#TaijiTuesday – Risso’s Dolphins

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© Nicola Hodgins

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

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© Nicola Hodgins

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

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© Nicola Hodgins

 

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

Video: Risso’s Dolphins

 

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

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

Witnessing a pod of dolphins spending their last moments together in fear, frustration, panic and hearing those last few breathes they take as they are pushed under the tarps of killing shore is utterly heartbreaking. There are some moments you just don’t forget from a slaughter or perhaps are unable to forgot … the sounds of the banger boats banging on their poles as they drive the dolphins into the cove, the sound of a dolphin taking its last breathes and the sound of a dolphin thrashing furiously in an attempt to escape death and then the eerie silence that tells you the slaughter is done and that yet another pod has lost its life at the hands of the Taiji fisherman.

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Pod of Risso’s Dolphins

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Being pushed toward the killing cove shore

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Being pushed toward the killing cove shore

 

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

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Risso dolphin throws itself against the rocky walls of the cove

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Bloody boots oustide the butcher house.

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Being monitored by Police outside of the butcher house

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

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

 

 

#TaijiTuesday – Striped Dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Striped Dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea

In Taiji:

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

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

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

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

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

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Why don’t the dolphins jump the nets?

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

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

 

 

 

#TaijiTuesday – Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

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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

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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.

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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.

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Distribution Map

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.

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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.

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Pacific White Sided Dolphins at Dolphin Base in December 2013:

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2017/2018 Taiji Drive Hunt Quota

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.

source: http://ika-net.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2017/08/post-f1fb.html

Bloody Week in Taiji #tweet4taiji

After 29 days of a Blue Cove, the cove runs red again. The Taiji fisherman managed to wipe out two separate pods of Risso Dolphins this week in two consecutive days.

On November 8 – After a long fight of six hours, a family of 9 Risso dolphins lost their battle to the killers of Taiji, Japan. Once trapped within the confines of the cove, the hypocritical trainers as always joined the killers, who together selected 4 pod members for captivity. The lone baby of the pod was trapped within nets on the killing shore, and along with those who were selected for captivity, watched and listened as their remaining pod members were slaughtered in front of them. After the killing concluded, the baby was split from it’s lifeless family members and dumped alone out to sea where it will not survive.

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This pod becomes frantic and panics as the killers push them towards the shore of the killing cove.

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Mother and baby spend their last moments together before slaughter

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After witnessing its mother murdered, the killers tried to hide this live baby dolphin under nets as they prepared to dump back out to sea to fend for itself.

November 9 was the second consecutive day of dolphin slaughter in Taiji as the killers Taiji ripped an entire family of 11 juvenile and adult Risso dolphins from their home in the ocean. Once the pod was entrapped within the always deadly confines of the cove, killers and trainers once again worked together as they search the pod to search for their next big paycheck. None of these Rissos, however, were deemed suitable for captivity and as a result the entire pod was slaughtered mercilessly on the killing shore. Once the slaughter was complete a skiff filled with trainers emerged from under the tarps followed by a skiff dragging dead bodies.

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Two juvenile Risso dolphins were among this pod.

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As panic begins, several dolphins tried to escape, but only to become entangled within the net.

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Attempting to hide the transfer of dead Risso dolphins.

After the atrocities in Taiji this week, once again Call of The Cove has provided all of us with a way to help by reaching out to the media. Please visit their Media Page for more information on how you can help the dolphins of Taiji. They have put together a list of 400 twitter handles for the media worldwide and provided this Letter to Journalists  that you can send to journalists around the world asking them to consider covering the ongoing and needless slaughter of dolphins and whales in Taiji.

Also remember to follow the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians in Operation Infinite Patience on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates on the current events happening in Taiji.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

For the dolphins!