Facts About the Drive Hunt
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!