Taiji – the Killing Zone

Between October 1st - December 13th 2004 the fishermen of Taiji reported the capture 609 dolphins (389 bottlenose dolphins and 220 Risso’s dolphins) to the Fisheries section of Wakayama Prefecture. While most of the 609 dolphins were slaughtered for human consumption, dolphin trainers selected some of the young and unblemished dolphins for use in captive dolphin swim programs and dolphin shows.

A huge amount of blood is swirling with the currents after a
pod of Risso’s dolphins has been eradicated in the most
gruesome way imaginable. The dolphins fought for their lives
even as their guts were ripped from their bellies and blood
gushed out of their blowholes.
Photo by Genna Naccache
During the hunting season that began October 1st 2003 and ended March 30th 2004 the fishermen of Taiji killed 1,165 dolphins:

444 Striped dolphins
197 bottlenose dolphins
102 Pantropical spotted dolphins
293 Risso’s dolphins
117pilot whales
12 false killer whales

In that same period they captured 78 dolphins for sale to dolphinaria:

67 bottlenose dolphins
6 Risso’s dolphins
5 pseudo orcas

A measure of our success

Japanese fishermen kill the largest number of dolphins anywhere in the world and dolphins and porpoises face grave danger in Japan’s coastal waters when the annual hunt begins. This year the drive fishery, a method in which dolphins are forced ashore and hacked to death, has taken place in Taiji and Futo. We traveled to both of these fishing villages to document the massacres and expose them to the world.

In Taiji the annual dolphin hunt starts October 1st and continues through March 30th. Here, the massacre of dolphins is strongly encouraged by three local dolphinariums that purchase show-quality dolphins at a high cost and ship some of them off to othe facilities in Japan and abroad.

The slaughterhouse is covered with blue tarp
to prevent us from videotaping the bloody scene.
Photo by Helene O’Barry
We were able to film the entire capture procedure in January last year when more than 100 bottlenose dolphins were forced ashore and some 20 dolphins selected by dolphinaria. Several dolphins were killed during the selection process and our powerful footage was recently aired by the BBC in a documentary entitled "Dolphin Hunters" and has been viewed by more than 300 million people worldwide.

This kind of major international exposure is the last thing the fishermen and the dolphin captivity industry want, and it came as no surprise to us that they were fuming with anger upon our return to Taiji in October.

Since the beginning of our campaign to expose the barbaric methods used to capture and kill dolphins, the fishermen have gone to extreme effort and expense to prevent us from carrying out our documentary work. What they are doing to the dolphins is so brutal; they know they have to conceal it from the rest of the world to avoid a huge international outcry.

The fishermen have driven a large pod of bottlenose
dolphins into the killing cove. They are cutting off the
dolphins’ escape with two nets placed 50 feet apart.
Photo by Helene O’Barry
They used to carry out the massacres in a large lagoon by a public road, but the mounting exposure has forced them into one last hiding place; a small cove hidden between two mountains. The cove is part of a public park and tourists from all of Japan come here to walk the picturesque trails along one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world.

During the drive fishery season, which lasts six months out of the year, the fishermen take the area into their possession, employing exceptionally hostile tactics to keep westerners and Japanese tourists away from the cove while dolphins are being killed. In doing so they have created a threatening and sinister atmosphere in an otherwise beautiful and friendly village.

Hiding their activities the best they can has been part of the fishermen’s policy for years but they have now taken their cover-up to a new, fanatic level. Supported by local authorities they have banned us from climbing the mountain from where we can see the killing cove.

They are so scared of our cameras; they have tied barbed wire around the trees we used to climb to photograph the massacres and at the top of the mountain have installed a hideous wall made of fabric and plastic to block our view. They have tied metal chains to trees everywhere along the paths leading to the killing cove. Attached to the chains are signs with hand-written words of warning: "Keep Out!" and "No trespassing!"

The fishermen have erected a tall canvas
wall at the top of the mountain to prevent
us from filming the dolphin massacres.
Photo by Helene O’Barry
After the massacre the water remains red with blood for hours and the ludicrous signs warning people of non-existent dangers such as "Falling rocks!" and "Mud-slides!" are not removed until after the sea has washed the blood away and all evidence of the butchery has vanished.

The fishermen have even erected a large piece of fabric across the mouth of the cove to prevent us from photographing the bloodbath from a boat and as further proof of their deep-rooted fear of the truth being known to the world have placed a gigantic piece of blue tarp across the entire killing cove so we can’t film the massacres, not even from a helicopter.

The fishermen have succeeded in hiding the massacres almost to perfection but their strategy is backfiring in a way they probably did not anticipate. The dolphin slaughter is surrounded by so much contemptible deception and is so profoundly guarded; it has raised much curiosity among the visiting Japanese tourists who wonder what the secrecy is all about. We spoke to many of them and the one thing they kept asking was: "What are the fishermen doing behind the blue tarp that’s so terrible that no one is allowed to see it?"

The extreme cover-up is undermining one of the fishermen’s principal justifications for killing dolphins: That it’s a tradition they are proud of. If they are truly proud of killing dolphins, then why are they so frantic about hiding it? The fact that they hide the bloodbath behind blue tarp, chains, barbed wire and walls of fabric reveals that they are well aware that the dolphin massacres, once fully exposed, will be viewed as deplorable by the rest of the world, including the Japanese people.

The fishermen spend a lot of time waving large signs in front of our camera lenses, yelling, "Don’t take photos!" What they are really saying is, "We have something to hide."

By acting so hostile and secretive, they involuntarily bring more attention to themselves and the dolphin massacres. As a young girl visiting from Tokyo put it: "I never realized that dolphins are being killed here until I saw that creepy-looking blue plastic covering the lagoon."

© 2006, Earth Island Institute, Elsa Nature Conservancy, In Defense of Animals, Animal Welfare Institute. All Rights Reserved.

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