The fisherman of Taiji pride themselves with a 400 year old tradition of hunting and killing dolphins. Since I’m in Taiji and have been able to witness the hunt for the past week, I’d like to describe some of the traditional techniques they use.
The fisherman are out on the water before sunrise in their boats outfitted with diesel-powered engines. Twelve boats spread themselves out across the horizon, miles apart and miles away from shore, looking for a pod of dolphins.
When one of the boats locates the dolphins, it sends out a call on the radio for the other fishermen to join him. The responding fishermen throw their boats into high gear, racing across the ocean to meet with the others, aligning in a single row. The fishermen put metal poles into the water and then bang on them with hammers, creating a wall of sound. This wall of sound disorients the dolphins and they begin to swim away from the noise.
If the fisherman are lucky, the dolphins swim toward shore. If they swim in any other direction, the boats speed around them and begin banging the poles again. It may take hours for the fisherman to drive the dolphins from the open ocean into shore but once they reach shallow water, the dolphins are forced into the “funnel”, a natural geologic formation which leads directly into the Cove.
Once they’ve reached this point, one or two of the Banger boats separates from the rest and heads into the harbor to get smaller boats called skiffs. The skiffs have nets that are placed behind the dolphins to prevent them from escaping.
This week they have not used the Gutting Barge as their catches have been small, but on days when they are able to capture a large number of dolphins, they will take the Gutting Barge out of the harbor and into its position near the Cove, just out of sight…or so they think.
The Bangers continue pushing the dolphins further into the Cove. When they come around the first corner into the Cove, one of the skiffs attaches a net to the shore and drags the net behind the dolphins. Numerous nets are used as the dolphins swim further into shore.
When the water is too shallow for the Banger boats to come any closer, the fisherman use the engines and propellers on the skiffs to scare the dolphins even further into shore. The dolphins jump out of the water onto the rocky shore trying to escape the boats.
At this point the fisherman used to stab the dolphins with harpoons to kill them but due to pressure from the “outside world”, they are now working harder to conceal the blood. So, instead of harpoons, they stab the dolphins in the spine to paralyze them and then plug the wound with a wooden block to keep any blood from rushing out.
This doesn’t kill the dolphin, it only paralyzes them. They are then tied to the skiffs by their tails and dragged out of the Cove, still alive, drowning to death on their way to the slaughterhouse where they will be gutted and cut into little pieces.
In 400 years of “tradition”, the fishermen have gotten very good at two things: working together as a team to accomplish a common goal and failing to conceal their actions from the world. Each time they kill dolphins, Cove Guardians capture their actions on film.
If this is tradition as they say, my advice to the fishermen of Taiji is to quit hiding behind tarps and barricades. It doesn’t help you to hide because we still see your every move. You can build a barricade and we will find a different place to film. Hang nets from the trees to block our access and we will go around, over and underneath to catch your despicable actions. Let the police and Coast Guard come, we’ll be there first.
We are not going away and you cannot hide.