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Mother Dolphin Desperately Tries To Save Her Newborn From Hunters

"This is her best friend and only companion and she will do anything she can to keep her baby alive."

Last week, hunters with Japan's infamous Taiji dolphin hunt rounded up a superpod of 300 dolphins and drove them into the Taiji cove. There, they sorted out the younger, more "attractive" dolphins to sell to marine parks around the world, tearing them away from their panicked families and shipping them off to captivity,

Dolphin superpod in Taiji, Japan, hunt
Some of the dolphins being held captive | Sea Shepherd

It's estimated to be the hunters' biggest catch in years, and many photos emerged showing the sheer size of the pod, which was left in the cold shallows without food during the nearly week-long selection process.

But while the magnitude of the capture is shocking, the stories of the individuals captured in the superpod are just as moving.

Sea Shepherd, which has a team of volunteers on the ground to monitor the hunt, recently shared photos of one of the mother dolphins as she struggled to keep her baby alive.

Mother and baby dolphin in the Taiji, Japan, hunt
The mother dolphin, center, with her baby by her side. "This small baby swims in circles by its mother," Sea Shepherd wrote. | Sea Shepherd

The mother and her baby had been passed over for capture, and were shut up in a side pen with the rest of the "rejected" dolphins. But even though the hunters had no further need of her, she was left there for days while the hunters sorted through the rest of the pod.

The shallow water was freezing, and she had no source of food - but still had to find some way to feed her baby, who was likely still a newborn.

Mother and baby dolphin in the Taiji, Japan, hunt
The newborn, seen poking her head above the water in the center of the frame, never left her mother's side. | Sea Shepherd

As the Sea Shepherd team watched, the mother and her baby swam in circles in the small "rejected" pen, with the mother swooping below her young baby to push her to the surface to breathe.

"This baby must only be weeks old and we have watched mum swim under it numerous times to push it to the surface," Sea Shepherd wrote. "This is typical behaviour of a mother teaching her child how and when to take breaths."

Mother and baby dolphin in the Taiji, Japan, hunt
The baby surfaces to breath - her mother can be seen under the water. | Sea Shepherd

"Dolphin mothers nurse for up to two years, so somehow, after four days of not eating [herself], bobbing in a freezing cold, shallow pool of water, stressed and traumatised, this mother has got to feed her child," the group wrote.

"This is her best friend and only companion and she will do anything she can to keep her baby alive," the group added.

Sadly, like many of the other individuals who were herded into Taiji's infamous cove, this mother and baby were soon lost in the confusion. However, there's a cautious hope that they survived, and stayed together - while the Taiji hunters usually kill the "rejected" dolphins for meat, they decided to release the traumatized survivors of the superpod back into the ocean.

Mother and baby dolphin in the Taiji, Japan, hunt
The panicked mother and her baby. "Mum hasn't left baby's side," Sea Shepherd wrote. | Sea Shepherd

Other mothers weren't so lucky. And on Wednesday - just days after releasing the remaining dolphins from the battered superpod - hunters found a family of around 30 striped dolphins and promptly slaughtered them all.

The hunt takes place from September to March, and each year hundreds of whales and dolphins are killed for their meat - many others are captured, as they can fetch well over $100,000 USD each.

Dolphin taken captive in Taiji, Japan, hunt
Hunters capture a frightened dolphin from the superpod - he will be sold into captivity. | Sea Shepherd

Unfortunately, the volunteers recording the hunt aren't able to intervene. The area is heavily policed, as the hunt is backed by the city of Taiji, and any attempts to interfere would lead to immediate arrest. Instead, they're hoping that, by publicizing the fate of whales and dolphins like this mother and her baby, people will come together and create enough international pressure that Japan will have to halt the hunt.

The best way to help? Avoid dolphin shows, as many marine parks and aquariums are the primary funders behind the hunt - and the brutal selection process that often tears babies from their mothers' sides.

Dolphins held captive in Taiji, Japan, hunt
Panicked dolphins trying to avoid the hunters. A mother can be seen trying to shield her baby in the upper right. | Sea Shepherd

"This is a mother's hell," Sea Shepherd said.

To 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.

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.