Operation Henkaku: The Killing Cove is Closed for Business – Let’s Keep It That Way!

Bottlenose pod swims frantically as violent captive selection continues. Photo: Sea Shepherd

The 2015-2016 Taiji dolphin drive hunt is over.  This season, the government of Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, authorized Taiji’s dolphin killers to capture or slaughter up to 1,873 dolphins.  In some of the lowest numbers observed in recent years, between 630 and 650 dolphins were ruthlessly driven into the cove and slaughtered. Another 117 were taken captive, destined to spend the rest of their lives in shallow tanks, cement pools, or cramped sea pens performing circus tricks for paying tourists.

Sea Shepherd’s dedicated team of volunteer Cove Guardians was on the ground every single day of the hunt.  Livestreaming the capture, selection, and slaughter, the Cove Guardians continued to bring international attention to this outrageous crime against the oceans. Despite ridiculous claims by those involved, the Taiji dolphin drive hunt is not tradition; it is a profit-driven enterprise supported by the Japanese government and fueled by the lucrative worldwide trade in captive dolphins.

Although several Cove Guardian veterans were barred entry into Japan, Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians stood their ground, as they have since 2010, to make sure the world sees exactly what Taiji tries to hide. The dolphin killers continued to use tarps to try to hide the killing from our cameras, but tarps can’t hide the blood that turns the water from blue to red or the sounds of the frenzied dolphins as they face their executioners. Our livestream footage irrefutably dismissed any and all claims of a “humane slaughter.” During one slaughter, a pilot whale escaped from beneath the tarps after being pithed with a metal rod. For several minutes, the profusely bleeding and suffering animal attempted to swim away, eventually slipping under the surface of the water.

Each drive brought new horrific sights and each month was marked by even more merciless acts of violence on the part of the killers:

The annual hunt began on September 1, 2015. The first drive of the season ended with a pod of Risso’s dolphins netted into the cove on September 11.  During the ensuing slaughter, the Cove Guardians observed one dolphin trying to escape by launching out of the water and up onto the jagged rocks in the killing cove.  As some of the killers dragged the doomed dolphin back into the cove, others looked on and laughed at the plight of the terrified animal.

The pod and albino Rissos dolphin huddle close together. Photo: Sea Shepherd

Following the slaughter of another pod of Risso’s dolphins on October 19, 2015, the killers dumped several bodies at sea.  We believe they took this extreme measure to avoid exceeding their annual Risso’s dolphin-killing quota.  The next day, the Cove Guardians discovered the remains of a dead juvenile Risso’s dolphin washed-up on the beach.

November 19, 2015, began four days of anguish as approximately 69 -74 pilot whales were captured and held in the cove. By November 22, 46 members of this intergenerational family had been slaughtered, and several more succumbed from the sheer stress of the drive and ensuing selection ordeal.  One pilot whale was taken captive but died days later in a Taiji harbor sea pen.

December 2015 saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins captured and held in the cove for three days. Bottlenose is the dolphin species most prized by the captive industry. With the assistance of trainers, 30 animals were taken captive. Those dolphins not deemed to be “pretty” enough for captivity were slaughtered while the same trainers laughed and watched.

January always seems to be an especially bloody month in Taiji.  This year was no exception. The killers hunted on 22 days and slaughtered pods on 14 of those days.  Forty percent of the entire 2015-2016 killing quota was met in January 2016. Nine drives took place in February 2016, with 20 more bottlenose dolphins taken captive and forced into the tiny sea pens in Taiji harbor.

The 105 bottlenose dolphins, seven Risso’s dolphins, one pilot whale, and four Pacific white-sided dolphins taken into captivity during the 2015-16 Taiji dolphin hunt are now condemned to a dismal “life” as slaves to the captive industry. Forced to perform circus tricks in order to receive a reward of drug-laced frozen fish, many of these animals will die prematurely from stress, trauma or both.

The Taiji dolphin killers repeatedly claim that the dolphin drive hunt is their “tradition.”  They also blame the dolphins for decreasing fish stocks and say that the drive hunt is a form of “pest control.” At the same time, they proclaim the pods of dolphins and whales who migrate through the waters of Taiji to be their property.  In reality, the desire to hunt and capture dolphins has nothing to do with pest control or tradition. It has everything to do with greed. Captive dolphins are a multi-million-dollar worldwide industry that starts in Taiji, Japan.

The Taiji dolphin killers are profiting from a demand for captive dolphins. If you proudly display a photo kissing a captive dolphin, if you support marine parks and dolphinariums, you might as well stand alongside the killers in Taiji’s bloody cove. Your entrance fee to these places fuels the tanks for another hunt.

After five campaigns of Operation Infinite Patience, this season’s Operation Henkaku sought to focus specific attention on the captive trade. Taiji is all about supply and demand. The hunting and slaughter of dolphins will not end for good until the demand for captive dolphins ends for good.

While the grueling 2015-16 Taiji dolphin drive hunt season has now ended, the pressure on those who hold dolphins captive must not! Let’s close down the killing cove for good by bankrupting the worldwide captive trade. Dolphins are not assets, commodities or property. They don’t belong on transport trucks or cargo planes, and they certainly don’t belong in tanks. We must all continue to be a voice for the dolphins. Sea Shepherd calls on everyone who followed Operation Henkaku to keep pressuring travel agents, hotels, cruise lines, marine parks, and dolphinariums to stop profiting from the misery of captivity. Thank you for your unwavering support of the Cove Guardians, Operation Henkaku, and dolphin freedom.

Tell everyone you know to “Just say NO to the dolphin show!”

Visit our 
Operation Henkaku
site for more information.

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