As of September 1, 2012, the fishermen of Taiji, Japan, made infamous by the 2009 Academy Award winning documentary "The Cove", are once again on the relentless hunt for whales and dolphins to kill or capture. The season runs from September through March, during which the fishermen head out to sea daily to seek their prey.  Using metal rods to disrupt the dolphin sonar, 'banger' boats chase the small cetaceans, sometimes for 6+ hours, confusing them and driving the creatures into the shallow waters of the killing cove at Taiji. 

Once in the cove, the small whales are either killed for food, or selected for capture.  A live bottlenose can earn big money when sold to private buyers and dolphinariums around the world.  The ones not selected for captivity are either released back into the wild (rarely) or killed for human consumption, even though the meat is known to have an extremely unhealthy amount of mercury.  One successful drive could result in as many as 20 dolphins for sale to global buyers.  This is a very lucrative business for the small group of Taiji fishermen and the corporations who fund their operation.  In the first two weeks of the 2012 season, over 40 pilot whales were slaughtered and 3 captured, however one of the captured whales perished less than a week after being imprisoned.  These numbers will only continue to grow until international outrage forces Japan to end the drive hunts forever. 

According to the captive marine mammal database Ceta-Base, during the 2011 season approximately 848 dolphins from eight species were driven into the cove at Taiji. Of this total 719 were killed, 48 were released, 51 were live-captured and 5 have an unknown status. Species captured, sold & killed include: Bottlenose Dolphins (T. gilli), False Killer Whales (P. crasssidens), Pacific White-sided Dolphins (L. obliquidens), Pantropical Spotted Dolphins (S. attenuata), Risso's Dolphins (G. griseus), Short-finned Pilot Whale (G. macrorhynchus) and Striped Dolphins (S. coeruleoalba).  Around Japan, nearly 20,000 small cetaceans are murdered annually as Japan refuses to lower cull numbers or heed the warnings of conservationists.  The aggressive hunting is leaving populations decimated and struggling to recover.   

A peaceful campaign of protest and resistance is underway once again this year, conducted by volunteers of Sea Shepherd, Save Japan Dolphins and other pro-dolphin organizations and independent observers who are on the ground at the cove daily during the drive hunts.  Volunteers often witness daily slaughter of these animals.  Other supporters volunteer their time with phone calls to embassies, NGOs, world leaders and other animal rights organizations to demand an end to this barbarism.  There are groups on Facebook posting updates, as well as thousands of Twitter users speaking out against this oceanic atrocity.  There is always a need for more voices to speak for the voiceless dolphins and whales of Japan.   

We may ask ourselves what can we do to stop this cruelty to dolphins and small whales?  One strong message we can send is to actively boycott dolphin captivity centers where dolphins and whales must perform for food, including places like Sea World and the Shedd Aquarium.  Although these institutions in the United States do not currently buy dolphins captured at Taiji, they also do not take a strong stand in defense of the creatures either.  When their profits are on the line perhaps they will speak up which is why it is critical that we do not support these places financially.  It does not matter how well the captive dolphins are treated, they are essentially enslaved for entertainment purposes and confined to a small concrete pool, doomed to spend their lives in prison.  Swimming with dolphins in captivity is also extremely harmful, especially when visiting countries outside of the United States and Europe where regulations are non-existent.  There is a high probability that the dolphins came from the brutal drive hunts at Taiji.  When you support any captive dolphins, you actively support the cruelty at Taiji by fueling demand for the mammals. 

The best way to enjoy dolphins and whales is in their natural habitat.  A relaxing day on the water whale watching is refreshing and there is no happiness that compares to a pod of dolphins escorting your vessel through the seas.  Connecting with the spirit of the ocean brings us closer to mother nature.  Japan is a large island with ample coastline and the opportunity to become a whale watching and conservation mecca.  Fishing towns around the country could invite international and domestic visitors to sail the seas, enjoy the famous Japanese hospitality and witness the whales and dolphins in the wild, swimming joyfully in the open ocean.  The economies of small coastal towns all around Japan could benefit from wild, free dolphins, not just a handful of fishermen in Taiji profiting from the dolphin slave trade.

If you are touched by the plight of the dolphins, please get involved. There are many ways you can help. It's as simple as telling other people about what is taking place in Japan.  There are many petitions circulating on social media platforms and it only takes a second to add your name in opposition of dolphin hunts and captivity.  Be a voice for the voiceless and always observe the ocean peacefully! Together we can all make a difference in this world.   

Mother & Baby Blue Whale
Credit: N Goodfellow