These Japanese Hunters Rounded Up Hundreds Of Dolphins In A Cove, And It Didn’t Have A Happy Ending

At first glance, it was an idyllic scene. A large pod of dolphins had been spotted swimming, playing and leaping off the Japanese coast. However, a group of sadistic hunters was about to disrupt their journey and steal half of them from the ocean.

In January 2017, a pod of over 200 bottlenose dolphins gathered off the coast of Taiji, in the Higashimuro District of Japan. But, little did the animals know, their lives were in imminent danger. For this was the location of an infamous, and often bloody, cove.

The area is known for its controversial drive hunts, which last for months. The brutal practice sees hunters round up hundreds of dolphins each year. Those caught are either shipped off to marine parks around the world or killed for their meat.

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A dolphin pod of 200 is largely unheard of in the waters off the cove. So, needless to say, the hunters were no doubt very excited about this potential goldmine. However, they weren’t the only ones monitoring the situation.

A team of Sea Shepherd guardians were based in the cove specifically to track the hunting season. The aim of the activists was to document and expose what brutalities occur there. They hoped that by raising awareness of the dolphins’ plight, they could put pressure on the government to end the hunt.

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According to Sea Shepherd, the hunters began this particular hunt on January 20. First, the hunters drove the dolphins into the cove. To do this, whalers struck semi-submerged metal pipes with their hands to disorientate the animals’ sonar and manipulate them into the bay.

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Once the pod was in the cove, the hunters cordoned off the area. They then left the dolphins trapped there overnight, apparently to allow the animals to calm down. However, according to Sea Shepherd, being trapped only stressed the dolphins out further.

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“The dolphins spent the night in freezing conditions, huddled together in fear,” Sea Shepherd wrote on Facebook in January 2017. “At least 200 bottlenose dolphins are spending their final live moments in the cove in Taiji.”

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Early the next morning, the hunters returned. To began their cruel selection process, they split the pod into three manageable groups. However, many dolphins became tangled in nets as they tried in vain to get back to their families.

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In the commotion, the hunters picked out the most attractive animals to send to marine parks. Over the course of seven hours that day, the Sea Shepherd team witnessed hunters snatch 30 dolphins from the sea. And the activists suspected that the hunters would be back for more.

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“It was absolute mayhem for the full seven hours,” a Facebook status on the day of the hunt revealed. “All of the dolphins being terrorized by outboards, being scoped out before manhandled into submission by the trainers, forcefully netted onto the side of the boats and being driven under the tarps. Their measurements and details being taken, we could hear yelling from the buyers, screaming, laughing, as they selected the ‘prettiest’ and most profitable.”

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“Once they were satisfied, the rest of that section was driven out into a fourth netted area and they were considered ‘rejects,’” the Sea Shepherd Facebook post continued. “Not pretty enough to become slaves,” they added. “This is the dark side to the captive industry and the lifeblood of Taiji.”

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“Dolphins in aquariums, marine parks or zoos don’t volunteer their life or that of their young,” the post continued. “They are relentlessly forced into giving up their sacred bodies for the sake of a few dollars and entertainment.”

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Over the following days, hunters returned to the cove to claim more victims from the super pod. After six days, the hunters had sold 100 dolphins into captivity. Additionally, four dolphins had died during the hunt and many more were unaccounted for.

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On January 25, 2017, whalers finally freed the remaining dolphins. “After five days of being terrorized, enclosed, starved, left out freezing, and scared, on top of every single day’s grueling and emotionally tormenting selection process, the remainder of the pod was finally freed,” Sea Shepherd wrote.

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Although the release marked the end of the current drive hunt, there will certainly be more in the future. Many locals support the hunt and have even claimed it is part of their tradition. In fact, though, the hunt is only possible using motorized boats. However, it is linked to the Taiji Whale Museum, which keeps its own dolphins and sells others to marine parks across the globe.

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In 2009, the hunt was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. Since then, the public outcry around the so-called tradition has become heightened. As a result, police have increased their presence at the cove to prevent clashes between hunters and activists.

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However, despite the backlash against the hunt, those involved in it have always maintained that their actions are legal and part of a long tradition in Japanese fishing. In 2010, for example, a statement from the Japanese government said, “Dolphin fishing is one of the traditional fishing forms of our country and is carried out appropriately in accordance with the law.”

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But the Japanese government isn’t alone in facing scrutiny. Sea Shepherd, incidentally, has been criticized for its often confrontational methods of activism. The group has, for example, been known to shine lasers into hunters’ eyes, throw butyric acid at whaling boats and ram ships with its own vessels.

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So with Taiji officials and activists at loggerheads over the hunt, it’s hard to see a resolution to the problem anytime soon. However, by raising awareness of the barbaric practices involved, perhaps more people will stand up for the dolphins. After all, these beautiful animals belong in the open oceans, not in a tank.

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