The Sadness and Beauty of Taiji


Photo credit: Leilani Munter

I am happy to report another day of peace at the cove. No blood was shed in these waters today. In fact, since Sept 7, the day they slaughtered the first pod of Risso's dolphins - there has been no killing. They did capture of a large pod of bottlenose a few days ago, but they pulled one dolphin out for captivity and set the rest of the pod free. But the lack of killing around here is not for a lack of trying, the dolphin hunters have been going out every day except one when the weather would not allow it. They have been chasing pods each day, but day after day, the pods have either escaped or they have been unable to locate a pod at all.I have settled into a routine here. Every morning my alarm goes off at 430am, I brush my teeth, grab a coffee, put my hair in a ponytail and I'm out the door by 445am. I meet the dolphin hunters at the Taiji Harbor at 5am. I use the word "meet" loosely. I sit in my rental car in a parking lot across the dock from the Taiji Fishermen's Union and watch from afar as they have their morning meeting filled with cigarettes before they set out to sea in their boats to search for dolphins.

The police meet me there every day as well. They know me quite well by now, as I do them. I even know one particular English speaking policemen's shift schedule. And they know my schedule as well. That's when you know you've spent some serious time in Taiji. One of the most amusing moments of this trip was when the police pulled me over for the first time (for not using my blinker) and as they walked away said "Welcome back." That's when you know you are a regular in Taiji! We are even starting to have deeper conversations with each other, thanks to their good English (I'm working on my Japanese). A couple days ago, one of the policemen asked me, "Do you fight for other animals, or just dolphins?" so when I got back to my hotel, I made this video:

(if you are in Germany, click here http://www.vimeo.com/28988830)

The more time I spend here, the more I am in awe of the beauty of this place and the more I can see the potential of what it could be without the horrific dolphin slaughter. If only they would turn these dolphin hunting boats into dolphin watching boats - like Izumi Ishii-san, a dolphin hunter in Futo who had an epiphany years ago when a dolphin he was killing looked into his eyes. Ishii-san immediately retired his hunting boat and now takes tourists on dolphin watching trips. With it's beautiful shrines, waterfalls, turquoise waters and incredible coast line, the juxtaposition of the horror of what happens here is difficult to grasp. I tried to capture both the beauty and the sadness of Taiji in this video:

This is my third trip here, and I know it won't be my last. During this trip I experienced my first typhoon, which led to a very important lesson for me. For the first time in my life I had to live without clean water for several days. Living without access to water was an experience. I will never forget finding out there was no water in our hotel and going to the grocery store thinking I could buy some and then seeing all the shelves for water completely bare. Beyond drinking water, there was no water for the shower, sink, or toilet. It was an important lesson for me, and one I don't think I could fully understand without having this experience. I will never take for granted the ability to take a shower, wash my hands or flush a toilet ever again. You truly appreciate the simple comforts in life. Yesterday I had my first ice cube in two weeks and I must say, it was a treat. When the owner of my hotel gave me a small bucket of ice, I felt like she was giving me a bucket of gold. I now understand water stress in a way in which I never could before. Over 1.1 billion people who share our planet live in water stress every day. I was lucky I only had to go through it for a few days. There is no better way to understand an issue than to live through it yourself.

I was scheduled to return to the USA a few days ago but I have extended my trip. Something changes in you when you come to Taiji. It started happening on my first trip here last year. It's hard to leave because you begin to feel a responsibility to the dolphins, to make sure their lives their lives (and deaths) are recorded so that the world remembers them and hopefully change will come.

On a more personal note, I am also grateful for my husband, who arrived at our home today from New Zealand after six months away, and because I decided to stay here with the dolphins in Taiji, I wasn't there to welcome him home. I'm so glad that he loves the dolphins as much as I do.

Read more from Leilani Munter:
Leilani Munter's Shocking Footage From the Taiji Dolphin Slaughter
Blood Still Flows at the Cove
Who Will Answer Our Clean Energy Wake Up Call?

Tags: Animals | Conservation

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