Mass Murder in the Cove
What do you think of when you think about dolphins? Do you think of Flipper? Do you think of adorable smiling faces doing tricks and jumpingaround in marine parks? Or do you think of a bloody massacre that kills thousands of dolphins each year?
At this very moment in Taiji, Japan, dolphins are being cruelly captured and slaughtered by the thousands, without any sign of it stopping. When the hunt starts, fisherman use a technique called drive fishing. The survival of dolphins mainly depends on its’ sense of hearing and sound. The fisherman take advantage of that by waiting until a pod of dolphins passes, putting large metal poles into the water with a bell shape at the bottom to amplify the sound, and follow the pod in motorized boats banging on the poles with hammers, creating a wall of sound behind the dolphins. The dolphins are then disoriented and very frightened, so the fishermen corral them into a small cove. The fishermen usually injure a couple of the dolphins by slitting them with knives, because a pod will never leave an injured member behind. The dolphins are then trapped by nets over night to calm down, while the others who were injured slowly bleed to death and drown. The next day, trainers from all over the world go to the cove where the dolphins are trapped, and look to buy a dolphin for one of their shows. The trainers are typically looking for female bottlenose dolphins, just like the TV star, Flipper. A majority of dolphins that are part of animal shows or swim with the dolphins’ attractions are bought from Taiji. Each dolphin is purchased for up to $150,000, which is the main reason these dolphin captures are still going on.
The dolphins that are not attractive enough for human entertainment are then brought to the “killing cove”, and slaughtered for their meat. Here they are pushed very close to shore, and stabbed to death by harpoons, fish hooks, and knives. The beautiful emerald waters are then turned
scarlet by the blood of these animals. Injured or exhausted dolphins sometimes just drown before the fisherman can even get to them. Still living dolphins are dragged onto boats by hooks or tied to the boats by their tails, forcing their airholes underwater. These animals are then dragged over concrete by their tails to butcher shops, where the animals that are still living, even after being dragged for miles over the very rough terrain, are stabbed and left to die of their injuries. Some even end up drowning in their own blood.
After the dolphins are butchered, they are sent to be sold in supermarkets all around Japan, without warning those supermarkets about the high toxicity. These unscrupulous fishermen are willing to poison their fellow countrymen without remorse. Dolphin meat and blubber contains mercury, cadmium, the pesticide DDT, and other deadly contaminants. Researchers warn that children and pregnant women should not eat it at all due to its high levels of toxicity. Dolphin meat can and has caused many birth defects due to the high levels of mercury it contains. Before 2009, dolphin meat was served as school lunches in public school all over Japan. This ended when dolphin activist Ric O’Barry went to Japan to raise awareness and stop the dolphin slaughtering and selling of their meat, but the problem is far from over.
If this annual slaughtering was happening to humans, would you want to do something about it? Dolphins have been previously called the humans of the sea because of their great intelligence. Consider that a dolphin brain is twice the size of a human brain. Dolphin researcher Dr. Lori Marino said in our interview, “The part of the mammalian brain involved in processing emotions – the limbic system – is highly developed in whales and dolphins.” Dolphins have been known to show care giving towards not just other dolphins, but also humans and other animals. In ancient myths, there have been reports of dolphins saving sailors who have fallen into the ocean from their ships. Remarkably, these stories match up with many news stories seen today.
Dolphins also show emotion, just as we do. Lori Marino stated in our interview, “It is a privilege to work dolphins and one gets the sense that they are observing and testing you as much as you are observing and testing them! They have a sense of humor and can certainly be happy, sad, playful – all of those things. Because they don’t express their emotions on their face people think that captive dolphins are always smiling and happy. But nothing could be further from the truth.” When asked about how captivity affects dolphins, Lori stated, “All of the research shows that dolphins who are captured from the wild and put in confinement as well as those who are born in captivity, lead shortened and less healthy lives.”
Marino also explained the pain a dolphin feels when their family is being cruelly slaughtered in front of them, “Dolphins are strikingly similar to humans in that they share many high-level cognitive abilities such as self-awareness, the ability to understand a symbolic communication system, imitation and many other aspects of learning and memory – as well as strong social bonds. I think it is absolutely clear that they feel emotional pain and loss. Moreover, we can see from their reactions that they feel strong emotions. They often stay with each other when there is trouble. Finally, we can tell from the urgency of their whistles that they are upset when they are being rounded up, slaughtered or captured. When one is captured he or she continuously whistles for the group and the group stays around
There are many people who are working to try and stop the Taiji capture and slaughtering of dolphins. Diana Reiss decided to start researching dolphins and bring awareness about their intelligence when she was in graduate school. Back then, she told me during our interview, there was not a lot known about their intelligence. She decided to change that by conducting experiments, and doing research to collect more information. She has studied dolphins through sea expeditions, and has even built relationships with them. She explains this is her book, “Dolphin in the Mirror”, and has also shared information about it in many of her talks and interviews. Reiss told me in our interview that after reading her book, or attending one of her talks, people have written to her saying thank you, and asking how they can help.
Mark Palmer, Associate Director of Earth Island Institutes’ International Marine Mammal Project, told me how he and Earth Island Institute are working year round to stop the dolphin slaughters in Taiji. By putting international pressure on people to contact their government, and to tell them to put an end to dolphin slaughtering, changes have definitely been made. In fact, the amount of whale meat consumed dropped by 30%, a huge drop, after the Earth Island Institute had been raising awareness. After Earth Island Institute had been putting pressure on the Japanese fisherman and had sent cove monitors to Taiji to document the slaughtering, the dolphin hunting season, which usually ends in March, ended a month early, saving the lives of many dolphins.
Ric O’Barry, animal activist and star of “The Cove”, is in Japan constantly working to bring awareness about this issue to the people of Japan, since most Japanese people aren’t even aware of this massacre.In an article published by Save Japan Dolphins, Tia Butt, a cove monitor, said, “Other than monitoring the Cove, I have been also monitoring the infamous Dolphin Resort where there are captive dolphins held in cramped sea pens. People can visit and swim and touch the dolphins in a pool no bigger than a human swimming pool. There is the larger pool and then around it small sea pens with 3 – 5 dolphins in each pen. When I first saw this place, it reminded me of a concentration camp for dolphins. The small pens are filthy looking, and the dolphins have no space to swim, like they did in the vast space of the ocean. When I am here, I think of how these poor animals had been driven into the Cove, and, while the rest of their families were butchered, they were doomed to this place and to a life of captivity and slavery.”
Now the real question is, how can you help stop this atrocity?
1) Refuse to buy tickets to shows involving dolphins or participate in swim with the dolphins attractions. “The best thing anyone can do is refuse to go to marine parks with captive dolphins and whales. That would save and change many lives and would also have an impact on the slaughters around the world. There is a direct connection between going to one of these marine “circuses” (theme parks) here in this country and dolphin slaughters around the world. I want people to know that what they see in marine parks during dolphin and whale shows is NOT what is going on behind the scenes. Dolphins are not happy in captivity and people should not believe what these places tell them about the animals. They publish a lot of misinformation to make themselves look good. People should know that dolphins and whales are like us – they have families, lives to lead, and no more want to be in captivity than we do. They suffer tremendously in these places,” says Lori Marino.
2) Support organizations that are fighting this injustice. Earth Island Institutes “Save Japan Dolphins” campaign has been very successful, but can use your help. The Sea Shepherd, an organization based around stopping the slaughtering of dolphins and whales, runs purely off donations, and needs them to continue working to put an end to this. Donating to these organizations can help tremendously.
4) Write letters to our government, and also the Japanese government. If enough people urge them to put an end to the capture and slaughtering of these animals, they will eventually be pressured into doing so.
Organizations To Help
Videos To Watch
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