Through My Eyes: Why I Keep Returning to Taiji

November 18-21, 2015: Four days that changed my life forever.

Although it was my fourth trip to Taiji and I had witnessed many horrors before, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and heard over those fateful days. Cruelty, complete lack of empathy, and the total disregard for the suffering that was inflicted on a large and beautiful pod of pilot whales were the themes which dominated the slaughter. There were mothers with calves, juveniles, adults and the impressive matriarch who simply attempted to pass by the shores of Taiji at the wrong time and were rewarded with being killed (with the exception of a handful of youngsters, dumped back at sea and left to fend for themselves).

Pilot Whales, Taiji, Japan, Nov 2015

Adult and juvenile pilot whales huddle together after capture, Taiji, Japan.

Amidst such horror I took note of something else – something far more compassionate than can be adequately described in words: the pilot whales’ fierce loyalty towards one another as they selflessly attempted to help each other in the most dire of circumstances. The matriarch, right up to the last moments of her life, passed her flippers along the younger members of the pod in attempts to comfort them.

November, 2016: I doubted whether or not I could return to Taiji. 

I had made a promise to the dolphins during my first trip to Taiji, that I would return each and every year to bear witness to the atrocities committed here, and to accurately tell their stories. It was a commitment I intended to keep. As an educator, I am in the unique position to teach my students what global threats dolphins face, and what they can do to help enact positive change.

Upon my arrival, everything felt familiar, as if I had never left. And I was blessed with eight straight “blue cove” days, where no dolphins were slaughtered, or taken for captivity. However, each time we drove past the cove, images that have haunted me became more real. Yet, amidst the negative energy which was very palpable, I was also reminded to never lose hope.

Piebald Risso's dolphin, Taiji Whale Museum

Piebald Risso’s dolphin, Taiji Whale Museum, Taiji, Japan

The nameless dolphins who were stolen for "life" in captivity, Taiji, Whale Museum, Taiji, Japan

The nameless dolphins who were stolen for “life” in captivity, Taiji, Whale Museum, Taiji, Japan

These reminders were subtle, yet powerful. It might have been a look in the piebald Risso’s eyes, a captive at the Taiji Whale Museum who, when he looks at you, he looks through you. It might have been Angel, an albino bottlenose dolphin who, despite her horrific conditions at the same institution, would follow my finger along the glass and chase me as I ran back and forth along the tank wall. Perhaps it was even something in the sea itself, a promise that one day, dolphins and other whales would be able to safely swim past Taiji, without the threat of being slaughtered, or kidnapped.

While it broke my heart to see these incredibly intelligent and emotional beings reduced to begging caricatures in attempts to get food, I held onto the visuals of my many trips in the wild, watching dolphins swimming free. While these two realities seemed worlds away, I knew then as I know now that education is key.

Dolphin Project Cove Monitor Cynthia Fernandez at the cove, Taiji, Japan

Dolphin Project Cove Monitor Cynthia Fernandez at the cove, Taiji, Japan
Credit: Cynthia Fernandez

My days in Taiji went by fast, and as I prepared to leave, I spent my final hours at the cove, asking for forgiveness from the dolphins whose lives were lost here. And I made a plan: I would go home and continue to educate my own students, as well as visit other schools. I would advocate for dolphins’ rights. And I would keep hope in the forefront of my mind, returning to Taiji year after year until despair was replaced with peace.

For the dolphins,


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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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