Voice For The Blue

Dolphins, Oceans, Photography & Life

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The Risso on the Rocks #tweet4taiji

It is a daunting task at times to witness and photograph the daily atrocities in Taiji. I’ve had many people comment on twitter or ask how do Cove Guardians do this? Well first of all, when you make the decision to go to Taiji you are well aware of what you will be witnessing each day. There is really nothing you can do to prepare yourself for this either. For me, the only thing that helped was looking through the lens of my camera and trying to take as many photos as possible … as I’ve said before the camera really is a Cove Guardians only weapon. Of course being surrounded by fellow Cove Guardians, who share your passion and daily experiences, is comforting. We all travel to Taiji for the same reason: to be a voice for the dolphins. Doing this requires us to witness the tormenting, manhandling, and inhumane treatment of dolphins on a daily basis.

December 20, 2013 – this will be one slaughter and one moment I will surely never forgot. Every day in Taiji is different and every slaughter is different, and each day you experience a roller coaster of emotions. The images from this day seem to be with me at all times and replay almost every night in mind.

This day it was a pod of 10 Risso dolphins that were driven into the cove  and the killing boats seemed to waste no time as they drove this pod for over an hour into the cove, where they would spend their last moments together.

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Risso dolphins are typically known to be very docile. However, this pod of dolphins displayed their awareness of the impending slaughter and in fear they began to throw themselves onto the rocky walls of the cove as they were netted off.

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I remember standing above the Cove watching these Risso dolphins spend their last moments together before the slaughter began.  I was following a few dolphins through my lens and snapping many photos. Within moments, I saw this Risso throw himself onto the rocks. My immediate reaction honestly was: I gasped and wanted to shout out a few profanities at the killers below, but I was standing right next to the livestream and managed to think before speaking. Then the tears came and my initial reaction was that I wanted to step back and compose myself, but in an instant like this your adrenaline takes over. I knew I was there for one reason: get the best shots possible of what was happening. So in a split second while crying and barely being able to see clearly through my camera, I took as many possible photos as I could. I remember standing there, beside my fellow Cove Guardian, Hunter, my gasp had got his attention and his quick thinking allowed this to be caught on the livestream as well, but he also leaned over and asked if I was alright,  I just waved him off, struggled to say yeah and kept shooting. Hunter commented later that day saying ” You were on a mission and like a machine, all I could hear was the snap, snap, snap of your camera.” In that moment I was very thankful for one thing … the high speed continuous shooting mode on my camera. And Hunter was right, I was on a mission, to expose the brutality of the slaughter and be able to have the photos to display the awareness dolphins have of the situation they are in. This dolphin clearly knew he was in danger, was frightened and thought the only possible way out was to throw himself on the rocky wall of the cove.

Below are a few more photos in the sequence I shot them of this particular event in the Cove that day. Even though this happened a month ago, I remember it as if it was yesterday.

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The photos speak for themselves, and as I saw this dolphin throw itself onto to rocks, it tore my heart and soul apart in just a few moments. In the end I was able to walk away from this experience, however this Risso and the rest of the pod lost their lives in the bloody confines of the infamous cove and eventually wound up lifeless on the butcher house floor.

While being a Cove Guardian is a challenging experience, it is one I will not soon forget and an experience I will choose to do again. Why? Because it is just as Jane Goodall puts it “The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

I leave you with one final phrase “Luctor et Emergo” translated as, “Struggle and Emerge.” This is the school motto of Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, where I the privilege to attend high school. Notre Dame is an integral part of the person I have become today and these word are with me all the time and most certainly helped me to struggle and emerge from my time in Taiji, as an even stronger voice for the dolphins.

For the dolphins!

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4 Blue! #tweet4taiji

If you are familiar with the Cove Guardian campaign in Taiji, then you already know that a Blue day is one the best things to experience as a Cove Guardian and one of the best days for dolphins passing by the waters in Taiji.

I was lucky enough to experience four Blue Cove days in a row, during my time in Taiji. Two of these days the 12 banger boats did leave Taiji harbor to hunt for dolphins, but on these days they were unable to find or successfully drive in any dolphins! These are the best days … seeing the boats come back to harbor one by one without any dolphins is truly a great feeling! What better to do when the boats come back, then to greet them in Taiji harbor with the Sea Shepherd flag. It is our way of letting them know we are not going anywhere and we will not stop until the slaughter ends! Besides a Blue day means no murdering or stealing of wild and free dolphins!

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Proudly holding the flag in Taiji Harbor on a Blue Cove Day

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My Cove Sisters, Jade, Michelle, Dorian, Fran and I, proudly waving the flag as a banger boat (in the background) returns to harbor empty handed!

The two other Blue Cove days experienced were the result of rain and bad weather altogether. With rough seas and wind, the boats did not leave Taiji harbor for two consecutive days. While these Blue days are still great to experience, the unfortunate part of the bad weather is the many captive dolphins in Taiji Harbor and Dolphin Base who have no escape from the wind and rough seas. These dolphins need to use the majority of their strength and energy to fight the rough current and waves, to keep from being tossed around into the sides of their sea pens.

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Rough seas and high winds kept the banger boats in port today

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We also clean up litter & debris on the beach while numerous police watch and video Cove Guardians

I took this video at Dolphin Base, in the pouring rain, while checking in on the captives. This should give you a sense of what the dolphins have to compete with during rough weather and having no escape from the floating sea prison. During my time in Taiji, Dolphin Base held, several bottlenose dolphins, false killer whales and several pacific white sided dolphins.

For the dolphins!

Mel

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Proudly standing on the rocks of the infamous Cove


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Journey to Taiji: First 2 days, first 2 slaughters #tweet4taiji

I’ve followed the Cove Guardian campaign Infinite Patience for a few years now. I’ve seen all the pictures posted and watched the livestream on multiple occasions. However, nothing prepares you for the first time you witness and go through a drive hunt and then slaughter. There really was no rest for me upon arriving in Taiji, the best way to describe it was first day first slaughter, second day second slaughter. I’ve included some of the photos posted to Cove Guardian facebook page, as well as a few of my own that have not been posted.

The first drive hunt and slaughter I experienced was December 14, 2013. Everyday is different in Taiji and this day was not what I was expecting at all and after this I learnt to have no expectations whatsoever. The first day I watched in in disbelief as the killing boats began to drive a small pod of bottlenose dolphins towards the cove, while in the distance the remaining killing boats were attempting to drive a second pod into the cove. There are no words to describe seeing the killing boats in drive formation, your heart literally sinks and you get a sick feeling, since you know what will happen next: captive selection or slaughter. The second pod were able to outsmart the killers and escape immanent death or life or imprisonment. The first pod unfortunately was not so lucky. I watched for hours as 3 bottlenose dolphins fought for their lives. On this first day I stood above the killing and watched in horror and disbelief at the same time as these dolphins continuously attempted to escape and breach behind the killing boats and skiffs, only to be literally ran over and redirected towards the cove. It was amazing to watch 3 bottlenose dolphins give the ruthless killers of Taiji a run for it. However in the end, 3 bottlenose dolphins were no match for the numerous killing boats and skiffs. When you see the nets drawn at the mouth of the cove, you know that fate of these dolphins is sealed. In the end, 1 dolphin was taken captive and placed in the Taiji harbor pens while the remaining two were slaughtered. Why would the killers fight so hard for so few dolphins? Well the answer is bottlenose dolphins taken captive mean big money for the Taiji fisherman … on average a trained dolphin can sell for up to $200,000-$300,000 … and that there is why these ruthless killers fought so hard for only 3 dolphins.

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Last moments together before slaughter & imprisonment

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Netted off in the cove, last moments together

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Skiff carrying two dolphin bodies under the gray tarp

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New captive dolphin being place in Taiji harbor pens

My second day on the ground in Taiji, was much different from the first other than it ended with a slaughter once again. As the killing boats left Taiji harbor, a pod was spotted relatively quickly. This typically means the killing boats have been tipped off from other local fisherman as to where the dolphins are. This day, December 15, 2013 would be a pod of 30-40 striped dolphins who lost their lives for human consumption and none were seen as fit for captivity. This would also be the first time I stood on the shore of the infamous cove. It was a surreal feeling standing at the cove for the first, but even more so surreal that I was about to witness yet another slaughter right from the shore of the cove. This was also the first time I saw the panic, frustration and fear of the dolphins driven into the cove. As I sat on the rocks of the cove trying to take as many pictures as possible to document this drive, I heard the last few breathes these dolphins would ever take as they were pushed farther under the tarps of the killing cove. It is beyond heartbreaking to see this happen and know that you’re only weapon is a camera and a photograph. There are some things you just don’t forget from a slaughter or perhaps are unable to forgot … the sounds of the banger boats banging on their poles as they drive the dolphins into the cove, the sound of a dolphin taking its last breathes and the sound of a dolphin thrashing furiously in an attempt to escape death and then the eerie silence that tells you the slaughter is done and that yet another pod has lost its life at the hands of the Taiji fisherman.

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The fate of these striped dolphins were sealed as the opening to killing cove was closed with nets

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Striped dolphin, scared & confused, spy hopping to make sense about what is happening

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Dolphins will often attempt to swim through the nets in an attempt to escape.

As I said before, each day is entirely different in Taiji and each day your heart seems to break into a million little pieces all over again. At times you feel utterly helpless, knowing that these dolphins are within your reach, so close to you, yet so far away, but also knowing that the only thing you can do is to pick your camera and take the best photos you can. The world needs to see and realize that Taiji has not stopped killing dolphins since the release of the documentary The Cove. The only thing that has changed is how they attempt to hide it, cover it up and prevent the Cove Guardians from documenting it.

I’ve seen multiple people comment on social media about the Cove Guardians doing more to prevent the slaughter, that is cutting nets, or other direct action. What everyone needs to understand is that as a Cove Guardian you are on the ground in Japan and must abide by Japanese laws. Cove Guardians are constantly followed while in Taiji and when I say constantly I mean from the moment you enter Taiji until the moment you leave there are police around you and following you on foot and by car.

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Myself and fellow Cove Guardian, Michelle, outside of Fisherman’s Union, notice the 3 policemen watching us.

It does not serve any purpose to cut nets within the cove and free one pod of dolphins, only to wind up in a Japanese jail, being even more helpless than you were before. While cutting nets seems like a simple and easy solution, it really does nothing in the end, it may free one pod of dolphins, but what about the day after that and the following days. This is the reason that the Cove Guardian campaign in called Operation Infinite Patience, it was not intended to be a one year campaign.

The daily grind of being a Cove Guardian, is challenging as it is a roller-coaster of emotions. But I will go back to do it all over again for only one reason … for the dolphins!


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Dolphin Base #tweet4taiji

As a Cove Guardian, it is only my responsibility to report on and document the daily drive hunt and slaughter, but to also monitor the daily activity at Dolphin Base. For me, Dolphin Base is one of the saddest places to see, like the Taiji Harbor pens that hold captive dolphins, it is basically a floating sea prison.

The next three photos give you an idea of what Dolphin Base looks like from left to right. When I say floating sea prison I really mean it. There are a total of 9 pens floating behind the Dolphin Resort Hotel in Taiji that hold captive dolphins and whales, which also happens to be down the road from the Whale Museum which also holds many captive dolphins and whales.

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Far left pens, the one in front held captive bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales. The pen in the back with the black tarp once held beluga whales obtained in a trade with Russia for bottlenose dolphins.

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The middle sea pen, is the largest of all the pens at Dolphin, and is also an entertainment pen. During my time in Taiji there was 5 bottlenose dolphins in this pen.

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On the right there are 6 captive pens, which held bottlenose dolphins and pacific white sided dolphins.

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An idea of what the dolphins go through when the ocean is rough and windy.

I had previously seen photos of dolphin base prior to my visit to Taiji, but once again nothing really prepares you for the experience of seeing this with your own eyes. The first time I walked up to Dolphin Base, my heart broke seeing the conditions these dolphins are forced to live in day and day out. You realize just how small these captive pens are, how many dolphins are crammed into them and you continue see the dolphins listlessly float at the surface or continuously swim in the same direction and breach in the exact same spot over and over again. To me this cries out boredom, depression and frustration. Not being able to leave, not being able to fend for yourself and being completely dependent upon the trainers who were also responsible for the rest of your family members being slaughtered. These dolphins to some people may be considered the “lucky” ones, since they were chosen by the killers and trainers for the captive entertainment industry and avoided slaughter. But honestly what is better death or life of imprisonment? I leave with this question and some photos which I took of the course of my time as a Cove Guardian at Dolphin Base of the poor innocent souls destined to live out their lives performing tricks for dead fish.

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False Killer whale – notice how you can the ribs of this whale from malnourishment

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Bottlenose dolphins – on the dolphin breaching you can again see the rib cage of this dolphin

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Bottlenose dolphin being ignored while trainers prepare dead fish that this dolphin will have to perform tricks correctly for in order to eat.

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Pacific white sided dolphin performing being conditioned or trained for your entertainment, but for them simply to just get some dead fish

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Spy Hoping to see what is going on in the other captive pens. The bottlenose dolphins behind this pacific white sided dolphin were being fed/trained at this point.

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Bottlenose dolphin sent by a trainer to the opposite side of this pen to hold this position until told otherwise by a trainer. Heartbreaking.

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Pacific White Sided Dolphin continuously breached in this corner of the pen, along with the 3-4 others in this sea prison

After reading this post and seeing these photos I hope that all of you will think twice before visiting Sea World, Marineland Canada or any other similar Dolphinarium or swim with dolphin program. Chances are that if you do go, these may be the dolphins you will see or ones that were also taken from their life of freedom in the ocean after having witnessed their family slaughtered. These dolphins are then broken in, conditioned or trained to perform tricks for food. Please do not support captivity! Dolphins are dying in Taiji to entertain you and many brave people are fighting to put an end to these atrocities. If you support the captive dolphin industry they you are also supporting the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. Instead please be a voice for the voiceless!

For the dolphins and whales of Taiji held captive and those that were slaughtered needlessly.

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Checking in on the dolphins at Dolphin Base


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My Journey to Taiji #tweet4taiji

My journey to Taiji had been a year in the making. After consistently following the Cove Guardian campaign, in December of last year I made the commitment to join in the fight to be a voice for the dolphins. Becoming a Cove Guardian was an honor.

After my 30 hour trip of planes and airports I arrived in Osaka, Japan. A little bit of a culture shock for me, having only travelled within North America. Landing in a foreign country where I did not speak the language was a challenge at first, but the Japanese people are amazingly friendly and helpful!

After spending my first night in Osaka, I had the daunting task of taking the train to Taiji. I’ve never been on a train before, so having to switch trains multiple times and not being able to communicate properly, left me feeling a little stressed and nervous. Luckily, by chance I managed to meet some fellow Cove Guardians on the train! What a sigh of relief this was, meeting the first of my new Cove Guardian family and not having to make the remainder of the trip on my own! Thanks to Clive, Michelle and Bator for making the train ride a little less stressful for me!

Taiji is exactly as described by Ric O’Barry in the documentary The Cove … A twilight zone … everywhere you look there is a painting, monument or writing on the sidewalks of dolphins and whales. If you didn’t know any better you would think Taiji loved dolphins and whales.

Nothing can really prepare you for the experience of being in Taiji and it is not something that can be easily be put into words either. I am sure that each and every Cove Guardian remembers the exact moment they first saw the infamous Cove. For me, the first time was a simple glance while passing by in a car. The sight of it almost takes your breathe away, one because it really is such a beautiful place and two because you instantly remember how many dolphins and whales have lost their lives at the hands of the Taiji fisherman there. The moment I actually set foot on the shore of the Cove is something I will never forget. I literally just stood there for a few moments taking it all in and in disbelief that I was actually there. Unfortunately my first time on the shore of the Cove was also the second time I would witness a drive in process and a pod of dolphins fight for their lives and eventually lose their life for the sole purpose of human consumption. The only thing that keeps you going in moments such as this, is to pick up your camera and start taking photos, since it is the only weapon you have in Taiji.

Witnessing a pod of dolphins spending their last moments together in fear, frustration, panic and hearing those last few breathes they take as they are pushed under the tarps of killing shore is utterly heartbreaking. But I take solace in the fact that without the Cove Guardians and Operation Infinite Patience the atrocities of the Cove would continue to go unnoticed and unreported to the world and many would not know the horrible secret Taiji attempts to hide.  It is because of the Cove Guardians that there is and will continue to be a constant international spotlight on the daily atrocities that are occurring in Taiji and I am proud to have been apart of this campaign.

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Proudly standing on the shore of the Infamous Cove

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Sitting on the rocks of the Cove. Notice the fence and keep out sign, built to prohibit a direct view into the killing cove.

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Beautiful sunrise at the Cove

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Proudly holding the flag in Taiji harbor as the boats come back empty handed.

After I manage to go through about 8000 photos, I will post more detailed information of my time in Taiji as a Cove Guardian.

If you have any interest in joining the Cove Guardians on the ground in Taiji, do not hesitate, send an email to coveguardian@seashepherd.org and ask for an application. I promise you that it will be an experience of a lifetime and being surrounded by the passionate, like-minded people involved with this amazing campaign will be one of the best things you do. Take the journey to Taiji and be a voice for the voiceless!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only that ever has.” Margaret Mead

For the dolphins!


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Captivity & Death: This is Taiji #tweet4taiji

After being held for over 21 hours in the killing cove, a family of 33 Bottlenose dolphins were torn apart with 12 being dolphins taken captive and the rest of the pod brutally slaughtered.

Once all the killers, including trainers, were in the cove, the pod was herded to the killing shore for an inspection of each individual member. Throughout this captive selection the thrashing of the pod can be heard high above the cove which is followed by the blood seeping into the water, leaving us with broken hearts that these dolphins were once again the victims of the profit and greed of the Taiji fishermen.

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Killers manhandle the dolphins into nets during the captive selection

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The captive selection that marine parks do not want you to see

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Being driven towards the killing shore with only two options: death or a life of captivity

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Taiji trainers and killers will seek big money from all the captives taken today

Those not taken for captivity, were needlessly and inhumanely slaughtered for human consumption.

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After a total of 21 dolphins slaughtered the cove runs red

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Tarps are drawn to hide the bloodshed, but through a gap you can see the bloody bodies in the water

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Cove Guardians “One dolphin was seen still conscious under the tarps, writhing around in his/her own blood.”

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Several Bottlenose bodies floating in the waters of the killing cove, under tarps the killers use in an attempt to hide the bloodshed.

Reminder to all of those who are contemplating a visit to Sea World, Marineland Canada, Discovery Cove or any other similar captive marine mammal facility or swim with dolphin program …. your ticket to such places supports the annual dolphin drive hunt in Taiji. Simply stated … Please do not support captivity … dolphins are literally dying to entertain you!

For the Cove Guardians bearing witness and documenting the atrocities that are currently occurring in Taiji … THANK YOU … the world would not know the ongoing brutality against dolphins and whales in the waters of Taiji!

For the dolphins!


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Bloody Week in Taiji #tweet4taiji

After 29 days of a Blue Cove, the cove runs red again. The Taiji fisherman managed to wipe out two separate pods of Risso Dolphins this week in two consecutive days.

On November 8 – After a long fight of six hours, a family of 9 Risso dolphins lost their battle to the killers of Taiji, Japan. Once trapped within the confines of the cove, the hypocritical trainers as always joined the killers, who together selected 4 pod members for captivity. The lone baby of the pod was trapped within nets on the killing shore, and along with those who were selected for captivity, watched and listened as their remaining pod members were slaughtered in front of them. After the killing concluded, the baby was split from it’s lifeless family members and dumped alone out to sea where it will not survive.

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This pod becomes frantic and panics as the killers push them towards the shore of the killing cove.

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Mother and baby spend their last moments together before slaughter

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After witnessing its mother murdered, the killers tried to hide this live baby dolphin under nets as they prepared to dump back out to sea to fend for itself.

November 9 was the second consecutive day of dolphin slaughter in Taiji as the killers Taiji ripped an entire family of 11 juvenile and adult Risso dolphins from their home in the ocean. Once the pod was entrapped within the always deadly confines of the cove, killers and trainers once again worked together as they search the pod to search for their next big paycheck. None of these Rissos, however, were deemed suitable for captivity and as a result the entire pod was slaughtered mercilessly on the killing shore. Once the slaughter was complete a skiff filled with trainers emerged from under the tarps followed by a skiff dragging dead bodies.

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Two juvenile Risso dolphins were among this pod.

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As panic begins, several dolphins tried to escape, but only to become entangled within the net.

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Attempting to hide the transfer of dead Risso dolphins.

After the atrocities in Taiji this week, once again Call of The Cove has provided all of us with a way to help by reaching out to the media. Please visit their Media Page for more information on how you can help the dolphins of Taiji. They have put together a list of 400 twitter handles for the media worldwide and provided this Letter to Journalists  that you can send to journalists around the world asking them to consider covering the ongoing and needless slaughter of dolphins and whales in Taiji.

Also remember to follow the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians in Operation Infinite Patience on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates on the current events happening in Taiji.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

For the dolphins!

 

 

 

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