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The cover-up

Taiji, the only town in Japan where drive hunts still occur, is a place of baffling contradictions. It is a dolphin tourist town with dolphin watching, dolphin resorts and a dolphin museum. Even the ferries, which are dressed up as giant dolphins, celebrate the beauty and charisma of the beloved animals that live off Taiji's shores. 

Tourists swim in cove
Tourists delight in swimming with a dolphin, blissfully unaware that exactly the same water is red with blood during the hunting season from September to March. Image courtesy of Koji Sasahara
Dolphin Ferry
Even the local harbour ferry is a tribute to dolphins.
Wind Turbine
Dolphins and whales everywhere. This is a wind turbine decorated as a whale.
Dolphin Brige
More dolphins. And whales!

Taiji's cute dolphin paraphernalia, which is meant to appeal to tourists, speaks to the the popularity of dolphins in Japan.

But Taiij is also the world epicentre of dolphin cruelty. The small number of people involved in dolphin hunting go to great lengths to hide their nasty secret, both from the outside world and the Japanese people.

They are assisted in this by the Japanese government, which protects and supports the dolphin hunting industry. As well as a 24-hour police presence, the government provides a dedicated Coastguard ship to guard the dolphin hunting vessels at sea and prevent photographers getting into viewing range by boat.

Coast guard protects fishing boats
An armed Coastguard patrol boat guards the dolphin hunting boats.

The slaughters themselves are hidden under tarpaulins. The town has blocked all vantage points of the slaughter area. Tall wire fences with "no trespassing" signs block access to paths which formerly were coastal walks with views of the scenic cove. At the entrance to the town's nearby tsunami shelter a padlocked gate has been cemented in, blocking access to the safe ground and its views to the water beneath.

Tarpaulins hide killing area
The slaughters are hidden underneath these tarpaulins. A fisherman pulling a dolphin is visible just inside.

A 24-hour police office has been installed overlooking the cove to monitor people attempting to observe the hunts from the shore. As a matter of routine, police interrogate all foreign visitors to Taiji, and follow their movements while in the town closely, to the point of harassment.

Police harassment at close quarters
Three protestors, two intimidating policemen.

It is not uncommon to see parents pointing out to their excited children the dolphins trapped in the cove. The children laugh and giggle at the beautiful animals, completely oblivious to the dolphins' awful fates the following morning.

As we said, a place of enormous contrasts. The love of dolphins can be seen everywhere. Yet the menace of an intimidating police presence, and the hint of a dark secret, is equally everywhere.

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