Grim Start to New Year as Risso’s Slaughtered

After 13 consecutive “Blue Cove” days, with hunters taking time off during the holiday season, banger boats left the harbor first thing in the morning on January 5, 2016. Perfect weather for us – flat, calm seas and clear skies – are often indicative of looming trouble for wild dolphin pods which pass by this area as part of their migratory route.

Hunters in search of dolphins

A beautiful day soon turned tragic.
Photo credit: Natasha Eldred / Dolphin Project

Within 30 minutes of hunters searching for dolphins to kill or capture for captive “display,” splashes were seen on the horizon. Six banger boats were rapidly pursuing a pod, and 30 minutes after that, approximately 16 Risso’s dolphins were corralled into the cove. Nets were drawn across the water, preventing their escape, but the pod appeared more concerned with staying close together, as they swam tightly, their breathing, erratic.

Risso's dolphins netted into The Cove

Risso’s dolphins netted into The Cove.
Photo credit: Natasha Eldred / Dolphin Project

Dolphin Project Live Streamed the drive, catching glimpses of the dolphins’ bulbous heads and blunt snouts as they were pushed deeper into the cove. Tarps were drawn, preventing us from seeing the fate which soon awaited the innocent animals. As disturbing as these images sound, the “sounds” coming from below our vantage point were just as unsettling. With fishermen yelling, engines revving and water churning – it was terrifying, and for an acoustically-driven species such as the Risso’s, the sounds would have been even more terror-inducing. And that’s exactly how dolphins are caught from the waters around Taiji.

When a pod is spotted, metal poles lowered into the water are repeatedly “banged” by hunters, creating a wall of auditory chaos. As dolphins attempt to flee from these sounds, banger boats herd the animals towards the shallow waters of the cove. To further control the pod, weights attached by ropes are thrown into the water, with the panic-stricken dolphins often injured by the boat’s engines. By the time the pod is irrevocably caught, with multiple strings of nets drawn to prevent their escape, many animals die as a result of exhaustion or injuries, even before the actual slaughter or captive selection begins.

Dolphins are routinely photographed by our Cove Monitors with various, bloody injuries sustained during the drives. Untold numbers die even before being netted into the cove, with these numbers not recorded against the seasonal drive quotas. ” ~ Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director, Dolphin Project

Click here to view the year-to-date drive counts for the 2015/2016 season.

For the pod of unsuspecting Risso’s dolphins, their end came swiftly, with all 16 slaughtered and none selected for captivity. The remains of these beautiful animals were seen tied to the sides of skiffs, their tails roped together as their bodies were taken to the butcher’s for processing. Such an unfitting end to a species that wishes us no harm.

Risso's tails tied together after slaughter

Risso’s tails tied together after slaughter.
Photo credit: Natasha Eldred / Dolphin Project

Dead Risso's at Butcher House

Dead Risso’s dolphins brought to butcher house. Photo credit: Natasha Eldred / Dolphin Project

Thank you to Natasha Eldred, Dolphin Project Senior Cove Monitor for her documentation of the Risso’s drive.



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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: Risso’s dolphins netted into The Cove, Taiji, Japan, Photo credit: Terran Vincent Baylor / Dolphin Project

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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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