Images Taken by Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians, Documenting the Brutal Capture of “Shoujo” and Horrific Slaughter of Her Family, Sparked an International Media Firestorm
As the one-year anniversary of the unprecedented capture of more than 250 bottlenose dolphins and a rare albino calf in Taiji approaches, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is reflecting upon this horrific event that drew worldwide media, public and political scrutiny to the annual capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales in the cove.
On Jan. 17, 2014, the Taiji dolphin hunters’ greed got the best of them, resulting in global outrage, when they combined and drove five separate bottlenose pods into the cove, forming the largest pod witnessed by the Cove Guardians in Taiji since the launch of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Infinite Patience campaign in 2010. The killers immediately recognized a lucrative find, as the “superpod” — already valuable because bottlenose dolphins are a highly profitable species in the captive trade — included a rare albino calf, believed to be worth an estimated $500,000 in the captive industry. This calf was the first to be torn from the dolphin family and separated for captivity. Named “Shoujo,” by Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson, the calf captivated the hearts of the world, as the Cove Guardians documented killers and trainers forcibly separating her from her mother’s side.
This was not the end of the horrors for these frightened dolphins, already exhausted after the drive into the cove. Captive selection lasted for days, as the stressed and anxious dolphins were held for four nights in the cove without food or shelter. Each day, the Cove Guardians live streamed to the world, and the violent and shocking nature of the captive selection process in Taiji was exposed, as both killers and trainers wrestled dolphins away from their families to select the “prettiest” pod members for captivity — those without scars and other “flaws.” Some dolphins were visibly bleeding and injured during the selection, a process that proved to be as brutal as the slaughter itself.
On Jan. 21, after days of captive selection, the massacre of this fractured dolphin family took place. As the waters of the cove finally settled, 52 dolphins had been taken captive (one of whom did not survive), approximately 41 had been slaughtered and 130-140 exhausted and traumatized dolphins were driven back out to sea.
Though despicable and tragic, these events sparked an international media firestorm and created more opposition to Taiji’s hunt than had ever been seen before. Sea Shepherd drew the eyes of the world upon Taiji with strategic media efforts, a coordinated social media campaign activating Sea Shepherd networks around the world, and daily press releases based upon reports sent by Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians, who worked ‘round the clock on the ground in Taiji to bring the world up-to-the-minute news about the pod. The unprecedented size of the captured pod, the finding of the rare albino calf and the brutal nature and duration of the captive selection, as well as the horrific slaughter of many of the dolphins combined to spark global outrage, an unprecedented media response that lasted for weeks, and strong political pressure upon Japan. A powerful photo captured by the Cove Guardians, of the dolphins being carelessly run over by the killers in skiffs, was run by the Associated Press and picked up by media around the world.
A consistently strong, global viewing audience tuned into Sea Shepherd’s live stream, with at least 100,000 viewers watching throughout the five days and four nights that the pod was held. Social media played a vital role in bringing Sea Shepherd’s live stream and reports to a massive audience. Concerned individuals around the world followed updates on Sea Shepherd’s social media pages, as we saw a spike in “likes,” yielding 2.5 million views on the Cove Guardians Facebook page and nearly one million on Sea Shepherd USA’s Facebook page.
“The international community witnessed and responded with compassionate outrage to this horrifying capture of hundreds of bottlenose dolphins, thanks to the tireless reporting by Sea Shepherd’s volunteer Cove Guardians, which was followed and shared by dedicated and caring people around the world and covered by international media,” said Sea Shepherd Senior Cove Guardian Campaign Leader, Melissa Sehgal. “Sea Shepherd is the only group on the ground daily throughout Taiji’s six-month hunt season each year, ensuring that every capture and every slaughter is live streamed and seen by the world. Now in our fifth season of Operation Infinite Patience, we continue to apply global pressure on Japan to end the bloodshed.”
With news of the pod’s capture, Sea Shepherd and its supporters immediately began tweeting to United States Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, asking her to watch the live stream from Taiji. Ambassador Kennedy likely did witness the horrors unfolding in the cove, as she quickly spoke out against the hunt, tweeting a statement that she is “deeply concerned by [the] inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing” and that the U.S. government “opposes drive hunt fisheries.”
Ambassador Kennedy’s no-nonsense tweet sparked media headlines and encouraged other political figures to follow suit and issue public statements against Japan’s brutal capture and slaughter of dolphins, including Italian Ambassador to Japan, Domenico Giorgi; British Ambassador to Japan, Tim Hitchens; and Australian Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt.
Sea Shepherd hopes that Ambassador Kennedy, who last year at this time shed a bright, international spotlight on the cove, will once again come to the aid of the dolphins still dying in those blood-tainted waters and ask that Japan bring a permanent end to the slaughter. Except for those suffering in captivity right now, the nightmare has ended for the bottlenose dolphins captured last year. However, the hunt continues along Taiji’s deadly shores.
For six months of each year — from September until March — entire family units, or pods, of dolphins and small whales at a time are driven into Taiji’s killing cove. Banger poles are hit against the side of the hunting boats to create a “wall of sound,” disorienting the sound-sensitive marine mammals and making it nearly impossible for them to escape the drive. Once netted into the cove, their fate is sealed: the dolphins and whales face brutal slaughter or a lifetime in captivity. In a drive just as stressful as the drive into the cove, remaining pod members — usually juveniles and infants — are driven back out to sea with little hope of survival on their own.
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