Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The scene in Otsuchi after the tsunami.
"The path was impassable with mud, water, and rubble so the firemen decided that we would go up the hill.  This is a very steep hill, almost vertical.  Several of our belongings were abandoned on the climb.  Finally, we dropped back down into the top of a small valley that opened onto the sea.  Every house in this hamlet had been destroyed.  We found a welcome fire and were offered rice and soup from the pot cooking over timbers pulled from the wreckage.  The generosity of the people cannot be overstated."--Scott West, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

I'm just going to jump right in...(highlighted fields are links)

The animals of Japan are victims as well.
Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support is a wonderful group of volunteers working in Japan to help displaced and injured animals.  The stress and suffering the citizens of Japan are experiencing is also being experienced by their companion animals.  There have been amazing stories of people choosing to stay with their animals instead of evacuating and leaving their companions behind.  Unfortunately, there are many animals who are without their families.  I would encourage all of you interested in helping the animals in the affected areas of Japan to make a donation to this organization.

Sea Shepherd crew trying to make their way out of town.
The Sea Shepherd volunteers, who were in Otsuchi when the earthquake and tsunami struck the town, returned home Monday.  Their first-hand accounts are both chilling and uplifting.  As more relief agencies begin to reach Otsuchi, they are realizing it's the hardest hit area.  I encourage everyone to read Cove Guardian Tarah Millen's blog, Sea Shepherd Taiji Campaign Coordinator  Scott West's report, and a commentary by Paul Watson.  The selflessness, compassion and assistance they received from the locals, many of whom had just witnessed their homes and businesses completely destroyed, is an example we can all learn from.  Fort Bragg, California is a sister-city of Otsuchi, and they have setup a fund to raise money that will go directly to relief efforts in Otsuchi.  I encourage all Cove Guardians and others to visit the Fort Bragg Otsuchi Exchange Program for more information on rescue and relief efforts.  You will quickly learn that these two towns share a very strong bond.

We still don't know the amount of radiation that's escaped the damaged reactors.  Knowing how Japanese government officials have downplayed high mercury levels in the dolphin and whale meat consumed by it's citizens, I'm concerned they'll also underestimate the effects of the radiation that's being released.  It'll be months, or even years, before the full effects are known.  It's scary to realize that whatever radiation escapes will end up in the soil and water.  Any contamination could become a public health hazard for generations.  But with that said, it's also the animals and sea life that will suffer.

Dolphin pens in Taiji Harbor February 15th.
Well to the south of Otsuchi, the dolphins of Taiji were also victims.  While the town received no damage from the tsunami, the water pushed into the harbor six times.  The fishermen made sure to take the banger boats out, but did nothing for the safety of the dolphins in the pens.  As the dolphins were pushed onto the rocks six times, their cries for help fell on deaf ears.  The fishermen made no attempts to set the dolphins free.  Some of the dolphins in those pens were dolphins that were captured and imprisoned during my time in Taiji, including juveniles and infants.  I have no kind words for the fishermen who turned their backs on other sentient beings as their boats passed right on by.  The dolphins were left to die, with no chance of swimming out to sea.  Makes you wonder what it will take for some people to have a change of heart in this life.   

So, what do we need to do?  It seems simple and understated, but it's imperative:

*Donate to relief organizations that are on the ground in the hardest hit areas.  

*Volunteer with organizations that are supporting relief efforts.  

*Inquire to any Japanese co-workers, neighbors, or groups that are dealing with being separated from their loved ones, and offer any support.  

*When the word goes out for more volunteers, seriously consider traveling to Japan and helping with rebuilding efforts.  

My thoughts and prayers are with the survivors in Otsuchi, and all the areas in Japan devastated by this disaster.  In their darkest hour, they have shown tremendous light.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Full Circle

"Do more than belong: participate.  Do more than care: help.  Do more than believe: practice.  Do more than be fair: be kind.  Do more than forgive: forget.  Do more than dream: work."--William Arthur Ward

How the Cove should look everyday.  Courtesy Nicole McLachlan
Before I left for Taiji, I wondered what it would be like if I traveled all that way and nothing happened.  It wasn't as if I was conflicted; of course I wouldn't want there to be a day with a capture or slaughter.  But, a part of me wondered if people would really pay attention to what I was reporting if there wasn't any bad news.  Unfortunately, we sometimes need some sort of devastation to get our attention.  I really pushed for people I know to watch The Cove before I left, so they knew what I was becoming involved with.  I wanted them to have a sense of how each day of the season is so emotional, the great extent the dolphin killers take to hide their so-called tradition, and the fact that the captive dolphin industry is the economic underpinning of the dolphin slaughter.

The scene after a slaughter.  Courtesy Nicole McLachlan
My professional life has been spent looking through the lens of a camera.  For me, this was the best way to contribute.  I have no formal education in biology, marine mammals, environmental sciences, or Japanese history.  What I do understand is the power of sound and imagery, and I knew the importance of documenting for others to see what was happening in Taiji.  That was the intent of The Cove, to show the rest of the world what was happening; the exploitation, the deception, the slaughter.  

Last Friday was the tragic ending to my week in Taiji.  As I waited up on Mountain Pass with my fellow Cove Guardians for the banger boats to return, it was likely the longer they were out, the better the chances were they had found a pod of dolphins.  After four hours of waiting, our suspicions were confirmed.  Approximately thirty Striped Dolphins were being driven toward the harbor.  Unlike the other two drives I had witnessed earlier in the week, it was apparent that these dolphins weren't going to be captured and sold into captivity, they were going to be driven towards the killing Cove; these dolphins were going to be slaughtered.  All I could do was watch, there was no way to stop what I was witnessing.  And let me tell you, you are a witness when you see this happening.  You are a witness to murder.

We left Mountain Pass, and headed to Glenda's Point to drop off Nicole and Georgia.  Glenda's Point was named after a former Cove Guardian from earlier in the season, and this spot looks directly down into the Cove.  It's obstructed with tree limbs and brush, but you can still see into the Cove.  Of course, what you can't see is the actual slaughter, because of the tarps the dolphin killers have rigged over the beach to hide their cruel and disgusting deeds. Libby and I headed to the public beach at the Cove, where the head of the Fishermen's  Union (aptly nicknamed the FU) and the Wakayama Police were already in place.  Whenever there are dolphins in the Cove, the Wakayama Police are at the Cove.  I guess some people are afraid that one of us might pass the barrier that allows a direct view into the killing Cove.  But why would they want to hide that?  I mean, it's their culture and tradition.  They didn't prevent us from standing next to the gutting barge earlier in the week, or at the mouth of the harbor as they were bringing an infant Pacific White-Sided Dolphin to the holding pens.  (Although, they did hide it with a bloody piece of foam as they zipped by in their skiff; classy).  As I rushed past the police with my camera and tripod to the edge of the water, everyone that was behind just completely disappeared in my mind.  My focus was on the skiff that was dropping the first set of nets in the Cove, and the dolphins I could see swimming in the water.  It's almost unavoidable, but I went completely into cameraman mode.  I was totally focused on documenting what was happening the best I possibly could.  I knew that this was my one grim chance to show people at home what was happening half a world away.  How man's greed and power is used to inflict pain and death on another species.  There's a sick precision to what the dolphin killers do, and it's a completely helpless feeling watching them work.  I quickly moved from the water's edge to a little higher ground up off the beach, and that's when we noticed the dolphins starting to throw themselves onto the jagged rocks in panic.  It's heartbreaking watching this happen.  Blood begins to flow as the dolphins' skin is ripped apart on the rocks.  I then quickly moved to a spot all the way to the left of the beach; as far as I could legally go.  I was now shooting through the barricade, knowing that this would be my final angle of the slaughter.  I could still see the dolphins throwing themselves onto the rocks, and these two particular dolphin killers walking along the jagged rocks using their hands and feet to move the dolphins.  They would grab them by their rostrum (snout) and pull them off the rocks, or use their feet to shove them off the rocks.  This seemed to go on forever, as skiffs of men passed back and forth between my lens and the dolphins.  Eventually, the last net was dropped, and it became apparent that the actual slaughtering had started.  Every once in a while a skiff would float back into view, revealing some of the dolphin killers.  At one point, I saw one of the dolphin killers wipe off the metal spike he had in his hand.  Literally, this guy was cleaning his weapon.  The skiff he was on gradually floated back beyond the view of my camera, as he returned to his killing.  The next time I saw the skiffs, it was when they were heading out of the Cove with the tarp-covered bodies of slaughtered dolphins.

Waiting for the slaughter to end.
I don't know how long the slaughter lasted.  I didn't make a conscious effort to keep track of time, because it just didn't seem important.  In a way, time seemed to stop in the disbelief of what I had seen. 

I was still really amazed at the extent the dolphin killers go to hide everything.  From the killing Cove to the butcher house, so much has been done to hide from our cameras what happens.  If they really don't care what the rest of the world thinks, and have so much pride in their culture and tradition, then why all the fuss to hide what happens?  Here may lie the answer: most Japanese don't know this is happening.  Even just one town over in Katsuura, where the Cove Guardians have been staying, there are locals who are completely unaware of what is happening in Taiji.  While eating dolphin meat in some areas does occur, the vast majority of Japanese are not eating dolphin.  It's not because it's an expensive delicacy, they just don't eat it.  And if most Japanese are unaware of what is happening in Taiji, how can it be a part of Japanese culture?  For some reason, the media in Japan want to focus on Sea Shepherd, not the issue at hand.  They know why Sea Shepherd is in Taiji, but that is not the focus of their stories.  Could it be that if more Japanese people knew about what was happening in Taiji, and the perception in many parts of the world toward what is happening, that they would start to pressure their own government to stop the killing of dolphins?  Is there an agreement between the Japanese media and the government as to how Taiji is to be portrayed?  

What, no coupons?
In a tourist brochure I picked up for Wakayama Prefecture, Taiji is advertised as the home of the dolphin trainers, and the place to come and swim with dolphins.  Funny how it doesn't mention Taiji as ground zero for the captive dolphin trade and slaughter.  I mean, that's Taiji's worldwide claim to fame.  The blood red water of the Cove, or the ridiculously small pens the dolphins are kept in get no mention.  I guess they don't want to give everything away before you get there.  They don't even mention that Taiji is portrayed in a film that won an Academy Award.  What Chamber of Commerce wouldn't put that on their brochure for tourism or economic development?

I remember looking back at the head of the FU as the slaughter was happening, and he was on his phone pretty much the entire time.  No doubt speaking with someone right next door in the Cove; getting the play by play, the take, all the details.  He looks very much the focused businessman in his mannerisms.  And then just like that, with one swift close of the cell phone, he turns away and walks up to the parking lot across the street, while the Wakayama Police follow behind.  The only ones left at the Cove are myself and Libby.  The Cove returns to it's hauntingly calm and quiet.  

The bloody Cove from atop Glenda's Hill.
I wanted to go up to Glenda's to see for myself the aftermath of the slaughter from above.  Libby and I drove back down the street, and I hopped out with my camera and tripod to make the five minute hike up the steep steps.  Seriously, that little hike kicked my ass.  By the time I got to the top where Nicole and Georgia were, my legs were on fire.  As I peered through the branches and brush trying to find a hole to shoot through, I then saw the blood coming out from underneath the tarps.  It had been darker before I got there, but it was still there; slowly dispersing and fading to a lighter shade of red.     

A captive dolphin at Dolphin Base.
Leaving Japan was bittersweet; I don't know how else to explain it.  Libby, Nicole, Greg, and Georgia were just awesome to be with for the week.  There's definitely a part of me that didn't want to leave, because I didn't want to say goodbye to my new friends.  And you can't help but think about leaving behind the dolphins.  171 dolphins were taken from the ocean this season, to be sold to dolphinariums, marine mammal parks, and dolphin interaction programs around the world.  The battle they endure for six months a year, just so people can watch them swim in a tank and perform tricks.  That's not education, and that's certainly not conservation.  It's imprisonment, and exploitation.  And the fact that over 800 dolphins were slaughtered this year during the drive for their mercury-tainted meat is just as disgusting.  Adults, juveniles, infants; entire families ripped apart and slaughtered in front of one another.  Suffering on a tiny beach while they draw their final breaths. 

Three years ago I took part in a mission trip to Costa Rica to help with an ongoing construction project at a church.  Our project leader used the expression, "Don't anticipate, participate."  Of course, I had to ponder this expression for the week, which was essentially counter-intuitive to what he was trying to get us to realize.  That phrase has stuck with me ever since.  For all of the planning and pondering I did for my trip to Taiji, it always came back to that phrase.  The fact that so many caring and compassionate people answered Paul Watson's call to join together in Taiji and show their opposition to the what's occurring is an example others should pay attention to.  People spent their own money, took time off from work, quit jobs, volunteered, and kept the message alive for nearly six months; without ever missing a day.  The support network spreads around the world.  
Now available on DVD in Japan!

Today, The Cove has just been released on DVD in Japan.  Free copies of The Cove have been distributed to every residence in Taiji!  Maybe not so coincidentally, word has come from Taiji that the tarps at the Cove have come down, and the banger poles have been put away; essentially one month earlier than expected.  If this would've happened one day earlier, another thirty Pan-Tropical Spotted Dolphins would be swimming free.  Instead, they became the final victims of the latest dolphin drive season.  Could it be that the dolphin killers are preparing for more skepticism as word spreads in their own town?  Their own country?  Sure, there is a generation, maybe two, that still respects the whale and dolphin hunts.  But ten, twenty, thirty years from now, things could be very different.  The pressure from the rest of the world, and most importantly from within Japan itself, may very well silence the fleet for good.

To find out more about the campaign in Taiji, check out the Sea Shepherd websiteThe Cove website has a lot of information about the issues in Taiji.  Please read Cove Guardian Nicole McLachlan's blog.  You can watch the videos from my time in Taiji on my Vimeo page.   

The easiest ways to help?  DO NOT buy a ticket to a facility that advertises captive dolphins.  Contact the Japanese Embassy, and urge Japan to stop the killing of dolphins.
The dolphin drive in Taiji is scheduled to begin again September 1.

For the dolphins...


Friday, February 18, 2011


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."--Margaret Meade 

While the dolphin killers stayed in port today, and with the announcement of the Japanese whaling fleet leaving the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary early this season, it was a pretty good day for the Cove Guardians.  It's always good to have that bit of hope, but here in Taiji, that hope is literally measured day by day six months out of the year.

The dolphin killers don't want people to experience their tradition?
After checking to see that the dolphin killers had stayed in port, we made a stop at the Cove so Libby and Nicole could take some pictures for the Sea Shepherd chapter in Philadelphia.  The Cove is an ominous place whenever you're there.  The water looks so clean and clear that it's hard to imagine it's where thousands of dolphins have been murdered.  Where the water turns bright red, and the air is filled with the screaming and splashing of dolphins taking their final breaths.  Like the Cove, it's so bizarre the attitude the dolphin killers and trainers have toward the dolphins.  On the one hand, the dolphins are very valuable because of the amount of money a trained dolphin is worth.  But on the other, they're killing dolphins for their mercury-tainted meat.  It's like a cash grab, with no regard for what they're actually doing to the dolphins or the oceans.  The trainers are just as ruthless as the killers, doing their job while knowing the whole time what has happened to the dolphins that weren't selected to be sold into captivity.  The trainers have just as much blood on their hands as the dolphin killers.  They just slap each other on the back with their blood-stained hands, congratulating each other for another days dirty work.

I'm hungry!  You put me in here, so feed me you douche bags!
After the Cove, we stopped at ground zero for the trainers, Dolphin Base.  The pens that the dolphins are in are small.  They're not even comparable to a swimming pool in someone's back yard.  There could be anywhere from four to six dolphins in one pen.  At one time, the dolphins were swimming for miles a day in the ocean, and now they're in a fucking swimming pool waiting to be fed dead fish by trainers that claim to love them so much.  Dolphin Base is a place that you can actually stay at, and swim with dolphins in a concrete tank.  Sounds delightful.  The hotel itself is one of the nastier looking buildings I've seen since I've been here.  It's as if the building has taken on the personality of what's actually happening in the Cove.  The rust runs down the side of the building like blood.  Click here for a brief look at Dolphin Base. 

I have one more full day as a Cove Guardian before I head back to Virginia.  Since I've been here, fourteen Pacific White Sided Dolphins (including one juvenile and one infant) have been sentenced to a life of captivity by some of the greediest people on the planet.  There is no sustainable basis, but more importantly there is no moral basis.  The dolphin killers are free to do what they do, because the government of Japan allows them to do it.  In the United States, all we hear about is our freedom.  Question is, what do we do with it?  Do we decide to think for ourselves and act selfishly, or do we treat that freedom with respect and take the moral high ground.  Freedom can be the most wonderful thing, until someone else's freedom gets in the way.  Just ask the dolphins of Taiji.

Read this article by Dr. Lori Moreno about dolphins in captivity.  DO NOT buy a ticket to a facility that advertises captive dolphins.  When you support dolphins in captivity, you are supporting the dolphin killers in Taiji.  If you have not yet done so, please watch "The Cove."  Contact the Japanese Embassy and urge Japan to stop supporting the killing of dolphins and whales.  Together, we can help change this.

Check out my videos from my time in Taiji, and see what actually happens.  And visit Sea Shepherd for updates from the Cove.

End it now...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Saying Goodbye

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals...In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.  They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."--Henry Beston

The Cove
Today our fellow Cove Guardian Greg left to return home to Melbourne.  While I've only known Greg for four days, his absence in the ride to the harbor this morning was definitely noticeable.  It's like you forgot something back at the hotel.  Things just seemed different.  That's the kind of impression a passionate person can make when you meet them.  I never really got to know Greg, but he was always smiling, always upbeat, and always had the right thing to say during a conversation.  Since the boats didn't go out today, our stay in Taiji today wasn't too long.  We observed one dolphin being moved from one holding pen to another, but not much else.  Plus, it started to rain.

Taiji Harbor
When we made it back to the hotel, I stopped by Greg's room to see if he wanted to join us for some breakfast.  He said he still had some packing to do, and wouldn't have enough time, so we wished each other well and I joined the girls for breakfast.  After breakfast, as I was settling in to get some much needed editing done, there was a knock at the door.  It was Greg, and he was now on his way to the train station just down the street.  We said our goodbyes one more time, hoped to see each other again under much better circumstances, and then he was gone.  Back to Melbourne.

The dolphin molesters at work
The last two days, fourteen Pacific White-Sided Dolphins have had to say goodbye to their home in the ocean, and to their family; including one juvenile and one infant.  While there's been no slaughter in Taiji since I've been here, it's not easy seeing these marvelous creatures have their freedom so maliciously taken from them.  The men and women that participate in this atrocity are an embarrassment to our species.  They show no compassion, they have no empathy, they give no respect.  All they exhibit is the greedy, dirty, destructive side of humans.  They're order takers for the dolphinariums and abusement parks.  Sea World breeds their mammals for a life of captivity, and these douche bags pull them from the ocean.  And why?  So ignorant people can watch dolphins jump through hoops, push a trainer through the water, and then wait for their dead fish.  I've been to these places, when I didn't know any better.  When I thought the Bottlenose Dolphin I saw was smiling because he was happy to see me.  And maybe he was happy to see me.  Maybe he thought I was going to be the one to set him free, and I didn't.  It's not guilt that I feel for visiting those places, I just didn't know then what I know now.  It's like so many other things in history.  Sometimes, we just didn't know any better.  But the time for claiming ignorance is over.  Here in Taiji, I don't think it's ignorance.  I legitimately believe that the dolphin killers will do anything for money.  They don't care, they don't think about the consequences.  One day, there won't be anymore dolphins for them to capture, slaughter, and sell.  And then what?  Will the future generations hear the stories of the great whale and dolphin killers and wonder why they did it? 

I only have two more full days here in Katsuura, before I have to head back to Osaka.  While I'm anxious to get home and be with my family, I also find myself wanting to stay here longer.  It's been such a long time coming for me to be here, and it's gone by so fast.  The people I've met here are incredibly selfless.  There's a connection to this place that I haven't had since I stepped foot at Ground Zero six months after 9/11.  I remember thinking how awful people can be.  How destructive we can choose to be.  And yet, people from all over came together and helped however they could.  That's how it is here.  While some people will be in Taiji for three months, there are countless others who have come for just a few days, maybe a week, maybe two.  They've helped out however they could.  Some people have come with friends, and some have come by themselves.  I hope somehow, someway the dolphins that we've seen have known that somebody cared.  That we're trying to change things.  

Be sure to follow my video updates on my Vimeo page.  You can also find updates on my Facebook page, and be sure to follow follow the Cove Guardian reports on the Sea Shepherd website.
DO NOT but a ticket to any attraction that advertises dolphins.  When you support captive dolphin facilities, you are supporting the slaughter in Taiji.

Thanks, but no tanks...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Freedom of Choice

"Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better."--Albert Camus (winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature)

I've been in Katsuura for two days now, and things have been pleasantly quiet.  While yesterday the boats went out and came back empty handed, today the boats didn't even leave the harbor.  It's been rainy here today, and the streets in Katsuura are quiet. 

The locals that we interact with are very nice, and the town itself is really cool.  It's like it was built to a little smaller scale.  The roads are narrow, and everything is close together.  And it's incredibly clean!  While some would think Sea Shepherd would be unwelcome in these parts, there's been no signs of animosity.  Of course, we aren't staying in Taiji, so maybe that has something to do with it.

This slaughter can be stopped, but it will only happen when the laws are changed.  Hunting dolphins is not illegal.  Hunting dolphins puts money in pockets.  I don't think that's coincidence.  We as humans have so much power to change things, and it's our choice as to what and when that change will be.  We have to be mindful of our place in this massive ecosystem we share with the other living, breathing inhabitants...the plants, the animals, the oceans.  We are not independent of anything around us.  We rely on clean air and water just like any other animal.  It's what sustains all of us.  But too many people don't see that sort of picture.  They only see today, next week, or maybe next month.  They only see what's best for them.  We talk about making things better for future generations, but are we really serious?  In the States, there's so much talk about our individual freedoms...our liberties.  There are people that make millions of dollars a year getting people fired up about how the government is going to take something away from them.  And by taken away, I mean impose a waiting period to buy a handgun, or put laws in place that punish companies for polluting the environment.  It's so awesome that I can get my .50 caliber rifle out and blast some targets, and it's even better that there are so many concerned organizations that lobby congress to protect that industry, er...I mean freedom.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the incredible amount of luck I had by merely being born in the United States.  There's a lyric in a U2 song that goes, "Where you live should not decide, whether you live of whether you die."  For the dolphins that migrate along the coastline of Japan, theirs' is a different fate than the ones that I see swim past Virginia Beach in the summer.  But they're only different in the space they occupy.  All they want is their freedom.     

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been

“Traveling is a brutality.  It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.  You are constantly off balance.  Nothing is yours except the essential things...air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky...all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”--Cesare Pavese 

I have no idea how long it took me to get to Katsuura, the town I'm staying in near Taiji, but I finally made it.  This trip has been some six months in the making, and the day I left was arguably the longest day of my life.  

Due to a de-icing fiasco in Norfolk, I missed my first connecting flight in Atlanta.  Now, that fight was supposed to take me to Seattle, and then I'd make the final long leap to Osaka.  Well, things changed once I got to Atlanta.  After I got to the gate in Atlanta, and saw that the jetway door had already closed, I knew that was it.  Since there is only one flight a day from Seattle to Osaka, I figured my trip had already blown up in my face, and I hadn't even crossed the Mississippi River.  Fast forward to Korean Air, and a re-booked fourteen and a half hour flight from Atlanta to Seoul, South Korea.  I've done a lot of traveling, but fourteen and a half hours on a plane is just about my limit.  Kudos to Korean Air, though,  Their service is awesome, and the in-flight amenities in coach are nice.  After I got to Seoul, I had a connecting flight to Osaka.  By the time I got to Osaka, it was five hours later than when I was supposed to initially arrive.  No train to Katsuura at that time of night, so onto the Best Western.  The trip to the hotel on the shuttle bus was interesting.  I'm just sitting there trying to figure out if my phone is going to work, and out of nowhere the bus just comes to a slammed stop.  Now I have no idea why the driver hit the brakes the way he did, but it was like a scene out of movie when the guy in the backseat of a taxi slams his face into the partition.  I was that guy!  I watched my two carry on bags slide all the way across the luggage rack, and my Klean Kanteen ended up by the driver's foot.  I totally slammed the metal pole in front of me with the side of my face.  I'm thinking, what else can possibly happen today (or whatever day it was).  I get to the hotel, get a room, and then start trying to figure out what the hell my phone is actually going to do.  Mind you, I've had no shower in close to twenty four hours.  By the time I put my head on the pillow, and 8000 miles later, it's about 2:15 a.m. on the 12th...I left on the 10th. 

I slept maybe two and a half hours, but I was really anxious to get to the train station, get my ticket, and get to Katsuura.  The word came down that the boats didn't go out, so Libby with Sea Shepherd could meet me at the train station.  

The train ride from Kansai Airport to Kii-Katsuura was about four hours.  I've never traveled anywhere in the U.S. by train, so to see another country by train was really interesting.  I was amazed at how many little farms and gardens I saw.  So many homes had their own gardens.  It seemed like any available land had something growing on it.  My father-in-law would've really appreciated that.  While a lot of the dwellings I saw looked older, everything was very neat.  Quite different than the United States, where yards or apartments with maybe the same type housing would resemble more a junk yard than someone's home.  It's obvious the people that lived in the houses I was passing took care of what they had.  Not to mention, there aren't a lot of Wal-Marts in Wakayama Prefecture.  At one point I look up and notice there's a windmill farm on top of the cliffs.  It was very much like seeing yesterday and tomorrow in the same place and time.  The dolphin hunters claim this great tradition of hunting and killing dolphins, and yet they do so these days with boats built by Mitsubishi that are guided by GPS systems.  You can erase the image of the town fishermen hopping in some sort of manually powered boat to search for dolphins and whales on the open ocean, that tradition doesn't exist.        

I step off the train in Katsuura, and I'm met not only by Libby, but Nicole, Greg and Georgia.  I drop my bags off at the hotel, and then we head to lunch.  Nicole (who's been assisting Libby during her time here), Greg and Georgia are from Australia.  It was really cool talking about some of the cultural similarities and differences our countries have.  And since there were no dolphins captured and slaughtered today, things were pretty relaxed. 

Since when are wild animals property of anyone?
After lunch, Libby took me around town for a quick tour of the key spots.  Having seen The Cove many times now, I was familiar with how the process works, and where everything happens.  But to see everything in person, it was almost like being on a movie set.  Problem is, this is not make believe.  When dolphins are in the Cove, the death and destruction is very real.  Libby tells me you can hear the dolphins crying out, and the splashing of their tails after their spines are pierced with a metal spike just behind the blow hole.  The dolphin hunters then insert a wooden peg into the hole to minimize the mount of blood that fills the water.  They know that more and more people are watching and paying attention to what's going on, and their change in tactics reflect that.  The fishermen are definitely in full PR mode now when it comes to not showing an entire pod of dolphins being slaughtered and gutted.  Tarps are drawn to cover the killing Cove, and now the fishermen will bypass the gutting barge and take the dead dolphins directly to the butcher house to have their heads, tails and guts removed.  That's what happens here in Taiji.  Wild dolphins are herded into the Cove, and after the trainers have their pick, the rest are slaughtered.    

Around the corner is a dolphin's worst nightmare.
I've had people ask me why the fishermen just don't release the dolphins that aren't taken by the trainers.  That's a great question, considering how little money is made from selling the dolphin meat. I'm not sure if anyone knows the answer to that question.  It's clear that the live capture trade is what keeps the drive going.  And this is where you can help, by doing absolutely nothing!  All you have to do IS NOT buy a ticket to a dolphinarium, swim with dolphins program, or live dolphin show.  In the U.S., the folks at Sea World, the new dolphin exhibit being readied at the Georgia Aquarium (sponsored corporately by AT&T), and other places will say that the dolphins they have are not from Taiji.  That would violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  They'll also say they do not condone drive fisheries, such as the one in Taiji.  Yet organizations like IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainers Association), the organization that provides the "oversight" for the marine animal trainer industry, and who's membership includes parks all over the United States and world, allows representatives from facilities that obtain dolphins directly from Taiji to join their organization and attend their annual conference.  So on the one hand, the animal trainer industry will publicly condemn the slaughter in Taiji, yet within it's own ranks apparently does nothing to discipline or punish the trainers that are directly benefiting from the very same dolphins.  The success of places like Sea World has helped perpetuate the industry around the world, and that means a demand for dolphins.  One does feed the other.  They will tell you it doesn't, but it most certainly does.   

As I finish this blog up, it's about 4:30 in the morning. I managed to finally get some meaningful rest, but I'm very anxious.  In a few hours, we will head down to the harbor to see if the boats have gone out.  The movie ends, and the reality begins.  The death I might witness is very real and very disturbing.  It's all about exploitation and greed.  There is no respect in the Cove.  Like many of the factory slaughterhouses back home, it's a well-oiled killing machine that doesn't see the red, but the green.       


Monday, January 31, 2011

Sustainability and Responsibility

"Our ancestors viewed the earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we know is the case only if we care for it. It is not difficult to forgive destruction in the past that resulted from ignorance. Today, however, we have access to more information, and it is essential that we re-examine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations."--His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I've been watching a lot of documentaries lately about two things: our food, and our oceans.  I know a lot of people discredit political, social, and environmental documentaries, because they feel it ends up supporting only one side of a particular issue.  Maybe so, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're factually inaccurate, or that they don't make a supportive case for their argument.  I believe a lot of peoples' decisions to support an issue are based upon their perception of the people involved, and not the issue itself...especially when it comes to animal rights and the environment.   While humans claim the top of the food chain, a lot of them don't want to claim the responsibility that comes along with occupying that position.  The earth may be on a cycle of change that has occurred since it's creation (however you regard that creation to be), but it's short-sighted and downright irresponsible to think we do not contribute to the degree of change.  I think a lot of people see the earth as an infinite resource for the taking; that fixes itself when it's sick, and can't be permanently hurt, no matter how much pollution we pump in, or how many resources we pull out.  And there are governments and corporations that try to control and monopolize the environment, not just for money, but for power.  Power to suppress, start conflict, wage war, and feed the egos of Presidents, Prime Ministers and CEO's.  This mentality affects every single species on the planet.  

What you buy, how it was made or harvested, where it came from, how it got to all affects the environment.  A good steward is someone who will help reduce that effect.  Now think of that word, "Reduce."  In the U.S., there's the phrase, "Reduce Reuse Recycle."  Seems like a great little marketing tool.  In my hometown, we each have these big blue bins (literally the size of our garbage cans) for putting recyclable products in.  Every two weeks, a truck comes and empties the bins.  While it's great that we have a system in place for recycling, that's the last part of the phrase.  Think about it.  Our first job is to reduce!  Reduce the amount of carbon monoxide we put into the air and water.  Reduce runoff from factory farms.  Reduce our use of plastic.  All of these things are having an immediate and devastating impact on the environment, and they're having an impact on you.  Do you really want to breathe polluted air, eat food contaminated with mercury, E. coli and salmonella, or swim through a pile of plastic garbage at the beach?  The most valuable resource on the planet, the one thing that sustains ALL life, is constantly under attack by humans....water.  Hell, when we search for potential life forms on other planets, we look to see if there is water.

The documentary The End of the Line examines the overfishing of our oceans, and the damage large scale fishing operations are having on coral reefs, coastal fishing communities, and marine wildlife.  Consider this: 

One billion people rely on fish as an important source of protein. 

According to the UNFAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), about 70 per cent of our global fisheries are now being fished close to, already at, or beyond their capacity. 

As many as 90 per cent of all the oceans large fish have been fished out.  
One per cent of the world's industrial fishing fleets account for 50 per cent of the world's catches. 

Government subsidies of over $15 billion a year play a major role in creating the world's fishing fleets. 

The demand for bluefin tuna in Japan and restaurants elsewhere around the world has led to that species being fished to near extinction.  The rate at which bluefin is being fished far exceeds any hope of sustainability.  Mitsubishi Corporation is stockpiling bluefin in enormous sums, and if the species reaches extinction, the cost for that tuna will skyrocket.  It seems our insatiable appetite for tuna is actually our own worst enemy.  The more we want it, the more corporations like Mitsubishi try to control it.

In Taiji, 26 fishermen are responsible for the slaughter of up to 2,000 dolphins a year.  The popularity and financial success of dolphinariums and swim with dolphin programs is what keeps the slaughter going.  Think if there was no demand, and the dolphins could swim the coastline of Japan in peace and freedom.  Unfortunately, any cetacean that swims anywhere near Japan is in jeopardy.  The rate at which Japan is fishing so many species (all over the world) from top to bottom is alarming.  And the fact that Japan refuses to participate with international agreements on quotas begs the question...What will it take for them to actually notice what they're doing to the oceans?  You would think a nation that relies so heavily on the ocean for its food would want to take better care of it. 

In the United States, factory farms are a major contributor to air and water pollution.  Not to mention the ghastly conditions animals are kept in for production.  It's appalling to see these facilities, and the lack of respect for the animals that provide food for so many.  I decided to become vegan mainly because I wanted no part in the way we exploit and abuse animals for profit.  Since then, I've come to realize how seriously jacked up our genetically engineered food is, and the lack of responsibility agribusiness takes for the food they supply, and its impact on the environment.  Corporations like Monsanto and Nestle take advantage of a system that allows them to control the seeds we plant and the water we drink.  We can't take that shit lightly and think we're in good hands.

I realize there are people who want to see the slaughter in Taiji come to an end, and who also enjoy a turkey sandwich.  Cultures draw distinctions between which animals they consume.  It's an uphill fight for animal advocates.  There are people in the United States who get caught up in thinking their rights are being taken away if there are any animal welfare laws.  God forbid we take away the right of someone to run a puppy mill, or to not provide adequate care for their farm animals.  Those people only see animals as property and profit.  It's more appealing to someone if I tell them I've chosen not to consume any meat or dairy and lost twenty five pounds without exercising, lowered my cholesterol, sleep better, have more energy, and feel good about myself, than if I said I gave up all meat and dairy because I love animals.  Look, you can visit a factory farm and feel sorry for the animals that are jammed on top of one another and don't have room to stand up or turnaround, or you can realize that the chicken with open sores and covered in feces might be your dinner one evening.  Get informed about the food you eat.  Do you really want to put genetically engineered meat that's been covered in feces into your body?  Yeah, I get it, you hate PETA.  You'd like nothing better than to jam all the beef, poultry, and pork into your mouth just to piss them off.  But forget about what PETA tells you, and realize that the good you do for animals and the environment is also good for you!  

We have a responsibility to not support facilities that imprison dolphins.  We have a responsibility to support local farmers who practice sustainable farming, and care for their land and the animals.  We have a responsibility to not support companies who irresponsibly use money and power to influence access to food and water.  We have a responsibility to hold our governments accountable for the legislation they put in place that affects the environment.  The power to make things better is right there.  All we have to do is grab it.

We have to look ourselves in the mirror and decide how we want to live.  We can't claim ignorance.  Three documentaries I highly recommend watching are  The End of the Line, Tapped, and No Impact Man.  Every little bit we do to reduce our footprint is a step in the right direction.  If we're truly serious about passing on a better, cleaner, more vibrant planet for future generations, then we have to live sustainably and responsibly.