Mother Dolphin Tries To Stop Hunters From Taking Her Baby

"Oh my god ... the mother's trying to follow him."

Last weekend, dolphin hunters in Taiji, Japan, made their biggest catch yet: a superpod of around 300 dolphins. Over the next few days, they tore the families apart, picking the youngest, prettiest dolphins to sell to marine parks - and tossing their traumatized family members back in the ocean when they were done.

While the stories of many individual dolphins have emerged from the selection process, some of the saddest ones focus on the many mothers fighting to protect their babies from the hunters. And a recent video shows just how tragic that separation can be.

Liz Carter

The clip - which was recorded by Liz Carter, one of the many volunteers who travel to Taiji to document the heartbreaking event - shows a group of hunters selecting one of the dolphin calves for sale to an aquarium, and dragging him from his mother's side.

The divers swim through a frantic knot of dolphins, who have been left for days without food while the selection process occurs, to grab a young baby. They hold his little thrashing body still, as he strains to get back to his mother.

His mother can be seen circling the divers, panicking and frenzied with other members of her pod as she tries to reach her baby.

"Oh my god," a woman, presumably Carter, can be heard saying behind the camera. "The mother's trying to follow him."

But the hunters ignore the mother, carrying the little baby to the side of a boat where a net is waiting. With his mother watching, he's wrapped up, soon to be carried off forever to be sold as a performing dolphin.

Every year, hundreds of whales and dolphins are rounded up in Taiji's annual hunt. The most attractive ones - many of them babies taken from their mothers' sides - are captured to be sold to aquariums and marine parks around the world; the hunters can bring in well over $100,000 USD for a trained dolphin.

A portion of the pod, trapped in the nets | Sea Shepherd

If the other dolphins are lucky, they'll be thrown back into the ocean. But in most cases, they're butchered for their meat, turning Taiji cove a bright red with blood.

While some people claim the hunt is a tradition, it was only invented recently as a money-making scheme by some of the richest men in the area - large-scale dolphin hunts weren't even possible before the modern advent of powerboats. And the hunt has the backing of the city of Taiji; the nearby Taiji Whale Museum, which purchases some of the captured dolphins, is owned by the city.

The cove during a previous hunt | Oceanic Preservation Society

The area is heavily policed, preventing onlookers from intervening. But people like Carter are hoping that, by raising awareness about the individual stories in the middle of the slaughter, people around the world will step up to help.

And this weekend's capture, of which this mother-baby pair was a part, might have been one of the biggest yet.

"One hundred dolphins were stolen, some died from the process," Carter said. "Juveniles ripped from their mothers ... [and] the mother and child are desperately trying to stay together."

A different mother, spotted this weekend trying to guide her baby away from the ships | Sea Shepherd

"[They're] destined for marine parks and aquariums," she added. "The price of a ticket and a day trip out to a marine park isn't worth this."

To help stop the Taiji dolphin hunt, you can send letters to Japan's prime minister and Taiji's Australian sister city asking them to take action. You can also take a pledge promising not to go to dolphin shows, as many of them support the Taiji hunt.

To help the on-the-ground efforts, you can make a donation to Sea Shepherd or The Dolphin Project, or find out how to volunteer yourself here and here.