Breaking: Pilot Whales Captured in First Hunt of Season

Taiji, Japan, 9/3/17: By 2:30 p.m. local time – seven hours after a pod of short-finned pilot whales had been found and rounded up by Taiji’s dolphin hunters – the cove was eerily quiet. The inhales and exhales of the 44 wild dolphins trapped in shallow waters permeated the heat and humidity of the day, one which started out like any other for the unsuspecting mammals.

This would mark day three of the 2017/18 dolphin drive hunts of Taiji Japan, where hunters are legally allowed to capture 1940 animals across nine species between the months of September and March. Many will be slaughtered while others will be committed to “life” in captivity, kept in tiny pens before being shipped to aquariums and marine parks across the world.

Banger boats in full pursuit of pilot whale pod, Taiji, Japan

Banger boats in full pursuit of pilot whale pod, Taiji, Japan. Credit:

At 5:15 a.m. local time, 12 boats left in search of dolphins, and by 7:30 a.m., hunters had found their prey. While Dolphin Project Cove Monitors were initially unable to identify the species being pursued, the telltale signs of a drive were well underway, with black smoke spewing from the hunting boats.

The very young, the very old and the sick simply cannot keep up as the rest of the pod flee for their lives. There are dolphins who are fatally injured, babies who are aborted, and others.” ~ Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director of Dolphin Project

For hour after hour the dolphins were relentlessly chased. In those long hours of pursuit, while the dolphins were driven towards the cove, the brutal reality of the hunts was driven home. No matter the species, the hunts are torture for dolphins. Kept in a continuous state of “fight or flight,” vast amounts of energy are mobilized as the pod attempts to evade the hunters.

And for seven hours, the pod fought for their lives, struggling against the deafening sounds of boat engines, of poles being banged (designed to confuse the dolphins’ sensitive navigation systems) and the sheer willpower of the hunters themselves. By early afternoon, it became clear the dolphins were losing the battle.

Mom and baby pilot whales driven into the cove, Taiji, Japan

Mom and baby pilot whales driven into the cove, Taiji, Japan. Credit:

As hour after hour went by, with the boats turning and chasing the dolphins, I could only imagine the nonstop terror the mammals must have been experiencing. I envisioned an entire family – grandparents, parents and children – fleeing for their lives, and wondered how many would wear down and just give up. By the time the pilot whales were driven past us, they looked totally exhausted.” ~ Cynthia Fernandez, Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

People from across the world watched in real time as Dolphin Project broadcast the hunt, witnessing for themselves the tragic plight unfolding in front of their eyes. Continues Fernandez:

Their swimming became noticeably slowed, and several times, the pod refused (or was unable) to move. However, with the boats so close to the pod, they had no choice but to keep moving, ultimately swimming right into the cove. My heart broke as I watched the nets being drawn, sealing their end.”

Pilot whale pod netted into the cove, Taiji, Japan

Pilot whale pod netted into the cove, Taiji, Japan. Credit:

Boats and skiffs quickly left the cove, leaving the pod alone for the rest of the day and night. Many juveniles were seen in the pod, huddled close to their mothers. Little heads bobbed up and down while the adults continued to circle the tightly-knit group. The scene was horrifying, for, unlike the dolphins who are unaware of their fate, we have a good idea of the atrocities that will unfold tomorrow.

Pod of pilot whales huddle together, awaiting their fate, Taiji, Japan

Pod of pilot whales huddle together awaiting their fate, Taiji, Japan. Credit:

Dolphin Project will be back on the ground in a few hours, continuing to report live from Taiji. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates.



Dolphin Project will be on the ground in Taiji during the entire killing season, broadcasting live on social media, blogging and disseminating information for the world to see. Your support has never been more crucial and is greatly appreciated.

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Interested in joining us in Taiji? Learn about becoming a volunteer Dolphin Project Cove Monitor.

Interested in becoming a Dolphin Project Cove Monitor?

Interested in becoming a Dolphin Project Cove Monitor?


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Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project is a non-profit charitable organization, dedicated to the welfare and protection of dolphins worldwide. Founded by Richard (Ric) O’Barry on Earth Day, April 22, 1970, the mission of the Dolphin Project is to end dolphin exploitation and slaughter, as dolphins are routinely captured, harassed, slaughtered and sold into captivity around the world – all in the name of profit.

Every year from approximately September 1 to March 1, a notoriously cruel hunt of some of the most sentient and sensitive creatures on the planet takes place in Taiji, Japan, made famous by the 2009 Academy award-winning movie “The Cove.” During this period, fisherman, or more appropriately, dolphin hunters, “drive” the mammals to their capture or deaths via means of physical violence and acoustic torture.

Dolphin Project is the only organization to have been on the ground in Taiji since 2003. We have revolutionized live streaming and will broadcast throughout the entire season.

Dolphin Project works not only to halt these slaughters but also to rehabilitate captive dolphins, investigate and advocate for economic alternatives to dolphin slaughter exploitation and to put a permanent end to dolphin captivity.  This work has been chronicled in films such as, ‘A Fall From Freedom,’ the Oscar-winning documentary ‘The Cove,’ and in the Animal Planet mini-series, ‘Blood Dolphin$.’

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About Cara Sands

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It might be true that we don't recall many moments from our early years. However, Cara's first memory of a dolphin had her begging her parents to ask the trainer to let the dolphin go! The problem with captivity was evident to her, even as a 4 year-old child.

A writer by trade, Cara has researched, investigated and documented dolphins suffering in captivity. From documenting dolphins incarcerated in buildings, cut-off from fresh air, sunlight and normal socialization to researching cases of animals imprisoned in solitary confinement, Cara is a dedicated dolphin welfare advocate.

It is her belief that education equals empowerment. The more information shared, the better our choices and knowledge of how to act as a positive and respectful voice for dolphins across the world.

Cara is based out of Canada and makes time whenever possible to observe dolphins in their natural environments. She is writing her first fiction novel but knowing her, the marine world will play a prominent role in her book!

"The use of animals for entertainment is nothing more than an abuse of dominance. Some of the most sentient species on the planet have been exploited to incomprehensible levels, all due to their inherent benevolence. Ironic, considering that we turn to the abused themselves for displays of humanity."
~ Cara Sands

Author: Cara Sands


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