Hope Floats in Taiji: A Perspective

Hans Peter Roth and Marna Frida Olsen share their vision of hope for Taiji, after spending three weeks at the infamous Cove, working as Dolphin Project Senior Cove Monitors.

Amidst rising tensions, the annual Taiji Whaling Festival was set to take place.

Tensions seemed to build as police expected between 50 and 100 right wing nationalists to arrive to Taiji. They hoped we wouldn’t even go to Takababe Hill, our observation point next to the killing cove. But we weren’t about to miss monitoring the drive hunt, which was happening that morning.” ~ Hans Peter Roth

The big question was: when would Japanese nationalists arrive into town? With the Taiji Whaling Festival taking place the last weekend in October, nationalists announced they would be demonstrating against, and looking for activists, whom they referred to as “eco-terrorists.” We were far from anything resembling that, but it would be unlikely a distinction would be made between Dolphin Project Cove Monitors, who always operated within the law, and other, perhaps more radical individuals and organizations.

We were watched and followed everywhere we went.

As concern increased, so did the number of police on the ground. When we visited the Taiji Whale Museum that afternoon, we noticed they were watching us. Yet, all we could think about was the sadness of the place, a bizarre environment filled wth captive cetaceans, caught in the atrocious drive hunts and made to perform for humans. While we were free to come and go as we pleased, they would never again see freedom. Year after year the picture was the same: once-wild dolphins held captive in tiny tanks or pens, only to die a premature death or be sold to another depressing facility.

Taking the advice from police seriously, we stayed away from Taiji for the rest of the day, avoiding the marches of the radical nationalists who were clearly on the “hunt” for activists. By the time Sunday rolled around, we too made our intentions clear: we weren’t going to hide in the hotel all day. Escorted by two vehicles containing five police officers, we made our way to Taiji shortly before noon.

By 1:30 p.m., police informed us that the nationalists had left Taiji harbor, leaving us free to walk around in an area that had seemingly been off-limits until moments ago.

It was so strange. As part of the festival, hunting boats used to kill dolphins were decorated with colorful flags, taking people out on rides. The boats were so close, and we were able to approach them as we had never done before.” ~ Marna Frida Olsen

It was just a festival – one which could have taken place anywhere in the world. People were having fun watching performances, dancers and enjoying music.

Taiji Whale Festival

Photo Credit: Hans Peter Roth

“Where was the hostility?” we wondered.

We were stunned as not a single person acted with malice. In fact, many treated us in a friendly manner and made us feel almost welcome.

And then it hit us: Could it be, we were moving closer towards a peaceful resolution?

Taiji, in the absence of dolphin hunting and capture, is a beautiful place with friendly people, surrounded by majestic cultural heritage, nature and coastline. In other words, it’s a place perfectly fit for tourism. What if the killing boats were instead, filled with happy people watching wild whales and dolphins out at sea, as they now do in Futo, a once-hunting dolphin town?

Taiji claims to love dolphins and whales. What better time to show their appreciation for these sentient beings, not through capture and killing, but by witnessing and respecting the animals in their own environment, where each species is free to come and go as they please.

Futo Dolphin watching

Dolphin & Whale watching with Izumi Ishii in Futo
Photo Credit: Bright Sea

We were left with a feeling of hope; that we were making a positive difference.

In our vision, all opportunities for resolution and reconciliation should be considered. After three weeks of experiences, ones which will stay with us forever, we left Taiji to retreat to the beautiful World Heritage Site of Koyasan. There, we recovered our strength and spent time in meditation before returning to Europe. It became clear to us that only the Japanese can end the dolphin hunt. Dolphin Project’s continued commitment in Taiji is crucial in facilitating this. Cove Monitors need to be on the ground throughout the season, in order to keep the pressure on and speed up the process of bringing closure to this chapter in history. Collectively, we can bring about the positive and permanent change so desperately needed.

Interested in joining us in Taiji as a Dolphin Project Cove Monitor? Learn more here.

Wish to support our work by donating? Our donation page offers many opportunities for giving. Thank you.

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



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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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