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.
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.
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.
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!