Reflections of a Cove Guardian – What has changed in 4 years?



4 years ago today I arrived in Taiji, Japan, to start my journey as a Cove Guardian. What has changed in the 4 years since I’ve been there? The drive hunt still continues – dolphins are still slaughtered and taken for captivity. The Cove Guardian campaign has ended, largely due to the fact that Japan does not allow veteran volunteers with Sea Shepherd to enter the country. Many volunteers have attempted to go back, only to be held in immigration, questioned and then deported, never to return. Simply witnessing and documenting the slaughter of dolphins in Japan is now a crime and classified as terrorism. Only Dolphin Project remains on the ground in Taiji to document the daily atrocities that occur in the little town of horrors.



Rarely does a day go by without some thought of my time in Taiji. Over the course of my two weeks on the ground, I would witness several different slaughters (bottlenose, striped & risso dolphins) and live captures (bottlenose & pacific white sided dolphins). I remember each of these vividly, as if it just happened yesterday & it’s not something you forget easily. 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.



In the last year I have seen multiple people on my Facebook/Instagram feed posting photos of them and/or their children swimming with dolphins.  Thanks to Instagram for taking a step in the right direction and for attempting to protect wildlife – see photo below – if you search for #swimwithdolphins an alert pops up stating that you are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with harmful behaviour to animals or the environment.

 It’s time for people to wake up and realize that yes swimming with dolphins is a harmful behaviour to that dolphin. “The dolphin smile is nature’s greatest deception, it creates the illusion that they’re always happy” Ric O’Barry.

No dolphin has ever volunteered for a life of captivity! The dolphins at swim with dolphin programs, Sea World, Marineland Canada, etc., are performing tricks for food (dead medicated fish), they are taking your child for a ride, ‘dancing’ with them, jumping through hoops all in order to be fed! These dolphins are either stolen from their family/pod or they were born into a life of captivity. Either way, once in captivity, these dolphins are sentenced to a life of imprisonment in a tiny tank or sea pens for one reason only – your entertainment! This is where the problem begins, and if people would stop purchasing tickets to swim with dolphin programs or Sea world and thus supporting them, then the demand for live dolphins will go down and then one day perhaps we can hope for an end to the Dolphin Drive Hunt & Slaughter in Taiji.

Please consider teaching your children kindness to animals and wildlife. Become informed and watch the following documentaries:

  • The Cove, Minds in the Water
  • Blackfish
  • Revolution & Sharkwater (by the late Rob Stewart)
  • Racing Extinction



#WhaleWednesday – Free Lolita (Tokitae)


This week’s #whalewednesday features, Lolita a female orca who currently resides at the Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) in Miami, FL. Lolita was previously named Tokitae (prior to captivity) and is affectionately known by many as Toki.

Tokitae’s birthright is the L25 matriline of the L pod of the Southern resident orca community in the Pacific Northwest. Toki’s mother is L25 Ocean Sun, who is approximately 90 years old, and is photographed regularly by scientists and conservation organizations. Ocean Sun still resides with Toki’s remaining family swimming freely in the open waters where Toki was captured.  

On August 8, 1970, in the waters of the Puget Sound, Washington State, a pod of orca’s were rounded up by a group of killer whale herders, led by Ted Griffiths and Don Goldsberry.  Using speedboats, an airplane and releasing explosives in the water, they forced the orcas into Penn Cove. The juvenile orcas were separated from their mothers, as the infants were prime candidates to be sold to aquariums, while the adult orcas were released and free to leave.  However, the adult pod would not leave their offspring and refused to swim free, vocalizing human-like cries, until the last baby was pulled out of the water, never to return again.

One adult and four infant orcas were killed during this capture. The industry, in an attempt to keep the orca deaths from the public, instructed the herders to slit open the bellies of the dead animals, fill them with rocks, and sink the creatures with anchors, hoping they would never be discovered.  It is because of the large number of violent orcas captures by the marine park industry in Washington State waters, that an entire generation of orcas was eliminated, and as a result, this orca population is now considered an endangered species.


All photographs courtesy of: Wallie V. Funk Photographs, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham WA 98225-9123

One of the orca infants captured was a 4 year old named Tokitae, who was then sold to the Miami Seaquarium and arrived at the marine park on September 24, 1970. Miami Seaquarium then renamed  Toki as ‘Lolita’ and she has lived there ever since. 

Toki’s tank is the size of a hotel swimming pool and she currently lives alone with no other orca companions. When not performing in her show, Toki floats listlessly in her tank. In the wild, killer whales swim hundreds of miles a day, diving as deep as 500 feet. In her tank, she swims in circles inside the 35 foot wide area and can only go as deep as 20 feet, in a small area in the center of the tank.


Toki has been kept in a tank that violates the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) standards for size requirements. APHIS is an operating unit of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). She is approximately 21 feet long and 7,000 pounds. Per the guidelines, the tank for an orca the size of Toki must be a minimum of 48 feet wide in either direction with a straight line of travel across the middle.  Toki’s tank is only 35 feet wide from the front wall to the slide out (work island) barrier.  It is 20 feet deep at the deepest point and a mere 12 feet deep around the edges.  The Miami Seaquarium is in need of major repairs, and per the Marine Mammal Inventory Report, has a substantial death rate for their animals.

Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research and Howard Garrett of the Orca Network have devised a plan to retire Toki to her home waters of Washington State. After being in captivity for the majority of her life, Toki is not going to be completely set free in the wild. The plan is to place her in a transitional coastal sanctuary sea pen where she would be rehabilitated under human care. When the time is right, Toki will be given the choice to return to open waters if she so desires. Once rehabilitate, an effort would be made to reintroduce Toki to her natural pod, the Southern Resident Killer Whales. If for any reason, Toki is not ready to be released into open water, she can stay in the bay indefinitely, receive human care for the rest of her life and have to ocean to live in. All of this is an area hundreds of times larger that her 35 foot wide tank where she currently resides.

Video – aerial drone footage of Toki at the Seaquarium – clearly showing how small her tank truly is compare to her size.

Video: Summer of 2013 World-renowned orca biologist Dr. Ingrid Visser from Orca Research Trust visited Toki in Miami.