#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



#TaijiTuesday – Striped Dolphins


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

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 – 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