Like Children Awaiting Their Mothers – 30 Hours of Terror

Taiji, Day 1, 12-7-16: At 6:25 a.m. 11 boats went out hunting for dolphins, and by 11:00 a.m. they had found a pod. It took less than an hour for the unsuspecting dolphins, a large pod of approximately 40 pilot whales, to be netted into the cove. And even in hour number one, out of a total of 30 hours of terror, it was apparent how close and aware this pod was.

Juvenile pilot whales began to spyhop, trying to ascertain what was going on, while the larger adults, including the matriarch, or “pilot” circled the 15 young, in attempts to offer comfort and protection – two things which the young whales would soon be forever deprived of.

For the next several hours, Dolphin Project Cove Monitors witnessed these behaviors repeated over and over, and as the sun began to sink, so did our hearts, knowing the pod would be left alone overnight, scared, stressed and vulnerable to what awaited them the following day.

Pod of pilot whales left overnight in the cove, Taiji, Japan, 12-7-16

Pod of pilot whales left overnight in the cove, Taiji, Japan, 12-7-16

Day 2, 12-8-16: At 6:30 a.m. two skiffs and one banger boat approached the cove, with our monitors filming what would be the last moments this beautiful pod would spend together. The hunters wasted no time, separating the juveniles from the adults. The slaughter started soon thereafter, with the large adults, around 25 in total being dragged alive by their tails towards the tarps. The juveniles panicked, throwing themselves against the sharp rocks. Multiple pilot whales became entangled in the nets. Divers jumped into the water, pushing and pulling them away from the rocks. Almost immediately the water was tinged with red as some of the dolphins had injured themselves in their panic.

Juvenile pilot whale stuck in net, trying to reach other pod members, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

Juvenile pilot whale stuck in net, trying to reach adult pod members, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

Just prior to the two groups being separated, a young calf rested its head against the lifeless body of an adult.” ~ Alexandra Johnston, Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

It was terrifying to watch, terrifying to hear and while Dolphin Project Cove Monitors live streamed for the world to see, one by one, each of the adults were killed. Loud, frantic tail slapping could be heard from underneath the tarps, as could the anguishing sounds of their last breaths as the dolphins lost their lives. Every time a pilot whale was killed, the juveniles became frantic, swimming erratically, spyhopping and pressing their bodies against the nets in attempts to reach the adults. In a horrifying moment, one pilot whale escaped from underneath the tarps, a rope still attached to its fluke. Dying, it reached the ropes before it was dragged back to the killing cove and slaughtered.

Dying pilot whale escapes killing cove with rope still attached to fluke. It is dragged back and slaughtered, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

Dying pilot whale escapes killing cove with rope still attached to fluke. It is dragged back and slaughtered, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

This cycle continued for hours, and around 10:30 a.m., four hours after the slaughter began, it was done.

In clear view of the youngsters, the bodies of the dead dolphins were dragged by their tails to the butcher’s house. Six trips later, the cove became eerily silent and the juveniles were left alone, once again.

Bodies of dead pilot whales dragged to the butcher's house, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

Bodies of dead pilot whales dragged to the butcher’s house, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

The young pilot whales were vocalizing continuously throughout the slaughter. They almost sounded like kittens mewing, gentle but desperate, crying for their mothers.” ~ Alexandra Johnston, Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

At around 2:30 p.m., 30 hours after the pod was captured, skiffs and banger boats returned to forcibly drive the youngsters back out to sea. While these dolphins were spared the horror of being slaughtered, they would be irrevocably damaged, left to fend for themselves without the guidance of the rest of the pod.

Dead adult pilot whale floating in the cove, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

Dead adult pilot whale floating in the cove, Taiji, Japan, 12-8-16

For live updates from the cove, visit us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @Dolphin_Project.

Featured image: Juvenile pilot whales spyhop while adults swim protectively around young after being driven into the cove, Taiji, Japan, 12-7-16, Credit:

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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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