The ‘Taiji Three’

Cameras, radios and warm clothing in hand, Andy and myself jumped into our newly hired car, expecting a potentially long drive ahead… Little did we know that this drive would end up being one of the most frightening, adrenaline-filled and frustrating ‘road-trips’ of our lifetime…

Our journey began yesterday morning (Sunday morning in Japan), and finished only a few short hours ago…

We awoke early yesterday morning as we would any other- ready with our cameras to head to Taiji to see if the banger boats were hunting dolphins… They indeed were, and within hours we saw a large pod of Pacific White Sided dolphins being herded toward Taiji. In the end, most of the dolphins got away, except for two which were captured offshore and sent to the holding pens in Taiji Harbour…

As this was happening, however, we all noticed that a large international transportation truck was being prepared transport dolphins. We saw three slings, and three large containers inside…
Three Pacific White Sided dolphins which were caught last week in the exact same way as the two from yesterday morning, were transferred into the slings, and onto the truck… We quickly made the decision to follow the truck and see where the dolphins would be transported to…

At about 10am, Sunday morning, the dolphins were lowered into crates which were fork lifted into the truck. We watched as ice was poured onto the dolphins in their small crates… These dolphins would most likely have been sedated at the beginning of their trip. We are not sure exactly how long this sedation lasts, or how many extra doses they were given over the course of their journey.

Shortly afterwards, Andy picked up the car we would be using for our drive from Katsuura, a town away… I met him in Taiji near the Fisheries Union (where the truck was being prepared) and said goodbye to the other Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians- not knowing exactly how long it would be until we would finally see them again…

We had our cameras with us, our phones and warm clothing. Without knowing that we would be embarking upon a journey of many hours, we did not have many food supplies handy in Taiji. Sherri gave us a bag of peanuts, and Libby gave us a bottle of water- and we were set for the next twenty-four hours!

At approximately 12:30pm yesterday afternoon, the truck slowly jerked into motion and we followed tentatively as it left the Fisheries Union… Once it was on its’ way we secured a spot right behind it- a position that would become all too familiar for us over the next 24 hours! Our journey was well under way…

The truck jolted along slowly in the first few hours, as the winding roads of the southern coast of Japan proved to be tricky for the large truck to manoeuvre around… We approached the southern tip of Osaka a few hours later, thinking that we would surely be close to either their destined airport or aquarium by now… and yet the truck kept moving along, past both major airports and every Exit sign on the highway.

Curious to see how much longer the truck would continue, we kept at its’ tail…

A few months ago, Sea Shepherd representative Scott and Elora West documented the transportation of dolphins to Suma Aquarium, Kobe… this is where we started to think these dolphins would be taken as we neared the area. However- yet again, the truck continued along…

We were about 10 hours into our journey when our phone batteries died… We hoped that we would reach a destination soon, for both our sakes and the dolphins, however we found that this would not be the case… We passed Shin-Yashima Aquarium, and were becoming increasingly frustrated and confused about the situation- at this point the dolphins had been in their crate for up to 15 hours…

It was shortly after this that we began to face some real problems… With our phones dead, we were unable to contact anyone to let them know we were ok and still with the truck, but we also realised that we were running low on petrol… While it was not an immediate problem- if we had run out of fuel and were forced to a Service Station, we would lose the truck… On top of this, we saw that it had started to snow.

With these problems eating away at the back of our minds, we continued behind the truck, which showed no signs of slowing down on the never-ending highway…

The snow became heavier and heavier, and soon was starting to stick to the ground… starting off as a light dusting covering the highway’s asphalt.

Rapidly, however, we noticed that the roads were becoming inundated with snow, ice and sleet. We entered a tunnel at around 1am, which allowed us to get out of the non-stop snowfall for a brief moment, but when we emerged once again, we quickly noticed a huge change on the surface of the roads…

It was as if it was instant… the road was suddenly covered in thick ice, under the falling snow. There were flashing lights everywhere as patrol vehicles, police and other workers were trying to lead cars along a safe route… In the confusion of it all, we managed to stick behind the truck, but noticed something that truly made my heart stop! The sheer weight of the truck was becoming too much for its’ tyres, as they begun to spin and slip on the road’s icy surface… The driver noticed this too late, and all we could do was watch as the truck in front of us slid sideways on its’ wheels, and struck the guard railing- protecting the truck, driver, trainers and three dolphins from a drop of about 10 metres…

A look of shock and disbelief played across my face, as we saw the driver trying in vain to steer the truck away from the railing as it slid all over the ice- all the while, Andy and myself were working at not getting stuck ourselves on the slippery ice. We drove to the other side of the road, and parked within metres of the truck… We quickly offered our assistance to the driver- however there was nothing that any of us could do. He attempted time and time again to move the truck away from the railing, but would only end up damaging its’ left hand side further. After quickly checking on the trainers in the back of the truck, the driver gave up his self-rescue efforts and resorted to sitting in his heated front seat…

The night continued as vehicle after vehicle drove with a huge amount of caution along the icy road… as the snow continued to fall, it seemed that the conditions were becoming worse.

Hours passed, and there was no apparent help coming for the truck… we sat in silence as we waited for an ease in conditions or a successful attempt from the driver who would occasionally try moving from the rail… None of these came, and the conditions progressively worsened- as we sat in our small car, unable to use our heater as we needed to save on fuel… We clung to our beanies and jackets shivering in the freezing cold… we certainly did not fully prepare for a blizzard!

We took it in turns to watch the truck, as the other attempted a few minutes of cold, restless sleep… it was virtually impossible to do so- and we eventually gave up trying.

At about 4:30am we met a man who was driving along the road we’d parked on, and wanted to help us in any way he could… without knowing where the nearest petrol station was, we asked about re-fuelling our car. Within seconds, the man left in his own car, and returned about half an hour later with 14L of fuel, as well as hot drinks and food for us!

We were absolutely taken aback by this amazing display of generosity during such difficult conditions… we could not thank him enough- and I’m sure he did not know just how much his help was appreciated! With this new fuel, we were able to use our heater, just as the blizzard intensified… The friendliness of some people never ceases to amaze me, and this offer of generosity was a welcome relief from the frustration and irritation that we were feeling for the men involved in the dolphin transfer…

As the early hours of the morning saw the first glimpse of light outside, the snowstorm seemed to really have set in. At about 6am, cars started lining the road in order to head to work… most of these cars ended up turning back. The truck was still very much set in the snow, and any attempt to budge it seemed futile… many of the people around us began to fit chain sets on their wheels during the traffic stand-still. Without any such chains on hand for our car (which was hired from a place with very little snowfall every year), we continued our watch on the truck… though glancing at the icy road below with concern.

The hours passed, and the road seemed more and more dangerous for vehicles to drive upon… The police had been called out, as a large truck had crashed due to the icy road only a few hundred metres along the road ahead of us- this crash made the police insist that everyone with chains should fit them to their wheels, and those with no chains were not to continue down the road… The police said that they did not know how long it would take for the snow and ice to clear- as the snow continued to fall overhead.

Taking into consideration our inability to contact anyone in Taiji, or around the world, as well as our depleted fuel stocks and lack of safe tyres for the roads, we had to make a gut-wrenching decision that we would need to heed to the police’s demand, and make our way back… The fact that Taiji was many hours away, and we were not able to contact anyone for help should we need it was a factor in our decision. After 24 hours of monitoring the truck and dolphins, we unfortunately had to leave…

In regard to how long the truck would have been there after we’d left; going by our observations on how immovable it seemed, as well as the polices’ comments on how long it will take to clear the roads, we believe that the truck would have been stranded there for many hours longer… While the three small dolphins held on for their survival…

We have narrowed the area in which these dolphins have been transported right down by following the truck as far as we had managed to, and we also have a few leads to explore as soon as we can tomorrow morning- to find out the state of the dolphins, as well as their location… We will keep you all updated on our Facebook pages and Blogs.

Here are some more photos of our journey…

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Thank you to everyone who has been spreading the word on the ‘Taiji Three’ and following the story. Upon our return to our hotel just a few hours ago, we were completely shocked at the huge worldwide response that our journey had been receiving over the past two days… Please keep the awareness going, by contacting as many media outlets as you can. Here are two articles which were put online on globalanimal.org as well as CNN ireport whilst we were driving across the country.

As we finally get the opportunity for some sleep after returning home from our 31 hour journey, our thoughts are with the three dolphins who were swimming off the coast of Japan with their huge family pod only last week… now, because of man’s greed, they are struggling to stay alive in a crate or small tank after a long, traumatic journey across Japan in the back of a truck.

Keep updated, as we will release the footage which we were able to capture during our trip- I will post the video below once it is finished.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at:
pathtoprotect@hotmail.com

Thank you all once again for your help!
On the Path to Protect,
Nicole

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17 comments

  1. Dear Nicole, Thank you and Andy for being able to tell us about this horrific situation and I await for a follow up on the Taiji 3. I will share this with the many people I called upon last night to help with the CNN vetting. Thank you and the Cove Guardians for all you are doing.
    For the Dolphins, For the Whales, For the World!
    Barbara
    Save the Blood Dolphins!

  2. I too am just speechless. I am really wondering if they would be better off surviving or just hoping for a quick passing in their sleep.

    Thank you again for all you are doing !!!!

  3. Nicole what you are doing is amazing..many people are supporting you everywhere and are following you ever step of the way…
    I Got through to someone in the Japanese embassy in the UK she said she was very ‘busy’..I explained what was going on…and her response was ‘I have not a clue what I can do’ I responded with surely you have a contact in Japan who knows someone who knows someone that can put some pressure to start a rescue…or push one urgently…she was very unresponsive..I feel like pulling my hair out!
    If there is anything else you need or suggest for me or others to do please advise..keep safe and god bless you both

  4. Nicole thank you very much for going to the extremes you do. I appreciate this, It keeps me informed so that I can talk to others about this. Thank you!!!! Be safe in your adventures, please!!!

  5. No creature on earth deserves this…and your strength, passion and love for the dolphins is priceless.

    I know that as the years pass, we will be hearing amazing things about you and your work to save our marine life.

  6. This is all a result of Japanese Greed, and people who continue to go to water parks you all have blood on your hands. Please watch the movie the Cove and then realize the reason they are in this situation in the first place.
    These poor innocent creatures how dare they rip them from thir home in the ocean. This makes me sick.

  7. Nicole,

    What an amazing story. You and Andy are to be commended for your dedication, as are all of the Cove Guardians. I wish I could do more than call and send email messages.

    Keep up the good work. I know it has to be devastating and heart-wrenching….we all appreciate what you are doing.

    Stay safe.

  8. Nicole, this story was riviting and sad all at the same time.. i thank you so much for all you are doing and please be safe while you are over there… I am praying that these 3 dolphins at least are still alive even though the will be exploited.. blessings to you sister and Andy.. much love and appreciation.. xoxox

  9. Nicole and Andy, you both did everything you could have done in those conditions. You surpassed what any non-animal lover/average person would have done in that same situation. Thank you both for keeping us all informed and for your help in Taiji. My prayers are with all cetaceans facing entrapment and death, and also with the Cove Guardians as well as Paul and his crew.

    Jennifer M.

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