#TaijiTuesday – Risso’s Dolphins


© 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.


© 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.


© 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.


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



#Taiji Tuesday – Short-Finned Pilot Whale

Short-Finned Pilot Whale:


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.

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#TaijiTuesday – Another Drive Hunt & Slaughter Season About to Begin



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.

The Cove

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.

For the dolphins, Mel