250+ Bottlenose Dolphins Captured in Japan's Taiji Cove Hunt
As we have witnessed the torture endured by 250+ dolphins in a cove in Taiji, Japan the past four days, as their families have been torn apart, and as our Cove Guardians continue to witness and show the world what is happening, we would like to share a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a pioneer of human as well as animal rights:
“Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
The world is not looking the other way, but will Japan listen? Eleven more dolphins were taken into captivity yesterday, bringing the total taken from this hunt to 51 (though two died). These dolphins do not belong to Japan. They belong to all of us—to the oceans and the planet and they matter in their own right. Though these dolphins face death today, in the spirit of Dr. King, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and our Cove Guardians will never be silent about what they, driven into the shallow waters of Taiji, have faced. The eyes of the world are now laser-focused on Taiji’s cove, and many will hear the cries of the dolphins.
Five separate pods of Bottlenose dolphins totaling more than 250 individuals—including juveniles and babies—were driven into Taiji’s infamous killing cove on Thursday, where they have endured four days of a bloody and traumatizing captive selection process. The remaining group of about 200 dolphins, who were left to survive a fourth night in the cove without food or shelter, now face brutal slaughter at the hands of the Taiji Fishermen’s Union. Among the original “superpod” was a rare albino calf and his or her mom. In some cultures, albino animals are considered sacred “spirit” creatures, and it is thought to be bad luck to harm them.
The unique albino calf, a rare and lucrative find to exploit as a spectacle in captivity, was the very first dolphin to be snatched away from her mother’s side and taken captive on Friday and transferred directly to Taiji Whale Museum. Japanese press is reporting that the mother rejected the calf and so they rescued her, but that is a blatant fabrication as the thousands who watched our live stream of the kidnapping can attest. The baby is possibly blind and/or deaf, as is the case with many albinos. If so, this could be one of the reasons that this terrified calf clung so closely to his or her mother in the cove and now clings to a dolphin companion sharing the calf’s tiny tank.
There is widespread speculation that the mother of the albino calf committed suicide after her baby was violently taken from her. Our volunteer Cove Guardians documented and witnessed the grieving mother repeatedly spy-hopping, looking for her calf, before lowering herself into the water, never to resurface. Dolphins are highly intelligent, socially complex beings who form close bonds with their family, and the trade for captivity regularly rips through these bonds in Taiji.
The captive selection process is as violent as the killing in Taiji, and during the past four days, dolphins could be seen on our Cove Guardians live stream with blood on their faces as they desperately tried to escape the grasp of the killers and trainers. Dolphins repeatedly became entangled in the nets in their frantic efforts to escape or get to separated family members, the nets cutting through their flesh. The dolphins were further injured when run over by the skiffs being driven right over the pod. At one point, propeller blades of a skiff backed into a huddled grouping. The killers regularly use the outboard motors to intimidate and herd the sound-sensitive dolphins. All three Taiji captive facilities—Dolphin Base, Hotel Dolphin Resort and Taiji Whale Museum—have had trainers in the cove taking dolphins to line their pockets and fill their tanks. Some captives caught in Taiji’s hunts remain there in the local captive facilities, and others are transported to aquariums and marine parks around the world.
Yesterday, 11 more dolphins were taken captive, bringing the total number of dolphins torn from their families to 51 over the past four days. Friday and Saturday’s selections each saw a captive dolphin succumb to the stress and injuries of the day. The greed never stops in Taiji, and it feeds a global captive trade. Some of these dolphins could remain in Taiji while others could be sent to marine parks in the Middle East, Mexico, China and elsewhere.
After enduring such horrific cruelty at the hands of the Taiji Fishermen’s Union, the remaining 200 dolphins will continue to suffer, as today many of them will likely face a long and painful death. Dolphins who have already endured separation from their now captive family members will soon see other loved ones killed before their eyes. They will be forced to swim in water turned red with the blood of their family. The larger family members are killed first. Others may be driven back out to sea, including infants and juveniles who are too small and the fishermen don’t want them counted against their self-imposed quota, where the young ones stand little to no chance of survival without the protection of their pod and mothers, especially after the violence and trauma of the last four days.
The flesh of those slaughtered will be sold for human consumption by the Taiji Fishermen’s Union, despite the fact that it contains high levels of mercury and other harmful toxins.
The drive hunt and slaughter of 20,000 dolphins, porpoises and small whales occurs throughout Japan each year. Japan refuses to sign on to many protection efforts and regulations for marine mammals, despite most of the world recognizing the need to protect these imperiled animals. The most well-known among these annual hunts occurs in Taiji from Sept. 1 and usually continues through March of the following year. Fishermen herd entire cetacean families into shallow bays where they are mercilessly stabbed with a metal spike inserted into their blowhole to sever their spine. The dolphins slowly and painfully bleed to death or drown in the blood of their family. These inhumane killings would not be allowed in any slaughterhouse in the world.
Taiji’s annual dolphin slaughter was virtually unknown until Sea Shepherd released covertly obtained footage and photographs taken at the Cove in 2003, followed by further international attention due to the Academy Award-winning film The Cove.
CALL TO ACTION: Join Sea Shepherd in speaking out for the largest Bottlenose pod ever driven into Taiji’s killing cove. Click here to find contact information for embassies and consulates, and for more information on what you can do.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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