Heartbreaking reason 'panicked' dolphin won't escape from hunters

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·3-min read

Harrowing footage shows four small dolphins “panicked” as they are driven to shore by hunters in Japan.

The tail of one Risso’s dolphin momentarily breaks free as the boat chugs across the water, but a worker quickly hides it from view under a tarpaulin.

As the man succeeds in pacifying the first dolphin, another captive animal begins to struggle on the other side of the boat.

Hunters work to hide a thrashing dolphin underneath a tarpaulin. Source: LIA/Dolphin Project
Hunters work to hide a thrashing dolphin underneath a tarpaulin. Source: LIA/Dolphin Project

The hunter holds them down with his white-gloved hands, putting pressure on their soft bodies as panic becomes infectious beneath him.

The dolphins continue to thrash under the plastic sheet for minutes.

The footage, captured on Wednesday, shows the dolphins struggling, according to Dolphin Project campaigner Tim Burns.

“I wouldn’t say they’re trying to get away, but they’re clearly panicked,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“I don't know that they would necessarily jump because they are such social creatures they won't leave the others behind.”

A seasoned activist, Mr Burns has been monitoring this year’s dolphin slaughter from his home in the United States as he has been unable to travel to Japan due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

A pair of Risso's dolphins moments before they were hauled onto a skiff. Source: LIA/Dolphin Project
A pair of Risso's dolphins moments before they were hauled onto a skiff. Source: LIA/Dolphin Project

Cetaceans, he says, maintain extraordinary familial bonds, evidenced by a day last season when a pod of pilot whales huddled together and then beached themselves as the hunters moved towards them.

“One animal beached itself and the entire pod wound up beaching themselves,” he said.

“It was the matriarch that beached herself and then the whole rest of the pod just ran up on the beach.

“The ones behind knew what was ahead of them was bad, but they're so social that if one's in distress, they're all going.”

‘Blood on the nets’: Dolphins sent to slaughter

On the ground in Taiji this year are a small team of Japanese activists, headed by Ren Yabuki from animal rights charity Life Investigation Agency.

What they say they captured on Wednesday was likely the final moments of four Risso’s dolphins, two of them juveniles.

Moments before, the small family group had been swimming together, hampered from escape by floating nets.

A group of melon-headed whales clumped together in the ocean.
A group of pilot whales clumped together last year before they were slaughtered. Source: Dolphin Project

While some dolphins are sold to the entertainment industry, Mr Yabuki told Yahoo News Australia these animals looked to be already injured and were likely sent to slaughter.

“There was blood on the nets,” he told Yahoo News Australia from Japan.

“There was too much hopping, so the hunter was pushing the dolphins and their fins, he wants the tarp to stay, so he is pushing.

“[Watching it] was very sad, very sad.”

Two hunters have corralled a group of whales under a net.
Whales clump together on December 7 as the hunters surround them. Source: LIA/Dolphin Project

Horrific moment whales are driven into nets

Due to the small size of Risso’s dolphins, it’s easy for hunters to lift them out of the water and carry them to shore, where they can be butchered away from the cameras.

Larger animals like melon-headed whales are tethered to the back of boats and dragged back to land, as footage from December 7 shows.

About 18 individuals can be seen thrashing about under the nets before divers get them under control.

The hunters have been issued a quota of 1,749 individual dolphins of nine different species, with the season scheduled to end on March 1 next year.

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