Risso’s Slaughter and Albino Capture

“An extremely rare albino dolphin was brutally captured in Taiji, Japan. We are appealing to the inter zoo’s and aquarium industry and asking them to stop doing business with Taiji. Do not buy this  albino from Taiji. To do so is to reward the dolphin hunters for their bad behavior.” – Ric O’Barry

Taiji, Japan November 23, 2014

The day started like all the others here in Taiji. As I watched the boats go out in search of dolphins, I went up to the lookout spot, hoping to eventually see them come in empty-handed. I waited, scouring the horizon with my binoculars, hoping NOT to see the dreaded drive formation. Time kept ticking. I kept looking – nothing. I found myself constantly checking the time, knowing that 10:00 a.m. is approximately when the hunters begin to return if they haven’t found anything. As it neared that time, I started to feel relieved, hoping for a Blue Cove day. However, things can change in a heartbeat in Taiji. And it did.

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At 10:00 a.m., I saw a few boats heading towards the harbor. I was cautiously optimistic they would return empty-handed. However, all boats began to veer to the north. “Oh no,” I thought, “Here we go.” I watched, a sick feeling in my stomach as all the boats came together and began to drive. I could see the splash of dolphins. As the drive grew nearer, I had to relocate to another viewing area for a better view.

As I got to the seawall, I could see the boats approaching. Dolphins continued to splash, frantically, but I could not identify the species. I ran to the Cove as the dolphins were being quickly pushed in. As I took photos of the dolphins that had been netted off and trapped in the Cove, one caught my eye. It looked like a white dolphin among the others. As I zoomed in closer, I could see that the pod were Risso’s dolphins – again – and amongst them, an albino!

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Rare Albino Risso’s Photo: DolphinProject.net

Knowing how rare albinos were, I knew this particular dolphin was destined for a life of captivity. But what about the rest? I could see three tiny fins among the pod, likely belonging to very young calves. Soon, the entire pod was pushed out of my view, into the killing cove. It wasn’t long before the first skiff with bodies came out, and soon after, another skiff appeared with two slings, one on each side. Of course they kept the albino Risso’s dolphin, with a second selected for captivity, too.

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Rare Albino Risso’s Photo: DolphinProject.net

The two dolphins were dumped into a sea pen in the harbor, while skiffs continued to transport dead bodies out of the Cove, to the waiting banger boats, for transfer to the butcher house. A final skiff headed out, likely containing the animals the tiny fins belonged to. They would be dumped out at sea, minus their families. My heart broke for these tiny souls. I thought about how terrified they must have been, after likely enduring the most horrifying event of their little lives. Left to fend for themselves, they had very little chance of surviving. I had to fight back tears in order to continue to document this pod’s story.

Rare Albino Risso's Photo: DolphinProject.net

Rare Albino Risso’s
Photo: DolphinProject.net

As I went to the harbor pen where the newly captured albino Risso’s dolphin and podmate were being kept, the last boat with dead bodies passed by. I’ll never forget that sight. As those two young Risso’s were tossed into the tiny sea pens, the bodies of their dead friends and family members were being carted right by them. My anger and frustration grew as I wondered how we can ever end this? This was my third trip to Taiji and sadly, I’ve seen many slaughters and captures.

Rare Albino Risso's in the Taiji sea pens Photo: DolphinProject.net

Rare Albino Risso’s in the Taiji sea pens
Photo: DolphinProject.net

My personal opinion is that as long as there is a global demand for captive dolphins, the hunts, captures, and slaughters will continue. It is simple economics, supply and demand. As long as the world demands captive dolphins to “entertain” them, the captures and the slaughters will continue. If it isn’t Taiji, it will be somewhere else, as there is too much money to be made from the trade of captive dolphins. I strongly believe that global education is the key to ending this. The younger generation needs to learn compassion and respect for all animals, not just dolphins. Animals are not designated to be captured and forced to provide us with “entertainment.”

Please, don’t buy a ticket to any facility that holds captive dolphins. And, do your part to spread the word to others. The word IS getting out – the “Blackfish Effect” is real – so let’s keep the momentum going and shut down the global trade of captive dolphins. Maybe then, the dolphins that pass through the waters of Taiji will have the peace and safety that they deserve.

Inspired by The Cove? Consider joining Ric O’Barry on the front lines.  Learn more here or email [email protected]

Can’t make it to Japan? Consider making a donation to keep our monitors in the field.

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About Cynthia Fernandez

I was raised to love and respect the ocean and all the animals that live in it. As a teacher, about five years ago, I was telling my students that I would be gone from school for a week as I was taking a trip to Baja California to see whales and dolphins. I was totally shocked by their responses. “Are you going to ride a dolphin?” That question was asked in each and every class. It was then that the light bulb went on in my head. These kids had been miseducated into thinking that dolphins were here for our entertainment. That very day, I decided to do my part in re-educating. My hope was to impart that no animals, including dolphins, were here to entertain us. I decided to focus on dolphins since dolphins and whales had always been my passion.

I had been an activist at a young age. When I found out about the tuna industry killing dolphins as they captured the fish, I made fliers and stood outside grocery stores, asking people not to buy tuna. I knew then, as a child, that killing dolphins was wrong. As an adult, after watching “The Cove," I was inspired to actively do my part to help end captivity and the dolphin slaughters in Taiii, Japan. Realizing that the captive trade is undeniably linked to the dolphin drives, I decided to create presentations for kids that show what amazing animals dolphins were and how they suffered in captivity. I created a three-part presentation for kids that focuses on the captivity issue, presenting information in such a way as to let them decide for themselves how they felt about captivity. As a Cove Monitor, I have traveled to Taiji for the past four years to see the capture process and slaughters first hand. This has served as an invaluable experience for my presentations, as I am able to show students my own photos and videos as well as share my stories from Taiji.

I’ve been amazed by the results. Kids totally get it. They simply need information presented to them and an opportunity to think about and discuss the issue. After presenting to my own students and hearing them talk about it, I decided to visit other schools. I’ve been doing presentations for five years now and have spoken to kids ranging from 3rd grade through seniors in high school.

I feel the presentations have been very successful. Many kids have told me they would never go to a dolphin show or swim with captive dolphins. Many have told me they wanted to help dolphins, and several have gotten actively involved and done amazing things. I’ve had students attend protests, present a petition to the Japanese Embassy and do presentations for younger students.

I strongly believe in the power of education. Kids are the ones who will say “no” to captivity and make positive changes. I encourage everyone to bring this issue into the classroom, and I am available to help anyone who wants to get involved. Together, we can bring an end to the captivity of dolphins and help bring an end to the dolphin slaughters in Taiji.

Educational Outreach / Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

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Educational Outreach / Dolphin Project Cove Monitor

Author: Cynthia Fernandez
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