Breaking: Officials Confirm Taiji Drive Season Over

03/03/2016 02:27 pm ET Updated Mar 03, 2017

Okay, everyone exhale.

After 41 drives spanning almost six months, with five species of dolphins slaughtered or taken for a life of captivity, officials have confirmed to Dolphin Project that the 2015/2016 drive season in Taiji, Japan officially ended on February 29.

"While I am elated the cove will remain 'blue' over the next six months, we must remain vigilant. Dolphin hunting permits are valid until the end of this month (for all species of dolphins) and until the end of May for offshore whaling (for pilot whales). Banger poles are replaced by harpoons and, with virtually no oversight, hunting will end only at the fishermen's discretion." ~ Ric O'Barry, Founder/Director of Dolphin Project

This season was particularly challenging, starting with my bogus arrest on August 31 in Nachikatsuura for allegedly not carrying a passport (I was released once the police found my passport in the car I was driving). While I was unable to stand at the cove on Japan Dolphins Day on September 1, we were thousands strong, with people from across the world attending events in their respective cities, acting as a voice for dolphins and speaking out against Taiji's horrific drives.

On September 11, eleven days into the season, a pod of approximately 12 Risso's dolphins were driven into the killing cove and slaughtered. It was the first drive of the season. For three hours, the panicked pod was harassed, chased and driven to exhaustion. In desperation, the pod attempted to flee towards the beach, with a female Risso's dolphin beaching itself just a few feet away from where we were standing. Caught on our live stream by Cove Captain Tim Burns, the dolphin died on camera, underscoring the brutality of these drives.

Eight days after, on September 19, the dolphin hunters hit their payday. In the first capture of the season, a pod of approximately 75-80 bottlenose dolphins were quickly spotted, and soon after, pushed and netted into the cove. After being held overnight without shelter or food, 50 animals were chosen for a life of captivity. Some of these captives will be sent to some of the 51 dolphinariums and aquariums in Japan, while the majority will be shipped to several countries across the world who have put in orders for live animals. (There were approximately 150 orders for wild-caught dolphins for the 2015/2016 season). China remains the largest international buyer of these animals.

And thus the season, went, with hunters decimating pod after pod. There is nothing cultural or traditional about these kills. The method of capture is violent, the slaughters, gruesome and prolonged. The level of cruelty exhibited by the Taiji hunters is extreme.

Dolphin Project has always believed that high levels of mercury in dolphins captured in the cove makes meat consumption a dangerous habit. Over the past 13 years, every test on dolphin meat has yielded high levels of mercury and other toxins, rendering the meat unfit for both human and animal consumption.

The drives are such a stain on the Japanese Government that the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) threatened to oust the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) from their membership, for continuing to take dolphins from the Japanese drive fisheries. (JAZA has since complied, stating it would expel members that continue to buy dolphins caught in drive hunts.) Despite JAZA's supposed compliance, Dolphin Project isn't taking them at face value and will continue monitoring.

The ongoing undercurrent of negativity culminated on January 18, when I was detained by Japanese immigration officials at Tokyo's Narita International Airport. After arriving into Tokyo at approximately 4:45 p.m., I was repeatedly interrogated and then incarcerated, where I remained for 19 days. On February 5, I was placed on a plane and deported. Immigration officials cited my trip to Futo on August 27, 2015 as the official reason for my deportation, claiming I did not inform them of my travel plans (a side trip which was made after I entered the country). This was clearly Japan's latest effort to ensure I never return. Dolphin Project's Japanese legal team has already filed an objection, with a formal lawsuit to follow. This is far from over.

2015/2016 Drive Statistics

In compiling this summary of the 2015/2016 Taiji drive season, Dolphin Project would like to thank our Cove Monitors for their dedication, energy and commitment. They are the backbone of our campaign in Taiji, bringing the horrors of the cove to life, documenting not only the brutal drives but also the conditions under which captive dolphins are kept, including Angel, the albino bottlenose dolphin, held at the Taiji Whale Museum. This year, 22 adult Cove Monitors came from 15 countries across the world, including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, U.K., Ireland, Russia, Canada, Bolivia, Malaysia, Japan, Sweden, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. A total of 12 Mini Monitors from the same countries also came to the cove, to act as youth journalists.

Slaughters: 652 Total

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins - 0
Striped Dolphins - 290
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins - 0
Bottlenose Dolphins - 66
Risso's Dolphins - 245
False Killer Whales - 0
Pilot Whales - 51

Captures: 111 Total

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins - 4
Bottlenose Dolphins - 98
Risso's Dolphins - 8
Pilot Whales - 1

Releases: 121 Total

Bottlenose Dolphins - 80
Risso's Dolphins - 19
Pilot Whales - 22

"Dolphin Project is already planning for our 2016/2017 Taiji campaign, and will continue to keep the pressure on throughout the year. Your help has never been more needed in supporting our critical work in Taiji." ~ Ric O'Barry

Please visit DolphinProject.com to donate, and learn more about our campaign in Taiji and in other parts of the world.

About Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project: Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project is a non-profit charitable organization, dedicated to the welfare and protection of dolphins worldwide. Founded by Richard (Ric) O'Barry on Earth Day, April 22, 1970, the organization aims to educate the public about captivity and, where feasible, free captive dolphins. The mission of the Dolphin Project is to end dolphin exploitation and slaughter, as dolphins are routinely captured, harassed, slaughtered and sold into captivity around the world - all in the name of profit. Dolphin Project works not only to halt these slaughters but also to rehabilitate captive dolphins, investigate and advocate for economic alternatives to dolphin slaughter exploitation and to put a permanent end to dolphin captivity. This work has been chronicled in films such as, 'A Fall From Freedom,' the Oscar-winning documentary 'The Cove,' and in the Animal Planet mini-series, 'Blood Dolphin$.' For further information about Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project, visit DolphinProject.com.