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Taiji’s annual dolphin hunt started up again this year on Jan. 17, 2014, with 25 dolphins taken captive into the town’s infamous cove. By January 20, 250 bottlenose dolphins had been rounded up and brought into the kill and capture area.

For five days, these dolphins have suffered immense trauma — separated from their families and weak from days without food. And for five days, the world has sat waiting anxiously, anticipating the heartbreaking fate of these intelligent creatures.

As expected, Taiji’s cove has now turned red with blood. Today, Jan. 21, 2014, Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians announced on Facebook at 4:30 am EST that 41 dolphins have been slaughtered, with 52 of them captured for aquarium, zoo, and marine park buyers.

“After the killers arrived at daybreak they pushed the first Bottlenose dolphin pod to the killing shore … the pod that fought so hard in the previous days was unable to fight from lack of food, exhaustion, and injuries sustained from killers and motors over the last five days. Once on the shore, 40 dolphins were each sentenced to a slow, painful, and conscious death as a metal rod was rammed into their spinal cord,” Sea Shepherd reports via Facebook.

However, it was not only Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians and the Taiji fishermen who witnessed the slaughter – family members of these dolphins also watched on.

According to Sea Shepherd, one dolphin in particular was forced to witness the murder of her family right in front of her eyes before “she was transported to a tiny captive prison in the harbor.”

The remaining 130 to 140 dolphins, many starved and injured, were later driven back out to sea. While this group is thankfully now free, many of them are not expected to survive as most are babies and juveniles who were “too small to count for quota and deemed unsuitable for captivity,” Sea Shepherd reports. And so, it seems, freedom in this instance is just an illusion.

To catch a glimpse of what happened this morning in Taiji, take a look at the photos below, posted today by Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians on Facebook.

Taiji fishermen enter the cove just after sunrise
A bottlenose dolphin floats on its back before slaughter
One dolphin’s last attempt to escape death
Cove Guardians bearing witness to 40 dolphins being slaughtered
The bottlenose pod was so exhausted that they did not put up much of a fight while being herded toward the tarps
Dead dolphins lay in bloody water of cove
Remaining pod swam just a few feet from the slaughter of their family
A transfer of dead bottlenose dolphins at the Taiji butcher house
Meat buyer trucks lined up at the back entrance to the butcher house
The drive out is just as traumatic as the drive in. Dolphins lingered to find family.

Lead image source: Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians / Facebook