Global Candlelight Vigil in Remembrance of the Lives Lost in the Cove

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.

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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.

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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

Japans Latest Tactics to Attempt to Hide the Bloodshed at The Cove

news-150827-1-1-CG-Karen-Hagen-900wSea Shepherd veteran crew member Karen Hagen of Norway has been denied entry into Japan to document the brutal capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales in Taiji as Ground Leader of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Henkaku campaign, previously referred to as Operation Infinite Patience. On August 27, Hagen was detained by Japanese Immigration upon arrival in Fukuoka, Japan by ferry from Busan, South Korea. After being interrogated for nearly two hours and held for more than six hours, she was refused entry into the country and deported to South Korea. Hagen’s passport was taken and she was refused a phone call unless she identified the person she was calling and made the call on speaker phone in the presence of a Japanese translator. Initially, Immigration officials stated that entry was being denied because Hagen had a tourist visa and was not in the country for tourism. Upon being asked why taking photos did not qualify as tourism, officials changed their reason, stating that she did not have a return flight home. When Hagen showed her return ferry ticket, they then stated that last year she wrote that she would be staying in Japan for two weeks but stayed for two and a half months. She then pointed out that she had extended her stay, which is legal, and at that time no further reasons were given as to why she was being denied.

 

news-150830-1-1-Linda-Trapp-CG-900wOn August 30, Sea Shepherd veteran crew member Linda Trapp of the USA has been denied entry into Japan. Trapp was detained by Japanese Immigration upon arrival in Osaka, Japan. After being interrogated for nearly five hours, she was refused entry into the country. Japanese Immigration officials said the reason she was denied entry is that her activities are not consistent with those that fall under Japan’s “tourism clause.” Trapp, 56, is a two-year veteran Sea Shepherd crew member and a respected retired homicide detective with the Washington County Sheriff Department in Oregon, USA.

 

 

11109_10204415713726877_4776487435405937573_nThis is not the first time a Sea Shepherd volunteer has been refused entry to Japan; several returning Cove Guardians were detained and sent home upon their arrival to the country last season. In December 2014, then Senior Cove Guardian Campaign Leader Melissa Sehgal was interrogated for nearly nine hours and detained for 24 hours before being escorted onto a flight out of Japan. No reason has been given for the denials, but Japan has claimed that the volunteers arriving with tourist visas are not tourists. This pattern of entry denials is not unexpected, as Japan will go to great lengths to try and hide the bloodshed suffered by dolphins in the cove from the world. Furthermore, the denials are evidence that Japan knows Sea Shepherd has been effective in exposing these atrocities to the world.

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderOn August 31, Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director of Dolphin Project and subject of the documentary The Cove, was arrested in the town of Nachikatsuura, a town located in Wakayama Prefecture. O’Barry was arrested on suspicion of a violation of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act of Japan and was reportedly accused of being unable to produce a passport. Under Japanese law, any tourist in Japan is required to carry a passport with them at all times. After spending the night in jail O’Barry was released with all charges dropped, as several hours after impounding his vehicle, local police located his passport inside the car. O’Barry believes that the combination of elevated pressure on Taiji, and Japan’s, “extreme, right-wing, radical government,” is currently placing Westerners at risk. “They’re trying to get all Westerners,” he said, “and the orders are coming from higher up — not the local police. We have always had a good relationship with them.”

 

The 2015/2016 Dolphin drive hunt and slaughter officially began on September 1 and thanks to heavy rain and winds we have experiences two Blue Cove Days so far this season!

Reflections of a Cove Guardian #tweet4taiji

It has been over a year since I left Taiji and a year since I have managed to write a blog. I’ve been recently trying to get back into writing and was not quite sure how to come up with a good post, since it has been a significant amount of time since my last one. I’m sure I could come up with numerous reasons as to why I haven’t written anything as of late. But this is what I’ll tell you …

cropped-img_0611.jpgBeing in Taiji has an incredible effect on you. At times it’s hard to describe the emotions you feel and sometimes I’m certain the only people that truly understand the lasting effect of being in Taiji, are my fellow Cove Guardians. It is still one of the best things of done, one of my proudest moments and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

When I first arrived home from Taiji the first thing I did was sleep for almost 18 hours straight! Perhaps from the long travel time it took to actually get home .. I’ve never been one to sleep on airplanes! But more so because it was incredibly hard to go back to your hotel room every night in Taiji and attempt to shut off your mind. You have early mornings, which I’m used to being a morning person, You also have long days, depending on how fast or short the drive hunt is. But at the end of the day the horrific scenes and atrocities you witness seem to replay on a continuous loop in your mind. The dreadful scenes at the Cove are not something that can simply be unseen at the end of the day. Not to mention that after witnessing a slaughter or live capture you need to go through all of the images you shot that day and pick the best (i.e., the images showing the atrocious scenes of the day) so they can be posted to social media. For me I have to say its not just the images in my mind but it’s also the sounds you hear – the banger poles, the killers yelling & laughing, the screams of the dolphins fighting for their lives and the sound of a dolphin taking it’s last breathe before the eerie silence that tells you the slaughter is complete.

Once I was home I was eager to start posting on my blog and it seemed as though I had many things to say and share about my time in Taiji. It was easy to write about my experiences of the blue cove days to the red cove days to monitoring the captives at Dolphin Base and the Taiji Harbour Pens as well. It was not hard to come up with blog posts and the words sometimes seem to simply write themselves. After that, it was as if I didn’t know what to say or perhaps ran out of things to say, essentially the tap ran dry and the words were not flowing as they did before.

So I decided to take a step back for awhile – maybe longer that I anticipated. Now another dolphin hunting season in Taiji is about to come to an end and I am finally writing my first post in over in a year. I still follow the Cove Guardian campaign throughout the season – posting and sharing updates on Twitter and Facebook. I talk about the Cove Guardian campaign every chance I get and my two copies of the Cove documentary are passed out frequently to friends, family and staff members. I even wear my Cove Guardian t-shirt every Friday, as we do casual Fridays at my office and I like to refer to them as Cove Guardian Fridays! After almost two years of Cove Guardian Fridays I finally had a patient ask me where I got my shirt and he was surprised to find out that I had made the trip to Taiji to join the Cove Guardians.

Now the the words seem to be flowing and I once again find myself with the eagerness to write and continue informing people on the continuous atrocities that still happen at the cove. The fact that marine parks, Sea World and swim with the dolphin programs fuel the dolphin drive hunts every year. In the end some people may turn a blind eye to what continues to happen in Taiji, while others will continue to stand watch at the Cove and those people are the dedicated volunteers from all over the world who volunteer their time to join the Cove Guardians.

Please check out the video below to know more about what the Cove Guardians do on the ground while in Taiji

Melissa Seghal and her Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian team highlight the daily atrocities that occur against much beloved, intelligent and social dolphins in Taiji, Japan for six months of each year.

For the dolphins!

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The Risso on the Rocks #tweet4taiji

It is a daunting task at times to witness and photograph the daily atrocities in Taiji. I’ve had many people comment on twitter or Facebook and ask how do Cove Guardians do this? Well first of all, when you make the decision to go to Taiji you are well aware of what you will be witnessing each day. There is really nothing you can do to prepare yourself for this either. For me, the only thing that helped was looking through the lens of my camera and trying to take as many photos as possible … as I’ve said before the camera really is a Cove Guardians only weapon. Of course being surrounded by fellow Cove Guardians, who share your passion and daily experiences, is comforting. We all travel to Taiji for the same reason: to be a voice for the dolphins. Doing this requires us to witness the tormenting, manhandling, and inhumane treatment of dolphins on a daily basis.

December 20, 2013 – this will be one slaughter and one moment I will surely never forgot. Every day in Taiji is different and every slaughter is different, and each day you experience a roller coaster of emotions. The images from this day seem to be with me at all times and replay almost every night in mind.

This day it was a pod of 10 Risso dolphins that were driven into the cove  and the killing boats seemed to waste no time as they drove this pod for over an hour into the cove, where they would spend their last moments together.

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Risso dolphins are typically known to be very docile. However, this pod of dolphins displayed their awareness of the impending slaughter and in fear they began to throw themselves onto the rocky walls of the cove as they were netted off.

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I remember standing above the Cove watching these Risso dolphins spend their last moments together before the slaughter began.  I was following a few dolphins through my lens and snapping many photos. Within moments, I saw this Risso throw himself onto the rocks. My immediate reaction honestly was: I gasped and wanted to shout out a few profanities at the killers below, but I was standing right next to the livestream and managed to think before speaking. Then the tears came and my initial reaction was that I wanted to step back and compose myself, but in an instant like this your adrenaline takes over. I knew I was there for one reason: get the best shots possible of what was happening. So in a split second while crying and barely being able to see clearly through my camera, I took as many possible photos as I could. I remember standing there, beside my fellow Cove Guardian, Hunter, my gasp had got his attention and his quick thinking allowed this to be caught on the livestream as well, but he also leaned over and asked if I was alright,  I just waved him off, struggled to say yeah and kept shooting. Hunter commented later that day saying ” You were on a mission and like a machine, all I could hear was the snap, snap, snap of your camera.” In that moment I was very thankful for one thing … the high speed continuous shooting mode on my camera. And Hunter was right, I was on a mission, to expose the brutality of the slaughter and be able to have the photos to display the awareness dolphins have of the situation they are in. This dolphin clearly knew he was in danger, was frightened and thought the only possible way out was to throw himself on the rocky wall of the cove.

Below are a few more photos in the sequence I shot them of this particular event in the Cove that day. Even though this happened a month ago, I remember it as if it was yesterday.

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The photos speak for themselves, and as I saw this dolphin throw itself onto to rocks, it tore my heart and soul apart in just a few moments. In the end I was able to walk away from this experience, however this Risso and the rest of the pod lost their lives in the bloody confines of the infamous cove and eventually wound up lifeless on the butcher house floor.

While being a Cove Guardian is a challenging experience, it is one I will not soon forget and an experience I will choose to do again. Why? Because it is just as Jane Goodall puts it “The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

I leave you with one final phrase “Luctor et Emergo” translated as, “Struggle and Emerge.” This is the school motto of Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, where I the privilege to attend high school. Notre Dame is an integral part of the person I have become today and these word are with me all the time and most certainly helped me to struggle and emerge from my time in Taiji, as an even stronger voice for the dolphins.

For the dolphins!

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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!