I Left my Heart in Taiji

This time last year I came across something on Facebook, something so shocking that it consumed me. Having never before heard of Taiji, or their dolphin drive hunts, I spent September through April watching, dreading, researching and learning and my mind was made up; I had to be involved. With determination, my journey on the Dolphin Trail had begun.

Maria Nangle with Ric in Taiji. Image: Dolphin Project

Maria Nangle with Ric in Taiji. Image: Dolphin Project

I did not know what to expect throughout my week in Taiji, however Ric’s arrest an hour and a half after my arrival was certainly not on the list. Nor was the 6 1/2 hour questioning that I endured the next day when I was asked to give a statement surrounding the events of the arrest.

I came away exhausted and overwhelmed, but it was worth it that night in the hotel when the others returned with two words, “Ric’s back.” It was like Christmas, the kids ran downstairs as fast as their feet could carry them and the rest of us weren’t far behind.

With Ric back and the politics over, we could knuckle down to the job at hand … or so we thought. The police continued to follow us, count us, question us, and Ric was harassed at every opportunity. Despite this, all I could think to myself is that our presence must be working, if we aren’t making a difference why would they be wasting so much time hassling us?

Every morning I woke with a lump in my throat, and when the boats went out, that spread to a sick feeling in my stomach. Then came the waiting game. I passed the time asking questions, there was a lot to learn. Looking through binoculars for the boats sounds simple but when you throw tuna boats, little fishing boats, trawlers, diving boats etc. into the mix, it becomes more complicated!

A formerly wild Risso's dolphin at the Taiji Whale Museum. Image: Dolphin Project

A formerly wild Risso’s dolphin at the Taiji Whale Museum. Image: Dolphin Project

Luckily for me I was learning from the best and I soon began to get the hang of it. Each Blue Cove Day was a blessing but we must not forget, even with no dolphins in the cove there are those suffering in the sea pens and at the Taiji Whale Museum.

The lives of these individuals are so horrendous that I cannot fathom why they carry on each day. I am not ashamed to say that I sat and cried while one Bottlenose languished in front of me, moving between begging for food or simply staring, obviously traumatized.

The dolphins had rotten teeth, severe skin disease, excessive rake marks, minimal space and no shade from the gleaming sun. Those in the larger areas were used in the shows. What they gained in space they lost in dignity, having trainers stand on their faces or dragging unknowing children around in kayaks, often being hit with the oars or having the kayaks pulled over them without even being noticed. All for a dead fish because that is as good as things get for them now. They’ve lost their homes, their families, their freedom and their spirits.

A bottlenose dolphin at Taiji Whale Museum/Dolphin Project

A bottlenose dolphin at Taiji Whale Museum/Dolphin Project

It was with bittersweet emotions that I left Taiji on September 6th. I am devastated and yet more determined. Despite the Blue Cove Days I am weighed down by the energy of those that have gone before. Taiji is a beautiful town full of friendly, polite and helpful people, yet so steeped in an air of violence and the loss and confusion of thousands of souls. Those who have departed, and the few remaining behind awaiting the same, inevitable fate.

This is goodbye for now, but I know I will return, for I have left my heart in Taiji.

If you would like to be a Cove Monitor in Taiji, Japan for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, then read on.

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About Maria Nangle

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Maria Nangle is 26 years old and is originally from Dublin, Ireland. She currently resides in Manchester in the UK, where she works as a children's nurse. Nangle is a vegan, a recycle-aholic, and a firm believer in animal equality. "My family and friends (both human and animal of course) mean the world to me and this includes the Dolphin Project Pod, those I have met, and those I am yet to meet!" Nangle says.

Author: Maria Nangle


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