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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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

 

 

#TaijiTuesday – Risso’s Dolphins

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© Nicola Hodgins

Risso’s dolphins are in some ways an unusual species that has not been well studied, mainly due to their preference for deep, oceanic waters but research is now underway on several populations throughout their range. One of the most enigmatic cetaceans, this little-known dolphin has an unusual appearance. Unlike many other dolphins, Risso’s dolphin lack a beak, and the bulbous head rises almost vertically from the upper jaw and blunt snout. The body is robust and powerful, and tapers towards a relatively narrow tail, and a distinct crease runs along the top of the melon. Risso’s dolphin may also be recognized from the extensive lines of white scar tissue that stretch down the sides of the body. Their physical appearance is unique and the numerous scars, from their major prey item, squid, and made by other Risso’s dolphins, give them peculiar markings. The amount of white scarring generally increases with age and older individuals can have a notably white head because of this. These scars, along with unique features on the dorsal fin allow for identification of individual dolphins, although allowance has to be made for them changing over time. Risso’s dolphins are also the only species of cetacean to possess a distinct vertical crease on its forehead; this is more pronounced in calves.

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© Nicola Hodgins

Risso’s dolphins can be highly active at the surface exhibiting a range of behaviours including breaching and spyhopping. They do not generally bow ride, but they can be seen travelling in the wake of ships and surfing in waves. They are generally seen in groups of between 10 and 50 animals, but larger schools, up to 4,000 individuals, have also been reported. There is little information about their behaviour but group dynamics are thought to be fluid as in some other dolphin species, with composition changing over time. Risso’s dolphins generally prefer deeper offshore waters where they feed almost exclusively on squid, and have been seen forming lines when hunting. They can be found associating with other species of cetacean such as bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales.

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© Nicola Hodgins

 

The Risso’s dolphin is a widely distributed species and can be found in the temperate and tropical zones of all the world’s oceans. Although there is no global population estimate, the species is listed on the IUCN Red List as of ‘Least Concern’ worldwide. Major threats to this species include directed hunts (for example in Japan, the Faroes, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Taiwan), accidental entanglement in fishing gear, climate change, and noise pollution.

Video: Risso’s Dolphins

 

In Taiji: The 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quote allows for 251 Risso’s Dolphins

Risso’s dolphins suffer greatly in Taiji, they are rarely taken for captivity and releases are also very rare. This species is hunted solely for their meat, along with other body parts. When a Risso’s pod is driven into the cove, the nets close and the tarps are drawn over the killing beach and you know their fate is set and that slaughter is now imminent.

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. There are some moments 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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Pod of Risso’s Dolphins

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Being pushed toward the killing cove shore

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Being pushed toward the killing cove shore

 

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Risso dolphin throws itself against the rocks in an attempt to escape slaughter

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Risso dolphin throws itself against the rocky walls of the cove

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Bloody boots oustide the butcher house.

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Being monitored by Police outside of the butcher house

I took the majority of the photos above during my time in Taiji in December 2013, with the exception of the one of the police monitoring myself and fellow Cove Guardian, Michelle. During my weeks in Taiji, I witnessed several different pods of Risso’s dolphins slaughtered and not a single dolphin was taken for captivity. Apparently the Risso dolphin meat is a favourite among the locals in Taiji.

The Risso on the Rocks photos are a moment I will never forget. If you would like to read more about the story behind the photos please check out: https://goo.gl/c7byTc

 

 

#WhaleWednesday – Corky the Orca

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Corky, a female orca, is the longest held captive orca in history. On December 11 of this year it will be 48 years since she was forcibly removed from her family and the ocean environment and then taken to the harsh reality of a life imprisoned in a concrete tank. When Corky was captured in 1969 at the age of approximately 4 years very little was known about orcas. Not even the fact that they form closely bonded family groups within which member remain for their entire lives.

Corky’s family in the wild is known at the A5 pod (northern resident population) of British Columbia, Canada and she still has close and distant relatives living free who she knew as young orca, as well as siblings she has never known. Her mom, A23 known as Stripe, died in 2000 at 53 years of age. Corky had a brother A27 Okisollo also deceased, her living family currently consists of a younger sister, A43 Ripple, a niece A69 Midsummer and a young brother A60 Fife, all of whom she has never met.

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A60 Fife – Corky’s Brother – ©Rob Lott/WDC

Corky was captured on December 11, 1969, on that evening her pod chose to enter Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast of north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Word had reached a group of local fisherman that there was a group of whales nearby and they were aware that the whales meant a big pay day (since there was a capture the previous year in the same area). The fisherman located the whales, encircled part of the pod with fishing nets and battled to keep the nets in place and afloat overnight. The following morning, half of Corky’s pod was trapped inside the net, with remaining pod still on the outside, who were then surrounded as well. Six whales from Corky’s pod were selected by buyers and the remaining six were released but did not immediately leave the area. This would be the first time Corky was separated from her mom and the last time she would see her.

After being selected for captivity Corky was moved into shallow waters, where divers got into the water and positioned a sling around her body, with  holes for her pectoral fins. A crane then slowly lifted Corky’s sling out of the water and hoisted her into a truck. Removed from the weightless experience of the ocean, Corky’s own weight would have been crushing down on her. She made the long journey from British Columbia by truck, plane, and another truck before her final lift into a circular tank at Marineland of the Pacific, near Los Angeles, California.

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Corky at Marineland of the Pacific

The moment Corky’s freed was stolen her world was suddenly and drastically changed. Now, movement was restricted by never changing dimensions; concrete walls replaced the cliffs, rocks, caves and kelp forests of the vast and limitless ocean. There was no longer anywhere for her to explore and her choices were limited. Gone now were the familiar sounds of the sea; instead, there was the constant drone of filtration systems, and anytime one of the whales in the tank called, their sounds reverberated off the barren walls. There would be no more waves, no currents, no fish to chase and hunt, no dolphins or porpoises to play with – Corky’s entire life was forever changed.

The sameness was relieved marginally by the companionship of 4 other member of Corky’s family, 2 were captured with her and 2 the year before. Unfortunately that soon ended, after 1 year Corky I died and Corky was given her name, and Patches dies in 1971. A male orca who was never named died in 1972 and from then on Corky and a male cousin named Orky, who was captured in 1968, were by themselves. Corky is now the sole survivor of all the orcas captured from the northern resident community of British Columbia orcas.

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Corky & Orky 1985 Marineland of the Pacific

Around the age of 11, Corky began to sexually mature and on February 28, 1977 she delivered her first calf, a male. This was the first live orca to be born in captivity. Orky (Corky’s cousin) & also the father of all her calves, helped the calf to the surface after a difficult birth. The situation grew tense when the calf failed to nurse and the staff of Marineland had to intervene and force feed the calf several times a day. Despite these efforts, the calf lost weight and eventually died of pneumonia, after living for just 16 days. Corky was pregnant a total of 7 times and the longest any of her calves live was 46 days. All of Corky’s calves failed to nurse properly, even though Marineland staff made a dummy calf in an attempt to teach Corky to position herself appropriately. In the wild Corky would have been taught this fro her mother and other females pod members. Corky gave birth to one stillborn calf and her last pregnancy ended when an aborted fetus was found at the bottom of her tank. Finally at the age of 21, Corky stopped ovulating. In the wild, Corky would probably have had several calves and most likely be a grandmother by now.  A female orca in the wild will typically have 25 productive years during which she may give birth to 4-6 offspring.

In December, 1986, 17 years after Corky’s arrival, Marineland and its surrounding lands were purchased by Sea World’s corporate owner, the U.S. publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, for a rumoured $23 million. Corky was then transferred to Sea World in San Diego where she became Sea World’s main performer, “Shamu”.

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Corky at Sea World San Diego

Shamu is the SeaWorld trade name for its orcas. The name has been passed from performer to performer. Corky’s physical condition has fluctuated over the years. At one point, Sea World listed her condition as “poor”, perhaps because her kidneys were not functioning well. Her lower teeth are worn and she is almost blind in one eye. Sea World considers Corky as an “old” animal and tells visitors that orcas only live to about 35 years. They used to say 30 years. For a while, Sea World even decreased the number of shows Corky did, but now she is back doing a full schedule. When she is not performing, Corky is held in one of the back pools with the other orcas. She spends most of her time simply circling her tank.

During her time in captivity, Corky has experienced some social difficulties, most notably with an Icelandic orca named Kandu V who appeared to be jealous of Corky. Over the years, there had been a lot of tension between the two females. Then, in August 1989, just as their public show was beginning, Kandu rushed out from the back pool and charged at Corky. In the attack, Kandu fractured her jaw, a bone fragment severed an artery and she bled to death. No one had ever seen or heard of an orca attacking another orca before. Kandu’s daughter, Orkid, was just one year old at the time and, in an odd twist of fate, Corky became her surrogate mother.

Back in the wild, Corky’s family carries on. The A5 pod originally had 18 members but the 7 who were removed in the 1968 capture all died and one entire matriline was lost. Of the six taken in 1969 only Corky survives. Slowly over the years, as their fortunes waxed and waned, the complexion of the wild pod has changed. Despite the losses, the pod appears strong, and its members still love to hunt big Spring salmon when they travel the waters of Johnstone Strait, Blackfish Sound and the rest of the Inside Passage. But they have never been seen near Pender Harbour again.

It seems that orcas, like elephants, have lon  g memories. Corky still remembers her family. She visibly shook and vocalized poignantly when a tape recording of her family’s calls were played to her in 1993. Corky still ‘speaks’ the same dialect as her family,

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The time left for Corky to reconnect with her family is disappearing. She has already survived longer than any other captive orca. This tells us that Corky is an incredibly strong individual… but no one, no matter how strong, can last forever.

Free Corky: (Via OrcaLab) “The campaign to free Corky originally aimed at returning her to a full life with her family in the wild. In recent years, acknowledging the difficulties involved in accomplishing this (“owner” intransigence, Corky’s age and condition) we have modified our goal by proposing that Corky be “retired” to a facility in the ocean, where she would feel the ocean around her, and be able to reconnect with her family and community. Corky would hear familiar voices from long ago, and have opportunities to interact with her kin. We can’t know precisely what would happen following her return, as this would be determined by Corky and the other orcas. She would continue to receive human care, including from Sea World staff who know her well. There are many compelling reasons for doing this. In fairness, we owe it to Corky, and to her family to make the attempt to reunite them. Corky’s return to the ocean will also give us an opportunity to learn details about orca society that we will never know otherwise. But beyond these humanitarian and scientific reasons, Corky’s story and the complex project needed to bring it to a successful conclusion has the potential for focusing public attention on a wide range of critical ocean issues besides captivity… the health of vital habitats, fisheries and food supply, impacts of human activity and industry, even global warming.”

 

#TaijiTuesday – Striped Dolphins

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The 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quota allows for 450 Striped Dolphins

The striped dolphin is extremely active at the surface, performing amazing acrobatics, including somersaults, back somersaults, upside down porpoising, and breaching with leaps three times its length.

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The striped dolphin body size and shape resembles the short-beaked common dolphin, but the colour pattern is unique; its dorsal side is bluish grey to brownish grey, with a white to pinkish underside. The most recognizable feature is a stripe running from the dark beak, above the eye, across its flank and down to the underside at the rear of its body. A second pronounced stripe runs below the eye to the pectoral flipper. It may or may not have a black patch around each eye.

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Striped dolphins travel in groups, typically numbering from a few dozen to 500 animals, but herds numbering in the thousands are sometimes reported. When swimming at high speeds, as much as one-third of a pod will be above water at any given time. Striped dolphins are curious animals and will also often bow-ride, sometimes approaching from a distance. In the wild they can occasionally be seen associating with common dolphins, however confusion over identification can be avoided as the species-specific colouration and markings are easily distinguishable; the striped dolphin does not possess the yellow hourglass pattern found on the common dolphin.

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Striped dolphins are widely distributed throughout the world’s oceans and tend to prefer offshore waters in temperate and tropical zones. Striped dolphins feed mostly on small fish, such as cod or lanternfish, and small squid.

The largest threats to striped dolphins are bycatch in fishing nets, and intentional hunts. Conservationists are also concerned about the long-term impact that pollution, habitat degradation, and prey depletion will have on populations and although the IUCN provide a population estimate of approx. 2 million individuals, and list them as of ‘Least Concern’ (2008), certain populations may be more at risk than this might imply.

Video: Striped Dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea

In Taiji:

A drive of Striped Dolphins into the Cove will either result in slaughter or captivity and sometimes it may be a combination of both. Dolphins will be selected for captivity based on age & sex. Hunters and trainers will also look for dolphins that do not have any scars.

How do they capture dolphins, what happens during a dolphin drive? 

Before sunrise, about 26 fishermen board their 13 motorized boats and head out to deep water where the dolphins migrate. The dolphins have been using these migratory paths for thousands, perhaps millions, of years, and the hunters know exactly where to find them.

When a school of dolphins swims by, the fishermen position their boats one behind the other, perfectly evenly spaced. Then they lower several stainless steel poles into the water, one on each side of each boat. The poles are flared out at the bottom much like a bell, which amplifies the sound produced when the hunters repeatedly hit the poles with hammers. The noise creates a wall of sound underwater, and the dolphins suddenly find themselves trapped between this wall of sound and the shoreline.

In an attempt to escape the sound, the dolphins swim in the opposite direction, toward the shore. The dolphins’ panic and with the loss of their navigational sense, the fishermen can drive them into a small, hidden Cove near Taiji harbor. The fishermen seal the mouth of the Cove with several nets, and the dolphins are trapped.

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Why don’t the dolphins jump the nets?

I hear this question many times, and understandably so. When standing at the mouth of the killing cove in Taiji, you often looked down at a school of dolphins trapped in the killing cove. From above, it’s obvious that all the dolphins have to do is jump the nets, and they would be out of harm’s way. But the dolphins don’t have this advantage of seeing everything from above. They don’t know what’s on the other side of the nets.

To us, a jump would be a leap into safety. To them, it’s a leap into the unknown. It’s also important to keep in mind that nets and other artificial boundaries are foreign objects to wild dolphins. Living in a three-dimensional world, the only boundaries they know are the shoreline and the ocean’s surface. These are a natural boundary that dolphins understand. A net, on the other hand, is completely unfamiliar to them. They are probably afraid of this strange phenomenon and therefore stay away from it. Dolphins in captivity have to be trained to jump over things – it is not a natural behavior.

 

 

 

#WhaleWednesday – #RIPKasatka

#WhaleWednesday this week will be dedicated to Kasatka

Six weeks after being rumored to be near death, orca matriarch Kasatka has died.

SeaWorld San Diego announced today that Kasatka was euthanized on the evening of Tuesday August 15, after a long bout with bacterial respiratory infection, or lung disease.

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Capture

Kasatka’s passing comes just three weeks after the death of 3 month old orca calf Kyara at SeaWorld Antonio (Kasatka’s granddaughter and San Diego born Takara’s daughter).

Kasatka was captured off the coast of Iceland on October 26, 1978, at the age of less than 2 years (she was estimated to be born around 1976). She was captured alongside her pod mate Katina, also approximately 2 years old, and then sold to SeaWorld that same month. For 4 years, Kasatka and Katina lived together, but the two were separated in 1984 when Katina was shipped to SeaWorld Orlando, where she remains imprisoned for the remainder of her life.

Kasatka, since then has been held captive and imprisoned at various SeaWorld parks for the last 39 years. Her crime? She was born an orca (killer whale)! A marine mammal species so intelligent, beautiful and intriguing to people that the owners of SeaWorld knew they could put her on display and people would pay to watch her swim circles in a tank.

Kasatka’s body, while in the end was ravaged by illness, had been abused for her entire time in captivity. She had been forced to perform multiple times daily for 39 years by food deprivation (meaning SeaWorld would reduce the number of calories a whale gets over a period of time so the animal becomes increasingly food motivated – orcas are more likely to cooperate with a trainer when they are hungry).

Kasatka was also forced to bear children that were then removed from her side and relocated to other SeaWorld owned prisons. Given what is known about the bonds between mother and calves (in the wild males remain with their mother for their entire lives) this is an even greater violation that food deprivation and is simply extreme emotional abuse.

Kasatka was one of SeaWorld’s most successful breeders and has given SeaWorld 4 orcas: Takara in 1991, Nakai in 2001, Kalia in 2004 and Makani in 2013. She also had six grandchildren ( Kohaana, Trua, Sakari, Kamea, Amya and Kyara) and two great grandchildren (Adan and Victoria)

Kasatka was one of only 4 remaining wild captured orcas still in SeaWorld parks, with her passing there will now only be 3 – Ulyssess and Corky in San Diego and Katina in Orlando.

At least in death, Kasatka’s lifetime of suffering has finally come to an end – as heartbreaking as her death is, the truth of the matter is that it is Kasatka’s life that was the real tragedy. At least now Kasatka can finally swim free!

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Will the recent death of 3 month old calf Kyara and now the death of Kasatka just 3 weeks later, finally wake people up enough to address these issues of cetaceans in captivity?

In all honestly likely not, but I sure hope so!

There are so many people that think the only way to view orcas (dolphins, belugas, whales, etc) is at Sea World (or similar marine parks) and that this is an educational experience for children.  This is by no means an educational experience, it’s an excuse people use as to why we still hold these intelligent social beings in captivity.

Choose to view wildlife in the wild and do not support SeaWorld or any other similar marine park. Change begins with each and every one of us – teach your children kindness to animals and that is wrong to keep animals in captivity.

“There is as much educational benefit in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be in studying humans beings by only observing prisoners in solitary confinement” Jacques Cousteau

While it is too late for Kasatka, it is not too late for SeaWorld to start building sea sanctuaries for the other orcas imprisoned in their parks, including Kasatka’s children and grandchildren.

Check out the The Whale Sanctuary Project to learn more about the mission to establish a model seaside sanctuary where cetaceans (whales and dolphins) can live in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close to possible to their natural habitat.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” Mahatama Gandhi

 

 

 

 

Inside the Tanks Documentary

The wait it almost over! Inside The Tanks Documentary will be available to watch online TOMORROW: bit.ly/insidethetanks

This documentary is unique in its approach. Presenter and Producer Jonny Meah blasts the marine captivity debate wide open, giving all sides of the debate a chance to have their say, with in depth interviews from The Born Free Foundation, Dr Ingrid Visser, John Hargrove, and in a world exclusive on the topic, an interview with The Zoological Director of Marineland Antibes, Jon Kershaw.

Take a look at the trailer now:

 

The Real Sea World – Victoria, BC

This past August was the first time I had the opportunity to see Orca’s in the wild and I have to say there is no other experience quite like it! It truly was an exhilarating, left me with the best natural high and a permanent smile for days!

I’ll be honest I have been to Sea World – a few times as a child and young adult. If documentaries like Blackfish and the Cove had been available back then I would never had made those trips. I do not regret those experiences, although I do wish there had been someone to say to me or teach me from a young age that these highly intelligent mammals do not belong in a concrete tank swimming in circles day in and day out, performing tricks in order to be fed. While I was growing up there was no such thing as social media – there was no Facebook, twitter or Instagram – what was a blog – if you wanted to write down your thoughts you did it in a journal that no one ever read. I owned my first computer at 18 and that was when I signed up for my first email address.  Now it is important to use every possible outlet available to educate today’s youth about the captive marine mammal industry. The end of Sea World, Marineland Canada and other such marine parks, will only end when the demand for it ends. If we teach the youth of today that it is wrong to keep Orcas, dolphins and whales, etc in tanks then hopefully the demand for it will slowly dissipate and we will one day see the tanks of Sea World and Marineland Canada emptied.

Now (with the help of social media) I have the ability to enlighten others about the captive industry, while also making them aware that there are better options available to view these marine mammals in the wild and on their own terms. I’ve had the opportunity to experience Orca’s in the wild – I’m pretty sure my next trip will be to experience dolphins in the wild. My only experience with wild dolphins to date was during my time in Taiji as a Cove Guardian, so seeing wild dolphins is definitely at the top of my bucket list!

Here are a few videos from my experience with Transient Orca’s off the coast of Victoria, BC this past summer. While these videos only offer you a short glimpse into my experience of whale watching hopefully they will inspire you to experience Orca’s in the wild for yourself.

Transient Orca’s in Puget Sound August 19, 2015

Transient Orca’s (T010’s) August 21, 2015