Dolphin Slaughter in Taiji, Japan
Sunday 19th January 2014
It started like any typical Sunday movie night. Me walking back home after a day of shopping with a Mega Frosting Covered Cinnabon in one hand and two freshly cooked Dominos pizzas under the other. And then, just as I left the Dominos Pizza shop thinking about what movie I was going to put on, a call from work came through.
Being a Sunday I was in two minds whether or not to pick up the call. But I’m so glad I did.
This was how the conversation went:
R – “Adrian, how quickly can you get to the office?”
AQ – “Hmmm… not sure. Probably like 1 hour. I need to go home first so I can drop off my shopping and stuff. How come?”
R – “I’m about to head out on to a breaking story. I’m going to go and film the dolphin slaughter down in Taiji. I’m going to have to drive through the night and I need an extra pair of hands. If you can be at the office in 15 mins you can come with me on the assignment”
AQ – “Be there in 15mins – and by the way mate – I’ve got us dinner!”
And that was it…
After arriving at the office, grabbing some warm clothing and all our camera equipment we were on the road in under 25 mins! To be honest there isn’t much to tell about the 8-hour car journey from Tokyo apart from going Warp 9 along the highways and calling all our contacts to try and find out exactly where the best place to film would be. We also used all our contacts to try and find and meet up with Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians who would end up being our contacts on the ground.
The only thing we knew when we left Tokyo was that the Taiji fishermen had gathered a record breaking number of dolphins into the killing cove.
We had no contacts, no info in regard to who was ‘on the ground’ or even whom to get in contact with! We couldn’t contact any of the Sea Shepherd’s Media Offices because it was Sunday morning/Saturday night around the world and everywhere was closed.
But suffice it to say, after 4 hours of tweeting, calling, and emailing everyone we knew we’d made contact with the head of Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians. And she was able to tell us where to meet them the following morning and where we could position our cameras for the best shots.
At this point I have to give a big shout to Laura Lamond of Sea Shepherd who was instrumental in putting us in touch with the right guys in Taiji.
We eventually arrived at 1am at the same hotel the Sea Shepherd guys were staying in. After we checked in, prepped all our camera equipment for the morning we passed out for 4 hours before we were back up, RedBull in hand and heading to the vantage point.
Monday 20th January 2014
The viewpoint turned out to be a tsunami evacuation site, being public property, meant that both we and the Sea Shepherd guys could film and take pictures without getting moved on by the police. However on arriving at the vantage point we were greeted by about 5 policemen and a number of other ‘volunteers’. They didn’t do or say much, there were just there to make sure that no one crossed the ropes to get a better view.
So this was there we spent the first day documenting the Taiji fishermen corralling the dolphin into the cove. Once they were in the shallow waters of the cove the fishermen divided them into two groups: captive trade or meat.
Dolphins selected for slaughter were marked with white paint whilst those selected for captive trade where taken off to either the Whale Museum or to another area which was undisclosed.
It was a pretty miserable day to be honest. The 250+ dolphins that had been caught on Friday had spent three days without food and water. They were obviously emotionally stressed, dehydrated and hungry.
Each sectioned off group of dolphins were exhibiting stressed behaviours – each group were constantly circling one another in extremely tight balls.
On that first day of filming, the fishermen only selected those dolphins they thought fit enough for live captive selection. The poor dolphins they marked with white paint that day had to wait one more day before the killing began.
Throughout the day and throughout filming the police who were with us on the vantage point watched us, alongside members of the Sea Shepard Cove Guardians, very closely.
There was however one point when the police turned their backs and we were able to hop over the rope, trek through the undergrowth, leaning over the edge of the cliff and luckily get some good footage of the dolphins being man-handled. Without taking that risk, we wouldn’t have been able to tell the story the way it should have been told.
From the guys at Sea Shepherd there were a number of extremely disturbing things that I discovered. Here some of those findings that everyone should know about:
1. The slaughter process is called ‘Pithing’ – this is when a metal rod is hammered into the spinal cord of the dolphin. The dolphins don’t die immediately. It takes up to 20 to 30 minutes for them to die, where they often bled out, suffocate or drown from the process of being dragged to the butcher house.
2. This is not a ‘one off’ event nor it is a cull. Let me repeat that. This is NOT A ONE OF EVENT. Dolphins get killed on a DAILY basis for 256 days of the year. The day we left Taiji (Wednesday 22nd) the fishing boats were out again tracking down another giant pod of dolphins for captive selection and meat.
3. By the time we left (Wednesday 22nd) these were the stats according to Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians. From the original pod of 250+
- 52 were taken as captive to be sold to aquariums around the world
- 41 were killed or died in the process
- 130-140 were eventually (Wednesday 22nd) driven back out to sea after being trapped for 5 tormenting days in the killing cove
- Babies and juveniles were seen in remaining pod – and their chances of survival were extremely slim
- Dolphin trainers, divers and butchers were all together in the capture, selection and killing.
After the fishermen had left and retired for the day we went to Taiji’s Whale Museum where we heard the rare albino baby dolphin, nicknamed “Bambi” by the Cove Guardians, was being held before possibly being sold to a foreign aquarium.
There was initially some hesitance by the Museum staff of letting us in to film and interview but after we sweet-talked them all was fine. In hindsight we were extremely lucky to get in, as the Taiji Whale Museum usually never lets foreigners in, just in case they’re activists.
Once inside… it was so depressing.
To see once wild dolphins kept in tiny prison cells and being forced to preform tricks for human entertainment was just awful.
The little albino dolphin was in a tank with two other adult dolphins. When I was filming and taking pictures the two adult dolphins kept coming up to the tank wall, floating there and just staring up at me. It was heart wrenching.
On the other hand the poor baby albino didn’t come anywhere near us… obviously it was still hugely traumatised by the fact it was wrenched away from its mother side only 2 days previously.
After interviewing one of the trainers and a dolphin meat eating visitor to the museum we packed up and headed back to the hotel to upload our videos and pictures. Here is the video that we shoot from the first day:
Tuesday 21th January 2014
The day the killings actually took place.
We knew we couldn’t just get the same video shots. We knew we had to at least try to get a view of exactly what was happening underneath the green tarpaulin – for the whole world to see.
So when 3am rolled around, under the cover of night we left the hotel and headed back to the cove. We knew that if only we could set up at ‘Point B’ we’d have a direct line of sight under the tarpaulin.
After jumping over two gates that were blocked off by the Taiji Town Ordinance committee due to ‘safety’ issues we ended up at ‘Point B’ (see picture above) with a direct line of sight under the tarpaulin. If you look at the map closely you’ll see there is a small outcropping of rock – which actually gave us a better hiding spot and a better angle.
So we climbed up to the top of this rock outcrop and took our position.
But after about 5 mins… I thought… ‘best check the tides’ and unfortunately we discovered that if we stayed on the rock we’d be trapped by the tide and not able to get the story out there. So we took Option B and set up camp on the actual path – which unfortunately made us visible to the fishermen.
In order to spot the cameraman and make sure everything was fine, I left him on the path and went back up to same vantage point as the day before. And like the day before the police arrived first, then the fishermen.
Once the fishermen arrived they began herding the dolphins in under the tarpaulin. Once the dolphins were under, they were tied up, the entrance to the tarpaulin was closed and blood started coming out. Here is the video that we shot that day:
This day was particularly disturbing as we saw dolphins getting totally manhandled by the fishermen in order to get them (sometimes being dragging them by their tails) under the tarpaulin. It was almost like the fishermen deliberately ran over the pod with their skiffs and manhandled them in to the captive nets before being slaughtered. Which you can see in my phone video here:
It was lucky that we set up where we did otherwise we wouldn’t have know anything about the dolphins getting tying up. But the fact that they go to such extremes to hid the killing, in my mind, means that they are not proud of it.
How can it be a ‘proud tradition’ if they appear to be so ashamed by what they do. From my vantage point it wasn’t long until blood started pouring out from under the tarpaulin. It wasn’t a pretty sight and it was pretty emotionally disturbing.
At the end of the day over 30+ dolphins were herded under the tents to die by ‘pithing’. But luckily once our cameraman was spotted and police came to move him on – the killing appeared to cease. No more dolphins were herded after that and later that day the remaining dolphins, that were lucky enough not to be killed or selected for sale, were driven back out to sea – dehydrated, starved and mental tormented.
Once the killing had stopped… we needed to get the Taiji side of the story.
So we headed into Taiji in order to speak with the Fishing Association, Major’s Office and random Taiji citizens. We assumed we’d be able to find at least someone who’d want to give their side of the argument or at least someone to regurgitate the Wakayama Prefecture’s views on dolphin fishery, which you can view here.
But I have to be honest… Taiji felt like a horror movie where everyone was in on it. The town had an oppressive feel and the people we met were hostile.
Nobody would talk to us. If they did the answers were generally, “I don’t care”, “Piss off” or “People are just thinking too emotionally about the dolphins”.
When we actually go a real answer from people they said exactly the same thing about it begin a cultural activity. It was almost like they were toeing the ‘party line’.
If it wasn’t bad enough for everyone in the town to mistrust you – we were also thrown out of Fishing Association and Major’s Office AND we even got harassed by the police.
After coming out of the Major’s Office we were surrounded by two squad cars and eight policemen who told us we couldn’t film anything and we couldn’t interview anyone in the town.
When we asked why they stopped us we were told that someone reported foreigners walking around the town! We were therefore followed and stopped simply because we were foreigners.
I mean, I understand their scepticism of foreigners since the movie ‘The Cove’ came out and all the bad publicity that followed. But there was something else in the air. Defiance, hatred of the outside world… I can’t put it into words. Whatever it was it was oppressive and I couldn’t wait to leave.
Taiji just wasn’t Japan. It was so hostile and so unfriendly. It was a really messed up town.
The Japanese are the nicest people on the planet and this place was so hostile and unfriendly it really creeped me out. And no sooner had we left Taiji and were driving through the next town, it was like a breath of fresh air. However, there was one more horror in store for us…
On way back to our hotel to file and send our videos and pictures out we tried one last ditch attempt to get the Taiji side of the story. At the border of Taiji we stopped at a hotel called something like, “Dolphin Fun Hotel”. But as soon as we walked inside I was disgusted.
On the left hand side of the entrance were two fully grown turtles trapped in a box and directly in front of the entrance were two baby turtles trapped in tiny fish tanks! It was gross and again – totally un-necessary. Actually let’s be honest.. it was f*cked up and cruel.
After that… we were both physically and mentally drained from everything we’d witness. We were both so happy to see the back of Taiji as it disappeared in the rear view mirror.
Wednesday 22nd January 2014
The same time as we left Taiji and headed back to Tokyo twelve fishing boats headed back out into the open ocean to capture another pod of dolphins. Luckily the hunt wasn’t a success and the pod managed to get away. That being said… who know what the next 67 days holds for the poor dolphins migrating past the Japanese coast…
- The simple fact that the fishermen try and cover up the killing speaks volumes. That alongside the general vibe of the town, in my opinion, suggests that they’re ashamed about what they’re doing and even feel guilty about it. If they were proud of their ‘cultural tradition’ they wouldn’t care what people though and would kill the dolphins in the open for everyone to see. But they don’t…
- The killing is totally unnecessary. The fishermen get plenty enough money selling the dolphins into a lifetime of slavery. Why then do they decide to kill the remaining ones? Everyone who we talked to didn’t admit to eating it… which begs the question… who does then? I can understand the supply and demand argument. If aquariums didn’t exist and people didn’t want to see dolphins perform tricks then there wouldn’t be any point in capturing them. But unfortunately there is. If you go to Sea World or if you go to a dolphin petting zoo… then you are the ones keeping the industry of capturing live dolphins afloat. The fishermen are not the ones at fault… the people who go to watch these shows are.
- This is not just a one off event, nor is it a cull. This captive selection and killing for meat happens everyday, 6 months of the year!
- The town is not Japan. Japan is an amazing country with amazing people. Taiji as a town is a very oppressive and horrible place. This may have happened after The Cove got release and the town came under international scrutiny. But whatever the trigger… it is what it is. It feels like Taiji is a town with a disease. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.
- I think it would be very interesting to do a documentary looking at why Taiji fishermen kill some dolphin when live capture is so much more lucrative. Especially as the killing aspect seems so… unnecessary.
This trip made me open my eyes and I am glad I got the opportunity to share the story with the rest of the world.
Here are some more pictures that I wasn’t able to fit into the story: