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Hundreds Of Dolphins Are About To Be Killed In This Hunt

It happens every single year 💔

On Tuesday, fishermen in Taiji, Japan, rounded up a small family of four Risso’s dolphins and brutally killed them.

These were the first dolphins to be killed in Taiji during the start of this year’s hunt, which will last until March of next year, and will aim to capture hundreds of dolphins. Trainers will handpick the “attractive” ones to be sold to dolphinariums and swim-with-the-dolphins programs around the world, but the remaining dolphins — usually the heavy majority — will be slaughtered for their meat.

Banger boat attempting to drive a pod of dolphins into a cove
Fishermen in boats trying to drive a pod of dolphins into the cove | Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

There were a few unusual things about Tuesday’s drive, according to Tim Burns, a volunteer for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, which monitors the hunts in Taiji. In most cases, the fishermen will catch the dolphins by banging on the walls of their boats, which creates a “wall” of sound that the dolphins can’t swim past. Then the hunters will drive the dolphins into the notorious Taiji killing cove and butcher them in the water, often right in front of their family members.

But during this recent drive, the fishermen had an unusually hard time catching the four dolphins and pushing them into the cove.

Taiji fishermen with newly killed dolphins
The Risso's dolphins being dragged to the butcher's house | Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

“They spent an hour in the bay, just trying to get them into the cove,” Burns told The Dodo. “They couldn’t do it, so they decided to bring the nets out, and just wrapped a net around them.”

“The other unusual thing about it is that normally the slaughter process results in just killing them and dragging them behind the boat and putting a tarp over so we can’t see,” he added. “But in this case, they actually put them in slings that they use for ... dolphins they take for captivity — they usually put them in a sling, and they take them over to a sea pen. So for some reason, they put these animals into slings, then wound up killing them and taking them to the butcher house, which is kind of an unusual act in itself as well.”

Dead dolphins attached to boats
Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

It’s not entirely clear what motivated these different methods, Burns explained. However, the result of the hunt was still the same, and it was still incredibly hard for the volunteers from Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project to watch what happened.

“One of our cove monitors is actually a naturalist who works on a whale watching boat in Los Angeles,” Burns said. “So for her to go from seeing these beautiful animals in the wild all the time to seeing them having to be slaughtered is super difficult. But during the drive, we really can’t get wrapped up in the emotion of it — we have a job to do. If we don’t do our job, these animals’ last moments are not going to be documented.”

Tarps around a butcher house in Taiji
A tarp was placed around the butcher's house while the Risso's dolphins were slaughtered | Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

The volunteers will remain in Taiji throughout the season to document the slaughter. Not only are they hoping to inform the wider world about what happens in Taiji, but they’re trying to disseminate information through local Japanese media.

“It is really hard for people to understand that Japan is a free country, but it’s a very closed-off society,” Burns said. “People don’t see what the government doesn’t want them to see, so spreading the information within Japan is a very difficult task.”

Cove monitor watching dolphins being rounded up
A cove monitor watching the boats rounding up a pod of dolphins | Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

Besides the cruelty aspect of killing dolphins, the volunteers are trying to educate the public about the dangers of eating dolphin meat, which is very high in mercury and can lead to serious health problems if regularly consumed.

“I don’t think anything is going to happen to make Japan create laws to ban the slaughter of cetaceans, but I think the demand for the meat is going to go away,” Burns said.

Banger boats searching for a new pod of dolphins
Banger boats searching for a new pod of dolphins to round up | Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

Burns is also encouraged by the fact that an increasing number of Japanese people are speaking out about captivity issues — and they voiced their unhappiness when a new aquarium went to open in the city of Kyoto. “There was a huge outcry in Kyoto when they tried to open the Kyoto Aquarium, and it’s just going to continue,” Burns said.

But sadly, change still needs to come to Taiji. After killing the four Risso’s dolphins, the fishermen have continued to take their boats out to search for more dolphins — and many more dolphins are expected to lose their lives over the next six months. While the cove monitors can’t legally do anything to stop them, they will be ready with their cameras, so the world knows exactly what’s going on there.

To help stop the hunts in Taiji, Japan, you can make a donation to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project.