Bearing Witness to the Murder of Dolphins
by Ben Werdegar
NOTE: The slaughter and torment of dolphins was too urgent for 14 year old Ben Werdegar to take on “when he graduates” – even from middle school. He’s in Japan now hoping to make a difference. Here is his second report for Care2.
Today we witnessed the slaughter of about 9 large Risso dolphins including 2-3 babies, and we helplessly watched one baby dolphin being stripped away from its family and sold into captivity.
It all started with my father and me heading down to the beach at about 8:00 a.m. I brought my guitar because I wanted to bring at least one drop of beauty to this terrible place by playing music here. I was playing guitar on the deserted beach when we ran into 2 ladies from Sea Shepard. They informed us that the fishermen were doing a dolphin drive right now. Ugh!
“Permission” to watch
We peered over the horizon to see about 7 large fishing boats heading back in. They told us that we could legally watch the drive from the top of the mountain and we would have a perfect view of everything going on. We walked up to the top of the mountain to see boats steaming back toward shore.
After about 10 minutes, we were greeted by 2 policemen (carrying guns which is unusual in Japan) and a fireman. They checked our passports, noted our names in some book they were carrying, and had my dad fill out a “Safety Patrol” questionnaire on why we were there. They stayed up there with us the whole time to make sure we didn’t do anything “illegal.” For example, the policeman warned me that if I stepped on the other side of the fence barrier he would arrest me. So, I took out my guitar and started playing for them, with the terrible dolphin drive occurring right behind me. I sat on the fence they had warned me about. Maybe music could bring some rare good luck.
What we saw – and heard
Soon, we could hear the shouts of the fishermen as they got closer and we could see the frightened dolphins trying to swim away from the fishermen. The dolphins stay together, swimming as a pod, which is their family unit. The dolphin drive uses an old method to round up the dolphins and send them swimming scared in the opposite direction. The dolphins’ main sense is sound, and unfortunately in Taiji that is their downfall. The fishermen line up their boats facing the cove, and then they bang with hammerson long metal poles that protrude into the water. We could hear the continuous banging; it was such a haunted sound – a death knell my dad said. It angered me so much to watch this helplessly.
Usually a Taiji dolphin drive takes about 15 minutes through “the chute” which is the path they create to bring the dolphins to the cove, but today the dolphins put up an incredible fight. For about 3 hours the dolphins refused to enter the cove. They kept swimming under the nets that the fishermen had set up to swoop them in. We hoped that the fishermen would just give up since these dolphins seemed to deserve to get away. A woman from Sea Shepherd screamed “let them go!” which is something we all felt.
It seemed that the fishermen were getting frustrated. For a while a helicopter was circling overhead. With all of the police security and helicopters, we heard it is costing the city of Taiji $3 million per year extra now to support the dolphin hunt. That made us feel good, knowing our presence was costing them money.
After about 3 hours the dolphins became tired, and unfortunately they were finally rounded into the cove. They just sort of gave up. My father and I ran towards the beach to see what we could watch there. There were about 8 more policemen on the beach and there was a black coast guard pontoon boat in the cove bearing with 5 more patrol officers. Even the head of fisheries in Taiji was present watching with a few other local officials. I wish I had given that man a piece of my mind yesterday.
The dolphins soon disappearedaround the corner to the part of the cove that we couldn’t see from the beach. This part of the cove is covered in tarps so no matter where you were you couldn’t see the slaughter. Not long after we saw the baby dolphin come out of the killing cove in a boat with a dolphin trainer. This baby dolphin was selected to live on and be a performing slave in captivity.
Not soon after that we saw another boat appear from the killing cove carrying all the dead dolphins covered in tarps on the boat. They were then going to take these dolphins to the harbor, and from there they’re sent to the butcher house. And from that point they will be sold. We met a Frenchman and a Belgian at the cove also, and they were going to follow the fisherman to town to photograph the butcher and everyone who came to buy the meat. I loved hearing that.
How they kill, and hide the blood
The way the dolphins in Taiji are killed now is a little unclear. They are stabbed with long spears still, but now the fishermen are supposed to be using special spears to stab into the dolphins spine and kill them instantly. Of course, that won’t work every time. There’s no way they do that to every dolphin. I suspect, though, that they’re doing what they’ve always done: just stabbing the dolphin until it can’t bear life any longer and dies. Now they have corks that they shove into the wounds of the dolphins so that nobody can see any blood running into the cove water. I can’t believe the cover up they’ll go through just to massacre dolphins day after day.
We got as much as we could on film, and I wish I could have done something to stop it. I feel so much more anger than sadness. This must be stopped, I don’t care how it’s stopped but it must end! It must end before there are no more dolphins on this coast of Japan, and that time will come soon. It’s already happened before in other places of Japan where they have slaughtered so many dolphins or whales that there are no more in that area.
They just don’t seem to learn do they? How can a human be so unfair? How can a human give no compassion at all to a baby that just witnessed its mother being stabbed to death in front of them? How? Why? The biggest statement that I will make towards this cause is SET THEM FREE.
Photos from Ben and Maurice Werdegar