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Terrified Whale Throws Himself Onto Rocks To Try And Escape Hunters

“He wanted out.”

In a chilling video, several melon-headed whales flail helplessly inside a net holding them in shallow seawater. Nearby, the hunters who caught them are busy killing their family members, and the thrashing whales seem to know they’re going to be next.

Then something even more heartbreaking happens — a young whale becomes so terrified that he throws himself onto the rocks that border the shore.

“He wanted out — he wanted to get away, and his only option was up,” Tim Burns, a volunteer for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, the group that filmed the incident, told The Dodo. “You can see him stick his head up, and then he starts kicking his tail.”

The rocks were “extremely sharp,” and the young whale injured himself when he jumped, Burns explained. “It wound up with its nose completely bloody,” he said.

Melon-headed whale ready to throw himself on the rocks
The young melon-headed whale preparing to jump on the rocks | Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

But the young whale seemed to prefer the pain of the rocks to the pain of seeing his family members die.

This gruesome scene played out yesterday in Taiji, a small fishing town in Japan where wild dolphins and whales are regularly captured and killed. Local fishermen will locate wild pods in the open ocean, and catch them by banging on their boat hulls with metal poles, creating a wall of sound that prevents the animals from swimming away.

Melon-headed whale ready to throw himself on rocks
Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

Once the dolphins or whales are trapped, the fishermen drive them into a notorious killing cove, and put up nets so the animals can’t escape.

Then a selection process happens — trainers handpick the “attractive” dolphins and whales to either keep as entertainment at the local Taiji Whale Museum, or to sell to marine parks, dolphinariums and swim-with-the-dolphins programs around the world. After that, the remaining animals are brutally slaughtered for their meat, often right in front of each other.

Melon-headed whale throwing himself on sharp rocks
Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

During yesterday’s drive, the fishermen caught a particularly large family of about 45 to 50 melon-headed whales, and killed the majority of them. However, four whales were taken into captivity, and a small number of calves were dumped back into the ocean. Releasing the juveniles might seem merciful, but it’s unlikely they’ll survive without their mothers.

“It was a horrific slaughter altogether,” Burns said. “They claim they developed this process where they stick a spike into its back and break its spine, and it’s supposed to kill them instantly. But we’re documenting more and more that this is not the case.”

Melon-headed whale throwing himself on rocks
Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

It’s not clear what happened to the young whale who jumped onto the rocks, but Burns believes he probably died from the impact.

“The terror and suffering these dolphins endured is unimaginable,” Ric O’Barry, founder of Dolphin Project, wrote in a Facebook post about yesterday’s drive. “How is it possible to think that inflicting prolonged terror and suffering on sentient beings and dumping young calves back out at sea alone and terrified could ever be considered anything other than cruel and inhumane?”

Boats searching for wild dolphins
Japanese fishermen searching for the next pod to drive into the cove | Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

But it’s not bloodthirstiness that motivates these drives — it’s actually the captive dolphin industry. The local fishermen can receive thousands of dollars for every dolphin who’s sold into captivity, and this impels them to keep chasing and capturing wild pods. Killing the remaining dolphins and selling their meat also reaps a small profit, but not nearly enough to keep the entire operation running.

“Education is what drives change in the world, and the more people who know, the more who are empowered [to help these dolphins],” Nikki Botha, a volunteer for Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians, another group monitoring the dolphin drives in Taiji, told The Dodo last month. “They can decide not to buy tickets to dolphinariums and dolphin shows because these businesses are essentially what is driving what is happening in Taiji.”

To help put a stop to the dolphin and whale slaughter in Taiji, you can make a donation to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project and Sea Shepherd. You can also make this pledge never to attend a dolphin show.