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A Special Report From Sea Shepherd’s Operation Henkaku



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 is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.


PADI Teams Up with Wellness Brand Neuro to Drive Ocean Change and Create a Blue State of Mind




Together launching a whale-inspired limited-edition tin to fund ocean conservation

Ocean lovers and wellness enthusiasts can join PADI® (Professional Association of Diving Instructors®)  and Neuro® functional gum and mints in creating positive ocean change.

The two leading lifestyle and purpose-driven brands have united in a shared mission that is born out of the transformational powers of the water and are offering a streamlined way to enhance your wellbeing and that of the ocean. Throughout the year, they will be releasing a collection of two limited edition re-usable Neuro x PADI tins designed to be used with all the bulk Neuro bag products, with 20% of profits donated to PADI AWARE FoundationTMand $100K USD committed to the world’s largest purpose-driven diving organisation’s non-profit charity by the end of 2024.

The first of the co-branded tins that are now available for purchase showcases artwork created by Neuro co-founder Kent Yoshimura, who is also a renowned mural artist and depicts a whale breaching in the ocean.

“The whale is symbolic of how everything is interconnected and small changes can have a huge impact upon our ocean – and all life that calls it home,” explains Yoshimura. “By refilling and using this tin, you’ll cut down on your packaging waste, fuel yourself with clean ingredients to live your best life and do more for all vulnerable marine species.”

At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and more than 250 million tons of plastic are estimated to pollute our waters by 2025,” says Julie Andersen, PADI’s Senior Director of Brand. “Much of that debris is ingested by all of the ocean’s creatures – including the symbolic megafauna like whales. By creating this campaign, PADI and Neuro have come together to drive change and heal ourselves, our communities, and the ocean – our largest and most important ecosystem on this blue planet, and the very thing responsible for life on earth.”

Uniting Two Purpose-Driven Brands

Founded in 2015 by Yoshimura and his co-founder Ryan Chen on their first dive trip in Catalina, the two college friends and PADI Scuba Divers were looking for a more sustainable way to optimise one’s health and energy – and soon after established Neuro®, a collection of functional gum and mints crafted with a patented formula and clean ingredients to help you do more.

What started as a small start-up conceived on a dive boat, led them to garner international recognition for their appearance on Shark Tank in 2020 – and they have now sold over 90 million pieces of Neuro products.

“Core to our purpose-driven ethos, we want to encourage the world to not only improve their own lives, but the lives of others,” explains Chen. “We understand that being a truly sustainable company is more than just protecting the environment. That is why we prioritise environmental, social, and economic sustainability to ensure Neuro operates in a way that benefits everyone – including the smallest of plankton to the largest of whales that live beneath the surface.”

“Just like Neuro, PADI empowers people to become the best version of themselves when they are in a state of ‘blue mind’, where you become deeply aware of your own personal health’s connection to that of our blue planet’s – realising that your own wellbeing gives you superpowers to make a real difference,” says Andersen. “We are obsessed with creating positive ocean change and transforming lives by making the wonder of the underwater world accessible to all and ensuring that communities and ecosystems live in harmony that mutually support one another. Together, we are magnifying our powers to do more by raising awareness to the issues facing our ocean, while at the same time, providing meaningful ways to take action.”

How the Ocean Healed Neuro Co-Founders

Scuba diving isn’t just a passionate hobby for Neuro co-founders Yoshimura and Chen. It is from this that they experienced the entrepreneurial side-effects of scuba diving, in which the dive trip was a core driver to their business success and personal wellbeing – giving them both their “million-dollar idea” and a renewed sense of purpose and belief that anything is possible.

“It was during this dive trip that we realised the need to have a practical, sustainable, and approachable system that can be shared with fellow divers that provide clean energy during surface intervals,” Yoshimura explains. “When you fall in love with the ocean, you want to spend as much time as possible exploring and protecting it. So, we wanted to create a product that supported this passion and gives you a prolonged state of ‘blue mind’.”

For Chen, earning his PADI Open Water Diver certification also provided him with a pivotal moment in his own healing journey after he had suffered a tragic snowboarding accident that left him partially paralysed. He became certified through the PADI Adaptive Techniques Diving Course and benefited greatly from the physical and mental therapy the sport of scuba diving provides. Soon after, his renewed sense of purpose led him to be named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2019.

“There’s no cooler feeling than taking that first breath underwater,” Chen recalls. “All of a sudden you have this superpower, to breathe underwater and explore. Learning to dive re-ignited my passion for life but also my belief that I too could make a difference in protecting and saving the ocean.”

“Learning to scuba dive unlocks hidden superpowers that are not only empowering – but essential to keep our shared blue planet healthy,” Andersen explains. “As a PADI Scuba Diver, you not only develop a new passion, but you also earn the unique ability to protect what you love, engaging in impactful citizen science with your own two hands.  Through a shared mission of instilling hope, connecting with other species, and fueling hands-on conservation, we hope that we can make a better world for all of us.”

“That is why we rebuilt our company mission at PADI to reach every 1 in 10 people on our shared blue planet and inspire them to join us as Ocean Torchbearers to create positive ocean change,” says Andersen. “Our work with Neuro helps us inspire more people to experience, fall in love with, and protect the ocean and all life that calls it home. Together, Neuro and PADI are supporting more people in achieving a state of “blue mind”, in which they realise they too are superheroes that can accelerate and optimise healing: our own, our communities, and our planets.”

Win a Healing Trip of a Lifetime and Become PADI Whale Defenders in Mexico

Note: This competition is only open to residents of the USA

As part of their limited edition re-usable tin launch, PADI and Neuro are offering one lucky winner the ultimate healing trip of a lifetime:  the chance to become a PADI Whale Defender in Baja California, Mexico. The prize includes flights, accommodation, the PADI Whale Defender Course, and a whale-watching tour with Dive Ninja Expeditions for two, as well as a collection of Neuro mint and gum products that includes Energy + Focus, Calm + Clarity and Sleep + Recharge.

“Together, we all must heal ourselves before we can heal the planet,” says Andersen. “Neuro and PADI are united in purpose, focused on our holistic wellbeing by healing from within, connecting with like-minded, purpose-driven communities, and joining a movement bigger than yourself to create positive ocean change. Seeing is believing, and an unforgettable, life-altering encounter with a whale will change your life forever, filling you with a drive to protect their – and our – blue world.”

For more information, to purchase the limited edition re-usable tins and to enter this competition, visit

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Diver Discovering Whale Skeletons Beneath Ice Judged World’s Best Underwater Photograph




An emotive photograph showing a freediver examining the aftermath of whaling sees
Alex Dawson from Sweden named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024. Dawson’s
photograph ‘Whale Bones’ triumphed over 6500 underwater pictures entered by underwater
photographers from around the world.

“Whale Bones was photographed in the toughest conditions,” explains chair of judging
panel Alex Mustard, “as a breath-hold diver descends below the Greenland ice sheet to bear
witness to the carcasses. The composition invites us to consider our impact on the great
creatures of this planet. Since the rise of humans, wild animals have declined by 85%. Today,
just 4% of mammals are wildlife, the remaining 96% are humans and our livestock. Our way
needs to change to find a balance with nature.”


Photo: Rafael
Fernandez Caballero

Whales dominated the winning pictures this year with Spanish photographer Rafael
Fernandez Caballero winning two categories with his revealing photos of these ocean giants:
a close up of a grey whale’s eye and an action shot of a Bryde’s whale engulfing an entire bait
ball, both taken in Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico. Fernandez Caballero took ‘Grey
Whale Connection’ while drifting in a small boat, holding his camera over the side in the water
to photograph the curious whale. ‘The End Of A Baitball’ required Fernandez Caballero to dive
down and be in exactly the right place at the moment the whale lunged. “The photo shows
the high speed attack,” he said, “with the whale engulfing hundreds of kilograms of sardines
in one bite — simply unforgettable to see predation on such a scale.”


Photo: Rafael
Fernandez Caballero

Lisa Stengel from the United States was named Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image of a mahi-mahi catching a sardine, in Mexico. Stengel used both a very fast shutter speed and her hearing to catch the moment. “If you listen there’s an enormous amount of sound in the ocean,” she explained. “The action was too fast to see, so I honed in on the sound of the attacks with my camera to capture this special moment.”

“It is such an exciting time in underwater photography because photographers are capturing such amazing new images, by visiting new locations and using the latest cameras,”
commented judge Alex Mustard. “Until this year I’d hardly ever see a photo of a mahi mahi,
now Lisa has photographed one hunting, action that plays out in the blink of an eye.”
The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Jenny Stock,
was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image “Star
Attraction”, which finds beauty in species of British wildlife that are often overlooked.
Exploring the west coast of Scotland, Stock explained “in the dark green depths my torch
picked out the vivid colours of a living carpet of thousands of brittle stars, each with a
different pattern. I was happily snapping away, when I spotted this purple sea urchin and I
got really excited.”

Photo: Jenny Stock

In the same contest, Portuguese photographer, Nuno Sá, was named ‘Save Our Seas
Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2024, with his photo ‘Saving
Goliath’, taken in Portugal. Sá’s photo shows beachgoers trying to save a stranded sperm
whale. The picture gives us hope that people do care and want to help the oceans, but also
warns us that bigger changes are needed. “The whale had been struck by a ship and its fate
was sealed,” explains Sá. “An estimated 20,000 whales are killed every year, and many more
injured, after being struck by ships-and few people even realise that it happens.”


Photo: Nuno Sá

More winning images can be found at

About Underwater Photographer of the Year

Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition, based in the UK, that celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools, and attracts entries from all around the world. The contest has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters. The winners were announced in an award ceremony in Mayfair, London, hosted by The Crown Estate. This year’s UPY judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.

Header image: Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 winner Alex Dawson

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