Yesterday the Vancouver Aquarium announced that it is giving up its fight to keep dolphins and whales in captivity. Canada is now only one marine park away from being free of captive dolphins and whales! And it’s because of thousands of voices like ours, who spoke up on behalf of those who are unable to! Now only Marineland Canada in Ontario has captive dolphins and whales.
In May 2017, the Vancouver Park Board, voted to prevent the aquarium from bringing in any new whales and dolphins, after commissioners said they were concerned about the ethics of keeping the animals in captivity. At this time there were only 3 cetaceans left at the facility: Helen (a pacific white sided dolphin), Chester (a false killer whale) and Daisy (a harbour porpoise). Helen, Chester and Daisy were allowed to remain at the facility but were no longer a part of the shows.
Since the park board vote in 2017, two of the aquarium’s three remaining cetaceans have died, Chester and Daisy, leaving only Helen, the pacific white sided dolphin.
Helen, a pacific white sided dolphin, the only remaining captive cetacean at the Vancouver Aquarium
Helen was purchased from Enoshima Aquarium in Japan, a facility known for sourcing it’s captive cetaceans from the infamous Dolphin Drive hunt in Taiji. Helen’s fate has yet to be decided. According to CEO John Nightingale there are two available options: transporting her to a new facility or bringing in a companion animal, which means defying the park board. Neither of these choices are ideal.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Pod of Risso’s Dolphins
Being pushed toward the killing cove shore
Being pushed toward the killing cove shore
Risso dolphin throws itself against the rocks in an attempt to escape slaughter
Risso dolphin throws itself against the rocky walls of the cove
Bloody boots oustide the butcher house.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
There are currently two recognized species of pilot whale, the short-finned and long-finned. In Japan, there are two morphologically and geographically distinct populations of short-finned pilot whales, one northern and one southern. It is believed that they are in fact separate subspecies however further examination is required.
Pilot whales are large, robust animals with a bulbous head and no discernible beak. The flippers are long with a pointed tip, though in the short-finned form they are more curved, slightly shorter and the ‘elbow’ is less defined than in the long-finned form. The dorsal fin is set forward on the body and varies in shape depending on age and sex. The tail flukes also have sharply pointed tips plus a distinct notch in the middle and concave edges. The short-finned pilot whale is jet black or dark grey with a grey or white ‘saddle-patch’ over its back behind the dorsal fin. It has a grey or almost white anchor shaped patch on its chest and a grey or white stripe which goes diagonally upwards behind each eye. Male short-finned pilot whales are on average 5.5m in length & weighing up to 3,000kg, whereas female short-finned pilot whales on average are 4.3m in length & weighing up to 1,500 kg. Males are thought to live to be about 45 years of age whilst females are thought to survive into their 60’s.
Short-finned pilot whales are highly sociable and are rarely seen alone. They are found in groups of between 15-50 animals, though some pods are as large as 60 individuals. Super-pods of hundreds of individuals are not uncommon and may swim abreast in a line several miles across with adults occasionally porpoising when swimming fast. They are sometimes seen logging and will allow boats to get quite close. They rarely breach, but may be seen lobtailing, spyhopping and surfing in the wake of large waves. Short-finned pilot whales have a preference for water about 1000m deep and are often found on continental slopes where their main prey item, squid is abundant. The typical diet of the short-finned pilot whale appears to consist of squid and fish, as well as other cephalopds, such as octopuses. However the short-finned pilot whales have been reported to harass sperm whales and dolphins, so marine mammals may also be included in their diet. This species usually feeds at night, making deep dives in search of prey.
Their highly social nature and strong familial bonds could explain why this species is amongst those cetaceans that most frequently mass-strand. The short-finned pilot whale live in a matri-lineal or female based society and females have been known to care for a calf that is not their own. After weaning, young male short-finned pilot whales may move to a new group, whereas the females tend to stay in the pod to which they were born. The name “pilot whale” comes from an early idea that these pods are piloted by a leader, typically known as the matriarch.
The worldwide population of short-finned pilot whales is unknown and although they are not thought to be threatened on a global scale, several populations are hunted. Targeted in Japanese drive fisheries, in the Faroe Islands The Grind, and other hunts elsewhere. The short-finned pilot whale is also favoured as a display species in aquariums around the world. Other threats to the species include entanglement in fishing nets and noise pollution. The IUCN lists the species as Data Deficient.
Video: Short-finned Pilot Whales Underwater
In Taiji: 2017/2018 Taiji Drive hunt quota allows for 101 Short-Finned Pilot Whales
The first drive hunt in Taiji this season was a nursery pod (mainly mothers and their calves) of short-finned pilot whales on September 3, 2017.
In some instances a drive can last for almost an entire day and for hour after hour the dolphins are relentlessly chased. In those long hours of pursuit, while the dolphins are driven towards the cove, the brutal reality of the hunts is driven home – No matter the species, the hunts are torture for dolphins. Kept in a continuous state of “fight or flight,” vast amounts of energy are mobilized as the pod attempts to evade the hunters.
And for seven hours on September 3, 2017 the first pod of pilot whales this season, fought for their lives, struggling against the deafening sounds of boat engines, of poles being banged (designed to confuse the dolphins’ sensitive navigation systems) and the sheer willpower of the hunters themselves. By early afternoon, it became clear the dolphins were losing the battle. Their swimming became noticeably slower, and several times the pod refused or were unable to move. However with the boats so close to the pod, they had no choice but to keep moving, ultimately swimming right into the cove.
Boats and skiffs quickly left the cove, leaving the pod alone for the rest of the day and night. Many juveniles were seen in the pod, huddled close to their mothers. Little heads bobbed up and down while the adults continued to circle the tightly-knit group. The scene was horrifying, for, unlike the dolphins who are unaware of their fate, we have a good idea of the atrocities that will unfold tomorrow.
On the second day, 10 pilot whales were slaughtered and 3 juveniles were taken for captivity. The remaining pilot whales were kept for a second night. Exhausted and terrified, missing 13 pod members. Their fate would be determined the following morning. On Day 3, after slaughtering 10 more today (not including 1 that was floating in the bay all day) the hunters rushed out to attempt another drive leaving the remaining juveniles in the cove. Eventually they released the young Pilot whales and all boats returned empty handed.
A total of 21 dead Pilot whales and 3 taken for captivity, over the course of 3 days. These images below are proof of the cruel nature of the captivity industry. Trainers who claim to love and care for these animals remain under the tarps while the hunters slaughter those the trainers do not want. We can all put a stop to this by helping everyone connect dolphin shows with these horrifying slaughters.
Pacific White Sided Dolphins near Telegraph Cove, BC, Canada – Photo Credit: John E. Marriott
The 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quota allows for 134 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins
The Pacific white-sided dolphin is energetic, active and is frequently seen leaping, belly flopping and somersaulting. They are strong fast swimmers and enthusiastic bow riders, often staying with moving vessels for extended periods.
The Pacific white-sided dolphin has a robust body with a very short stubby beak and black lips. The dorsal fin is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of this species being tall, falcate, and bicoloured with a black leading edge fading to grey on the trailing edge. The large flippers are similarly coloured with rounded tips. Overall the Pacific white-sided dolphin is dark grey or black in colour. As its name suggests, it has a greyish thoracic patch which extends down the sides to just below the dorsal fin. Thin greyish stripes under the dorsal fin meet and broaden along the tailstock. The throat and belly are bright white. The eye is surrounded by a dark patch and there is a black stripe running from the face to the flippers and down to the anus, separating the white underside from the greyish flanks. Several colour morphs exist throughout the species range. The Pacific white-sided dolphin may be confused with the common dolphin, but the latter has a more pronounced beak and different colour pattern, whilst the former can usually be easily identified by its diagnostic dorsal fin.
Video: Mark Peters and friends encounter an unexpected surprise while albacore fishing off the coast of Santa Cruz, CA – Pacific White Sided Dolphins
Pacific white-sided dolphins are extremely agile, acrobatic and social. Generally traveling in groups of tens or hundreds of individuals, they can be seen in herds of 2,000 or more. Groups are often segregated according to sex and age. They associate with many other species including northern right-whale dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, sea lions, and seals. They are avid bow and wake riders, and are known to actively approach boats. They can be seen performing leaps, flips, spins, somersaults, and they often porpoise at high speeds. Large groups travelling at high speeds create a lot of surface disturbance that is visible from a great distance.
Video: Dolphin Superpod in Strait of Georgia
The Pacific white-sided dolphin is found in the cool temperate waters of the North Pacific and adjoining seas. It prefers deep, offshore waters around the continental shelf although they can also be found in more nearshore waters. In recent decades the major threat to this species was bycatch in drift and gill-net fisheries operated on the high seas. Many thousands of individuals were killed before the fisheries were banned in 1993. Bycatch in other fisheries however remains a threat. Pacific white-sided dolphins have also been taken in small numbers off the coast of Japan, and that country is considering starting regular hunting of this species again. Other threats include prey depletion, marine debris and the impacts of climate change.
There is no reliable global population estimate for this species and the IUCN categorises this species as of ‘Least Concern’.
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In Taiji: As already mentioned, Pacific white-sided dolphins are very fast, very active and they are also very valuable to the captive trade in Taiji – they are worth more than Bottlenose dolphins. So valuable that they do not drive the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove for fear of injury and the simple fact that they are worth more captive than they are for meat.
Instead of driving the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove the Taiji dolphin hunters and trainers will do an off-shore capture. In the off-shore capture the dolphin hunters will try to orchestrate large nets to surround the Pacific white-sided dolphin pod. The small skiffs will then attempt to pull these nets tighter and tighter, making if more difficult for the dolphins to swim or even surface.
These dolphins are then subjected to examination by trainers to determine probability for a life of captivity. The dolphins are then tossed into skiffs and held down by several of the Taiji fisherman netting them to the floor of the boats. They are then taken to the Taiji harbour sea pens (floating sea prison) and dumped over the side of the skiffs into the tiny sea pens, which will hold multiple dolphins.
Pacific White Sided Dolphins at Dolphin Base in December 2013:
Just a week away, on September 1, 2017 another season of the Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt & Slaughter will begin. Each year, from September until March, pods of dolphins make their way across Hatagiri Bay which is located near the town of Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. While this is a scenic and even serene area at times, death haunts the infamous Cove which is located directly adjacent to Taiji’s Whale Museum.
Every year during the annual government sanctioned dolphin & whale hunt, thousands of dolphins are brutally and inhumanely slaughtered. Below is the 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quote – Taiji Fisherman’s Union is allowed to take 1,940 dolphins from nine different species over the course of six months. Over the coming weeks Voice for the Blue will do a #TaijiTuesday blog post and introduce you the nine species of Taiji Drive Hunt Quote.
Not all dolphins driven into the cove are slaughtered. Taiji is known as “ground zero” for international trade in live dolphins. There is big money in the captive dolphin entertainment industry and there is a direct link between the captive dolphin entertainment industry and the bloody waters of the infamous Cove in Taiji. It is the dolphin entertainment industry that fuels the drive hunt and the killing of dolphins for meat unfortunately follows in its wake.
While in Taiji in December 2013, I witnessed numerous slaughters of Risso’s Dolphins, a slaughter of Striped Dolphins, one slaughter/live capture of Bottlenose Dolphins, and one live capture of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. While each slaughter was different to experience they were in a sense all the same: The sound of dolphin taking its last breath, the sound of the Taiji killers yelling, the sound of a dolphin thrashing furiously in an attempt to escape death, then the eerie silence that tells you the slaughter is done and yet another pod of dolphins has lost its life at the hand of the Taiji fisherman. The sounds of slaughter are something that remain with you long after you left Taiji.
Sunrise at the Cove – shortly before the slaughter of a pod of striped dolphins
Unfortunately many of us who stood witness to and documented the drive hunt and slaughter on the ground in Taiji are unable to return. Many activists have been held for questioning in immigration, then denied entry to Japan and deported back to our home countries. Japan has recently decided that simply witnessing and documenting the slaughter of dolphins is now a crime and classified as terrorism.
Being on the ground in Taiji was one of the hardest, but by far one of my proudest moments. I may not be able to return to Taiji but I will ensure that I educate as many as people as possible on the Drive Hunt & Slaughter, the direct relationship it has to the dolphin entertainment industry and why people should not participate in swim with dolphin programs or attend marine parks, such as Sea World & Marinleand Canada.
Only 3 weeks until 2017/2018 Taiji Drive Hunt & Slaughter resumes again.
2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quota by species:
2017/2018 quota for the drive fishery in Taiji has been released. This quota allows for a take of 1,940 animals from nine species and has added two species to the list – rough-toothed dolphins & melon-headed whales.
In addition to drive hunt, rough tooths and melon headed have been added to the hand harpoon quota in two prefectures – Wakayama and Okinawa. In Wakayama, 30 melon-headed whales can be taken, while in Okinawa, 13 rough-tooths and 60 melon-headed are allowed via this method.
Including both hand-harpoon and drive hunting, a total of 33 rough-tooths and 190 melon-headed whales have been added to the overall small cetacean quota in Japan.
March 1, 2017 marked the first annual Global Candlelight Vigil in Remembrance of the Lives Lost in the Cove, organized by Dolphin Freedom Now. Be sure to follow Dolphin Freedom Now on Facebook & Twitter.
Activists around the world gathered in memory of the dolphins killed during the 2016-2017 Taiji Dolphin Drive hunt. A total of 569 dolphins were slaughtered this season and 235 dolphins were taken for a life of captivity this season.
The event was also a way to honour the thousands of dedicated activists around the world who follow and report on the dolphin hunts in Taiji from September to March each year.
Many activists held their own private Candlelight vigils, while other activists held events around the world: Australia, Alaska, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, South Carolina, United Kingdom, Los Angeles, New York City, Osaka Japan, Philadelphia, Philippines, San Diego, San Francisco & Seattle.