The dolphin drive hunts in Taiji do not just end in the killing of the dolphins. Taiji is “ground zero” for international trade in live dolphins. There is money – big money – in the captive dolphin entertainment industry. Without the money the FU makes from the live trade business, it is doubtful that the Taiji FU would be able to sustain the killing of dolphins. The operation is expensive. We understand that the FU makes about $32,000 USD for each live dolphin it captures. Trained dolphins sell for much, much more. There is a direct link between the captive dolphin entertainment industry and the bloody waters of the Cove in Taiji. Supporting a live dolphin show or participating in a confined swim-with-dolphin program anywhere in the world is the same as slicing open a dolphin in Taiji. The dolphin entertainment industry drives the hunt. The killing of the dolphins follows in its wake. Well-intentioned marine mammal trainers and the dolphin-show-viewing public all have the blood of innocent dolphins on their hands.
For the dolphins pulled from their families and sold into captivity, life is beyond horrible. Even those dolphins born in captivity exist in prison-like conditions. It is now illegal in the United States to import a dolphin which has been caught in the wild, so there is a big business in captive-bred dolphins. One wonders though how many of the so-called captive bred dolphins imported into the US each year are actually wild-caught. Even the captive-bred dolphins most likely have ancestors who were captured in Taiji. The link to the killing in Taiji is undeniable, and unavoidable.
Taiji is located in a protected nook off of a bay. The rocky land soars up from the water along the coast there. The water in the bay is shallow and there are many rock spurs and islets. Near the entrance to Taiji harbor is the entrance to the infamous Cove. The rock spurs, islets, and shallows create a natural funnel right into the entrance of the Cove.
There are a dozen small fishing boats in Taiji equipped with metal poles on their sides. These boats go out into the ocean off the Wakayama coast each morning at first light. They fan out and start patrolling in the known dolphin migratory routes looking for pods of dolphins or small whales. They often go over the horizon. They also look for seabirds because the birds will follow the dolphins looking for an easy meal from the fish the dolphins chase. Once a hunting boat finds a pod, the operator will radio to the other boats. While the others are racing to that location, the first boat will follow the pod. Once there are five or more hunting boats on the scene, they will herd the dolphins using their boats and by banging with a hammer on a flange on top of the poles. We call them “banger boats” because of these poles. This banging creates a wall of sound from which the dolphins and small whales swim away. This is the “drive hunt.” The banger boats next drive the pod into the bay, along the coast past the entrance to Taiji harbor and then into the entrance to the Cove. Once the dolphins are past the entrance, other dolphin hunters close off the entrance with nets.
Entire extended family units – pods – are caught this way. Elders, reproducing age adults, pregnant females, adolescents, and babies are all driven into the Cove. Sometimes, the pod will slip away from the boats or the pod will get separated, but more often than not, the entire pod is driven into the Cove.
The Cove is a public beach. There is a parking apron up on the road. There are stairs down to the beach with inviting rock paved walking paths along the edges. There is even a well-maintained public restroom there. Above the steep sides of the Cove are public vistas which double as tsunami escape locations. Most of the walkways and “vistas” have been barricaded to keep folks from viewing what happens to the dolphins. It is now a criminal offense to cross these barricades.
Once the dolphins are driven into the Cove area, they are then herded into a southern finger off of the Cove. This is a narrow and shallow beach area and the site of the slaughter. It is also the site of the documentary film, The Cove. The barricades keep the activities of the killers from view. Often, marine mammal trainers from the nearby Dolphin Base (swim-with-dolphin program) and from the Taiji Whale Museum (and live dolphin show) will move among the captured dolphins and select individuals for the captive entertainment industry. Sometimes, the others will be released, but more often than not, they are all killed. Grandparents, parents, pregnant females, and babies are all killed. When the movie was made, they were killed by spear thrusts. This created a lot of blood in water. Now, in an effort to reduce the amount of blood, the hunters push a metal rod into their spinal cords. Once the rod is removed, a wooden plug is then hammered into the hole. The insertion of the rod sometimes causes death, but mostly causes paralysis. The dolphins are still alive and very much aware of what is happening to them and to their family members.
A rope is tied around their tails and they are hauled out to the waiting gutting barge by small skiffs. Most of them slowly drown and die during this towing activity. For those that do not die with the insertion of the rod or by drowning on the way to the gutting barge, their deaths come when they are cut open and their entrails and organs are removed on the gutting barge. There, the massive amounts of blood are unavoidable.
The dolphins chosen for the entertainment industry are taken by skiff/sling to pens in Taiji Harbor. The gutted dolphins are towed to the butcher shop in Taiji Harbor.
Please join with the Cove Guardians and help end this death-or-prison process today!
Sea Shepherd and Taiji – a history
In 2003, Sea Shepherd became actively involved in opposing the cetacean slaughter in Taiji, Japan, joining several individuals and organizations working on the issue including friend of Sea Shepherd, wildlife and conservation filmmaker, Hardy Jones who had been following the Taiji drive hunt almost since it began. When in 2003 Sea Shepherd sent a crew in to Taiji to document the issue, one of the members of that crew was Ric O’Barry, a leading advocate for dolphins and opponent of the captivity industry.
Pictures that Shocked the World
On October 6, 2003, after hiding out for several weeks in the cliffs overlooking the bay, crewmembers of Sea Shepherd’s Taiji Dolphin Campaign filmed and photographed fishermen slaughtering dolphins in Taiji Harbor.
The crew were attacked, intimidated, and their lives threatened by local community members for daring to expose this previously unheard of atrocity. Some of the photographs they took are on these pages. You can see that the blood of the dolphins literally turned the sea red. Upon the release of the photos, AP Photo Japan gave testimony that the photos had not been revised in any manner.
The Sea Shepherd crew remained strong in Taiji for a month and a half in spite of growing hostilities directed at them by local fishermen. The crew filmed and photographed at every opportunity, and continued their watch over the harbor.
Setting Captives Free
On November 18, 2003, two crewmembers, Allison Lance Watson and Alex Cornelissen, dove into the bay and swam out to free 15 dolphins penned in and scheduled to be slaughtered the next morning.
They swam for over an hour untying and bringing down sections of the net creating escape routes for the dolphins. A passerby onshore called the Taiji police who contacted several fishing boats out in the harbor. After a valiant struggle in the water, they swam to shore and were immediately arrested. They were held in separate jails for 23 days without bail or communication with the outside world. With the help of other groups, protests were organized by Sea Shepherd supporters in 28 cities.
The world, including many Japanese citizens, saw for the first time the horrendous brutality of this slaughter of beautiful creatures. That imagery made international front page news and stunned the world. Dolphin lovers and conservationists worldwide were outraged, and condemned the Japanese government for condoning this ritual of death.
The Japanese authorities’ reaction to this was to post signs in the village and along the cliffs making it illegal to film or photograph the dolphin slaughter. Not long after, the killers began stretching large tarpaulins above the bay to hide what they do, and guards were soon stationed to keep potential dolphin protectors from approaching or photographing the brutality perpetrated upon these intelligent and socially complex animals.
In order to help secure the release of Alex and Allison, Captain Paul Watson wrote a letter to the Japanese police in which he stated that Sea Shepherd would not send anyone into Japan with the intention of breaking the law.
For the past several years, protestors and reporters have gone to Taiji at the first of September to cover the beginning of the hunt. The dolphin killers would simply stay in port and wait for the protestors and reporters to leave. Then the killers went back to their grisly tasks unfettered. In the fall of 2010, Captain Watson proposed the question, “What would happen if the protestors never left?” He then turned to Sea Shepherd’s Director for Intelligence and Investigations Scott West and asked Scott to go to Taiji and stay through the primary killing season. In September 2010, Scott arrived in Taiji with his then 16-year-old daughter, Elora Malama West.
Before heading to Taiji, Scott spoke with Ric O’Barry. Ric told Scott that if Scott were to identify himself as being with Sea Shepherd, the police would immediately arrest him. Ric explained that the Japanese police had questioned Ric many times about his affiliation with Sea Shepherd and that if the police could connect Ric to Sea Shepherd, they would then arrest him. So the first thing Scott did when he arrived in the area was to walk into the main police station in Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture, wearing Sea Shepherd clothing and announce his arrival. He was not arrested, but the police followed him and conducted surveillance on his and his daughters’ activities. The other thing Scott did was to inform the police that he is a retired policeman (actually a retired United States federal agent) and that he would not tolerate anyone physically attacking him or his daughter. The police clearly understood, and must have conveyed this message to the Taiji Fishermen’s Union (FU) because no one accosted Scott or his daughter.
Scott and Elora remained in Taiji through early December 2010. A number of volunteers from around the world joined them during those three months. Scott was followed by volunteer Libby Miller and then returned in March 2011.
The dolphin killers shut down their activities at the end of February because their kill had been cut in half by the daily activities and reporting by Scott and Libby. Scott and other Sea Shepherd volunteers then moved to Iwate Prefecture to document the porpoise slaughter and were caught up in the tsunami devastation of Otsuchi on March 11, 2011.
In early May 2011, Scott returned to Taiji to catch the FU killing pilot whales. Apparently, the FU was upset because they had only killed about half what they wanted during the normal season, so they resumed killing to try and reach their quota. As of mid-September 2011, we are waiting for them to release the “official” numbers of their kill.
2012 Operation Infinite Patience
The killing season has resumed in Taiji in 2012. Sea Shepherd is there. Volunteer Melissa Sehgal is leading the effort on the ground. We are calling this effort Operation Infinite Patience. Learn more about the campaign,
What YOU Can Do To Help
Contact the Authorities:
Help us end the brutal Taiji dolphin slaughter by voicing your concerns to the authorities in Taiji as well as Wakayama Prefecture and the Japanese Embassy or Consulate in your area.
Japanese Embassies Worldwide:
Mr. Yoshiki Kimura – Governor of Wakayama:
Wakayama Prefecture Office, Fishery Division:
Mayor – Taiji Town Hall:
Taiji Fishermen’s Union:
Hotel Dolphin Resort / Dolphin Base:
Japan Fisheries Public Content Form:
Contacts via Twitter:
Spread the Word:
Follow Operation Infinite Patience on social media and share with your friends and family. Ask them to help us end this atrocity.
Educate others on the link between the captive dolphin industry and the Taiji dolphin slaughter. Discourage your friends and family from visiting dolphinariums or participating in captive dolphin programs. More info here.
Consider applying to be a Cove Guardian and joining our team in Taiji. This position requires dedication, time, and resources. You must pay for your travel, lodging, food, and all other personal expenses.
Donate to Support:
Make a contribution to support our presence in Taiji and spread awareness of this campaign with the goal of ending the slaughter. Donate Now
Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian Leader Speaks Out for Taiji’s Dolphins on HLN’s “Jane Velez Mitchell” Show and CNN International.
Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian Leader Melissa Sehgal was interviewed on HLN’s “Jane Velez-Mitchell” show from the killing Cove in Taiji, Japan on Friday, 9/21 and on CNN International on Monday, 9/17. Watch the two-part interview from HLN here and the segment on CNN International and learn how you can take action to help Taiji’s dolphins!