It is only 4.30am and the local police are already on our tail. We – myself and a handful of volunteers from different groups around the world – are driving in darkness up an empty road to an ocean lookout above the sleepy Japanese fishing village of Taiji. I am already nervous, having being detained for questioning at Osaka airport about why I was in the country.
At the entrance to the lookout a second patrol car pulls up and two officers take up positions on guard. Tall wire fences with “no trespassing” signs in English and Japanese obstruct access to coastal routes that only recently were public parks.
At the entrance to the town’s nearby tsunami shelter a padlocked gate has been cemented in, blocking access to the safe ground and its views to the water beneath.
Great efforts have been made to keep outsiders’ eyes from what we have come to see. Taiji, you see, is home to the starkly beautiful rocky inlet that came to global attention in 2010 with the release of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. It is here that local fishermen still practise the oikomiryou, or “drive hunt”, the only ones in Japan still to do so. Every year Taiji’s hunters kill on average more than 2000 dolphins and small whales using this method.
I am in Taiji for the beginning of the drive hunting season, which extends every year from September to March.
During a drive hunt, “banger” boats kilometres off shore are used to surround a pod of dolphins. Fishermen then lower metal rods into the water and bang them. The banging creates what the dolphins’ sonar perceives as an underwater wall of sound. Panicked and disoriented, they swim away from the encroaching “wall” and toward the shore.
Once closer to land, the pods, sometimes numbering more than 100, are corralled into a netted area inside the cove. After about two days in the netted area, they are speared to death with knives, the aim being to sever their spinal cords. Dolphins are substantial animals, and video evidence I have examined shows it can take up to seven minutes for them to die. After their spinal cords are severed they are dragged, some still alive and flapping, by their tails up on to boats for transport to the marine slaughterhouse.
Read full story by Sarah Lucas in the Australian