Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Skip to the End

Greetings from New York.

Yes, I'm back home. I still have a few things to say about my time in Taiji, but before I get there, I'd like to skip to what happened the day I left.

Monday started normally. We left for the harbor around 5:30 AM, with my luggage in the car, so I could go straight from "active duty" to the train (to the plane). Nine boats went out to hunt, which was better than most days, when eleven of their twelve went out. Once we were sure all the boats were out, we went to one of our elevated lookout points. The sea looked pretty calm, but there was a bit of motion to it. I could only hope it was worse where the boats were headed; the rougher the sea, the harder it is to find dolphins (and I wouldn't mind them getting a raging bout of seasickness either).

I said my goodbyes and left for the train. When I got to the airport a few hours later, I checked Sea Shepherd's Twitter while waiting to depart. Here's what I found:

Taiji: 5 killing boats in drive formation just 2 miles north of Taiji. 7:57am
Taiji: Pod being driven by 4 killing boats toward Taiji. 5 other boats remain at sea. 8:09am 
Taiji: Dolphins driven into harbor. Five killing boats now joined with two net skiffs. 8:34am 
Taiji: There is no hope for this pod now as they are being netted into cove. 9:08am 
Taiji: Blood bath has begun...This pod is now under tarps at cove and being slaughtered one by one. 9:34am 
Taiji: The murder is finished. The bodies are being thrown onto skiffs and soon will be heading toward butcherhouse. 9:56am 

Taiji: 3 skiffs of dead dolphins unloaded at Taiji butcherhouse. 10:27am 

And that, my friends, is when I burst into tears in the middle of an airport. Sorry.

In the two weeks I was in Japan, four dolphins were taken into captivity (more on that later), and one was killed, under a tarp, hidden from view. The moment I left Taiji, 98 pan tropical spotted dolphins, including many babies and juveniles, were murdered. I know I'm not responsible for this. Even if I was in Taiji, I wouldn't have been able to stop it. Yet I can't help feeling like I abandoned them to their fate. It's one of the worst feelings in the world.
Here's a video a fellow volunteer in Taiji took that day. Some viewers may find it triggering, but if you can, please watch it; the dolphins don't get to opt out of experiencing it, so why should we?

Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians will be on the ground in Taiji until at least April 1. To learn more about the project, get involved or lend your support, please CLICK.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Cost of Captivity

Fun fact: worldwide, most of the dolphins in dolphinariums, swim with dolphins programs* and parks like (and including) Sea World come from Taiji. For every dolphin taken into captivity, many more are slaughtered.

In Taiji itself, it's even more awesome: the swim with dolphins program is held in the cove. So after they spend months in pens being trained, they're brought back to the place they saw their family members brutally butchered to do tricks for people's entertainment. Amazing. As an added bonus, you can also eat grilled dolphin meat while watching them perform.

My last post discussed the brutal process of getting these beautiful, intelligent creatures from the sea to captivity, but what happens when they get there?

Usually (Monday was an exception), they're transferred from the wild to sea pens: netted off parts of the ocean that allow them to stay in the water they're used to, with the tides and waves and everything else that comes with it, but without any pesky distractions like being able to travel or hunt and eat live fish. There are two sets of pens in Taiji: Dolphin Base's pens and the harbor pens,

which are even smaller and mostly house juveniles. Yes, the dolphin hunters in Taiji capture (and kill) juveniles. And then they wonder why "stocks" are decreasing.

After that, it's lives of endless monotony, broken up with the occasional transport, which is done via open truck when it's local, or packed into coffin-sized boxes when it's international.

This new lifestyle (if one can even call it that) is nothing like what they're accustomed to and takes some getting used to. By "getting used to", I mean drugs and other substances.

That left-hand bucket contains dead fish about to be prepped to be fed to the dolphins. The right-hand bucket contains a variety of medications and treatments probably not all that dissimilar to what factory farmed cattle are given in the US (and for the same reasons: to keep the animals passably healthy so they can continue to serve humans as long as necessary). Here's a trainer injecting these substances into a fish for a dolphin:

As you can see, they come with an awful lot of gear for a process as simple as feeding the dolphins a few fish (nowhere near enough. In the wild, dolphins eat 4-8% of their body weight in live fish per day. In captivity, they get roughly one bucket, twice per day. They're always hungry so they're more likely to perform for their food). They often come with knives and cutting boards to open the fish up and stick something inside, as well as wooden mallets, but I haven't been able to determine how those are used yet (and may not want to know).

Once the fish is ready, it's used as an incentive to get the dolphins to jump, twirl, sing and do all the other tricks people know and love from dolphin shows.

For me, the image above is the worst thing about being here. Because I enjoy it. I love watching the dolphins jump and leap and seem to play together. It's beautiful, until I remember they're just doing it because they're hungry. This is not a game for them, it's survival. It's their only way of getting exercise while penned up for the rest of their lives. As horrific as the dolphin slaughter is, it's not as difficult for me to consider because I don't eat dolphin. I don't feel complicit. But recognizing that I still get some enjoyment from the misery these dolphins experience breaks the little bit of heart I have left.

* In case it's unclear, the dolphins in most swim with dolphin programs don't just happen to be in the area, living their natural lives. They are trained not to stray too far from a designated space and to be comfortable around humans, transported and dumped into their new "homes".

First Blood

I witnessed my first successful dolphin hunt this week: two bottlenose were taken into captivity and one was killed.

At the risk of seeming melodramatic, the photo above is of a death march. If you can't see it, please click to embiggen. Those boats drove a pod of dolphins for over ten miles, terrifying and exhausting them, until they finally trapped them in the cove, wrestled two of them into slings, killed the third and brought the first two to Dolphin Resort, where they will live out their remaining days in tiny pools of nearly stagnate water.

This shit's fucked up.

This was my first time hearing the banger boats. From above, they sound like knuckles rapping on an empty coffin. I can only imagine what they sound like from below. Understandably, the noise frightened the dolphins and allowed the hunters to herd them into the cove. Once there, one of the hunters jumped into the water, wrestled the dolphins still, tied a rope around their tails and dragged them under a tarp. The dolphins were then presented to trainers from Dolphin Base, Dolphin Resort and the Whale Museum, three of the places in Taiji where people can view and swim with captive marine mammals. Dolphin Resort purchased two and the third was murdered because he was too ugly and scarred for the entertainment industry. The dead dolphin was wrapped in tarps and nets, strapped to the side of a skiff and brought to the butcher.

The live dolphins were stuffed into harnesses, strapped to the side of another skiff, thrown into a truck and delivered to Dolphin Resort. Here's a video I took of the delivery:

In case you're at work and can't watch videos right now (there's no sound), the dolphin trainers lost control of the harness and the poor dolphin ended up swinging around, two stories above the ground like a giant, miserable, goddamn fucking pinata before being dropped straight into a tiny tank. Normally, dolphins are taken from the wild to sea pens for a transitional period before being moved to tanks, but I guess Dolphin Resort just couldn't wait to start torturing these poor creatures. Fuck this.

Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians are primarily here for the dolphin slaughter, but I think my next post will be about captive dolphins' living conditions.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blog Roundup

I am pleased to report that not a single dolphin has been killed since I landed in Japan. Hells yes.

On non-slaughter days, we monitor the state of captive dolphins as well as the trade in whale, dolphin, bluefin tuna and other marine animals. In the past few days, I've seen fish larger than me and crabs larger than pillows. All dead. There are some amazing things around here and this could be one of the most amazing places on earth if people could stop fucking it up.

Seriously. How gorgeous is this?

I took that photo while waiting for the banger boats that drive the dolphins into the Cove for slaughter to return from their hunt. I love it. Partly because it's beautiful in and of itself and partly because it commemorates another day when no dolphins were murdered.

I'm obviously not here alone. If you'd like to read some other blogs documenting this experience, please check out:

Sea Shepherd's Official Cove Guardian Page
Red Sea Dead Sea
Dolphins of Taiji
Stand Up Today
Ocean on Fire (currently back in the US, but may continue to update about marine issues)

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Yesterday was a day of celebration for several reasons.

First and foremost, it was another day without any dolphins killed in Taiji. That's all three days since I arrived in Japan and five in a row, total.

Then while we were watching the banger boats come in without any dolphins, this guy was tugged into harbor:

We all hoped it was one of the Japanese whaling vessels currently in the Southern Ocean, but it wasn't quite that awesome. It's an older whaling vessel that's been decommissioned for a while and will soon be displayed at Taiji's Whale Museum (which not only displays whale and dolphin skeletons and whaling gear, but live dolphins and whales. You seriously can't go a block in Taiji without running into captive animals). So while it's not as great as a current whaling vessel being taken out of the loop, at least we know for sure that this old one will never harm another creature.

Outside Taiji's Whale Museum (a better description would be WhalING Museum)

Then the U.S. federal district court judge denied Japan's request for a preliminary injunction to stop our "harassment".

And THEN Erwin was released and came home (by home, I mean back to our hotel)! Words cannot describe our joy at having him back. Erwin's a brilliant activist and I'm privileged to have the opportunity to get to know him.

And best of all, it was taco night!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

First Day at the Cove

I was up at 4:45 this morning for my first trip to the Cove. We started at the harbor to count the banger boats (so named because of the poles attached to them that the fishermen use to bang to round up the dolphins since their hearing is sensitive) going out, then made our way up to a lookout to watch for them coming back and see if they were driving any pods of dolphins ahead of them. While we were there, the weather worsened until all the boats had to come back without any dolphins. YES!

Eleven stones for the eleven banger boats that went out and came back dolphin free.

Later on, we returned to Dolphin Base during feeding time (read as training time).

The dolphins were unable to eat until they had done their tricks, like spinning a ring around their snouts like hula hoops or jumping to reach a red ball on a stick. 

Here's a dolphin pen:

Roughly four dolphins live in each pen, which is just a few meters square. Some of them are let out for a little while, but they never stray more than a few feet from the pen and are quickly herded back. In the wild, dolphins swim roughly 40 miles every day. But here, for our entertainment, they're held in torturously small water cages with limited food and exercise. This shit sucks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

All Your Dolphin Base Are Belong to Us

Well, this is a little different: for the next two weeks, I'm coming at you live from Taiji, Japan. I'm here as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian to document, and eventually end, the annual dolphin slaughter that happens here. So I'll finally be updating regularly again, but very little (if anything) will be about food and there's a good chance some of the content will be graphic and depressing as hell.

I left New York Monday afternoon, arrived in Osaka Tuesday evening and arrived in Katsuura (where we're staying) Wednesday morning. It was raining so the dolphin killers didn't go out. Hurrah! We went to Dolphin Base, where they train dolphins captured in the Cove for dolphin shows. Which brings me to my first point: PLEASE do not go to Sea World or any other dolphinariums. Many of them get their dolphins from here. The killers murder most of the dolphins straight out and set aside a certain number for captivity. Supporting people who profit from this is not cool.

The dolphins "lucky" enough to be taken to Dolphin Base are fed twice per day as part of their training. At Sea World, it looks like they perform in order to get treats. At Dolphin Base, those are their meals. They have to (sometimes literally) sing for their supper. Today, one person walked back and forth to the pens, in the cold and the rain bringing roughly one bucket of fish per dolphin, while I played the world's tiniest violin for him. Then the trainers arrived to feed (and by "feed", I mean "withhold food until they do what the trainers want") them. Before the fish could be fed to the dolphins, they had to be treated. Some of that was done out in the open, so we were able to see the trainers do things like add water from the pens to the buckets of fish. For other things, they set up a little white barricade and worked kneeling behind it.

What are they hiding?

And why are they cutting fish small enough for the dolphins to eat whole?

And why do the dolphins stay in the pens when they can leap like this?

I actually have the answer to that one: training. I suppose in other species, we'd call it brainwashing. They don't seem to remember that life extends more than a few feet beyond those pens and that they're capable of fending for themselves. So now they're not. They've become wholly dependent on their trainers. On the rare occasions that these dolphins see a live fish, remember what they're supposed to do with it and actually catch it, if these trainers see it happen, they take it away in order to make it clear that they run the show. It's depressing and disgusting.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


That's like a food interlude. Edibles are still taking a back seat to other things, but I wanted to pop in to mention how thoroughly awesome I think Vegan Eat World, Terry Hope Romero's next book, is going to be. I've only tested about a dozen recipes so far, and have no photos to show for it, but almost all of them have been serious winners.

My coworkers are still talking about the This is Sparta! Spinach Pie that I made a few months ago. If you like dill (and spinach), you will LOVE that pie. My mother has wanted to eat nothing but the Pho Noodle Soup with Sizzling Seitan and Bok Choy all winter, while my brother inhaled an entire batch of Thai-style Jungle Seitan Curry (which was too spicy for me) and I want to eat Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Sage by the pile. There's a scrambled tofu Bahn Mi in there that has me completely rethinking brunch, too. I'm out of town right now (more on that later), but I have another pho recipe waiting for me when I get home and I can't wait.