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A Special Report From Sea Shepherd’s Operation Henkaku

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logo-Operation-Henkaku-120xThe 2015-2016 Taiji dolphin drive hunt is over. This season, the government of Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, authorized Taiji’s dolphin killers to capture or slaughter up to 1,873 dolphins. In some of the lowest numbers observed in recent years, between 630 and 650 dolphins were ruthlessly driven into the cove and slaughtered. Another 117 were taken captive, destined to spend the rest of their lives in shallow tanks, cement pools, or cramped sea pens performing circus tricks for paying tourists.

Sea Shepherd’s dedicated team of volunteer Cove Guardians was on the ground every single day of the hunt.  Livestreaming the capture, selection, and slaughter, the Cove Guardians continued to bring international attention to this outrageous crime against the oceans. Despite ridiculous claims by those involved, the Taiji dolphin drive hunt is not tradition; it is a profit-driven enterprise supported by the Japanese government and fueled by the lucrative worldwide trade in captive dolphins.

Although several Cove Guardian veterans were barred entry into Japan, Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians stood their ground, as they have since 2010, to make sure the world sees exactly what Taiji tries to hide. The dolphin killers continued to use tarps to try to hide the killing from Sea Shepherd’s cameras, but tarps can’t hide the blood that turns the water from blue to red or the sounds of the frenzied dolphins as they face their executioners. Sea Shepherd’s livestream footage irrefutably dismissed any and all claims of a “humane slaughter.” During one slaughter, a pilot whale escaped from beneath the tarps after being pithed with a metal rod. For several minutes, the profusely bleeding and suffering animal attempted to swim away, eventually slipping under the surface of the water.

Each drive brought new horrific sights and each month was marked by even more merciless acts of violence on the part of the killers.

The pod and albino Rissos dolphin huddle close together. Photo: Sea Shepherd

The annual hunt began on September 1, 2015. The first drive of the season ended with a pod of Risso’s dolphins netted into the cove on September 11. During the ensuing slaughter, the Cove Guardians observed one dolphin trying to escape by launching out of the water and up onto the jagged rocks in the killing cove. As some of the killers dragged the doomed dolphin back into the cove, others looked on and laughed at the plight of the terrified animal.

Following the slaughter of another pod of Risso’s dolphins on October 19, 2015, the killers dumped several bodies at sea. Sea Shepherd believe they took this extreme measure to avoid exceeding their annual Risso’s dolphin-killing quota.  The next day, the Cove Guardians discovered the remains of a dead juvenile Risso’s dolphin washed-up on the beach.

November 19, 2015, began four days of anguish as approximately 69 – 74 pilot whales were captured and held in the cove. By November 22, 46 members of this intergenerational family had been slaughtered, and several more succumbed from the sheer stress of the drive and ensuing selection ordeal. One pilot whale was taken captive but died days later in a Taiji harbor sea pen.

December 2015 saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins captured and held in the cove for three days. Bottlenose is the dolphin species most prized by the captive industry. With the assistance of trainers, 30 animals were taken captive. Those dolphins not deemed to be “pretty” enough for captivity were slaughtered while the same trainers laughed and watched.

January always seems to be an especially bloody month in Taiji. This year was no exception.The killers hunted on 22 days and slaughtered pods on 14 of those days. Forty percent of the entire 2015-2016 killing quota was met in January 2016. Nine drives took place in February 2016, with 20 more bottlenose dolphins taken captive and forced into the tiny sea pens in Taiji harbor.

Taiji January Numbers

The 105 bottlenose dolphins, seven Risso’s dolphins, one pilot whale, and four Pacific white-sided dolphins taken into captivity during the 2015-16 Taiji dolphin hunt are now condemned to a dismal “life” as slaves to the captive industry. Forced to perform circus tricks in order to receive a reward of drug-laced frozen fish, many of these animals will die prematurely from stress, trauma or both.

The Taiji dolphin killers repeatedly claim that the dolphin drive hunt is their “tradition.” They also blame the dolphins for decreasing fish stocks and say that the drive hunt is a form of “pest control.” At the same time, they proclaim the pods of dolphins and whales who migrate through the waters of Taiji to be their property. In reality, the desire to hunt and capture dolphins has nothing to do with pest control or tradition. It has everything to do with greed. Captive dolphins are a multi-million-dollar worldwide industry that starts in Taiji, Japan.

The Taiji dolphin killers are profiting from a demand for captive dolphins. If you proudly display a photo kissing a captive dolphin, if you support marine parks and dolphinariums, you might as well stand alongside the killers in Taiji’s bloody cove. Your entrance fee to these places fuels the tanks for another hunt.

After five campaigns of Operation Infinite Patience, this season’s Operation Henkaku sought to focus specific attention on the captive trade. Taiji is all about supply and demand. The hunting and slaughter of dolphins will not end for good until the demand for captive dolphins ends for good.

While the grueling 2015 -2016 Taiji dolphin drive hunt season has now ended, the pressure on those who hold dolphins captive must not! Let’s close down the killing cove for good by bankrupting the worldwide captive trade. Dolphins are not assets, commodities or property. They don’t belong on transport trucks or cargo planes, and they certainly don’t belong in tanks. We must all continue to be a voice for the dolphins. Sea Shepherd have called on everyone who followed Operation Henkaku to keep pressuring travel agents, hotels, cruise lines, marine parks, and dolphinariums to stop profiting from the misery of captivity.

Tell everyone you know to “Just say NO to the dolphin show!”

For more information, visit Sea Shepherd’s Operation Henkaku site here.

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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Book Release: Diving the Thistlegorm – The Ultimate Guide to a World War II Shipwreck

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Diving the Thistlegorm is a unique in-depth look at one of the world’s best-loved shipwrecks. In this highly visual guide, cutting edge photographic methods enable views of the wreck and its fascinating cargo which were previously impossible.

This book is the culmination of decades of experience, archaeological and photographic expertise, many hours underwater, months of computer processing time, and days spent researching and verifying the history of the ship and its cargo. For the first time, Diving the Thistlegorm brings the rich and complex contents of the wreck together, identifying individual items and illustrating where they can be found. As the expert team behind the underwater photography, reconstructions and explanations take you through the wreck in incredible detail, you will discover not only what has been learned but also what mysteries are still to be solved.

Find out more about:

  • One of the world’s greatest dives.
  • Incredible ‘photogrammetry’ shows the wreck and cargo in a whole new light.
  • Meticulous detail presented in a readable style by experts in their respective fields.

About the authors:

Simon Brown is an underwater photographer and photogrammetry/3D expert who has documented underwater subjects for a wide range of clients including Historic England, Wessex Archaeology and television companies such as National Geographic Channel and Discovery Canada. Jon Henderson is Reader in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh where he is the Director of the Underwater Archaeology Research Centre. With specific research interests in submerged prehistoric settlements and developing underwater survey techniques, he has directed underwater projects in the UK, Poland, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Jamaica and Malaysia. Alex Mustard is a former marine biologist and award-winning underwater photographer. In 2018 he was made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for “Services to underwater photography”. Mike Postons pioneered the use of digital 3D modelling to visualise shipwrecks, as well as the processes of reconstructing original ships from historic plans. He has worked with a number of organisations including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Historic England and the Nautical Archaeological Society.


About the book:

  • Release date 25 November 2020
  • Limited run of Hardbacks
  • RRP £35
  • ISBN 978-1-909455-37-5
  • 240 photo-packed pages
  • 240 x 160 mm

Available to pre-order now from Divedup.com, Amazon, online, and from retailers.

Check back on Scubaverse.com for a review of the book coming soon!

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Deptherapy’s Dr Richard Cullen becomes a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society

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Dr Richard Cullen, Chairman of Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education, has been recognised as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society is a prestigious Fellowship that is open to those who demonstrate a sufficient involvement in geography or an allied subject through publications, research or professional experience.

Paul Rose, Deptherapy’s Vice Chair, and a world renowned explorer, author, broadcaster, who is a former Vice Chair of the RGS said: 

“This is a huge achievement by Richard. His Fellowship is richly deserved, and a direct result of his steadfast commitment to preserving our oceans through Deptherapy’s very powerful ‘Protecting Our Oceans’ Programme.  I know the top team at the RGS are looking forward to welcoming Richard into the Society.”

The RGS was founded in 1830 to advance geographical research, education, fieldwork and expeditions, as well as by advocating on behalf of the discipline and promoting geography to public audiences.

Paul Toomer, President of RAID, said:

“I have been close friends with Richard for many years and his passion for our seas, even at 70 years of age, is undiminished.  Deptherapy are the world leaders in adaptive scuba diving teaching and are our much valued partners.  Taking UK Armed Forces Veterans who have suffered life changing mental and/or physical challenges and engaging them in major marine biology expeditions, is to most of us beyond the realms of possibility.  The skills these guys have to develop is just awesome.  This is a great honour for Richard, a great honour for Deptherapy, and also for us as their partners.  The diving world must come together to celebrate and acknowledge Richard’s achievement.”

Richard joins some distinguished Fellows of the RGS.  Former Fellows include Ernest Shackleton and many other notable explorers and geographers.

Richard said:

“I am both honoured and humbled to become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. When I was invited to apply for a Fellowship, I was, which is very unusual for me, lost for words.  I hope it will allow me to take our message of Protecting Our Oceans to a larger audience and to further develop our programmes.  The Fellowship is a recognition of the charity’s work to raise awareness of the plight of our oceans.  The credit belongs to a group of individuals who have overcome massive challenges to let alone qualify as divers but now to progress to marine biology expedition diving”.

For more information about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education visit www.deptherapy.co.uk.

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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.

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