While I was away in Japan, the local newspaper here on the island ran a three part series about my trip. This is Part II and III that were published Jan. 26th and Feb 9th. Thank you so much to the Island Moon newspaper and staff! A big shout out to Ronnie, Dale, and Jan!
Dolphins Dying to Entertain You Part II
Witness to the dolphin slaughter
After two days of travel by plane, train and auto I made it to Taiji, Japan. Inspired by the Oscar winning movie The Cove I am here filming and documenting the slaughter of wild dolphins.
I joined up with fellow volunteers from Sea Shepherd, a group made famous by the animal planet series whale wars. While the Sea Shepherd campaign to stop the slaughter of whales is ongoing in the southern ocean, Sea Shepherd has also started a campaign here on the ground in Taiji, the only place left in the world that still uses a technique called “drive fishing” to drive in whole pods of dolphins and then brutally slaughters the whole pod, nursing mothers, babies and all. This is mainly done as a form of pest control.
My first day on the ground as an official Cove Guardian was a good one. The 12 banger boats, called that because they use long metal poles they put into the water and use a metal hammer and bang on the poles to create a wall of sound, confusing and terrifying the dolphins and driving them into a small killing area known as the Cove. The banger boats went out but returned earlier than normal with no dolphins. It was a good day.
That was not the case on day two. An emotional roller coaster ride it was. I and fellow guardian Bob were stationed at lookout point. With the addition of myself as a guardian we now have two cars so the cove guardians can be in more places getting more footage. We travel in pairs and are very aware of the police and coast guard presence at all times. On the days when the fishermen are successful at driving in a pod of dolphins the area around the cove quickly fills up with officials and I was a new face and got the standard interrogation.
We spotted the banger boats right away way out on the horizon. Constantly watching them and trying to figure out if they had dolphins or not is a difficult thing to do from land, but we are not aloud on any boats here in Taiji. It is an emotional roller coaster being the front man. Using radio’s we communicate back and forth as to what is happening with the other cove guardians. They have a pod, no they don’t, yes they do, no they don’t, watching through the bino’s gives you some sense of what is going on but really you don’t know until the banger boats start coming closer in. It was getting late for the dolphin hunters to be driving in a pod, but they kept circling, so we quietly knew there was something there keeping them out there. Yes they had a pod of beautiful Risso dolphins. After many cold hours at lookout point we rushed to the cove, arriving just in time to see the banger boats drive the pod into the killing cove. Up the mountain we ran, yes ran, until I just had to stop and peel off some of my 4 layers of clothing. Once at the top of the mountain looking down into the tarp covered killing cove I just focused my energy on getting footage, if there was any to get. The dolphin hunters have done a very good job at hiding the slaughters under blue tarps but they can’t muffle the sounds and cries we could hear from on top of the mountain. I believe they slaughter 15 Risso dolphins but don’t have an exact number. One is too many. Then word came over the radio that 3 Risso dolphins had somehow escaped and were in the harbor swimming next to the trapped dolphins in the training area. When Libby, our Sea Shepherd leader, radioed me with this news my heart just sank again. Confused and terrorized they were obviously trying to communicate with the other dolphins that have been trapped in training pens for weeks if not months. So back down the hill we went over to the harbor, first to film the boats with the now dead dolphins in them, of course covered by tarps, and the transfer of the dolphins from the skiff boats to the slaughterhouse. Two of the three Risso dolphins somehow found their way out of that horrible harbor, but one lone Risso dolphin stayed behind, swimming in the same spot right near the dolphin training pens. The SSCS cove guardians decided to post a watch thinking surely the hunters would not kill this dolphin in plain sight right in front of us, so we were not going to leave that dolphin alone. Bob and I took the first watch. Within minutes the skiff boats came out from the slaughterhouse and started netting in this poor frightened dolphin. I quickly turned on the video camera thinking I was about to witness one of the most horrific things in my life. My hands trembled as I watched through the lens of my camera and my bino’s. Bob was way down the way filming as well and I was on my own, filming. They managed to capture this dolphin and to my amazement they didn’t put it into a pen, or take it to the killing cove, instead they headed out to sea with it. Once again we packed up everything in a rush and headed back up the hill to make sure that indeed they were going to release this one survivor of the pod. They did.
Every new Cove Guardian is questioned by the police.
What can be said of these men who do this? And why did they go to so much effort to release this dolphin after spending a day driving in its family and slaughtering them? I just don’t know and probably never will. I do know that now there is a dolphin swimming in the waters outside of Taiji mourning the loss of its whole family and there is nothing I can do for this dolphin other than share my experience and hope by some miracle that someday soon this can come to and end.
The cove ran red with blood on day two and I was there to see it. The sounds of the banger boats will forever haunt me and the screams from the dolphins being slaughtered will forever be with me. I am more determined now than ever to help put an end to this senseless slaughter.
I’d like to encourage everyone to see the movie, The Cove, to get involved, to call the Japanese Embassy and voice your opinion. You can also follow my 3 weeks here in Taiji at my blog www.ACoveGuardian.wordpress.com or friend me on facebook. I will be submitting more on my work here in Japan to the Island Moon in the future as well.
and now Part III…
Dolphins Dying to Entertain You Part III
“We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.” Sonia Johnson
Dolphin Meat for Sale
Where to begin. When I look back at my notes I am shocked by how much has happened in the 19 days that I have been on the ground documenting the slaughter of wild dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Everyday brings a new challenge and we never know what that challenge might be. When I last submitted an article I had only been on the ground for 2 days at that point. One day had been a slaughter day in which 20 Risso dolphins were driven into the killing cove and within a matter of 45 minutes the dead dolphins were on there way to the slaughter house. The next day the banger boats went out but returned empty handed. As of February 6, 2011 I have been witness to roughly 74 dolphins slaughtered from three different species and 6 dolphins captured for the dolphin trade industry. It is unbearable watching the banger boats go out day after day, but we do, and those that will follow in my footsteps will watch and document, just as I have and continue to spread the word to the world that this must be stopped.
Each morning we are up before the sun. We sit in silence as we drive to Taiji and secretly pray that the banger boats will be in harbor. This has only occurred once during my time here and that was only due to foggy conditions.
On my sixth day here we watched as the banger boats drove in a pod of Pacific White Sided dolphins into the mouth of the harbor, but this time the banger boats stopped short of the killing cove and dropped their nets out in the middle of the harbor, circling the dolphins with their nets. Then came the skiff boats full of men in wetsuits. These would be the trainers going out to choose the prettiest dolphins for the captivity industry. They spent hours out in the make shift dolphin prison picking and choosing and when they were finished they tied the dolphins to each side of their skiffs and drove them back to the small dolphin pens located inside the harbor. The remaining dolphins were then slaughtered outside the killing cove in the harbor, probably by drowning. We again watched in horror as the skiff boats drove the bodies of the dolphins past the training pens, of course keeping their dead bodies under tarps to keep us from getting photo’s and the hunters proceeded directly to the slaughterhouse.
At the same time this was happening we could see a large cargo truck and trainers picking and choosing dolphins from a different training pen. Two of my fellow cove guardians realized that these people were preparing to ship the three dolphins, but to where? Andy and Nicole quickly rented another car and sat and waited for the transport truck to leave. The live dolphins were sedated and then loaded via crane onto the transport truck and then covered in ice. Andy and Nicole waited by the side of the road for 3 hours until the truck departed for some unknown location. We had given them all the food, clothing and water we had with us and off they went. We assumed they were going to the Osaka International Airport, a four hour drive from Taiji but we were very wrong. After nearly 17 hours in the car following the transport truck they hit a blizzard. The transport truck struck the guardrail and was stuck. It could go no further. Andy got out of the truck and tried to offer assistance. The trainers ignored him. Andy and Nicole’s phone was very low on battery power when they rang us and gave an approximate location as to where they were. Libby and I went to work to get the story out to the media. To our amazement people from all over the world started calling the police department in that prefecture (our version of a county) asking for assistance to rescue what are now referred to as the Taiji Three. After 31 hours on the side of the road Andy and Nicole were told by the police that they must turn around as they had no snow tires. The transport truck holding the dolphins was still stuck and it would be a few more hours before they would be able to free it. Feeling defeated because they could not go any further due to lack of snow tires they returned to Katsuura. Within hours we had a Japanese friend calling every aquarium in the surrounding area and located the Taiji Three. I am happy to say that the dolphins survived, barely. The dolphins could not swim on their own and had to have someone in their tank with them at all times holding them up so they would not drown. It is only because of Nicole and Andy that these dolphins survived and were receiving the exceptional care they so desperately deserved. This story made national headlines on CNN I Reports and went viral all through facebook and the internet.
Dolphins Killed as Pests
Hearing the news of a calf among the group to be slaughtered
The number of dolphins slaughtered in January and has dwindled significantly since the start of the slaughter season, (September 1, 2010) perhaps because the hunters have killed all the dolphins, perhaps because the dolphins have already made their way past Taiji in their annual migration, we just don’t know. What we do know is that the hunters stop at nothing when they kill and by far the hardest day I had to endure was day 13 when the banger boats captured a pod of Risso dolphins, approximately 20 in all and I watched in horror as they drove this pod, mothers and a small calf into the killing cove and the only thing I could do was to photograph as this entire pod was destroyed. Baby and all. Pest control. The Japanese government forbids any stories related to the drive hunts and encourages these kills because they believe the dolphins are eating all the fish and there will be no fish left for the fishermen or the people of Japan.
On the days when the banger boats return empty handed we stop at dolphin base, the training facility and broker house for the dolphin trade industry. As if watching a dolphins slaughter wasn’t sad enough, seeing perhaps as many as 50 dolphins in these tiny pens being trained to do tricks for food is almost worse. The pens are so small that the dolphins actually swim over one another. The trainers, upon seeing us, scatter like coach roaches as they hate having their pictures taken, but I was able to get plenty of video. It is so terribly sad to think that weeks ago these dolphins swam freely in the oceans and now are doomed to a life of captivity. The average captive dolphin only lives ¼ of the time span of a free wild dolphin and I understand why. These dolphins are fed dead fish and given anti-depressants and supplements daily.
Dolphins in training Pens
Please think twice before visiting a sea aquarium or a swim with dolphin program. The money you spend at these facilities supports the slaughters and captive dolphin trade here in Taiji. A trained dolphin can fetch up to $150,000- $250,000 dollars. This is a very large industry and is growing at an astonishing rate.
People can make a difference
My time is quickly coming to an end here in Taiji, but my resolve has only grown stronger. I am already making plans to return to Taiji in the fall. I’d like to encourage everyone to see the Oscar winning movie “The Cove”, the inspiration behind my trip here. I’d also like to encourage people to get involved. Call the Japanese embassy. Write a letter to the Prime minister. Make wise consumer choices but above all please do not support the captive dolphin industry, as long as this industry thrives dolphins will continue to be captured and slaughtered. I will be back in Port Aransas February 9th and would be happy to answer any questions or share my video and experiences with anyone who is willing to listen. You may contact me through facebook (Sheri Hargrove), via email at email@example.com or through my blog at www.AcoveGuardian.wordpress.com. I’d like to thank the Island Moon and all the support I have received from the kind and wonderful people in Port Aransas and look forward to seeing wild dolphins swimming freely in the channel upon my return.
PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN
Prime Minister Naoto Kan
Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. 100-8914 JAPAN
EMBASSY OF JAPAN IN WASHINGTON D.C.
Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki
2520 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008-2869
Tel: (202) 238-6700
Fax: (202) 328-2187