The town of Taiji, Japan, has become almost synonymous for the brutal dolphin hunts that occur each year.
This is the slaughter that inspired the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” and that inspires activist Ric O’Barry to return each year to protest the continuation of a hunt that kills dozens of the animals for meat and provides live ones to captive facilities.
But last week, four dolphins escaped a nearby recreational facility into the open ocean, BBC reports. Though three dolphins returned, one remains at large. The dolphins were around 3 to 5 years old.
The DolphinBase facility reported that the netted rope forming the perimeter of the sea pen keeping the dolphins in the bay had been slashed. And so the four escaped dolphins simply had to swim out of a net to return to open waters.
They had lived there for over six months, training for their future lives in captivity, where they would no doubt be expected to learn tricks and perform in shows.
In fact, DolphinBase exhibits its dolphins in shows every hour that the park is open, and patrons are allowed to swim alongside the dolphins.
DolphinBase staff believes activists to be responsible for the net-cutting. The Taiji police have already started to look into possible perpetrators. The marine facility made a statement in a blog post, translated by the Independent:
“We are enraged by this heinous act which can easily lead to the dolphins dying. It was a very optimistic, selfish and irresponsible act by someone without any knowledge, and we feel it risks the lives of these dolphins in a real way.”
Meanwhile in open ocean, the seasonal hunt for dolphins is not over. The hunt will continue until the end of February 2017. Activists estimate that 323 dolphins have been killed off Taiji since the beginning of the season.
TAIJI, JAPAN - OCTOBER 29: Japanese Fishermen collect the bodies of harpooned Dolphins and Pilot Whales from the bloody waters of a bay in Taiji, Southern Japan on October 29, 2007 seen during a protest organised by David Rastovich, co-founder of Surfers For Cetaceans. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
This number sounds high — and it is — but it actually marks one of the lowest death tolls of any Taiji hunt. Conservationists and activists remain on high alert, watching out for dwindling dolphin populations, as well as the outright violence of it all.
According to the Huffington Post, the hunters are taking a break with the new year. But soon in January they will head back out to sea to finish their job.
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