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

 

 

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

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!

Dolphin Base #tweet4taiji

As a Cove Guardian, it was not 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

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!

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!

2 Days 18 Bottlenose Dolphins – This is Taiji #Tweet4Taiji

And so it begins … the beginning of another dreadful season of the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji.

September 1, 2013 was the opening day for the dolphin drive hunt and the killing boats left Taiji Harbor by 5:15am in search of dolphins and small whales.

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The killers did not waste anytime as they quickly drove a pod of 60-70 bottlenose dolphins into the Cove. These dolphins who were unfortunate enough to pass through the waters of Taiji were held in the Cove overnight without food awaiting captive selection the following day.

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After spending the night in the cove, this pod of dolphins huddled together exhausted from the drive into the cove and terrified of what is to come next, as the killers and trainers arrive for the captive dolphin selection. In this process, the trainers select the young juvenile dolphins deemed suitable for captivity, generally those without any scarring visible.

A total of 18 bottlenose dolphins were taken captive, kidnapped from their mothers and their home in the ocean. Now, they are destined for a life of misery and imprisonment in a Marine Park with the sole purpose of being entertainment. The dolphins taken captive are placed in the Taiji harbor pens, which are 10’x10′ and typically have 4-6 dolphins placed in them. The remaining pod was driven back out to sea, which is just as vicious as the drive into the Cove, as the dolphins often panic and do not want to leave their loved ones behind. While the remaining pod was driven back out to sea, this does not ensure their survival. The stress and trauma endured over the past 2 days, along with no food and no hydration, significantly increases the chances that some members of this pod will die and show up washed ashore.

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All photos and information from SSCS Cove Guardians, via twitter, Facebook and live stream.

Please follow the Cove Guardians: Twitter: @CoveGuardians Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SeaShepherdCoveGuardiansOfficialPage

Live Stream: http://livestream.seashepherd.org/

Commentary from Paul Watson on the Cove Guardians and Operation Infinite Patience: “The Cove Guardians are passionately compassionate men and women who come from all over the world including Japan. They come at their own expense. The are up before the sun rises and they are on the ground after the sun sets. There are Cove Guardians in Taiji every day between September 1st and March 1st, year after year. Six months every year on the ground bearing witness to one of the most remorseless and brutal massacres of marine mammals on the planet. They are armed with the most powerful weapon in the world – the camera. It is however an emotionally draining exercise in daily defending dolphins. I admire and respect everyone who is involved with opposing the massacre at Taiji. But my admiration for the volunteers who participate in the Cove Guardian program is immense. These men and women are average people motivated by a deep sense of compassion and love for nature and animals. They gain nothing for themselves and suffer the emotional trauma of witnessing the atrocities against these gentle creatures. Since the Cove Guardians program began fewer dolphins have been killed than the years before the program. This is because of the time taken by the fishermen to attempt to cover up their activities. It has also greatly increased policing costs and the fishermen have increased costs to pay for the measures to hide their activities from the camera.” For more please read http://www.seashepherd.org.au/commentary-and-editorials/2013/09/02/the-cove-guardians-and-the-sea-shepherd-policy-of-gaiatsu-624

Please follow and support the SSCS Cove Guardians with Operation Infinite Patience, by following the various social media account, watching the live stream, sharing the information and photos from Taiji with friends and family. Remember that Taiji is ground zero for international trade in dolphins … there is a direct link between the captive dolphin entertainment industry and the bloody waters of the Cove in Taiji. Please do not support dolphin captivity by purchasing a ticket to Sea World, Marineland Canada or any other Marine Park or swim with Dolphin Program.

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For the dolphins!