Eight baby dolphins are believed to have been dumped at sea after witnessing Japanese fishermen slaughter their mothers.
What happened yesterday in Taiji, Japan has left even hardened activists distressed.
Before the incident Tim Burns, from US non-profit Dolphin Project, had been thrilled to watch the young Risso's dolphins swimming close to their mothers.
Unable to travel to Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Burns was watching footage supplied to him by Japanese animal advocacy group Life Investigation Agency.
Filmed on Monday morning (local time), the drone footage clearly shows the mothers and their calves swimming side-by-side before they are fenced into Taiji's notorious cove by skiffs.
“The calves were just absolutely glued to their mothers,” Mr Burns told Yahoo News.
“They looked like they were one unit.”
The boats scare the small pod towards a group of seven animal handlers who were believed to be looking to buy dolphins for theme parks.
Rejected by the trainers, observers told Yahoo News the mothers were then slaughtered for their meat by their captors.
“It’s completely heartbreaking to see like eight calves paired with eight adult Risso’s and then knowing that those eight adults are just gone like that,” Mr Burns told Yahoo News.
Juvenile dolphins ‘dumped at sea’ following slaughter
After the slaughter, which occurred hidden from view under tarpaulins, footage shows a number of dead dolphins being dragged alongside a boat.
Thirty minutes later, the youngsters can then be seen being ferried back out into the ocean, where Mr Burns believes the orphaned animals were released.
While he is an advocate for ending dolphin slaughter, he questions whether on this occasion death would have been more humane than release.
“What's the possibility that those eight calves would be able to survive, not having the ability to defend against prey, not having the ability to migrate correctly?," he said.
“Will they join in the pod? Will they find another pod? Will another pod accept them? It's devastating.”
Hunters say dolphin hunting is cultural practice
Taiji’s dolphin hunters are limited in the number of dolphins they can kill and Mr Burns believes the youngsters were likely released so they were not included as part of the quota.
Weighing in at just a fraction of the adults which can weigh up to 390kg, juveniles would supply the hunters with far less flesh.
Despite dolphin meat being contaminated with mercury and losing popularity amongst Japanese consumers, the hunters maintain the annual hunt is an important cultural practice.
With dolphin meat on the nose, live trained dolphins are now a more lucrative commodity, and once trained they can fetch up to US $150,000 ($200,000) each.
While dolphinariums located in developed nations tend to no longer accept wild caught animals, demand remains strong in China, Russia and some Middle Eastern nations.
Critics of the annual slaughter argue that without the financial support of live dolphin buyers, the slaughter would no longer be financially viable.
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