A week into the dolphin drive season in Taiji, Japan, fishermen have driven their first marine mammals into the cove, a pod of around 20-22 pilot whales with juveniles.
The whales were driven into the cove last night after a battle that lasted several hours. Melissa Sehgal, a Cove Guardian with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) who is reporting on the drive from Taiji, said on Twitter:
A family of pilot whales including a baby has now been netted into the killing cove. Police and media are surrounding the area. This is utterly heartbreaking.
Tim Burns, one of several Cove Monitors with Save Japan Dolphins also on the ground in Taiji, confirmed the capture via the Monitors' official Facebook page and added:
It appears they have buyers to look at the pilot whales tomorrow. They will keep them overnight in the cove before deciding which ones will die tomorrow morning.
It is the first pod driven into the cove since the annual Taiji dolphin hunt began on September 1. Featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, the Taiji dolphin drive season begins September 1 and ends in March. The hunt is conducted by a small group of fishermen with just 12 boats from the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan.
The motorized boats (called banger boats by activists because of the constant pounding of metal poles used to confuse the dolphins' sonar), drive the marine mammals towards a rocky shoreline. The ocean floor in this area creates a natural funnel for driving the animals into the cove. Once past the entrance, fishermen seal off the exit with a net and the dolphins are either slaughtered for meat, or sold to captive marine facilities around the world.
Meanwhile Taiji is cracking down and has stepped up security measures this year. A large police presence continues to observe and follow the Guardians and Monitors constantly, but the town has also brought in the Japanese coastguard to patrol the waters around the cove.
Ric O'Barry and his team from Dolphin Project, in Taiji for an annual pilgrimage conducted each September were also refused entry to the Taiji Whale museum. Mark J. Palmer the Associate Director of the International Marine Mammal Project at Earth Island Institute said:
Every year, the dolphin hunters and the town of Taiji try to make our jobs harder. Last year, the parking lot across from the Cove was put off limits to our cars, so now we have to park a few hundred feet away and walk to the Cove.
Just a few days ago, the Taiji mayor even sealed off an overlook used by Monitors and Guardians to count the number of dolphins and identify the species of dolphins being killed. The trail used by local people as an evacuation point to higher ground in case of tsunami and flooding was secured with a locked gate. The barrier was "put up overnight, blocking access due to "construction," said Palmer, "we asked the police when we could get access to the overlook, and they said they did not know.''
Meanwhile, the Cove Guardians vowed to watch over the pilot whales trapped in the cove. Sehgal said, "This pod will spend their last night together captive and fearful. Buyers will come from afar to pick and choose while the rest will be slaughtered immediately after. Cove Guardians will stand guard at the cove tonight until morning that we may be a voice for these beautiful souls until their last breath."
A short while later as thunderstorms and lightning ripped across the night sky, five Cove Guardians remained vigilant. "We can hear the pilot whales splashing and see them spy hopping," they said, "they are so fearful." The Guardians also added that local police "are now telling us that it might be two days before these pilot whales will be slaughtered," with no access to food.
Meanwhile, the social media campaign Save Misty the Dolphin launched a call to action and is urging caring citizens around the world to fax their Japanese Embassies and ask for the immediate release of these animals. A free fax button which will allow individuals to fax directly from their computers they said, can be found at the link: Just the FAX: A Call to Action for the Dolphins of Taiji.
Last year, over 700 dolphins were killed in the cove with others being sold into captivity to countries such as China, one of the largest purchasers of Taiji dolphins in the world.
Around 2:44 PM today (MST), Sea Shepherd reported that "Four skiffs filled with killers and trainers have arrived at cove." The skiffs pushed the pod towards shallower water and three pilot whales including two juveniles were taken to Taiji harbor pens, said Sehgal. The remaining pod adds Sea Shepherd, "will be held again until tomorrow morning."
Save Japan Dolphins posted, "The rest of the pod still remains in the bay of The Cove with the uncertainty of being slaughtered. It's one giant guessing game that could very well carry into tomorrow as well."
Video of the drive and capture filmed by Melissa Thompson Esaia of Save Japan Dolphins is available on Vimeo.
An update to this story is available here.