Photo with kind permission of Sea Shepherd ' Trainers watch a Mother and baby dolphins, now prisoners in their captive pens -Nov 3rd 2014'
Following on from my article 'Taiji Culture, Tradition or Greed' published on November 28th 2014, I would like to introduce you to Rachel Barton. In October this year she made what I would call an extremely difficult decision to travel to Taiji and witness first-hand the merciless and continuous dolphin drives that take place there.
Rachel in Taiji
Rachel has agreed to do this interview and relive her time spent as a Cove Guardian, in order to help raise more awareness about the senseless slaughters and the links it has with the captive market.
These annual drives, which normally take place daily between September and March are executed by approximately 26 fishermen and trainers, who continue to describe what they do as tradition and culture.
All Rachel's comments are her own views and not the views of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians.
About four years ago whilst searching for information on the internet about her favourite pastime - Scuba diving, Rachel accidentally stumbled on details about the coastal town in Japan.
"I couldn't believe what I was reading and felt compelled to do some research and find out more. It was then I discovered that I too had fallen for one of the biggest deceptions of all - the dolphin's smile.
I swam with captive dolphins ten years previous in Cuba and at the time felt that this was okay, but reading about the activities in Taiji, this truly wasn't the case!"
I find it almost unbearable to watch the video footage transmitted across social media sites by the Cove Guardians and Ric O' Barry's dolphin project, so to be on the front line during these slaughters and captures is a vision I cannot even comprehend. I asked Rachel what moved her to be present by the cove and observe these sickening drives.
"I couldn't get out of my head the unjust persecution of the migrating dolphins around Japan and knew I had to do something. Sitting behind my keyboard sending emails and signing petitions was no longer enough; these sentient beings deserved more from me. Dolphins are beautiful creatures and need to be enjoyed in the wild, free from harassment, slaughter and a life of captivity. I have been fortunate to spend time with wild dolphins in the red sea whilst scuba diving and there is nothing more magical when they choose to interact with you!"
During her eight day stay in Taiji a large family pod of Risso dolphins were callously driven into the cove and whilst most were brutally murdered, they chased a few juveniles back into the sea. Knowing the world is watching, this seems to me a shallow attempt at showing kindness to the young ones, but traumatised, possibly injured and without their mothers, survival is almost impossible.
Photo with kind permission of Sea Shepherd 'Juvenile dolphins are dragged back out to the sea -Nov 3rd 2014'
I asked Rachel how she felt during the drive she witnessed.
"Each day you stand and watch the boats leave the harbour and then wait on tenterhooks, sometimes hours, to count them back in. Seeing the boats in formation gives you an indescribable sinking feeling, but once a pod is being driven into the cove, its action stations for the whole team. There is a job to do and for me that became my sole focus. We are there to document the atrocity and take as many photos as we can and it was my intention to do the best job that I could. To see the dolphins enter the cove and know you are witnessing the last moments of their lives is heartbreaking, but the best service I could give them was to help ensure they had not lost their lives in vain."
I understand people's frustrations and anger when dolphins are netted in the cove waiting their fate. November 2nd according to the footage on social media, a pod of bottlenose dolphins were netted for almost 20 hours pictured swimming frantically, desperate and hungry, whilst the fishermen enjoyed a whaling festival in the town, even using their boats to take festival goers to view their catch. Comments such as 'cut the nets' are often posted on Twitter and Face Book at these times. I asked Rachel why the Cove Guardians are unable to do this.
Photo with kind permission of Sea Shepherd ' The frantic bottlenose pod is held in the cove for nearly 20 hours - Nov 2nd 2014
"The Cove Guardian is there to ensure everyone knows about the horrific drives and captures in Taiji, however the authorities in Japan have a very clear message, if any one person within the group breaks the law, no one will be tolerated. We would then be back to square one with the truth hidden behind closed doors and the callousness shown by the fishermen is heart wrenching. They use their boats to push the dolphins where they want them, cut them with the motors, drag them with their fins and flukes and all this knowing the eyes of the world are watching. What would they do if no one was?"
'A picture which speaks volumes to the Taiji fishermen's lack of compassion' Photo by Rachel Barton
"It's not only about monitoring the drives, but also keeping an eye on the captives they have too. This is where the real money is being made and that's what fuels the hunts. If there were no dolphinariums , there wouldn't be any hunts."
I asked Rachel what she would say to anyone planning a visit to a dolphinarium.
"Simple answer, don't! Dolphins from drive hunts end up all over the world and purchasing tickets to see a show or 'swim with experience' supports the Taiji fishermen. A dolphin that swims with you in these circumstances is a hungry one and has been starved into submission."
'Dolphin's ribs are clearly visible in Taiji training pens.' Photo by Rachel Barton
If like me you love dolphins then please heed Rachel's words.
"Captivity can never give these creatures what they need to survive. They need space to swim properly, a family group to interact with and the chance to love life. If you want to see dolphins, the only place is in the sea where they are in their natural environment."