'You listen to them die': Horrific story behind dolphin activist's collection of rocks

When dolphin activist Rachel Carbary returns home from a trip to Japan, she hopes to be carrying as few rocks as possible.

Each one represents a pod of dolphins or whales she has watched “be ripped apart” by hunters in the town of Taiji, 420km southwest of Tokyo.

Ms Carbary volunteers for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, travelling to Japan on a regular basis to document the yearly dolphin drives at a beach known as The Cove.

Split screen. A young woman holds a rock towards the camera during a Skype call. Water turned red from dolphin blood in the cove, Taiji.
Activist Rachel Carbary uses rocks to remember the dolphins she has seen slaughtered in Japan. Source: Yahoo / Getty

“I select a rock from the beach at The Cove that stands out to me, that can serve as a memory of the pod,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“It’s just something I do for myself, it’s part of my coping and memory of the situation.”

This year, Ms Carbary was in Taiji for two weeks where she witnessed what she calls six “red cove days” – a reference to the water being soaked in dolphin blood.

‘You listen to them die’

Her first “red cove” day this year occurred on September 2 and involved a pod of her favourites – a family of striped Risso’s dolphins.

When the skiffs drove the animals into the cove, she was unsure if they’d be slaughtered, captured for the entertainment industry, or sent back out to sea.

“They literally fought for their lives, like all the pods do,” she said.

“When they were driven into the cove, and they were slaughtered, we stand up on that hill and we document as best we can the situation.”

A woman photographs boats in the distance. An image in the corner shows a woman, Rachel Carbary, holding up a rock with Risso's 2019 written on it.
Rachel Carbary filmed as Risso's dolphins were slaughtered. Source: Dolphin Project / Yahoo

The hunters hide behind tarpaulins to block the bloody slaughter from the video cameras.

“You listen to them die, you listen to them thrash in the water as they’re being killed,” she said.

“And then it goes completely silent on the shore, so you know that entire family is dead.

“You see these once beautiful … this family that was swimming wild and free in the ocean … you know a few hours later their bodies are dead and floating on the surface of the water, being hauled off and processed for meat.”

Dolphins caught in nets.
Dolphins netted in a drive hunt are either slaughtered, sold into captivity or driven out to sea. Source: Dolphin Project

Trainers arrive before slaughter to select dolphins

Three pods of bottle-nosed dolphins – the type made popular by the 1960 television show Flipper – are scrawled across Ms Carbary’s next three rocks.

Activist Lincoln O’Barry, the son of former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry, has seen the selection process first hand.

“They’re looking for that perfect bottle-nosed dolphin,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“They’ve got breeding and other things in mind – so a lot of times they’re looking for young females.

“Orders have already been made at the beginning of the season and they’re fulfilling those orders.”

A man in a snorkel and wetsuit stands in water up to his shoulders examining a pod of dolphins.
A dolphin trainer examines dolphins brought in from the drive. Source: Dolphin Project
A protest march on the other side of a narrow Japanese road. Hills and water in the background.
A large group of Japanese protesters took to the streets in Taiji this year. Source: Dolphin Project

Mr O’Barry said trainers arrived hours before the slaughter to select the dolphins they want.

“If you didn’t have the captivity angle, you wouldn’t have the slaughter any more – it’s just not worth it,” he said.

“The money is all being made from the captivity industry.”

Growing movement in Japan against slaughtering

Another pod of Risso’s dolphins were herded into the cove on September 9, with Ms Carbary witnessing some of the younger ones taken away for the aquarium industry.

The rest of the family were killed.

She said most Japanese were unaware of the annual slaughter, but there was a growing local protest movement.

Rachel Carbary's group of six rocks on wood. She collects them to remember the dolphins slaughtered in the annual dolphin hunt in Japan.
Ms Carbary will add these six rocks from September to her growing collection. Source: Rachel Carbary
A group of black pilot whales huddled together in the water before they are slaughtered.
Pilot whales huddle together before slaughter. Source: Dolphin Project

This year on September 1, there was a march through Taiji opposing the hunt.

Ms Carbary witnessed the group show up and say “enough is enough”.

“They had banners, and signs and a loud speaker,” she said.

“The movement in Japan is really growing and that’s an important thing.”

Water turns ‘red from the blood’

Ms Carbary witnessed on September 10 and 11 her final drive for the season – a pod of pilot whales.

“They’re always the most horrific ones to witness,” she said.

“Pilot whales, they’re always close to each other.

“They’re just constantly swimming right along side each other, rubbing up against each other, almost as if they’re comforting each other.”

The pod was chased until they were exhausted and then left over night.

The following morning, Ms Carbary watched as the hunters returned.

“They took the smaller, younger members of this nursery pod for captivity, and then they began the slaughter process,” she said.

“On that particular day, they actually started the slaughter process before all the captives were even out from underneath the tarps.

A skiff with five men on it look at a pod of pilot whales huddled together.
Japanese hunters prepare to slaughter these whales. Source: Dolphin Project
The water in the cove is brown. There are whales in the water - one is bleeding. The back of a skiff in the bottom right hand corner.
Pilot whales herded into the cove in September this year. Source: Dolphin Project

“So we had younger members of that family trapped in slings now witnessing their family being killed in front of them.

The killing took place under tarpaulins so Ms Carbary could hear, but not always see the “horror”.

“You can hear them splashing, you can see the water starting to turn red from the blood,” she said.

“The interesting thing was, when they got to the last, it almost seemed like the thrashing wasn’t as loud any more.

“It’s like maybe they just gave in, they just accepted their fate.

“They had just watch their entire family be destroyed in front of them.”

Ms Carbary plans to return to Taiji.

The International Marine Animal Trainer's Association has been contacted for comment.

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