaths by starvation or predators. Too small to be worth any money to the killers and not wanting to have them counted as part of their quota they cruelly drove them out to sea. The rest of the family was brutally killed under the tarps under our lookout spot and soon the cove turned red. Their bodies were butchered and sold to meat buyers who will get a pretty penny sourcing out high mercury foods to the Japanese people. The body of one Russo dolphin floated for a moment, her face bloody and her body still. Some shook and twitched under the tarps on the way to the butcher house, slowly dying of multiple stab wounds and suffocation. I couldn’t hold back my tears that flowed from such a primal place in my soul, the only comfort coming from the occasional hand on my back of one of the Cove Guardians who had seen this before but would never get used to the carnage before them. I vowed in that moment to tell everyone who would listen about what I saw in Taiji that morning and to keep the plight of these dolphins and whales on the public’s radar with every breath I would take from that day forward.
I don’t know what the next days hold for me here in Taiji. I know that just one day has changed me forever. I have marched through the Valley of Death and am here to report on it. I have seen the sickest part of humanity and will speak of it over and over until the citizens of the world begin to extend the “freedom for all” concept to every being. Nobody is free until everyone is free. This is something my boss / friend Russell Simmons tweets all the time. There cannot be peace in this world until there is peace for all. And so, we stand and we document and we rage against the machine. Loud. Relentless. Unified. Until every tank is empty.
#dolphinslaughter #coveguardians #seashepherd #taiji #dolphin #paulwatson #melissasehgal #russellsimmons #simonereyes
Photos courtesy of SEA SHEPHERD