BREAKING: Taiji’s Drive Season Over

For immediate release: March 1, 2017

TAIJI – Officials have confirmed to Dolphin Project that on March 1, the 2016/17 drive season in Taiji, Japan ended. For nearly six months, dolphins have been chased, harassed, manhandled, injured, captured and slaughtered. Pods have been decimated; real traditions have been broken. All in the interest of the almighty dollar – of which, this season as in past years, has yielded outrageous profits.

A total of 804 dolphins across six species were taken captive and/or slaughtered (see statistics below). With a trained dolphin worth as much as $155,000 USD, it’s easy to see how lucrative this trade is. What isn’t immediately obvious is the ongoing, heartbreaking cost to those captured. That’s why Dolphin Project has been on the ground in Taiji, at the infamous “cove” since 2003 – to bring this information to you via blogging, and in recent years, utilizing live streaming technology and the power of social media – so the public will stop supporting dolphin abuse.

#JDD2016 London

Ric O’Barry and thousands of protesters descend on London during Japan Dolphins Day 2016

On September 1, the first day of the dolphin hunting season, thousands of people across the world brought awareness to the Taiji drives during Japan Dolphins Day demonstrations. At the cove, our team was joined by 7-year-old Mini Cove Monitor, Imogen, along with her mother, Vicki. The young activist had brought a letter, along with letters from her classmates with the intention of delivering them to Mayor Kazutaka Sangen of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. What was supposed to be a five-minute meeting turned into a 20-minute unprecedented dialogue.

Imogen's letter to Mayor of Taiji

Imogen’s letter to the Mayor of Taiji
Credit: Vicki Kiely

It is not my responsibility or place to make a call to stop the hunting. It is the Japanese Government who gives the permits and allows this practice.” ~ Mayor Kazutaka Sangen, of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture

Nine days later, on September 9, a pod of approximately 19 Risso’s dolphins were driven into the cove, of which 15 were slaughtered and four juveniles were released. Yet in the absence of the support, protection and guidance from their elder pod members, their chances of survival are slim at best.

One week later on September 16, two species were brutally captured, representing the first major payday of the season for Taiji’s fishermen. Dolphin Project live streamed as the agitated and fearful mammals were harassed by hunters, who ensured the nets were drawn tight enough to prevent escape. By day four, a total of 42 bottlenose dolphins and one pilot whale were taken captive, 16 pilot whales were slaughtered, and several were released back into the sea, many of which were juveniles who had just lost their mothers to captivity or slaughter.

Bloodied bottlenose dolphins after throwing themselves up against rocks

Bloodied bottlenose dolphins after throwing themselves up against rocks, Taiji, Japan
Credit: DolphinProject.com

On October 19, the waters in the cove turned to blood as the first slaughter of striped dolphins took place. Our team witnessed and documented the extreme brutality, something which would become “commonplace” as the months unfolded. Hunters tied live dolphins by their tails, drowning them as they were dragged underneath the tarps to their slaughter. Dolphins caught in nets were subject to equally horrific treatment, as they were lifted out of the water and thrown towards the killing cove. Skiffs were observed running over live animals.

Live striped dolphins panic as they are tied by their tails and dragged to their slaughter.

Live striped dolphins panic as they are tied by their tails and dragged to slaughter, Taiji, Japan
Credit: DolphinProject.com

On November 22, in another Risso’s drive, tiny dorsal fins were observed in the group. This time, no lives were spared as all mammals were slaughtered. Another pod of pilot whales were driven into the cove on December 7 and held overnight, without food or shelter. When their slaughter began the following morning, with each adult killed, the juveniles became frantic, swimming erratically, spyhopping and pressing their bodies against the nets in attempts to reach the elders.

While Japan claims these kills are ‘traditional’, we know of no tradition which recklessly slaughters its young.” ~ Tim Burns, Dolphin Project Cove Monitor Coordinator

Babies and mothers huddle together, moments before slaughter, Taiji, Japan

Babies and mothers huddle together, moments before slaughter, Taiji, Japan
Credit: DolphinProject.com

Juvenile pod members spyhop while adult pilot whales swim protectively around young, Taiji, Japan, 12-7-16

Juvenile pod members spyhop while adult pilot whales swim protectively around young, Taiji, Japan, Credit: DolphinProject.com

In one of the more difficult live streams to broadcast, the world watched and listened as a pod of pantropical spotted dolphins were driven into the cove on December 12. Out of a group of 70, 18 individuals were violently wrangled into submission for “life” in captivity. The dolphins’ squeals and thrashing were caught on camera as they fought their captors. One died on a skiff, bleeding out from injuries sustained during the captive selection.

With the new year, came the season’s most colossal payday. Spanning over five days, a massive pod of 250 bottlenose dolphins were captured, out of which, 100 dolphins were taken captive, four died in the cove, and approximately 150 were released. Dolphin Project Cove Monitors live streamed on Facebook for hour after hour, and in real-time, the world witnessed the full horror of how wild-caught entertainment is “acquired”. Dolphins were seen bloodied from injuries with what appeared to be vomit in their mouths, struggling against their captors, slamming their heads against the skiffs and huddling close together in panic. Many babies and juveniles were observed, their little fins surfacing as they were ripped from their mothers’ sides.

Dying pantropical spotted dolphin after capture, Taiji, Japan

Dying pantropical spotted dolphin after capture, Taiji, Japan
Credit: DolphinProject.com

Taiji, Japan, The Cove, Bottlenose Dolphins, Dolphin Hunting, Captivity, Dolphin Slaughter

A massive pod of bottlenose dolphins panic after being driven into the cove, Taiji, Japan, Credit: DolphinProject.com

Bloody substance – possibly vomit – observed in dolphin’s mouth as divers wrangle the mammal into nets, Taiji, Japan, Credit: DolphinProject.com

On February 16, Risso’s dolphins, one of the hardest-hit species, were subjected to one of the most brutal drives of the season. For five hours, the mammals were tormented, pursued by aggressive fishermen in banger boats and skiffs. After they were finally driven into the cove, hunters wasted no time slaughtering the pod, with the exception of two babies which were carted back to sea, alone.

Towards the end of the season, on February 19, a captive selection took place offshore with the netting of a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins. The mammals struggled against their captors, writhing in nets as they were carted to the nearby harbor pens and dumped into the cramped enclosures.

White "paint-like" substance smeared onto back of Pacific white-sided dolphin prior to being dumped in harbor pen, Taiji, Japan

White “paint-like” substance smeared onto back of Pacific white-sided dolphin prior to being dumped in harbor pen, Taiji, Japan
Credit: DolphinProject.com

This is just a sampling of what our Cove Monitors documented. A total of 34 drives took place this season, with six species of dolphins affected. Countless numbers may have died as a result of the trauma of the drives themselves, their numbers never recorded. The ones taken captive now face ongoing suffering, forced to live in human-built confines, in an exchange of tricks for dead fish. The level of cruelty demonstrated by hunters and fishermen is incomprehensible. Dolphin trainers are equally complicit, as they select which dolphins will be taken captive, and which ones will be left to die.

So, while the drive season has “technically” ended, the aftermath of misery continues for those trapped in Taiji’s pens and for the ones shipped to marine parks throughout the world. Taiji’s destruction of dolphin pods doesn’t end here: the drive permits for hunting pilot whales are valid until the end of May.

Dolphin Project extends a huge “THANK YOU” to those who watched our broadcasts, shared this information and took the pledge to NOT visit a dolphin show, including supporting swim-with programs. Many of you clicked the “Take Action Now” banner on our website and did just that, lending your voices on behalf of those who are unable to communicate their suffering. Based on the numbers of dolphins taken captive this year (235 this season, versus 111 in the 2015/16 season), it is clear that captivity drives the slaughter. When dolphin shows become unpopular and people stop attending, the demand will drop and this will end.

We will continue to educate on the horrific realities of captivity throughout the year. Planning is underway for our 2017/18 campaign in Taiji, Japan.

2016/17 Drive Fisheries Quota, Taiji, Japan

2016/17 Drive Fisheries Quota, Taiji, Japan

2016/17 Drive Season Statistics

Slaughters: 569 Total

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins – 0
Striped Dolphins – 293
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins – 0
Bottlenose Dolphins – 0
Risso’s Dolphins – 235
False Killer Whales – 0
Pilot Whales – 41

Captures: 235 Total

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins – 20
Bottlenose Dolphins – 179
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins – 35
Pilot Whales – 1

Releases: 377 Total

Bottlenose Dolphins – 218
Risso’s Dolphins – 10
Pilot Whales – 32
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins – 117

Related: The Faces We’ll Never Forget

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Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the USA (Tax ID 47-1665067), and donations are tax-deductible.

Featured image: Common dolphins, wild and free, Cynthia Fernandez

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About Ric O'Barry

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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry
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