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The terrible things that occur in the Japanese town of Taiji happen daily for six months of the year, although they are now well hidden from view.

Secret cameras, however, have made their way into Taiji's cove, and this video clip is from some of these cameras.

Australia for Dolphins doesn't want to shock unnecessarily, but if you want to understand why we're so passionate, please see for yourself the horror that goes on in Taiji.

We invite you to watch just 30 seconds here. Don't worry if you can't make it to the end - many people can't.

We warn you that it's horrific footage. We ask that you don't show this to children.

If you do take the challenge, we hope you will join us - with your help we believe we can bring an end to what you're about to see.

I've seen this and gosh - you've just got to see it for yourself.

- The Hon Barry Jones
 
 

What happens?

Dolphins are legally protected in Australian waters, but in Japan, Peru, the Solomon Islands and the Faroe Islands, dolphins and other small whales (such as porpoises and pilot whales) are hunted and killed inhumanely to supply aquariums and for their meat. Over a million have been killed in hunts in the past 70 years in Japan alone. 

Taiji

International bodies such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC) provide some protection for large whales (such as humpbacks), but do not regulate "small type" whaling (dolphins are in fact small whales). This means that there is no international policeman to prevent countries killing an unlimited number of small whales.  

In Japan, where the largest hunts occur, thousands are slaughtered each year. Many of these - up to 16,000 annually in recent years - are porpoises killed at sea by harpoons along Japan's northern coast.

The largest hunts currently taking place, on which Australia for Dolphins' campaigns are initially focussed,  are in the coastal town of Taiji, where around 1,500 dolphins and pilot whales are killed annually. Although they are not as well known, the Taiji hunts actually kill many more whales (including dolphins) than Japan's Antarctic whaling programme.

2012-2013 season - Total captured

In Taiji, dolphins are not killed out at sea by harpoon, but captured using a special - and notoriously cruel - method called "drive hunting".

 

What happens in a drive hunt

Nearly every day from September until March, a fleet of 13 high-speed boats sets out at dawn from Taiji's harbour. The boats venture far off the coast where dolphins and whales are migrating.

When the "fishermen" locate a pod, which may contain over a hundred dolphins or pilot whales, they lower steel poles into the water and repeatedly hit them with hammers, creating an underwater wall of sound. The dolphins find themselves suddenly trapped between the shore and an encroaching wall. Panicked and disoriented, they swim away from the wall, towards the dangerous shallows. The boats herd the pod into a narrow cove, and seal the entrance with nets.

An essential element of the drive hunt technique is to drive the dolphins towards the shore at high speed, such that they are exhausted (indeed some drown or have cardiac failure during the process) and can be manoeuvered easily into the cove. Any dolphins who still have sufficient energy to struggle after the high-speed chase are roughly manhandled into the shallows by divers.

The pod is trapped in the cove without food for up to 48 hours while dolphin trainers come to select the most "beautiful" for sale to aquariums (to read more, please see the next section, Why do they do it?).

The slaughter

Before sunrise, the fishermen return to slaughter the dolphins and whales not chosen for aquariums. They force the frightened animals into the shallows of the cove by backing into them with their boat propellers. As the boats close in, dolphins sometimes fling themselves onto the rocky cliffs in desperate attempts at escape.

 

The scene is chaotic as thrashing dolphins try to escape. Sometimes the fishermen tether a group of dolphins to a boat by their tail flukes and drag them flapping to the slaughter area. Panicked calves, who are separated from the rest of the pod, can be seen frantically trying to jump the nets to get to their mothers on the other side.

The fishermen kill the dolphins and whales using long metal rods, which they repeatedly thurst into the animals' backs, just behind the blowhole. Wooden wedges are forcefully inserted into the open wounds to prevent blood seeping into the area of the cove visible to observers.

Rounding up dolphins
Forcing frightened dolphins into the shallows by backing into them with the boat's propeller. 

The dolphins and whales die gradually from massive trauma and blood loss. According to an independent veterinary analysis published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, the Taiji killing method would register at the "highest level of gross trauma, pain, and distress". Video footage of the slaughters shows that it can take 7 minutes for dolphins to die an agonising death.

For the dolphins and whales, the process of capture and killing over several days involves not only physical pain, but likely also extreme psychological distress. We don't know to what extent dolphins and whales anticipate their deaths, but as they are closed in on by their captors and the water starts to turn red with blood, we can only imagine that they experience terror. As dolphins and whales are highly social animals who form strong friendships, it also seems probable that they would be distressed by being torn from their family members, or witnessing family members being injured or killed. The ability of dolphins and whales to communicate through language may add another dimension still to their suffering. For instance, when they are killed, dolphins are lined up next to each other. They can be heard whistling to each other over the sounds of thrashing dolphins. It is possible that the dolphins last in line are "told" by those first in line about what will happen to them, and that they are aware as they wait that they are about to suffer a long and painful death.

The treatment of dolphins and whales that takes place in Taiji would not be tolerated in any regulated slaughterhouse in the developed world. Indeed, it would not be allowed in Japanese abattoirs (farm, domestic and laboratory animals are protected in Japan by animal welfare legislation which is not extended to dolphins and whales).

So then, why does it still happen?

Read next article: Why do they do it?

Footage in videos on this page is from the documentary "The Cove" and AtlanticBlue.de.

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