Dolphins Outsmart Hunters

By Viktoria Kirchhoff
Cove Monitor
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project


Leaving the hotel at 4:50 AM, like every morning here in Taiji.  It’s warm, and there’s no wind at all.  The dolphin hunters haven’t caught anything for 14 consecutive days, and tomorrow another smaller typhoon is supposed to hit the Taiji area.  Hence, I know they are extremely eager to catch dolphins and small whales today.  They’ll do everything not to come back empty-handed, just having wasted time and gas.  I fear the worst, but still hope for the best.

All 12 banger boats march out of the Taiji Harbor at 5:30 AM.  It’s getting light.

6:30 AM: We drive to the Tomyozaki lookout point, and it’s getting very warm, no wind whatsoever.

7:52 AM: There is not a cloud in the sky, picture-perfect blue sky – best conditions for whaling.  One of the banger boats appears on the horizon.

8:30 AM: Six boats are visible on the horizon, set up in a half moon.  Black smoke comes out of one.  This means they are chasing a pod and need to make sure it doesn’t get away.  I cannot see the drive clearly; they are still far away.  I’m starting to sweat, and my heart is pounding hard while the sun is beating down on me.  It’s getting hotter by the minute.

8:52 AM: All 12 banger boats are now perfectly lined up, like a military parade.  By banging on poles under water, they drive the dolphins or small whales towards the Cove.  So scary.  All week I haven’t seen this.  An ice-cold shiver goes down my spine.  I hope the dolphins or whales can still escape.  It’s still quite a distance to the Cove.  But once the hunters bang on these metal bars, this sound is so excruciating for the dolphins, they just want to get away from it.  So they swim away, in the direction the hunters want them to go.  The hunters literally ‘drive’ the dolphins to the Cove; that’s why the name ‘the dolphin drive hunt’.

9:12 AM: With binoculars I can see dolphins or small whales in front of one boat, grasping for air.  These marine mammals are in complete stress right now, swimming for their lives.  I can only imagine what these intelligent creatures are going through.  They want to live – and surely not in captivity!  That’s why they keep on fighting.

The ocean is so flat right now; it actually looks more like a Swiss lake than the Pacific Ocean.  The whales only need to come up once to breathe, and the hunters will spot them right away and chase them again.  Since the dolphins are exhausted from being chased for at least 3 hours already, they are hyperventilating and therefore come up more frequently.  In this position, the chance for the dolphins or small whales to escape is very slim.  We are losing hope for them.

The hunters keep on losing and re-catching the dolphins.  The boats turn around, big black smoke comes out, and they chase the dolphins again, trying to circle them in.  We are praying that the dolphins are faster, but they are so tired, stressed and terrified.  The hunters spot the dolphins again and drive them again towards the Cove, slowly, steadily.  It’s a horrible and long cat-and-mouse game…

But at 10:15 AM, all of a sudden, we cannot see any dolphins anymore.  The boats make their way back to the harbor without any dolphins – the hunters have given up!  The dolphins win today’s war!  Yesss!

They fought so hard for at least 3.5 hours and managed to finally get away the last minute!  Well done, my brave friends of the ocean!  Tears of joy run down my cheeks.  Great relief!  This is the 15th consecutive blue cove day!  We are all so happy, another day the dolphins swim freely.  Beautiful.


Offshore Taiji, the banger boats maneuver to herd the dolphins, belching smoke as they rev their engines to chase the dolphins when they surface.  Photo by Viktoria Kirchhoff.


…But is it really that great?  Actually, it doesn’t make a difference whether or not they catch anything today – at the end of the season they will have caught as much as they can of their enormous quota that is 2,054 dolphins in Taiji.  It’s only October, the hunting season has just started, and there will be many more days until March to reach their horrendous quota.  (The quota system,though, is a problem in itself: it’s challenging to control to make sure the fishermen abide to the quota; no one knows the dark figure!).

But still, today is a blissful day, because it’s a blue cove day!

Never be silent!  And never buy a ticket to a park where dolphins or whales are kept, as otherwise you directly support the slaughtering in Taiji.

Thank you Save Japan Dolphins for your great work, and Sakura – what a brave, strong and inspiring lady you are.  I feel humbled to be allowed to be here.


Viktoria Kirchhoff scanning the ocean from the lookout near Taiji harbor.  Photo by Sakura Araki.

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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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