Captive Cetaceans in Taiji

By Cynthia Fernandez
Cove Monitor
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project

(Our Cove Monitor Cynthia Fernandez teaches school in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a great presentation for students about captivity for dolphins.  This is her second time to come to Taiji for us as a volunteer, paying her own way.  In this blog, she tells about the captive cetaceans in Taiji that are so key to the finances of the dolphin slaughter.   I thank her and our many other Cove Monitors for their dedication and help!  — Ric O’Barry)

On one of the rare Blue days that have happened while I’ve been here, my fellow Cove Monitor volunteer, Tia Butt, and I decided to go down to the harbor to see if anything was happening.  Sometimes, you will see a dolphin being transferred.  When a dolphin transfer is going to happen, you see the crane and a truck with a large crate waiting near the water’s edge.  You’ll see lots of activity at the sea pens in the harbor as the workers prepare the dolphin for transport.  They need to lift it out of the sea pen, place it in a sling by the side of the skiff and drive it over to the waiting crane.  There are always lots of police present, as well.

Today was a little different.  We could see a little activity at the sea pens but not nearly as many workers as usual.  A crane and flatbed truck were waiting at the water’s edge, but something was missing: the crate.  We quickly walked from the harbor, past the Fishermen’s Union to the area where the crane was and could see a skiff coming our way.  However, there was no crate and no police.  Strange.  Respecting the yellow lines that mean “Do Not Cross” while getting as close I could, I watched them load a bottlenose dolphin into a sling.  Something wasn’t right – there was no movement coming from that dolphin.  As I focused my camera in on the dolphin’s face, I could see why.  It’s eyes were half shut and it’s mouth was slightly ajar…it was dead.


A dead bottlenose dolphin is lifted out of a sea pen in Taiji harbor for disposal.  Taiji dolphin hunters know there are plenty more where this one came from.  Photo by Cynthia Fernandez.


We watched in horror as they callously loaded that poor dolphin onto the back of the flatbed truck, wrapped it up in a blue tarp and drove away.  I’m not sure where they took the body.  I’m sure they were disappointed as a bottlenose dolphin is the most valuable species to them in terms of sales to marine parks.  They probably thought of nothing more than lost yen as they loaded that body on the truck and wrapped it up.

I paused for a moment to think about what that dolphin had endured. I thought about how it and its family had been driven for hours, trying to escape the deafening sounds of the banging on those banger poles.  Driven to the point of exhaustion into that Cove from which there is no escape.  I thought about how that dolphin had been manhandled by the trainers, forced into a sling, and carried away while the rest of its family were being brutally murdered.  I’m sure that dolphin could hear the cries of its dying family members. I thought about how it had been dumped into a tiny sea pen, alone and confused.  How it had been offered dead fish but, most likely, refused to eat.

How that dolphin grew weaker and weaker as the days passed and probably lost the will to live.  How that dolphin was a victim of capture shock.  I also thought that was probably the best outcome for that dolphin, given the circumstances.  My personal opinion is that it is better off dead than having to be “trained” to perform ridiculous tricks for the entertainment of humans and spend the rest of its life in slavery.


The dead dolphin is wrapped in the conspicuous blue tarps used in Taiji to hide the truth from the Japanese people.  Photo by Cynthia Fernandez.

I wished I could turn back time.  I wished that beautiful dolphin could be swimming free in the ocean with its family, never going near this place called Taiji.  I hope that somewhere that dolphin is swimming free with its family, that there’s a place where all animals go who have been abused and murdered by humans.  A place where they can all be free and safe, where they are out of the reach of greedy, heartless humans.

Speaking of greedy, heartless humans…we decided to visit the Taiji Whale Museum that day to check up on two recently transferred Risso’s dolphins.  We had witnessed their capture just days ago as well as the slaughter of their family members.  We had seen them lifted into crates and driven to the Whale Museum where they will spend the rest of their days “performing” for humans.  I flashed back to the dead bottlenose – I do believe he/she is better off.

With mixed feelings, we approached the Whale Museum, not wanting to support it yet wanting to check on the captives.  We also wanted to try to give those poor captives some positive energy, to try to let them know we were so vey sorry for everything that had happened to them.  We were reluctantly allowed to enter and watched closely the entire time we were there.  We went through the display area very quickly, getting a history of whaling and seeing the horrifying display of dolphin and whale embryos in jars and bottles in various stages of development.  I’ve never seen such bizarre things as I saw there.


Cove Monitor Tia Butt at one of the Taiji Whale Museum’s largest tank.  Photo by Cynthia Fernandez.

We went outside to the captive area.  I was saddened to see the bottlenose dolphins and pacific white-sided dolphins in tiny, concrete tanks.  Not much room to swim.  When we approached their tanks, they came over and wanted to interact with us.  There were signs everywhere warning us not to touch them as they can bite.  I think I would bite too if I was confined to a tiny space like that!  We then saw the larger lagoon area where the larger whales and dolphins are kept.  A pilot whale, a false killer whale, and Risso’s dolphins, including a mother and a calf, were all swimming in the lagoon.  There were several sea pens with various dolphins in them.  Then, in the very back pen, we spotted two Risso’s dolphins spy-hopping together, looking incredibly sad and confused.  It was so sad to think about what those incredible animals had endured.  Unlike the bottlenose dolphin, they had survived.  Again, my own personal opinion is that the bottlenose was in a better place.  Those two Risso’s stuck by each other’s side the entire time we were there.  I hope, at the very least, they are able to find some comfort in being together.

The very last tank we visited was a walk-through, see-through tank with four dolphins in it.  I stopped to look at the poor dolphins.  One dolphin swam over to me and just hung motionlessly in the water, us looking at each other eye to eye, our eyes no more than four inches apart.  She began to click and whistle to me.  How I wish I could have communicated with her.  I would have told her how sorry I am for what humans had done to her and her family, that not all humans enjoy seeing dolphins in captivity and that there are many people fighting to end this brutal slaughter and end dolphin captivity.  Unfortunately, it was too late for her.  She swam away, and I thought about her some more, my back to the tank.  Then, I heard the familiar clicks and whistles.  She had returned and was trying to get my attention.  Ours eyes locked once more and she clicked and whistled at me.  I tried to talk to her – my words seemed like a primitive language compared to her complicated clicks and whistles.  I hope she understood that there are people trying to help her and end this craziness.

Again, the connection between captivity and the slaughter is crystal clear.  The money made from the sale of captive dolphins is what fuels the slaughter.  The captive trade of cetaceans is a multi-million dollar industry, and Taiji is ground zero.  We have no chance of ending this slaughter as long as there are millions of dollars to be made from the captive dolphin trade.

However, you do have the power to help end this slaughter!

Don’t buy a ticket to any facility that holds dolphins captive but, most importantly, spread the word!  Talk to your friends and family, share information on social media, and attend protests…whatever you can do to spread the word!  Until we can end the show and empty the tanks, I believe the slaughter will continue.  So, please do your part to help.

Together, we can end the show!


A captive false killer whale in the Taiji Whale Museum, never to see freedom again.  Photo by 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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