Dolphins in Taiji, Japan
by firmm Team
Eyewitness account of a former course participant of firmm, Sonja Graesslin; Robin and Matthew
I write you in English, as it is easier for me. Matthew, Robin and I were your ‘Studies’ 2 summers ago, I think you remember. We saw each other in Switzerland during your yearly firmm event in Aarau.
Today we sit at the edge of the bay, in the town of Taiji, Japan. When we got here, we recognized the place right away – it is the scene of the movie ‘The Cove’. The dolphin hunting season started 3 weeks ago.
It is 05.30 in the morning on the 23rd of September. 4 Motorboats loaded with at least 40 or 50 Japanese people just went up to the dolphins, which are swimming around in the bay. Japanese fisherman caught them yesterday. They entered the bay around 07.00 hrs on the 22nd. Policemen are guarding the shore area. It gives us a save feeling.
Scott West of the organization “Sea Shepherds” and his daughter Elora are here since a week and suggested we hang out with them. Which is great.
The dolphin migration season started. 13 boats, mainly those making ‘the right sound’ lead the animals away from their migration route, into Taiji. A cultural thing, the Japanese say, a 400 year old tradition.
Fishermen have always gone out, caught the dolphins and killed them all in The Cove. Dolphins are the enemy and eat ‘their’ fish they say.
Around 20 bottlenose dolphins are swimming around in the bay today. You hear them breathing and flapping with their tails.
The bay is divided in 3 areas, the dolphins are tired, maybe stressed, and hungry. They have been here for at least 24 hours. We see the lightning over the rocks, there are some clouds, the weather is still fine though.
05.46, the net closest to the bay has been moved towards ‘The Cove’, the dolphins are chased into the, from the shore, invisible area. The net is fixed to both sides of the rocks, closing up The Cove.
We can’t see what is going on, the public road is blocked. Bright orange gates close off the path. Walking up the path would give us a perfect view into The Cove. A place which is clearly not to be seen by us.
05.50 hrs, the dolphin selection process starts, the Japanese team is out of sight.
06.00 hrs, there is a lot of yelling going on, we hear banging sounds against the boats. Most likely the dolphins are terribly scared. Boats are moving back and forth. The engines are loud.
Many questions are going through our heads. Why don’t the dolphins just swim over the nets, boats just drive over the nets as well…? Why don’t they jump over and leave…?
06.20 hrs, the sun is up, the first boat leaves with a young female dolphin in a sling.
06.24 hrs, the second boat leaves, taking a second dolphin to the pen, located next to the slaughterhouse in Taiji town.
A third boat leaves. At least 8 to 10 dolphins are pushed back into the bay. Possibly males, too old, or scarred animals. Not suitable for the world’s dolphinariums…
Young female bottlenose dolphins is what the world likes to see. The type ‘Flipper’ of the TV series.
It is good to see that the ‘unsuitable’ dolphins are back in the bay. It seems today there will be no killing. Later on, the fisherman will ‘guide’ them back to the ocean, far away from the shore.
2 Days ago the ‘undesirable’ animals were killed. We have evidence of that!
06.59 hrs, the fourth dolphin is taking out of The Cove, hanging in a sling.
07.06 hrs, the 5th dolphin, hanging in a sling, tied to a boat exits The Cove.
The sun disappears behind the clouds, we hear the thunder far away. It will rain today, hopefully stormy weather is coming up. Rough sea would prevent the fishermen from going out. But that is just today.
The Taiji season will end in 6 months only. Last year about 23’000 dolphins were killed, we were told.
07.18 hrs, the 6th dolphin is taken away.
07.36 hrs, dolphin nr. 7 is taken out.
07.40 hrs, it starts raining real hard, the thunder is coming closer. If there is justice, it will probably hit The Cove...
Apparently only 30 fishermen are involved in this practise. The dolphin trainers seem to be too many to be from Taiji only. Maybe they are brought in from other parts of the country. It is not clear.
07.54 hrs, the rain is slowing down, 7 fishermen in wetsuits are swimming back to their boat. They are talking and laughing. They are standing up in their boat, fiddle with some nets.
07.55 hrs, dolphin nr. 8 is brought out.
07.57 hrs, the boat with the trainers appears out of The Cove and drives back to the shore. Their job is done... for the day.
08.07 hrs, 1 boat with fishermen is taking the net, blocking The Cove, away. Approximately 12 bottlenose dolphins are swimming around. Sticking closely to each other.
08.11 hrs, the net closest to the shore is brought into the boat, the rain is still pouring down. The fishermen laugh.
08.18 hrs, 4 boats are waiting in the bay.
08.30 hrs, 1 boat left the area, 1 boat moves up to the last net, and starts taking it out of the water.
Soon the remaining animals will be released.
08.36 hrs, 2 bigger boats arrive, the dolphins are released and will be driven out into the ocean.
5 Further banger boats, as Scott calls them, are showing up and help move the animals away.
08.42 hrs, 7 boats are chasing the dolphins out.
The beach and the harbour are open to the public again. The police officers are leaving. The fishermen are gone.
08.44 the day can start.
What went wrong today?
8 Out of 20 dolphins were taken into captivity, ready to fulfill the worlds demand for dolphins. Millions of people go to dolphinariums and have the time of their lives. Dolphins are great to watch.. just NOT in captivity...we think.
The ‘retail price’ for a dead dolphin is approximately USD 600.00. A live animal is sold for about USD 150’000.00
23’000 killed dolphins per year times USD 600.00 also adds up…
3 Hours passed since we got here this morning. Someone made over a million dollar. Are we really talking about Japanese culture here?
Katharina, we really need more people out here. We will write to WWF and Greenpeace as well.
Can you please spread the word through your channels.
This can not continue!
If you have the possibility to come to Taiji, please do so, witness what is going on here or send as many people as possible. We really believe animals are being released rather than being killed if the audience is big enough.
Looking forward to your reaction!