Drive Hunt Facts
Dolphin Hunting Boats
There are currently twelve dolphin hunting boats operating in Taiji, and each of these small vessels departs Taiji harbour at first light of day in search of wild dolphins. The boats fan out upon and beyond the horizon to cover a large expanse of ocean, searching well-known dolphin migration routes.
Upon locating a pod, the dolphin hunters radio each of the other boats, giving them their location in order to start the ‘drive’ of the pod toward the killing cove.
The boat that initially discovered the dolphins remains with the pod until other boats arrive. Once there are five or more boats on the scene, the hunters will initiate the drive.
The boats then position themselves in a V-shaped formation partially encircling the dolphins on the offshore side of the pod. The dolphin hunters then utilize the long metal pole attached to the side of each boat, hammering the flanges on top to create a painful “wall” of sound. The noise is deafening to the sensitive dolphins, forcing them to swim away from the wall of sound towards the killing cove.
The hunters pursue the dolphins toward Taiji Harbour until they have been forced into the shallow waters, following the coastline into the cove. The dolphins are then netted into the small shallow area. Further dolphin hunters arrive in small outboard motor powered skiffs to work side-by-side with Japanese and foreign trainers to select the most visually perfect young adult dolphins to be sold like slaves into captive facilities in Japan and around the world.
The skiffs are also used to force the dolphins onto the rocky shore of the cove and to transport the dead bodies of those slaughtered to the butcher house.
Occasionally the youngest/smallest dolphins or pilot whales are not sold or killed and are later driven back out to sea where they are left to fend for themselves. These inexperienced young dolphins may be injured, have certainly endured the stress of the drive into the cove, have witnessed the murder of most of their family and suffered the trauma of the captures of their brothers and sisters. As a result they are believed by many conservationists to have little chance of survival - but the Taiji dolphin hunters release them anyway so they do not count as part of their hunt quota so the killers can continue to hunt for more dolphins suited to the captive dolphin industry and larger individuals for greater profits (per kill from their quota) for their meat.
The Killing Process
Despite claims from trainers and the Taiji Fishermen’s Union that the selection process for captivity is carried out separately from the slaughter, Sea Shepherd has documented many times over that these processes occur simultaneously and in close proximity to each other.
Marine mammal trainers from the nearby Dolphin Base (swim-with-dolphin program), Hotel Dolphin Resort (live dolphin show) and from the Taiji Whale Museum (live dolphin shows and exhibits) will often join the dolphin hunters in the shallow waters of the killing cove, selecting individuals for the dolphin entertainment industry.
When the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove was filmed, the dolphins were killed by spear thrusts. This resulted in a massive amount of blood spilling into the water, turning the cove from beautiful blue to blood red.
In recent years to reduce the amount of blood spilled into the water before the eyes of the world, the hunters use a killing technique known as “pithing,” in which a metal rod is hammered into the spinal cord of the dolphins, just behind the blowhole, causing paralysis. A plug is then placed in to the wound to stem the flow of bloody and attempt to prevent the ‘red cove’ picture being shared around the world.
The dolphins are still conscious, breathing and struggling often for minutes while they see and hear their family members also dying around them. In the case of larger pods, a blood-filled cove can still be seen and is often documented by the Cove Guardians. As the slaughter takes place, dolphin trainers take part in the captive selection – a violent process itself often resulting in injury to dolphins and occasionally drownings of dolphins. In this we are shown the direct, bloody link between the mass dolphin killings and the captive industry.
The dolphins chosen for captivity are transported via skiff and sling either to captive sea pens in Taiji Harbour, or straight to Taiji Dolphin Base, Dolphin Resort Hotel or Taiji Whale Museum.
The hunters then tether the flukes of the remaining dolphins – sometimes several at once – to control and manoeuvre the dolphins. The panicked and thrashing animals are then dragged onto the shallow and rocky shore or tethered to the cliff edge.
On several occasions, Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians have documented live, conscious dolphins still struggling as their bodies are tethered to skiffs and dragged to the butcher house, left to drown on the way. This method of killing is far from humane, despite the claims from Taiji Fishermen’s Union and Japanese government officials.
The Captive Industry
This small town of Taiji is a major location for the Japanese and international trade in live dolphins.
The captive dolphin industry has become a billion-dollar worldwide trade. Taiji’s dolphin hunters make approximately $32,000 USD for each live dolphin they capture. This figure can skyrocket up to $210,000 USD for a trained captive dolphin of the most desirable and best performing species.
The captive dolphin entertainment industry and the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji are directly and inextricably linked. Buy a ticket to a marine park and you are supporting the slaughter of these innocent, sentient beings.
For the dolphins sold into captivity from Taiji, life is beyond unbearable. They are kept part starved, fed medicated thawed out dead fish, kept in tiny concrete and glass tanks with the constant noise of humans around them. The dolphins bred from those traumatised wild caught dolphins are born into a life of captivity never knowing their rightful ocean home.
It is now illegal in the United States and many other countries to import a dolphin who has been caught in the wild. As a result the captive-bred dolphin business has also exploded within these countries. One must wonder how many of the so-called captive-bred dolphins imported into the U.S. each year are actually wild-caught. Even the captive-bred dolphins most likely have closely related ancestors who were captured in Taiji.