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Terrified Whale Family Huddles Together As Hunters Close In

<p> The Dolphin Project </p>

Another heartbreaking story has emerged out of Taiji - this time about a group of pilot whales.

On Wednesday, hunters at the infamous killing cove in Taiji, Japan, rounded up a family of pilot whales and drove them towards the netted shoreline. The hunters then left to round up a second pod of whales, or possibly the other half of the waiting pod.

As they waited, terrified, the pilot whales did something beautiful. Knowing that something bad was going to happen, the large pod gathered itself into a tiny circle, surrounding themselves with family and clinging together for comfort as they tried to protect themselves from the pain that was to come.

The Dolphin Project

The Dolphin Project

Footage taken by the Dolphin Project show the large family as a dark circle in the usually bloody waters of Taiji. "This poor pod," the group wrote on Facebook. "They won't leave each other's side."

Eventually there were about 40 whales of all ages clustered together in the "shocking" scene, the Dolphin Project reported.

"They are all huddled tightly together protecting the younger ones," the Dolphin Project said. "They are spy hopping and terrified. Matriarch just swam through pod like she was checking on them all."

The Dolphin Project

The Dolphin Project

Sadly, there's little hope for this whale family, who will likely soon be massacred - if they haven't been already. The heartbreaking scene is reminiscent of a story that emerged earlier this year, when a desperate Taiji dolphin flung himself on the rocks at the feet of Ric O'Barry, founder of the Dolphin Project and star of the 2009 film "The Cove."

"This is anguish," O'Barry said at the time as he watched the dolphin struggle.

Each year, 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered in Japan, and the Taiji hunt alone is responsible for killing hundreds of animals. The few who survive the blood-red waters are sold into captivity, fated to spend the rest of their lives cut off from family and performing at zoos and marine parks. Most of them are butchered.

While proponents of the hunt market the massacre as a Japanese tradition, drives hunts have only become commonplace in the last few decades. The Taiji hunt in particular is driven by a handful of local men who are getting rich off the killing.

But unfortunately, witnesses from the Dolphin Project and other groups are prohibited from getting involved. Anyone who interferes with the hunt will be arrested, deported and prohibited from returning to the scene - leaving no one to report to the world what really goes on at the brutal hunt.

Of course, that makes watching the tragic slaughter all the more difficult. Last night, two members of the Dolphin Project spent the night by the killing cove, waiting with the frightened pilot whales for the bloody morning to come.

The Dolphin Project

The Dolphin Project

"We wish nothing more than to swim in and cut the nets," they wrote. "All we can do is show the world this is happening and be their voice. Our hearts are desperately heavy and sad."

If you'd like to help, you can donate to the Dolphin Project to support their ongoing efforts at Taiji. You can also visit the group's site to find more ways to help.