Monday 3 February 2014

Return to Taiji: My Experience Witnessing the Dolphin Hunt Drive and Slaughter in Taiji Japan, by Cynthia Fernandez

Cynthia Fernandez looking towards The Cove in Taiji, Japan
Return to Taiji: My Experience Witnessing the Dolphin Hunt Drive and Slaughter in Taiji Japan
by Cynthia Fernandez,
Volunteer Cove Guardian for Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project
November 18th to December 1st, 2013

When I was planning my return to Taiji, I knew that by coming during November, I would see more hunting than the last time I was here. My last trip to Taiji was at the end of December and into early January. The hunters were on holiday until January 5th so I only witnessed six days of hunting. During those six days, I saw two at-sea captures of beautiful Pacific White-Sided dolphins, two “blue” days when no dolphins were captured and two days of slaughter, both days were Risso’s dolphins. Those six days are etched in my memory forever.

I thought I was prepared for my return to Taiji, knowing there would probably be about fourteen days of hunting during my stay. Knowing I would, most likely, witness many more slaughters. I know it’s been said before, but, it is so true, NOTHING prepares you for this place.

Haunting video by Cynthia Fernandez to tell the story of what she witnessed in Taiji

One species I had really hoped not to see in the Cove was pilot whales. Although each species is unique and I love them all, there’s something about the way the pilot whales huddle together and spy-hop to try to figure out where they are and what’s going on. I had seen many photos of it and had hoped NOT to witness it myself.

My very first day, my fellow Cove Monitors Tia and Johanna and I watched the killers go out to hunt. Hours later, we saw the dreaded drive formation. They seemed to be moving quite slowly. This pod had pulled the hunters far to the south and had given them a very good fight. However, as the drive formation grew closer, my heart sank when Tia said “They’ve got pilot whales!”

Pilot whales being driven in after long chase towards The Cove.
As the pod had given the killers such a good fight, it had taken many hours to drive them in and it was late by the time they were finally netted into the Cove. They were to be held overnight and slaughtered in the morning. As we drove away from Taiji, our hearts were heavy and the inside the car was silence as we were each lost in our own thoughts. A little later, as we were eating lunch together, we thought about our freedom, how we were free to eat, to go back to our hotel...wherever we pleased and how those poor pilot whales were stuck in that Cove with no food and no escape. It haunted us. We went back to the Cove to spend the evening hours with the pod. It was heartbreaking to see them all huddled together by the outer net, spy-hopping, confused, not aware of the horrors that awaited them. It was very difficult to sleep that night.

Pilot whales now exhausted after long ordeal of being chased
by dolphin hunters now netted into The Cove.
The next morning as we drove to Taiji, knowing what we were about to witness, again, there was silence. We arrived to see the pilot whales still in the Cove, spy-hopping and looking confused. The fishermen began to arrive. One sat in a skiff, right next to the pilot whales, just looking at them. The matriarch of the pod was huge and when she spy-hopped, her very large head looked right at her tormentor. I wonder what she was thinking. The dolphin killer looked back at her, I had to wonder if he had even a drop of compassion for these animals he was about to brutally slaughter. I’ll never know.

Juvenile pilot whales separated from their family
The pod was divided into two groups. The smaller juveniles were kept at the outer edge while the killers began to push the larger adults towards the tarps. It wasn’t easy as this family of pilot whales fought hard for their lives. There was a lot of screaming coming from the fishermen and a lot of splashing from the pilot whales as they struggled to survive. Divers were wrestling with the pilot whales to pull them under the tarps. Then, they went for the matriarch. Two divers, one on each side, were struggling to pull her under the tarps. A third diver came to help. After a long struggle, they finally succeeded and she disappeared from our view. What happened next was something I’ll NEVER forget. 

Divers manhandling and jumping on the Pilot whales backs
 forcing and pushing them into The Cove.

I suppose it was the moment they drove their killing tool through her blowhole, it was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard, it sounded like thunder shaking the Cove. The killers screamed and I’m sure they had to jump to get out of the way as we could hear her thrashing in the water for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually an eerie silence took over. Anyone who says that the killing is quick and humane hasn’t witnessed a slaughter. There was nothing quick nor humane about what had just occurred.

Pilot whales struggling to keep away from the killers

Frantic Pilot whales being pushed under tarps to their fate.
Pilot whales clearly frightened swimming in family members blood and
pushing up against the rocks trying to get away.
During the entire slaughter process, the juveniles kept creeping closer and spy-hopping, trying to see what was happening to their family members. It was heartbreaking to watch those shell-shocked juveniles watching the carcasses of their dead family members dragged by them as they huddled together for comfort. As the killers pulled the nets in, the juveniles were free to go but, of course, they wouldn’t leave. They swam slowly and cautiously towards the killing area as if trying to find their lost family members.

Pilot whales are known to be very close knit family groups,
here you see them huddled together in The Cove.
The killers, exhausted from their morning’s work, took a long break. Leaving the traumatized juveniles in the killing cove. The poor things huddled together, not knowing what to do without the leadership of the matriarch and the other adults. I knew the killers would have to return and drive them back to sea. They wouldn’t leave the place where they had last seen their family members on their own. I looked at that group of completely traumatized juveniles, too small for the killers to use their valuable quota on, and I hoped that one of them would step up and take the leadership role so this precious pod would survive. As I watched them being drive back out to sea, I could only hope they will survive and, if they do, I hope they never return to the shores of Taiji. 


My two weeks in Taiji were absolutely brutal. I witnessed the brutal and violent slaughter of the pilot whales. I watched the traumatized juveniles being driven back out to sea to face life on their own after watching their family members be brutally slaughtered. I think of them daily and hope they are somehow able to survive. I watched several slaughters of Risso’s dolphins. I’ll never forget the sadness I felt when looking at the pod before the slaughter began and seeing a mother with two tiny calves swimming right next to her. I’ll never lose that feeling of incredible anger and frustration as I watched the adult Risso’s be slaughtered and then the very young Risso’s calves along with a couple of juveniles be loaded into a skiff, driven out to sea and then callously dumped over the side of the boat like a bag of garbage. 
Risso dolphin caught in the net, trying to get away
Even the Blue days were difficult as I witnessed the removal of the dead bottlenose dolphin from the sea pen and visited the captive facilities here. The faces of those captive dolphins told a very sad, tragic story. I visited Dolphin Base and observed the “training” sessions. Watching those beautiful, incredibly intelligent animals have their spirits broken and be reduced to performing ridiculous tricks for dead fish broke my heart.

Dead bottlenose dolphin that died shortly after it's traumatic capture

Training at Taiji Dolphin Base for a lifetime of captivity
Don't support Taiji, Don't buy a Ticket!
I witnessed the incredibly brutal slaughter of a beautiful family of striped dolphins. Watching one struggle and drown in the net is etched in my memory forever. The look of fear and panic as those poor dolphins struggled to escape the killers is something I’ll never forget. The blood that ran as they repeatedly jumped out of the water, onto the rocks in desperation, trying to flee from the killers is another memory as vivid as the red blood that flowed from those beautiful animals. The worst was the poor dolphin who was struggling against the rocks, trapped but trying to escape. I watched it struggle and bleed, the more it struggled, the more it bled. I saw it look up at the killers as if to ask for help, for mercy, only to be brutally untangled and dragged over to the killing area.

Striped dolphin caught, bleeding in the net, a killer will remove it
and drag it underneath the tarps to be slaughtered

There is no mercy in Taiji.

Another memory will be the brutal slaughter of Risso’s dolphins. The way the killers treated them will be forever in my memory. Wrestling them, tying their flukes to their skiffs and dragging them to the killing area as they struggled for air to breathe. I understand that the killers don’t think of the dolphins the way we do, as sentient, intelligent, social, family oriented animals. I understand that they think of them as little more than fish, not that any fish should be treated this way, either. However, that is no excuse from the incredibly brutal and inhumane way in which these animals are treated. It’s just unbelievable.

Risso dolphin capture, one being dragged by the tail,
taken underneath the tarps to be brutally slaughtered
Yes, I witnessed many Red Cove days on my trip to Taiji. I have many horrible memories. But, I also met some incredibly dedicated people who are fighting to end this. I will carry them in my memories as well. I will remember all those who have come to document these atrocities and to be a voice for the dolphins. I will also remember all the support from my facebook dolphin pod, most of whom I’ve never met, but who were always there with messages of strength and encouragement during my time in Taiji which helped me through the rough times. It was hard to say “goodbye” to Taiji, however, I will return. I will return to this place each and every season...until it ends!

On my last night in Taiji, it is with very mixed feelings that I prepared to leave. Of course, part of me wanted to go home, to get far away from this place and the horrors that I have seen but a bigger part of me wanted to stay, to be a voice for the voiceless, to help expose what happens here and share their stories. I think everyone who comes here feels the same way. Spending time in Taiji is a life changing experience.

As for me, I have returned to my home and my job as a high school teacher. However, I use this experience as an opportunity to spread the word. I will continue to share the story of dolphin captivity and the dolphins of Taiji to all who will listen. I will share with my students, visit other classes, other schools, anywhere I can go, I will go. I strongly believe that education is vital in ending captivity. The children and teenagers that I have spoken to totally get it when they are presented with information. I have heard many times over, “I never thought of it like that before.” They just need to be informed, to think about what life is like for a captive dolphin, to think about the cruelty that is the captive trade. The younger generation will bring about change. I’ve seen it starting. I believe it will happen, eventually. It will be a long struggle as the captive industry will fight to stay alive. Let’s all do our part and spread the word.

Many people ask me why I go to Taiji. Why travel to Taiji and, as they usually put it, “just watch” the slaughter. Unable to cut the nets, unable to prevent the fishermen from going out each day to hunt for dolphins, unable to stop the slaughters from happening. However, to stop the slaughter from happening, it must be documented, people have to see what is going on in Taiji. People need to be moved to action. 
Cove monitors Cynthia and Johanne
I do believe that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I must tell the story of the dolphins of Taiji. I made my video to tell their story, to be a voice for them, so people can see for themselves what happens in Taiji. I have shared my video with both students and adults in the hopes of moving people to action. Any action. Deciding not to go to a dolphin show, not to “swim” with captive dolphins, signing petitions, making phone calls to embassies, protesting...anything. 

I hope that people will be both saddened and outraged by what they see and want to help put it to an end. People were outraged by the recent capture of the huge pod of bottlenose dolphins which included “Angel” the albino dolphin. People spread the word like never before. The world is starting to hear us, the dolphin slaughters were a hot topic in the media all over the world. Caroline Kennedy expressed concern and disapproval of these brutal hunts. Governments are starting to voice their disapproval of the brutal dolphin hunts. We must keep up the pressure. 

I believe it will be a combination of Japanese citizens calling for change and global citizens expressing their outrage over these brutal hunts. We must put and end to the demand for captive dolphins. That’s a global problem, not a Japanese problem. Education is key. If we can remove the demand for captive dolphins, the incentive to hunt dolphins will be greatly reduced. Therefore, we must continue to educate people of all ages, all around the world about the link between the brutal dolphin slaughters of Taiji and the captive dolphin industry. That’s why I travel to Taiji each year, that’s why I spread the word the best I can, and that’s why I made my video.

by Cynthia Fernandez,
Volunteer Cove Guardian for the Dolphin Project,
November 18th to December 1st, 2013

Cynthia Fernandez looking toward the Taiji Harbor sea pens
that hold recently captured dolphins

Thank you Cynthia for having the strength to witness the brutality at Taiji and working hard to share what is happening and help make change! 

Please help Cynthia and the dolphins of Taiji and share her story and video with everyone you can.

To see photo albums from the Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project, of some of the dolphin drives that happened while Cynthia was at The Cove, please click on the links below:

Please click to read two other blog posts Cynthia wrote about here experience on the Save Japan Dolphins Website:
Photos are courtesy of Cynthia Fernandez and the Dolphin Project, grateful thanks.

~Kindness for Animals

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely brilliant and heartfelt report, thank you so much Cynthia.