Sea Shepherd Returns to Taiji After Drawing Worldwide Media, Public and Political Attention Last Year to Taiji’s Brutal Hunt of Dolphins and Small Whales

File photo: Pilot whale pod is wrestled and tethered by killers in the water, Nov 19, 2013File photo: Pilot whale pod is wrestled and tethered by
killers in the water, Nov 19, 2013
Photo: Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reports its Cove Guardians are on the ground in Taiji, Japan for the start of the fifth consecutive season of its dolphin and small whale defense campaign, Operation Infinite Patience. Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians are prepared to once again document and expose the brutal slaughter and captive trade of dolphins and small whales, as the 2014-2015 drive hunt season begins.

For a staggering six months of each year – from September until March – entire family units, or pods, of dolphins and small whales at a time are driven into Taiji’s infamous killing cove. When a large pod is captured, killers and trainers will work side-by-side to select the “prettiest” dolphins or whales (those without visible scars or flaws) for captivity. It is the multi-billion dollar global captive trade that funds the slaughter. The captive selection process occurs simultaneously to the slaughter, as those who are not chosen for a lifetime of imprisonment in captivity are viciously slaughtered for human consumption. The panicked cetaceans are forced to swim in the blood of their family members. If there are pod members remaining, they are driven out to sea in a drive just as stressful as the drive into the cove. Most are juveniles with little to no chance of survival without the protection of their mothers and pods. Some face starving to death, while others may fall prey to predators.

This year’s quota has been set by the Taiji Fishermen’s Union, allowing for a total of 1,938 cetaceans to be killed or captured this year in Taiji. Included in the quota are seven species – 114 short-finned pilot whales, 450 striped dolphins, 509 bottlenose dolphins, 261 Risso’s dolphins, 400 Pantropical spotted dolphins, 70 false killer whales and 134 Pacific white-sided dolphins.

Last year, the Taiji Fishermen’s Union conducted a particularly brutal hunt, showing no compassion as more than 800 cetaceans lost their lives in the cove and an estimated 164 were taken captive. Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians – to date the only group on the ground in Taiji throughout the entire hunt season each year – live-streamed every capture and every kill for the world to see, and successfully sparked an international media firestorm as the world reacted with outrage over this horrendous mass kidnapping and massacre of intelligent marine mammals.

File photo: Killers wrestle the matriarch of the pilot whale pod, Nov 19, 2013File photo: Killers wrestle the matriarch of the pilot whale pod, Nov 19, 2013
Photo: Sea Shepherd
Public and political figures around the world took notice and responded to calls by Sea Shepherd and its supporters for strong statements against Taiji’s cruel hunt. Caroline Kennedy, United States Ambassador to Japan, firmly condemned the hunt, tweeting this statement: “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG [US government] opposes drive hunt fisheries.” Also among those to issue statements were Italian Ambassador to Japan, Domenico Giorgi; British Ambassador to Japan, Tim Hitchens; and Australian Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt.

The January 2014 capture of a megapod of 250+ bottlenose dolphins, including a rare albino calf, grabbed the attention and hearts of the world. The dolphins suffered for days as they were held night after night in the cove without food or shelter and were forced to endure a violent captive selection process. As bottlenose dolphins are especially lucrative for the aquarium industry, this pod represented a large payoff for the greedy killers. Clinging to her mother’s side, the terrified albino calf – named “Shoujo” by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson – was the first of many to be taken captive, torn from her mother’s side and transferred to Taiji Whale Museum, where she remains in a small, barren, filthy tank. When the cove finally went still after days of violence, 52 dolphins had been taken captive, 41 were killed or had died in the struggle for their lives and their freedom, and 130-140 were driven back out to sea to face an uncertain fate as part of a fragmented, now vulnerable pod.

Bottlenose dolphins are just one of several species targeted in Taiji. Among them are pilot whales, who also face mass slaughter in the Faroe Islands, where Sea Shepherd is currently opposing the archaic hunt known as the “grind.” In November 2013, a pod of pilot whales was driven into Taiji’s cove. Of these sentient cetaceans, 14 were slaughtered, 1 juvenile was taken captive and 13 young pilot whales were driven back out to sea. The killers were brutal, tearing the family members away from each other as they desperately tried to cling to the large matriarch leader of the pod. They targeted her first and tethered her flukes against the rocks because she was the largest and, once slaughtered, would offer the biggest payday for her meat. Her distress also ensured the killers would maintain control over the rest of pod, whom they knew would never leave her. Indeed, they desperately tried to cling to her side and come to her aid as she struggled to catch her breath against the ropes and strong current. She fought with all of her strength, but to no avail. The thunderous sounds of the enormous matriarch thrashing in the water as her spinal cord was severed by a spike to her back echoed throughout the cove, and the Cove Guardians stood fast to document those haunting sounds and images so that she would not die unheard and unseen.

Taiji’s annual dolphin slaughter was virtually unknown until Sea Shepherd released covertly obtained footage and photographs taken at the Cove in 2003, followed by further international attention due to the Academy Award-winning film The Cove. Though the continuous presence of the Cove Guardians throughout the hunt season has drawn widespread attention to this vital issue and reduced the number of dolphins and small whales killed, unfortunately the tragic hunt continues.

As the 2014-2015 hunt season gets underway, Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians are ready to once again shine an international spotlight on the cove and apply more pressure than ever before on Japan to end the bloodshed.

CALL TO ACTION: Sea Shepherd Senior Cove Guardian Leader, Melissa Sehgal has issued a call for more Cove Guardians to join the team on the ground in Taiji. “As Cove Guardians, we serve as the eyes of the world in Taiji. Most importantly, we are the only voice that these sentient, socially complex animals have as they are brutally taken from the sea,” said Sehgal. “The bigger our presence in Taiji, the more effective we will be at exposing these atrocities and bringing them to an end. We want as many cameras pointed at the cove as possible as the drive hunts begin. Please join us if you can and help us stand strong for the dolphins. We will not stop until the slaughter ends.”

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