Pilot Whales Meet Tragic End in Taiji

Update #4, FINAL – November 22, 2015, Taiji, Japan:

The level of cruelty witnessed these past, four days should be unspeakable. As I heard mentioned today, thoughts such as these don’t normally enter healthy minds.

On the fourth day of this horrific ordeal, with the remaining pilot whales suffering from hunger, dehydration, exhaustion and torture, it was impossible to predict how many would survive through the night.

Dead pilot whale floats in the cove. Photo credit: Dolphin Project / Cynthia Fernandez

Dead adult pilot whale floats in the cove.
Photo credit: Dolphin Project / Cynthia Fernandez

The first thing I saw this morning was one of the adult pilot whales floating in the cove – dead.” ~ Cynthia Fernandez, Senior Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

Predictably, divers slipped into the water, and began dragging the dolphins under the tarps. Soon, the thrashing began, caught on Dolphin Project’s Livestream and the water once again, ran red with the blood of the dead.

All the adults had been slaughtered. Gone was the matriarch who comforted the juveniles when the pod was first driven into the cove. Gone were the large males who protectively circled the rest of the group. In fact, most of this pod, with the exception of approximately 15-20 animals from a pod now estimated at around 60, were no longer.


Dead pilot whales taken away by skiffs

Dead pilot whales taken away by skiffs.
Photo credit: Dolphin Project / Cynthia Fernandez

The dolphins who had survived the ordeal were all young, comprised of babies and juveniles. They appeared lethargic and their breathing, uneven. Yet, they hovered close to the area where their family members were killed, refusing to leave. They took turns spyhopping as skiff after skiff of dead pod members passed them.

Pilot whales spyhopping, Taiji 11-22-15

Juvenile remaining pilot whales spyhop as skiffs carrying dead whales pass by.
Photo credit: DolphinProject / Cynthia Fernandez

Once all the bodies were removed from the cove, the skiffs and banger boats prepared to drive the youngsters out to sea. That’s when an entirely new level of torture began.

The release itself is an entirely separate story. In some ways, it’s as horrific, if not even more so, than the actual slaughter itself.” ~ Cynthia Fernandez, Dolphin Project Senior Cove Monitor

Metal slings carried the juveniles and babies out of the cove, still murky from blood. But the release went horribly wrong. A small pilot whale escaped the sling, swimming back towards the cove, presumably to look for its family. Another dolphin became entangled in the sling and drowned. Yet another animal slipped out of the sling, thrashing wildly against the boat amidst rough waves and wind. Notably, there was much time between each release, with the dolphins not being released as a pod.

Pilot whale escapes sling and goes missing

Young pilot whale escapes sling and disappears.
Photo credit: DolphinProject / Cynthia Fernandez

The chances of their survival amidst such extreme trauma is minimal. Babies won’t be able to nurse. There will be no adults present to protect and teach the youngsters. In fact, several appeared near-death at the time of release.

It’s hard to put into words the horror of what transpired over these four days.


The bonding and loyalty the pilot whales displayed towards one another was heart wrenching. Who could forget the demonstrations of care and affection? The moment they used their heads to push the divers away from the one captive whale taken from the group? The screams as each dolphin’s life was extinguished, to be reduced to packaged, toxic meat?

We were family. 

Ami Hong Illustration and Poem

Featured image: The last remaining pilot whale. Photo Credit: Dolphin Project / Cynthia Fernandez

This is the final update of a family of pilot whales, who once swam in the open sea and was driven into the cove in Taiji, Japan – only to endure three days of torture and eventual death. Out of approximately 60+ animals, only 15-20 young dolphins were released. Out of this number, we estimate several will not survive. At least one, if not two animals died during release.

You can help stop this. We’re asking for your help on December 18th in London. Ten thousand voices are needed for the dolphins. Can you be one of them? See here.

Click here to read part one of this blog: We Are Family: First Pod of Pilot Whales Terrorized in Taiji.

Click here to read part two of this blog: Day Two: Carnage in the Cove.

Click here to read part three of this blog: Taiji Dolphin Brutality Continues.

Thank you to Dolphin Project Senior Cove Monitors Vicki Kiely and Cynthia Fernandez for their accounts in documenting this travesty in Taiji.

Learn more about becoming a Dolphin Project Cove Monitor.

Your help in supporting our campaign in Taiji is greatly appreciated and needed. Click here to donate.


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.


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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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