Violent and Brutal Week in Taiji

By Tia Butt
Cove Monitor
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project

(Tia Butt has been a dedicated friend of the dolphins and active volunteer as a Cove Monitor in Taiji for several years now, ever since she saw The Cove and immediately contacted the Dolphin Project asking to help.  We have many such volunteers who come to Taiji every year and report about what is happening there to the world.  I want to thank Tia and her co-Monitors Cynthia Fernandez, Johane Aa Rosvoll, and Sakura Araki for their efforts to help the dolphins in Taiji.  They are real gems!  — Ric O’Barry)

This past week has been a violent and brutal week in Taiji.  On Monday Cynthia Fernandez arrived, and she was welcomed to a large pod of pilot whales being driven to the Cove on her first morning.  The boats were chasing for a while on the horizon and eventually drove the pod slowly into the harbor area.  The animals were clearly tired from being chased for a few hours, I could see them without using the binoculars, and it was plain to see that these were large animals.

As it was getting quite late in the day, the dolphin hunters made the decision to keep the animals netted in overnight.  As we stood up at the top of the look-out point over the Cove where the animals were being netted in, I heard a strange cry from down below where the Pilot whales were.  Some of the twenty-five or so animals were getting stressed and spy-hopping constantly.

I have travelled several times to Taiji, but this was the first time I had experienced a capture to be kept overnight, and the agony of knowing what was going to happen to them constantly in my head.  The pilot whales were netted into the Cove area at approximately midday on Monday the 18th of November.  The killers were expected to return the next day at approximately 6:00 AM; this would mean that the pilot whales would have to sit in the deadly Cove for about 18 hours.

At approximately 5:30 PM, the sun went down, and it went dark at the Cove.  I watched the pilot whales spy-hopping, I could hear them, and they were clearly stressed, wondering what was happening to them.  The feeling between everyone standing at the Cove when the sun was going down was deep sadness.  Knowing they would be in there all night in the dark Cove waiting for their “punishment” for simply living.  Their crime was only to be swimming too close to the waters of Taiji; only hours before they had been swimming in the ocean with their family.

It was a tremendously hard and difficult night to get through.  I knew I would be facing yet another slaughter in the morning.  These animals were big.  The matriarch (mother whale) of the family was huge.  Such majestic animals trapped, waiting for their fate.  It was degrading and disgusting.  People dream about seeing these animals in the ocean, wild and free.  I know I do.  The only time I have seen them is here in Taiji and in the Cove.

The next day, with heavy hearts, we drove to the Cove.  It was before 6 AM and I could hear them again – I heard noises I have never heard before.  I heard a cry, the same cry I heard when the pilot whales were netted into the Cove the day before.  Just after 6:15 AM, the first skiff boats arrived; they would push the dolphins into the killing Cove, where the whales would be brutally slaughtered.  The feeling was getting very tense.


Divers in the water wrestle with pilot whales, forcing them into the killing Cove and under the tarps.  Photo by Tia Butt.


As banger boats started leaving Taiji harbor to go and find yet more dolphins, the pilot whales started getting pushed into the killing Cove.

What I witnessed then was a horrible slaughter that took around two hours.  It was long and bloody and very frightening.  They had put a net in between some of the pod and divided them.  Divers were in the water pushing the petrified animals under the tarps – it was the slowest slaughter I have ever seen.   The mother who leads and guides her pod, which is made up of sons and daughters and other related animals, is called the matriarch.  How she fought!  She fought with every inch of her life.  Two divers were on her dorsal fin, pushing and forcing her, riding her under the tarps, and there was so much shouting and noise coming from the killers.

As they killed this majestic animal, the thrashing noise she made I will never ever forget.  I have never heard an animal die so loudly as this.  How her young must have felt watching her die on the other side of the net!  It was like a roll of thunder across the Cove as she died; I shook inside.

As all this was happening, one captive was taken out.  People seem to think that the killers do not take out captives during a slaughter.  This is wrong.  (It is also propaganda by the captive industry.)  This poor animal was taken out in the middle of the slaughter to be carted away for a life in captivity.

The net was then taken away that divided the remainder of the pod, the tarps and the killing Cove.  I was waiting for the rest of the pod to be pushed under for a second round of killing and possibly more captive selections, but could not see any sign that the killers were ready to push the second half of the pod in.  I saw something then that I have never seen before.  The pod started edging themselves towards the tarps voluntarily.  It looked like they were checking on their loved ones that had disappeared under the tarps.  Some started to spy hop dramatically.  Pilot whales have a very close connection with their family.  They travel very closely, and even the ones that had been slaughtered when they were in the Cove being pushed under the tarps were huddled together before they died.

We realized that there was a possible release for the remainder of the pilot whales who were all young.  They were released later that afternoon.  I hope they survive this ordeal, although that will be difficult without the older animals of the pod.  I will never forget them.

The next day, we did our same routine of waking up by 4:30 AM.  Out the door by 5:30 AM and at the harbor by 5:45 AM, we were waiting to monitor the actions of the dolphin killers.  The weather was good enough that they would go out, and I would expect that they would do so.  Just because they had a successful slaughter, that does not mean they will decide to have a day off.  On the contrary.  There was a month of no killing here in Taiji. mainly due to bad weather, so these people are eager to catch up on what they have lost, I am sure.

The boats went out, and literally about 15 – 20 minutes after they were all out on the water, I saw they were in drive ormation very close to Taiji shores.  The drive was quick.  My first suspicion was that they had found the pod that they had released the day before.  Dolphins that have escaped the Cove in the past have been suspected to hang around the shores of Taiji, looking for members of their families that have been lost.


Risso’s dolphin mother and calf in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Tia Butt.


Before we knew it, a pod of fifteen to twenty beautiful Risso’s dolphins, with many juveniles and at least one calf, were netted into the Cove.  Again there were divers in the water; they were punching the dolphins trying to get them under the tarps.  It shocks me how violent these people are to such gentle sentient beings of the sea.  This time they took three dolphins out for captivity, and then some killers headed out on a skiff boat and once again dumped the juveniles back into the sea.  The rest were brutally slaughtered. 

Whoever says that the slaughter and the captive industry is not connected need to rethink their claims.  Clearly the slaughter and captures are directly connected, and this is an example.


A Risso’s dolphin in a sling is transferred between its sea pen and the Taiji Whale Museum.  Photo by Tia Butt.


We were down at the harbor after the slaughter and saw a crane and truck ready for a transfer.  They transferred this ‘fresh catch of lucrative captivity’ to the Taiji Whale Museum, where these dolphins will be trained to eat dead fish and entertain humans, and then transported to a dolphinarium somewhere in Japan or the world.

We had a day of a blue cove, the hunters arriving back in the harbor around 9:30 AM with nothing.

I don’t care about how I feel here.  It is not about me.  It is about the dolphins and nothing else.  I am relieved when there is no capture or killing in the Cove.  Of course I am!  But there is never lasting peace here in Taiji.  Ever.  There are captives here.  The ones that get “selected” we see depressed in small pens and tanks, and we have seen them die because of the capture process here.


Volunteer Cove Monitor Tia Butt on the shore of the Cove in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Cynthia Fernandez.


Today is Friday, a day I love when I am at home in London, but here there is no weekend, there is no day off, there is never a day off for the dolphins of Taiji.  It is constant for them.

The boats went out the next day, and just before 9:30 AM, it was clear that a pod had been located.  I could see the splashes of these poor animals fighting for their lives.  By the time they were closer to shore, I could see that they were striped dolphins.  I love these dolphins so much.  My first dolphin slaughter experience was striped dolphins.  I have seen a few slaughters that involved this type of dolphin.  They are always frantic.  They are always bloody.

This particular dolphin species totally freaks out when it is in the Cove, and they smash themselves up against the rocks, which causes great injury and a lot of blood.  I knew this was what was to come.  They are deep-water dolphins, so are not used to being near the shore, so this experience is extremely traumatic for them.

I was not wrong.  The pod was so beautiful.  It was a large pod, with perhaps 35 to 40 animals, and they looked so beautiful in the blue water.  I was feeling sick knowing that the hunters were going to kill these animals and that this water was soon to be red.

They split the pod with nets and started killing one half first while the others looked on. 

Striped dolphins do not do well in captivity, so it was likely that they would slaughter all of the pod.  It was total carnage, shouting from the killers as they were trying to control the dolphins while killing them – dolphins were getting stuck in the nets, smashing themselves on the rocks, and understandably panicking.


A striped dolphin, snagged in the netting by its beak, in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Cynthia Fernandez.


I shook while taking pictures, tears falling, watching these desperate animals so frightened, dying in such a violent way, and they never fight back.  I watched a dolphins struggling in the nets – he died before my eyes, drowning and at the mercy of a diver, who just helped the killers tie a rope around its flukes and pull her under the tarps like she was garbage.

The Cove filled with deep red blood.  I have not seen it so red in a while.  The killers left the tarps up after the dead bodies were taken to the butcher house as they did not want our cameras taking the pictures of the amount of blood that must have been left underneath.

It’s been a quite a violent time here for me in Taiji.  I am hoping for more blue days.  I am updating the Facebook Dolphin Project page and Twitter everyday, so let us hope for better news. 


A lone striped dolphin awaits its fate in the nets at the Cove in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Cynthia Fernandez.



Photos by Tia Butt and Cynthia Fernandez.

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About Ric O'Barry

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Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project Founder & Director has worked on both sides of the captive dolphin issue, making him an invaluable asset in the efforts to end exploitation. He worked for 10 years within the dolphin captivity industry, and has spent the past 40 working against it.

In the 1960s, O’Barry was employed by the Miami Seaquarium, where he captured and trained dolphins, including the five dolphins who played the role of Flipper in the popular American TV-series of the same name. He also trained Hugo, the first orca kept in captivity east of the Mississippi. When Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper most of the time, died in his arms, O’Barry realized that capturing dolphins and training them to perform silly tricks is simply wrong.

From that moment on, O’Barry knew what he must do with his life. On the first Earth Day, 1970, he launched a searing campaign against the multi-billion dollar dolphin captivity industry and has been going at it ever since.

Over the past 40 years, Ric O’Barry has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Bahamas Islands and the United States. He is a leading voice in the fight to end brutal dolphin hunts in Japan, the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, and wherever else they occur.

O’Barry has been recognized by many national and international entities for his dedicated efforts, such as being voted Huffington Post’s 2010 Most Influential Green Game Changer, and being listed on O Magazine’s 2010 Power List – Men We Admire for his “Power of Passion.” O’Barry received an Environmental Achievement Award, presented by the United States Committee for the United Nations Environmental Program. He has done countless interviews with such prestigious news programs as Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, the Mike Huckabee Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

His book Behind the Dolphin Smile was published in 1989; a second book, To Free A Dolphin was published in September 2000. Both of them are about his work and dedication. He is the star of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove and the Animal Planet television series Blood Dolphin$.

Author: Ric O'Barry


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