Taiji, Japan: Ground Zero for the Captive Dolphin Trade

Every year between September and March, in the small fishing town of Taiji off the coast of Japan, dolphins and small whales are subjected to a horrific fate. A small group of local fishermen brutally drive entire dolphin families into a small cove. Once in the cove mothers and babies are separated, young attractive dolphins are stolen and sold into the captivity trade around the world, and the remaining family members are brutally slaughtered for human consumption.

Considering that a trained live dolphin sold internationally can fetch anywhere up to $100,000 it is undeniable that the annual Taiji dolphin hunt in Japan and the lucrative multi billion dollar captivity industry are directly linked. When you buy a ticket to a dolphin show or pay for a swim with dolphin encounter you are supporting and encouraging the Taiji atrocities to continue.

You can help end the suffering of these gentle, sentient creatures by pledging to never buy a ticket to a dolphin show.

The species targeted by the Taiji fishermen are:

Pilot whales

Risso’s dolphins

Rough-toothed dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins

Melon-headed whales

Striped dolphins

Pacific white-sided dolphins

For more information about the efforts to end the annual dolphin slaughters and captures in Taiji, Japan please visit our friends over at Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. They have volunteers on the ground during the hunting season and your support helps them continue that important work.

Empty the Tanks’s Founder & Executive Director, Rachel Carbary writes about her experience during her last visit to Taiji, Japan in 2017.

Taiji, Japan is a place with amazing sunrises, beautiful landscapes, towns people that say good morning, and school children that wave hello. It’s also ground zero for the global trade of captive dolphins and a place where dolphin families are slaughtered for 6 months each year. It’s a paradox to spend time in such a peaceful and serene place while knowing about the dark events that take place in hidden coves. This was not my first trip to this small town, but it was the most emotional one for me. This time my understanding of these animals was so much greater than it was in my previous visits. The past few years I have fully immersed myself in the world of dolphin and whale captivity, so the sights and sounds struck me more deeply as I watched new slaves taken away to their prisons or listened as entire families were violently removed from this world. The dolphin hunters commend themselves because they say a dolphin dies in 10 seconds. Well the thrashing of bodies that I heard under the tarps as a family of melon headed whales was killed lasted much longer than 10 seconds. The striped dolphin I watched get away from the tarps and get trapped by a net and a skiff while blood poured out of its body, turning the water bright red, did not die in 10 seconds. The dolphin that tried to flee as its family was being killed was injured and scared, but after a struggle it was pulled back under the tarps so the hunters could finish the job they started. Nothing that I saw or heard under those tarps lasted only 10 seconds.

My emotions hit me hard the day a family of melon headed whales was torn apart. After being terrorized during the drive they swam very close to each other in the cove, rubbing up against one another as they searched for comfort. Two individuals were taken for a life of captivity that day. The trainers picked their desired targets from the group and drove away on boats as the rest of the adults were slaughtered and babies were taken and dumped at sea. The trainers laugh and smile with the hunters as they all work together. I listened to the thrashing of this family as they were killed and could hear the echoes of the dolphin show taking place around the corner at The Whale Museum. The complete and total lack of empathy from the trainers who claim to “love dolphins” is appalling. During the slaughter of a family of striped dolphins I watched as one member of this pod got caught in the nets as it was frantically trying to get away from the murderous scene taking place under the tarps. This dolphin desperately struggled with the net until it finally disappeared under the water – presumably drowning right before my eyes. These are the moments in Taiji that stay with me forever.

The place I feel drawn to the most are the sea pens at the prison known as Dolphin Base. These once wild and free dolphins will never again know the feeling of being full and satisfied. They will forever be kept just hungry enough to do the next trick. Watching as they are reduced to stereotypical behaviors and begging for food is absolutely heartbreaking. There are several in these sea pens that just sit and stare out at the ocean through the nets – looking at what was once their home. I can still hear the vocalizations of the 15 dolphins that were hoisted up by a crane and loaded onto trucks as they were shipped off to their new prison. They’ll never see their home waters again.

Some people question why we go to Taiji just to watch when we can’t do anything. Well we go because if we didn’t the dolphins would still die and be taken captive but nobody would be there to tell their story. They would be silenced by the hunters and trainers and the world would never know that these dolphins lived, and that they died. We are their last voice in this world. I created Empty the Tanks so that I could continue to be a voice for dolphins and whales suffering in sea prisons around the world and I am grateful so many people have supported this mission. I feel more driven than ever to continue my work with Empty the Tanks. I believe that education and awareness is the key to ending dolphin captivity and these annual hunts.

I left another piece of my heart in that cove and in those sea pens and I hope the dolphins know we are fighting as hard as we can for them.”

Please do not support dolphin captivity. You can tell us how you are saying #EmptyTheTanks by tagging us in your posts on social media.