Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 20: To Be Continued...

 I'm sitting in my bed, writing this on my last night in Japan. It was a great day all things considered; gorgeous weather, no dolphins driven into the cove, and time spend with good friends, but still I've been a mess this whole day.

When I came to this country three weeks ago I was terrified. Terrified I wouldn't get past Immigrations, terrified I'd get lost and wouldn't find my city or hotel, and terrified of the sights I knew lay ahead of me. When I came to this country three weeks ago I was a different person, and it seems like just yesterday and forever ago, all at the same time. I spent my first night crying on the ground in the middle of the airport. Tomorrow I will return to the airport, and can foresee a similar scene. It won't be because I'm alone and afraid though, but because I honestly don't want to leave Japan, Taiji, or the dolphins.

I've met some amazing people here, and have had the extreme pleasure of working alongside truly dedicated and passionate people all working towards the same goal: ending dolphin slaughter everywhere, saving the oceans, and ultimately saving ourselves. I've gotten to know a few amazing Japanese citizens, as well. This was my first time leaving my country (with the exception of Canada, which really doesn't count), so I don't have anything to compare Japan to, all I can say is that I really love it here. Obviously I've been discriminated against on certain occasions, but for the most part the people here are extremely kind and welcoming. If only the people here could treat our ocean with the same level of respect.

I had some goodbyes to say today, and a few more saved for tomorrow. All day I've had this horrible empty feeling in my body, and I know it will only get worse once my plane lifts off. I feel like I'm abandoning what I believe in, abandoning my friends still here, and most importantly abandoning the dolphins in cages and the ones yet to be caught and murdered. It may not do them any good for me to be here, watching and documenting their suffering, but at least I feel like I'm doing as much as I can. Now it just feels like I'm moving on and leaving all of this in my past, as if the 'real world' awaits me. Most people will I'm sure try and reassure me, and tell me that this isn't the case, I can still help from home, I can always return in the future, etc., but to anyone who's ever been here, I know you know what I'm saying. What an awful and consuming feeling this is.

All I can say right now is that this isn't over. I will return to Taiji, hopefully sooner rather than later, and I will continue to fight for the rights of cetaceans until the day I die, or the day the last remaining dolphins die, whichever comes first. They have every right on Earth to live in peace. They have that right just as much as we do, if not more. They are not the problem, we are. They do not start global wars or massively pollute the environment or wipe out major fish stocks one by one until all the populations become critically endangered. They do not use other species to experiment on, kill in excess, or kill for fun. Unlike humans, dolphins do not treat the overall health of their habitat with indifference. Instead they've learned and practice the concept of sustainability. They are incredibly intelligent animals with a complex social structure. They too have culture, and they pass their culture and traditions to younger generations, who will in turn teach their children. They don't come onto land and into our homes and murder us in cold blood, one by one, or take captives for the sheer purpose of amusement. We do all of these things to them though, and we're the ones single-handedly destroying the planet, yet somehow the general consensus among humans is that we're the superior beings. There are certain species we tend to fear, like sharks and bears and lions, because we've wandered into their territory and occasionally became dinner, but I wonder what every other species in the world thinks of us? We must be the most terrifying creatures of all. There is not a species out there that we don't harm or exploit in some way or another.

We can do so much harm to our planet and our fellow Earthlings, but we can also do amazingly great things. We have the power to start saving lives rather than ending them on mass scale. We have the science to nurse our ocean back to health and once again have plentiful, thriving seas. Save our seas, save our planet, save ourselves.

But we can't do this unless we cooperate. Together we stand, divided we fall. We can play it us vs. them, but that game can and will go on for a long, long time, probably until it's all too late anyways. There's too much pride at work to simply force a country (or a small but powerful percentage of said country) to end a practice it does not want to end. At this point I wonder what drives these fishermen more; their desire to kill eat dolphins, or our desire for them to stop?

I feel like all I'm doing is preaching to the choir, which sure, boosts my spirits, but it will never accomplish anything. Hopefully during my three weeks here, someone somewhere in the world, preferably Japan, has read something on here that has ignited a spark in them to help us end the cruel and heartless practice of dolphin slaughter and captivity worldwide. The change needs to come from within this country, not from us trying to force it on them. I wish I could stay here and help open lines of communication with the people who can end this once and for all, but like I say, I will be back again. And hopefully I will see Japan willingly and enthusiastically leave this tradition in the past, where it belongs.

Thank you to everyone who's been so supportive of my journey, your words of encouragement have helped to keep me going. Thanks to Leah and Rosie for teaching me so much, and working so tirelessly for the dolphins. You ladies are amazing and an inspiration and I will miss you very much. Thanks to Martyn for always making me laugh. You've really helped to get me through some very difficult times, probably more than you'll ever know. In your absence we've had plenty of Martyn quotes, and while it's not the same, they suffice. :)

A very special thanks goes out to Tetsuya and all of the police here who work insanely long days and forfeit time with their families in order to keep us safe. I have the utmost respect for each and every one of you, and will miss not having you around. I very much hope we will meet again in the future.

This will be my final blog, for now. Tomorrow I will reluctantly step on a plane, leaving a part of my heart behind with the many dolphins who've tragically lost their lives here, either in death or captivity. To the broken pod of Risso's and rough toothed dolphins, you will remain with me forever. I love you, and hope you have found your peace, and made your way far, far away from this dangerous coast and people here who hurt and misunderstand you. For you, I will never give up.

For the oceans...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 19: Where are you now?

What a beautiful morning it was, complete with a perfectly pink sunrise. I've always had the ocean to the west of me, so every sunrise I've ever seen has been over mountains and land. Here, I get a sunrise over the ocean. I love beginning my day this way, waking up with the ocean.

The banger boats went out and we began our waiting game. A few hours went by, and we started to worry because weren't seeing them heading back in, having given up their search. Then we spotted a group of evenly spaced dots on the horizon - they were banger boats, and they had found a pod and were in drive formation. They eased the pod in, ever so slowly. The progress was painfully slow, which allowed us to have hope that the dolphins could still escape. It never happened. It is a horrible feeling watching the banger boats drive the dolphins into the harbor and past the point of no return. I can't even imagine the fear they felt, and what the captive dolphins in the harbor pens were feeling as well, having to listen to their cries.

Once they were in the cove it was sheer panic. The water looked like it was boiling with Risso's dolphins. Amongst the Risso's, we occasionally caught a glimpse of another dolphin species, a species with a beak. After a bit more observation we discovered there were two rough toothed dolphins in the mix. Not only are these dolphins quite rare to encounter, but Japan has no permit for catching or killing this species.

The small skiffs went into the cove and pushed the dolphins out of sight, into the killing cove. After a few minutes the two rough toothed dolphins reappeared, swimming together just outside the net separating them from the rest. Then, Risso's began to appear. Suddenly there were ten dolphins swimming in the tight group - eight Risso's and the two rough toothed dolphins. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the rough toothed's swimming in such close proximity to the Risso's. It was so obvious that, even though they are a different species, they were terrified and needed the comfort of a pod, even if it wasn't their pod.

The dolphin killers were busy murdering their family in front of them, and when the killers were done they started dragging the bodies out of the cove. The skiff drove right through the center of that tight grouping of Risso's and rough toothed's, and split them on either side of the boat. The ones who were pushed to the right had to watch as their now dead family members were pulled through the water, just inches from them. I can't even begin to think about what that must have been like for them.

After the carcasses were taken around the corner to the butcher house, all the boats left the scene, and left the ten dolphins still netted off in the cove. We weren't sure what the fishermen's next move would be. Time stood still. I have no idea how long we sat there, mostly in silence, trying to cope with the events we'd just witnessed. We were hot, thirsty, and exhausted, but there was no way any of us would even think about taking our eyes off the still living dolphins for fear of what might happen.

After what felt like days, we began to hear boats returning. First came two skiffs, followed by seven banger boats. One skiff drove into the killing cove, and when it reappeared we realized that it had dropped some killers back off onto the beach. I felt a burning anger engulf my mind and body. Were they really going to kill them? Now? After making them suffer for so long? No, no they weren't. Instead, they drew back the net sealing in the cove, and after a skiff scared the dolphins out out, the banger boats began a reverse drive - they started driving the remaining dolphins back out to sea. The drive out looked like a mess. The pod kept splitting, not surprisingly though because they were even more tired at this point, plus they now associated death with the banging noise. From what we could see, it looked like the boats got them out of the entrance to the harbor, continued a short ways, and turned back for home.

Why did they let them go? As far as the rough toothed dolphins are concerned, that's pretty cut and dry. They had no permit to catch them, and they had to know we would see them. But why did they release just under half of the Risso's they'd worked so hard to get in the first place? The first dolphins that we saw after the final net was drawn were the rough toothed's. It wasn't until later that the Risso's were let out, it was absolutely deliberate on the dolphin killer's part. Why did they decide not to kill them? How did they decide how many and which individuals they would spare? I have no answers, only questions. I wish the fishermen had a public blog like all of us, and we could see into their minds like they see into ours. Perhaps we'd get a bit further if this weren't such a one sided conversation all the time.

With a full on slaughter, once it's over, it's over. The suffering has ended and hopefully the dolphins can be at peace. Today, there was death, but lives were also spared, and these dolphins are far from peace. My thoughts have been with these ten dolphins all day, and I know they will be with them for forever. 

Where are you now? Were you able to navigate past all the fishing nets and boats and unfamiliar inshore waters, back out to the continental shelf? Or are you scared, lost, and confused, swimming circles in a place that must resemble hell to you, waiting in vain for the rest of your family to join you? Will you make it out of here before the banger boats go out again tomorrow? Which members of your pod are now missing? And what about you, rough toothed dolphins, where will you go? You witnessed an inhumane, heartless act that no one should ever have to endure, and the trauma must be affecting you terribly. Will you stay with the Risso's? Or are you two all alone?

The sun has set on this nightmare of a day, and I hope and pray that you can find some sort of peace so that you may rest your eyes and sleep, taking comfort in the company of one another. I'm so sorry for what my species has done to you, and I'm sorry for just standing there and watching it all happen. You have every right to live on this planet, and I hope that the people here will soon understand that. Rest in peace, both in life and death, beautiful dolphins.

And where are you, Taiji dolphin killers? In the comfort of your home, surrounded by your family? Will you even give a second thought to the family you destroyed just hours ago as you lay in bed tonight? Or will you sleep soundly, a belly full of dolphin, ignorant to the sufferings you've caused? You should be the ones mentally tortured right now, not the dolphins. Such a disgrace. Your actions make me embarrassed to be a part of the same species as you.

Huddled together for comfort, rough toothed's on the left outside

Skiff dragging bodies, pod just in front

Rough toothed dolphins, the bottom one has a bloody beak

Swimming for their lives

Terrified and heartbroken at the loss of their family, the dolphins huddle close to one another for comfort

Many of the dolphins were cut up after exiting the killing cove, like this one shown here

More injuries, this time to the dorsal fin. What did these fishermen do to them before deciding not to kill them?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 18: Extirpation

Dear Japan, where are your pinnipeds? Everywhere has some species of seal or sea lion, so why do your beaches appear completely void of them? Maybe I'm missing something...

Naturally, I did a bit of research today to put this question to rest. Here's what I found out:

There are indeed a few species of seals who's range includes Japan, including the spotted seal and harbor seal. There was once a commercial hunt on seals, and although it has ceased, it is reported that they are still hunted on occasion.

I continued my research and learned a little bit more...

In addition to seals, Japan was also once the home of a sea lion species closely related to Guadalupe and California sea lions, appropriately named Japanese sea lions, and also known as black sea lions. These sea lions ranged along the west and east coast of Honshu, off Shikoku and Kyushu, in the Seto Inland Sea, and on islands in the Sea of Japan and the Izu region. A few stragglers could be found in the Kuril Islands to the north, and the east coast of South Korea. In the 1800's, scientists estimate the population was between 30,000-50,000. By the 1930's the population was down to about 300 individuals, and by the 1950's it had dropped to only a few dozen. This species is thought to have gone extinct sometime during that decade.

What was this species like? What did they eat? How long did they live? When and where did they birth and wean their pups? No one really knows. There is very little literature on this species, because so much is pure conjecture without being able to study a living population. I guess Japan's 'lethal research' program did not apply back then.

So what happened to the Japanese sea lion? They were hunted to extinction, wiped forever from our planet. According to my research, their meat was not eaten due to poor taste, instead they were harvested for their fur and oil. It is said that some organs were used in traditional medicine, and whiskers were used as pipe cleaners. It's also possible that they were targeted because fishermen saw them as competition. In addition to mass murder, many were taken for captivity. Now why does that sound familiar?

Extinction is forever; there's no going back once a species is gone. What will become of Japan's dolphins? They're killed indiscriminately, whenever they unknowingly venture too close to this country's many killing machines. I read earlier that (historically) fishermen would refrain from killing dolphin calves and females with calves. What happened to that part of the tradition? Now the dolphin killers rush out of the harbor every morning with the intentions of driving any and every cetacean they can into the cove, sparing only those who can be sold to aquariums. They are only able to drive dolphins so effectively because they have an insanely fast fleet of banger boats which dolphins are unable to outswim. Where is the tradition in that? It's just like how a few years ago, several individuals from the Makah Indian Tribe, which in the past has had a permit for subsistence hunting, set out in their speed boat and shot a gray whale using a machine gun. The concept may be a historical one, but nothing about this current method can be called traditional. No, this is no longer about tradition, more like arrogance and self-entitlement.

Even so, whether it can be considered tradition or not is completely beside the point. The Japanese sea lion is now extinct, and what are we left with? Was it worth it? And who gave you permission to eliminate an entire species, anyways? You annihilated them without consulting the rest of us here on Earth, and now we'll never have the opportunity to see them. How long until all of the dolphin species passing by the coast of Japan are extirpated due to captures and drive hunts? Even if quotas were to be set at a sustainable level, tradition could still not be used as a valid excuse. Every country has traditions that it has moved past. Take slavery for example; this U.S. tradition went on for centuries. Does that justify it? No. It only means that it took us that long to be forced to open our eyes to the insane cruelty we were teaching younger generations.

You say your dolphin drive hunts are tradition, I say it's high time that tradition end. Why not start passing down a new concept to your children, like respect, and the ability to coexist with the ocean's inhabitants? Why not turn in those white boots for a camera, and convert those speedy banger boats into whale watching vessels? Death is wasteful, however life is more valuable than we can comprehend. Turn that life into a successful wild dolphin watching tourism business, and you will survive just fine - I should know, that's how I make my living.

"We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 17: Leaving things a little better

I laid in bed last night listening to the rain hitting my window. I've always loved this sound, it has a way of washing a feeling of calm over me. Here in Taiji, it relaxes me even more. The weather reports called for gale force winds today, and when we stepped outside this morning into the pouring down rain, we knew it there would be no dolphin killing in the cove.

The downside of the heavy wind was seen at Dolphin Base. The seapens were being tossed about by the waves, and you could see the dolphins working to avoid being slammed into the sides. It must have been exhausting for them. We moved on to monitor the dolphins at the Taiji Whale Museum and were unlucky enough to catch another show. This time only one of the bottlenose dolphins beached itself and vocalized. In a neighboring tank, another dolphin threw its body up onto the platform as well, though very awkwardly and on its side. It was echolocating like crazy. Normally this is a trick that would be rewarded with fish, however this dolphin was not a part of the show, and so it went unnoticed.

After the show ended it was time for the lovely guests to have their photo taken with a dolphin. The dolphin who had just completed the show beached itself again, and laid there with its mouth wide open. People walked by and barely glanced its way, as if that was some sort of normal resting behavior. This dolphin did not get a fish either, though the trainer did sit on it for a moment... What a loving sign of affection.

Before heading home Leah and I decided to stop off at the cove. Because of the high wind and surf, the beach was covered in debris. I noticed a big green piece of plastic that had washed up on the rocks and when I picked it up to discard it, I discovered it was a bag. Now I had a bag, and saw a ton of plastic crap dangerously near a beautiful ocean, and so I got to work. Leah and I were able to fill the whole bag with bottle caps, lighters, light bulbs, miscellaneous colorful plastic chips, larger plastic pieces, styrofoam bits, wrappers, rope, etc., etc. We even encountered some questionable objects like a tiny glass bottle with a rubber top that I'm pretty sure was meant for a syringe... I guess there's a wide array of bad behavior that goes on in that place.

The beach was by no means 100% plastic free after our visit, that would have take many more bags, and much more time, but it was substantially better. As we were leaving, Leah made a very poignant observation; she said that people will continue to debate whether or not we should be in Taiji, whether they think our strategy is effective, and whether or not dolphin slaughter will ever end, but at the end of the day, we left this tiny beach a little better than we found it.

There is a great sense of helplessness that I've felt while being here. We bear witness to suffering day in and day out, and the only thing we can do is take pictures. If I could have lifted Jiyu out of his pen and taken him out to the open ocean, I would have. If I could put myself between the dolphins and dolphin killers, I would. But I can't do what I know is right; this approach would only get me thrown in jail. In order to be respectful of the police and Japanese law, which is immensely important to me, all I can do is document their pain from the sidelines, and know that I'm doing everything I can.

There's no law against spending an afternoon cleaning a beach, however. And it is of great comfort to know that I left at least one thing a little better than I found it, here in Taiji, Japan.

To the people of the Japanese blog:

Thanks for the photo change :)

In response to point 1), I can only speak for myself, however in my 2 1/2 weeks here, I have not met a police officer who I did not like. On the contrary, I've enjoyed meeting them all, and I have the utmost respect for them and for what they do. Obviously actions speak louder than words, and hopefully through your observations from afar (or maybe close?) you will learn that I mean no disrespect to Japanese people, and I hope to help facilitate an open dialog about why we are against dolphin slaughter by anyone, in any country. My time in your beautiful country will be coming to an end soon, for now, but maybe someday in the future our paths will cross again.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 16: Rest in Peace, Jiyu

As reported yesterday, we expected Jiyu, a severely emaciated and neurotic bottlenose dolphin at Dolphin Base, would be dead by today. Looks like we were right.

After watching the boats fail in their mission to find dolphins this morning, we went to find out what had happened with Jiyu. We weren't positive what we'd find, but expected one of two possibilities: 1., Jiyu would be heavily sedated and just floating around his tank, or 2., he would not be there at all. To be honest we'd hoped for the latter. If emaciation were the only issue, we would have been begging for proper treatment and medicine, however it wasn't just physical, the poor dolphin was lost in his mind somewhere. I don't know if he could have been brought back, but I do know Dolphin Base could not, or would, not have dedicated the proper time and money to try. And I know they wouldn't have rehabilitated and released him, which is what he and all of their dolphins need. So in this situation death was really the best option for Jiyu.

When we arrived at Dolphin Base we had a feeling he wouldn't be there because we walked right past another dolphin killer. I think it's safe to say Dolphin Base works closely with, or has friends who are, dolphin killers. They ought to put that on their flyers. Maybe frequent dolphin meat eaters can get a discounted dolphin show. And no, Jiyu was no where to be seen. I absolutely can't imagine any other aquarium would have taken him in his state, so it's safe to say that he was taken out and murdered like the rest of his pod. It makes me wonder if someone is eating Jiyu right now. Welcome to the world of dolphin captivity. At least Jiyu finally has the freedom he was meant to have.

It's so hard to fathom how these dolphin trainers can run around talking about how much they love dolphins. Let's see, they gave money to the people who killed Jiyu's pod, took this wild dolphin and locked him away in a tiny pen, and then let him starve and go crazy while they ignored him. Then, when the world took notice of this, they brought someone in to off him. And they call this love? That's absolutely tragic, because if they honestly believe they love dolphins, then they have no concept of what love is.

Likewise, anyone who visits dolphinariums claim to love them as well. Why don't they ever consider what the dolphin's life must be like? How can they supposedly care about something and be so disconnected?

Dolphin slaughter is not the only issue, dolphin captivity is just as bad, and worse to some. And Taiji is not the only place in the world where dolphin slaughter and capture occurs. Similar drive hunts take place across the globe, and wild dolphins are shipped to marine parks around the world, all in the name of profit. Remove money from the situation, and the pieces will crumble and fall. If everyone were to stop purchasing tickets to aquariums, the aquariums would have no money and no need to buy more dolphins. If they don't need anymore dolphins, fishermen will not be able to make the money they need to sustain their hunt. So the name of the game is education. If people can learn to understand the stressful and psychotic lives captive dolphins are forced to endure, and compare them with their social, active, wild counterparts, then hopefully they will think twice before supporting this industry.

So why are we here in Taiji? Well, this is just as good of a starting point as any, I suppose, and if we can't help an intelligent and civilized country like Japan to open their eyes to the truth, then we've got no hope for the rest of the world. I had an infuriating debate earlier today with someone who simply refused to believe and therefore care about the quality of life of captive dolphins. I know there are people like that out there; people who are so self-centered and absorbed that they brush off whatever you say, despite the science and logic backing it up. They wouldn't want to tarnish that wonderful memory of swimming with a dolphin while on vacation. They don't want to hear that this dolphin once had a family, and doesn't exist for the sole purpose of letting them kiss it and hug it and get dragged around a bathtub by its fin. They believe the lies that it is happy, and more fortunate than the others because it doesn't have to 'work' for its food. They believe this animal, who has evolved over millions of years to be perfectly adapted to its ocean environment, is actually better off in human dominated confinement. These people outright disgust me, and unfortunately they will always exist in the world. But I have to believe, I just have to, that the majority of people could and would care, if they knew the whole story, and it is up to those of us who care to teach them. And that my friends, that is why we are in Taiji.

Rest in peace, Jiyu, we can't hurt you anymore.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 15: Gone psychotic

Well, there is never a dull day in Taiji, that's for sure!

The dolphin killers were out today in force, and managed to find a pod. It was either a huge pod, or a money pod (like false killer whales or Pacific white sided dolphins, something they can sell to aquariums), because the hunters chased it for a very long time. After over 5 hours of searching and chasing they finally gave up and threw in the towel. We loved watching as they filed one by one back into the harbor, empty handed. After such an intense morning we were especially happy that they were unable to catch dolphins! Safe for another 24 hours at least... Dolphin killers are dedicated and hard working. They don't take days off unless there is a very good reason.

We then headed to Dolphin Base to confirm the presence of a pilot whale now living in one of the pens. Not exactly sure where it came from, but after watching for a long while we finally saw it logging in one of the hard to see corners of the pen. I guess I get to add another cetacean to the list of whales that I've seen in person. :/

The very worst part of this visit, and probably the worst thing I'll witness while here, was the pathetic existence of a dolphin named Jiyu. Rosie has been monitoring Jiyu for several weeks now, and his condition is getting worse. He is extremely emaciated, just skin and bones. Along his underside you can see the definition of his skeleton. His physical condition alone is enough to make you cry, but the most gut wrenching part is his mental health. Jiyu has gone completely neurotic. All he does is spyhop, in the same spot, over, and over, and over again. He probably spyhops once every 15 seconds or so. If the other dolphins in the pen got too close, which they often did, perhaps trying to play with him, he'd simply drift over to another corner and continue spyhopping. His eyes were not open, and he's so thin that his eye sockets are actually sunken into his head. I'm not even sure if he realized what he was doing. He certainly doesn't appear to have the energy to do this, but perhaps his mind has become disconnected from his body.

After seeing this, I was extremely distressed. I went back to the hotel to start processing footage, and Rosie stayed behind to be with Jiyu. We put out a call to action, asking people to politely phone and email Dolphin Resort and ask them to give him the medical attention he severely needs. At one point the trainers came to feed the dolphins. They paid no attention to him whatsoever, despite the fact that he was spyhopping literally right in front of where they were sitting. He did not receive any food or care of any kind.

Well, perhaps in response to the call to action, a dolphin killer in a wetsuit showed up at Dolphin Base just a few short hours later. When he saw Rosie, he left. Our guess is that Dolphin Base decided to get rid of this problem the easiest way they know how. Obviously these people are not against murder. Well now we've found out that their contact info is no longer functioning. Their telephone number is disconnected, and their website now connects directly with the blog created for information about those of us who've come here against the dolphin slaughter.

I haven't mentioned this blog on here before, so let me tell you a bit about it. It's basically meant to serve as a warning for us, just letting us know they're watching us. It has photos of us, personal info, travel details, etc. Stuff they basically shouldn't know. That's fine though, they claim all they want is for us to be aware of Japanese law and to follow it, and like I've been saying, we have a very good relationship with the police and we intend to keep it that way. As a side note, Save Japan Dolphins does not aspire to have a blog about the dolphin killers, with their photos and personal information, but if they feel they need to keep this on us, fine by me. As a side note to the admins of this blog (who I know are reading this), can I please request a better picture??? I don't so much care for that photo of myself. The only reason it exists is because I was posing with Ric O'Barry, and since you cut him out of it, it's really now just an unattractive picture of me. Feel free to grab a better one off this blog. Just a request though, of course! :)

Anyways, the night did not end there, but I won't bore you with the details. My guess is that Jiyu was either killed tonight, or will be killed sometime in the near future, and eaten. I suppose they only care to spend so much time and resources on a dolphin before they decide it is a lost cause. Such a disgrace. Just think, had they never interfered with nature, Jiyu would still be out there somewhere in that beautiful sea, amongst his pod.

Jiyu is the reason not to buy a ticket to an aquarium. Jiyu, and the countless other beautiful souls who've lost their minds and lost their lives in dolphinariums around the world so that we may be entertained. Personally, I'm at a complete loss for how anyone could get enjoyment out of another being's suffering.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 14: Two weeks down

And only about one more week to go...

Anyone who's been to Taiji for this purpose will tell you that this place changes you, and while I believed it, it was impossible to understand just how much until I experience it for myself.

This place can rip you up and tear you apart. It can break your heart over and over again and make you feel absolutely unwelcome. For the first time in my life I know what it feels like to be discriminated against by people who've never even had a conversation with me. Almost everyone who passes by me stares.

And yet, despite all of this hatred, there is so much comfort here. I can't imagine what my time here would have been like had I not been surrounded by such an amazing group of people. We may have different tactics and see things a little differently, but ultimately we're all working towards the same end result. At the end of the day, no matter how traumatic the days events, the friendships I've made here provide the support to keep me going. We haven't known each other very long, but sharing the same passions and experiencing the same emotional highs and lows helps us form a quick and strong bond. It's strange, but I don't think I've ever laughed so much in my life. It just wouldn't be the same without these people. Tomorrow morning we will say goodbye to 3 friends who are leaving hard shoes to fill. Hopefully I'll gain a few more friends before my time here is over.

Everyday that passes brings me one day closer to leaving, and I think that is going to be the hardest part of this whole journey. I'm definitely not ready to leave Japan yet and abandon the dolphins. In my head I know that's not what I'm doing, but that's definitely how it feels, and I know of a few people in particular who understand that completely. I'm still not sure how I'm going to do it...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 13: Screams to haunt your dreams

Another glorious dolphin-free day at the Cove! It was quite warm again today. It was windy, but a warm wind. Perfect climate in my opinion. If it were based on weather and scenery alone I would want to move here! Not sure if the wind had anything to do with it, but the boats were unable to drive any dolphins back with them today.

Pebble art - the direct result of nervously waiting for the banger boats to return
 Leah's back in town, and her and I stopped off at the Whale Museum to check on the captive dolphins. It just so happened that they were about to start a show for a few (and I literally mean a few) nicely dressed audience members, so of course we stayed to watch. Happy peppy techno music pumped loudly in the air and an announcer (I'm guessing a recording) narrated the whole way through.

The show was disturbing, to say the very, very least. I don't know that I've ever seen a dolphin show before, so I don't have any aquarium to compare it to, but it thoroughly disgusted me. It was clearly meant to give the impression of dominance, and the dolphins had to beg at white boots of the trainer for a small balled up scrap of unknown meat. The participants in this show were one Pacific white sided dolphin and two bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins in the side tanks (the show took place in the middle tank) were not involved, but could be heard echolocating very loudly throughout the show. The Pacific white sided was told to do many back flips, somersaults, and high flying leaps, and while it was in the air it had to whip its tail up and down something like 5 times before it hit the water again. While that was going on the bottlenose dolphins were commanded to beach themselves on the platform, and remain there while the trainer pointed out the dorsal fin and wobbled it back and forth. I was really interested to know what the announcer was saying during that odd moment. Right after that the white sided dolphin swam over and they pointed out its dorsal fin as well. Who knows. I'm sure it was very educational, though...

While beached, the dolphins were asked to vocalize one at a time. I will never forget that sound. I've found while being here that I'm pretty good at separating myself with my camera - I can get behind the lens and somehow things seem a little less present, more like I'm watching it on tv. But those screams, they slammed me back into reality, hard. I instantly had tears running down my face. To me, that moment felt worse than watching the drive hunts unfold. In a bizarre way, I believe the murdered dolphins are the luckier ones. At least their pain and suffering has ended. These captive dolphins all carry the memory of the drive hunts with them. They helplessly watched their families being brutally slaughtered and heard their screams of pain and fear. Then they were loaded up and hauled off to the Whale Museum, where they are being forced to spend the rest of their miserable lives as slaves to entertainment. Perhaps the screams they made today were echoing the last cries they heard from their families before they were silenced.

After the show ended it was time for the guests to have their photo taken with a dolphin. The trainers moved to another small tank and again a dolphin had to beach itself on the platform. This 'trick' is quite uncomfortable, if not downright painful for the dolphins, by the way. Their bone structure and overall size and weight were designed perfectly for aquatic conditions, not land. Out of water their bodies cannot support their sheer weight, and their internal organs begin to collapse under the immense pressure. So while this was going on, the visitors walked over, placed their hand on the dolphin's back, and smiled for the camera. They all wanted their up close and personal encounter with this beautiful creature, and it made me wonder how much they knew or cared about the slaughter occurring all over their country. I wondered how many of them ate dolphin meat.

Throughout the photo process the dolphin was asked to get back in the water and the trainer would toss it a fish, and then call it back out onto the platform. At the end of this session the trainer grabbed two fish out of his bucket and showed them to the dolphin who'd been on the platform, and another who instantly swam over to receive the food. The trainer then dropped the fish back into the bucket and walked away. He did not return.

It's hard to imagine how people could be so blind to this kind of cruelty, but I know it does happen. Not every dolphin trainer or aquarium visitor knows how torturous this life is for the animals they claim to love. Some have chosen not to think about it, while others believe the lies that have been fed down to them. There are a few though, a few who know and don't care. A few who actually get enjoyment from dominating over another life. Ignorance is not an excuse, however it is the latter group of people who are the real problem in this whole thing.

The fact is, there is a direct connection between the captivity industry and the drive hunts. Any dolphinarium anywhere in the world is either directly or indirectly contributing to the slaughter, and they are ALL guilty of the torture that goes hand in hand with dolphin captivity. The solution is so simple: Don't buy a ticket. Just don't do it! If no one buys a ticket to a dolphin show, no aquarium wants to buy more dolphins. If no aquarium wants to buy dolphins, the drive hunts of Taiji would no longer be financially viable. Dolphin meat doesn't keep the fishermen in business, the sale of live dolphins do. Shut down the captivity industry and we will shut down the hunts. Continue to support the industry, and the murder will never cease.

I would like to say goodbye for now to Peter, who left today. I will miss the pancakes, muffins, and beer, but most of all I'll miss your company. Until we meet again!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 11: A rare and secret look inside the killing cove

It was good dolphin hunting weather again today in Taiji. The boats went out and we endured the excruciating wait of an unknown outcome. Finally, the boats headed our way. Just as our excitement was building, we saw them make an immediate 180 degree turn and speed away towards other boats still on the horizon. They had found dolphins. We watched the black smoke on the horizon but had no idea what was happening. After a chase the boats were all heading back in again, NOT in a drive formation! They had apparently lost whatever they'd found. Glad the dolphins were able to outfight them!

It was especially great that the dolphins won today because it is International Anti-Whaling Day! In honor of this we drove to the cove and made a whale and dolphin sculpture out of the beach rocks, along with a sign that said 'End The Killing'. A bit hard to see in the photos, but it looked great in person!
11/05/11 - International Anti-Whaling Day - Hey WORLD, please stop slaughtering whales and dolphins!

The BIG NEWS today is footage from inside the cove that has been bravely filmed and shared with two activists here, by an anonymous local. Many, many thanks to whoever you are for doing this and giving the world insight to what is behind those tarps; the last sight dolphins see before they're taken out of this world. Hopefully more Japanese citizens will follow this lead and start standing up against this atrocity. Here's the link with photos and video from inside the cove:
Inside the killing cove - The sound of critters

And here is the opposite view, looking into the cove from the water. This is Martyn Stewart's video of the path the dolphins are forced to take, leading them into the killing cove. Props to Martyn for putting this together, and Ady Gil for (legally) taking his boat into the killing cove. Video link here:
Death route of the dolphins

Finally our day is winding down. So here we all sit, downstairs in our cozy little hotel lobby all gathered around our computers processing footage, telling the world about what goes on here, and enjoying a beer and a few good laughs with a few great friends. It's pouring down rain right now - hopefully it will last through the morning!

Life in Taiji is not easy, though I can say wholeheartedly that the life of an activist is a good life.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 10: No dolphins murdered today - at least not in the cove

Fortunately I don't have much to post about today, which means it was a good day in Taiji! The boats went out this morning and despite the sun and calm seas, they came back empty handed. No dolphins were murdered in the cove today - dolphin lovers rejoice! Let us not forget though that this isn't the only place in the world where dolphin slaughter occurs.

Three days ago was the official start of the Dall's porpoise hunt here in Japan. Here is a bit about it, taken from the Environmental Investigation Agency's website:

Today (November 1) is the official opening of Japan’s annual Dall’s porpoise hunt, the largest direct hunt of any whale, dolphin and porpoise in the world.

The port of Otsuchi, in northern Japan, is the focal point of the hand harpoon hunt which has claimed up to 15,000 Dall’s porpoises in previous years.

It is still unclear whether the hunt – described by International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientists as “clearly unsustainable” – will go ahead this year due to the aftermath of the devastation wreaked in the region by March’s tsunami.

Dolphin hunts at Taiji are ongoing, continuing to supply Japanese consumers with cetacean meat full of dangerous pollutants, including mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Once landed, Japan’s catch of porpoises and dolphins is processed and sold in supermarkets and fish markets throughout the country, sometimes illegally mislabeled as ‘whale meat’ to increase its value.

The Environmental Investigation Agency has traveled to Otsuchi, in the prefecture of Iwate, many times in recent years to monitor and raise awareness of the hunt in a bid to ensure its grossly detrimental impact on marine conservation and consumer health does not continue to be overlooked.

“In the past 20 years, more than 300,000 Dall’s porpoises have been hunted just to produce toxic meat for human consumption,” said EIA Senior Campaigner Clare Perry.

“Most Japanese people know nothing of the Dall’s hunt and yet they continue to be misled about it, both in regard to the true nature of the resulting products and to the very serious health risks of eating such contaminated meat.

“The only impediment to this year’s hunt taking place appears to be the physical damage to the industry caused by the tsunami; there’s certainly nothing to indicate any significant change in official Japanese attitudes – and nothing at all to stop them embarking on this dreadful hunt once conditions again make it possible.”


And of course, Japan is by no means the only country that senselessly kills dolphins and other whales. And for what, to slowly poison friends and family with their toxic meat? To eliminate the fishing competition so that you can eat the oceans empty all by yourselves? The pride of not listening to others?

What will you do when the dolphins are gone?! Eliminate the next biggest thing I'm sure, tuna perhaps. And when all the tuna are gone, the focus will switch to the next largest species and so on and so forth. Then our oceans will be dead and the world will no longer be worth living in. Fortunately we won't have to endure that for too long, because when the oceans go so will we. About 85% of our oxygen comes from microscopic phytoplankton floating around in healthy productive seas. No ocean, no oxygen, no life. None of this is conjecture by the way, this is all cold hard science.

When will the world wake up and realize all of this? Why can't we all see the value in a rich, thriving, abundant ocean that will benefit us for generations to come, rather than the one time minuet value of a dead dolphin? With as many dolphins as the fishermen manage to find each year, could you imagine if they instead started up a wild dolphin watching business? Dolphins are worth so much more alive than dead, there's just no arguing with that.

So here's hoping that in the not so distant future we can educate others about the importance of a healthy world ocean and save it while we still have the chance. Here's hoping we can all shift our opinions to see the value of life over the value of death. Here's hoping we can see dolphins for what they really are: highly intelligent and social beings that have just as much right to live on this planet as we do.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 9: Oh man, this place sucks.

Well, for those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you know how the day went.

My day was the worst day ever - the day I've been dreading - the reason I came here at all. I tried to prepare myself, and actually I think I handled it OK all things considered, but the live show was far worse than I could have imagined.

Drive formation, chasing pod of Risso's
The boats went out and quickly became specks on the horizon. Within a short amount of time five of the specks came together and started heading our way. My heart fell out of my chest. I thought I was going to throw up. We grabbed our gear, left our lookout, and headed to the cove and the steps of Takababe. On the way up Rosie pointed out that this tsunami evacuation site was useless, because no one could possibly get to the top quick enough. I think she's right. As we continued to huff and puff our way up, I knew that what I was feeling wasn't even a fraction of what the dolphins were going through. I hate those steps for more than just being steep now. I hate them for what they lead to. As the boats came in I could see small disturbances in the water. It was dolphins, swimming for their lives, straight toward us and the cove. One group managed to get away, but the boats quickly chased after them and got control again. A normally beautiful view had turned into my worst nightmare. Black smoke filled the air. The horrific sound of the banger poles filled my ears. My head was dizzy and my eyes were welling up with tears. I decided then and there that it did no good to cry. How could I document what was happening through blurred vision? No, I would not give myself the luxury of tears. That I could save for a later time; a time the dolphins no longer needed me.

The Risso's porpoise away, fighting hard to escape
The dolphins passed right below us and I saw an escape route for them, but they were too stressed and too frightened to take notice. I could see they were Risso's dolphins, a species I'd never seen until today. Normally it's really exciting when I get to check another dolphin species off my list! Today, not so much.

In no time the boats had driven the dolphins towards the cove and netted it off. Another net was drawn that confined them to the killing cove. They remained in our sight for about 15 minutes. They were still very stressed. Suddenly I realized how much pain my own body was in. Since there are so many barricades, trees, and bushes to block your sight, I was standing on my tip toes and leaning as far over as I could to see them. I ignored my tired muscles. Again, it was nothing compared what the dolphins were about to go through.

A frightened family comforts each other through touch and communication
Two skiffs entered the net and used their motors to scare the dolphins deeper into the cove, where yet another net was drawn. Now the dolphins were under the absurd amount of tarps covering the top of the cove. That was the last time I saw those sweet souls. Within another 15 minutes it was all over. The skiffs were exiting the cove, and the family of about 13 Risso's were all dead. What a waste of life. I can't believe this is a union job.

Tbe proud tradition being hidden from the public. Notice the man pushing the floating body down with his leg?
Three and a half hours and a family of dolphins went from minding their own business, swimming in the open ocean, to being cut up for consumption.

Since Leah is not in Taiji it was my responsibility and honor to write the blog for Save Japan Dolphins. It was difficult to say the least. What do you say when you're one of the last and only people to tell the story of this family? It was the most emotionally draining thing I've ever written, and while I know it won't do them justice, I hope it will do.

Dear Risso's, I love you with all my heart and will remember you forever. I apologize on behalf of humanity for having treated you with such indifference. I hope you are at peace now, swimming in your safe ocean heaven. xoxo

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 8: Kisses in Taiji

Each day in Taiji is different, yet each day in Taiji is the same.

Now that I've been here for a week some things are becoming routine. At home I enjoy going to sleep with my iPod. It helps to relax my mind and put me to sleep. Well for some reason the opposite holds true here. I suppose that makes sense since I've left the real world and traveled to the Twilight Zone. Now I find my iPod very distracting. Without it, the second my head hits the pillow I'm out like a light. Long and emotionally exhausting days probably help with that. I have the strangest dreams here, too. What's more strange is that I often can't differentiate dreams from actual occurrences.

I go to sleep around 10:30 or 11, and start waking up around 2 or 3 in a panic, wondering if I missed my alarm and overslept, abandoning the dolphins while they're fighting for their lives in the cove. This happens a few times, until eventually I just get up. I think my alarm has woken me up twice since I've been here.

Then we leave the hotel and wait. The police meet us at our lookout in the morning to see who's around and what's going on. This is a part of the routine I enjoy. They're very kind and it's nice to chat with them. It's also nice to know they're close by since so many locals are openly against us here.

Today, thanks to a bit of wind and rain, the boats stayed in the harbor. This obviously made us happy, and it also pleased the police to know that they wouldn't have to follow us up the steep stairs of Takababe! It's a win for us, the dolphins, and creates and easier day for the police. Plus, less dolphin meat traveling around the markets means less mercury poisoning, so really it's a win for everyone!

Watching the banger boats in the harbor, enjoying the wind and rain!
While Rosie and I sat in our cars at the lookout this morning, a Japanese woman came walking down the hill. As she walked past our cars she made a point to lean over and smile and wave to both of us. Obviously she knew who we were and why we were there, so the fact that she made the simple gesture of a wave and smile meant a lot to me. About 10 minutes passed, and the rain had picked up. The woman returned, walking up hill with a plastic bag now in her hand. She walked to Rosie's car and gave her the bag, and then looked over at me again, pointed to the bag, smiled, waved, and walked back down the hill. After she left I found out that she'd given us a big bag of Hershey's Kisses! Wow, what a meaningful gesture! It made this all the more bearable and gave me hope that we can and will see the end of dolphin killing in Japan. Change cannot come from the outside, it must come from within, and her actions strengthened my hope that this can happen - there are people here who care. I am keeping one kiss as a memento to look at when I'm feeling overwhelmed. This is a battle I would fight even if I knew we were going to lose, because it's the right thing to do, but keeping faith that we can save lives certainly helps the day by day.

P.s. I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog that a monkey - a macaque to be exact - crossed the road in front of my car. Very cool :)

The dolphins are safe for another day - Happy Time!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 7: Tears of Joy

Wow, I can't believe I've already been here one week. The time is flying by and each day I get more and more sad knowing that I'll be leaving soon. Even though a lot of my time here has been quite hard, and I am missing my friends, family, and birdie, there's honestly no where else I'd rather be. I know it will be very hard leaving this place, and the new friendships I've made.

Got the word that the boats went out again this morning, but we didn't have to wait long before we saw them coming back in, one by one. They took a chance this morning with the weather, and the wind quickly picked up, creating white caps on the beautiful sea and protecting the dolphins for another day. By 7:30 the first banger boat had passed by our lookout, inbound for the harbor. What a beautiful sight.

Someone new arrived here late last night, Malcolm Wright. He's in the middle of filming his documentary 'Whale Like Me', in which he spends time with Japanese whalers to see and experience whales through their eyes, and then takes them to swim with whales and see them through his eyes. I can only imagine the things he has seen having spent time on a whaling vessel, and hope the peaceful encounter they have in the ocean will plant a seed in the minds and hearts of the whalers. Once this is finished I'm sure it will be a fantastic film, and hopefully will cause changing attitudes amongst those who are pro-whaling. If you'd like to learn more about his film, visit the Facebook Page:

Since we now had the day, Leah, Malcolm, and I decided to visit a nearby lighthouse and then check in on the captives at Dolphin Base. One dolphin in the center pen (the pen that offers the swim-with program) kept logging on the surface and looking over at us. He (or she) was watching us just as much as we were watching him. I know many people say the dolphins can sense that we're here to help them, or that we're somehow different from the ones who put them in there, and while I'd love to believe that honestly I just felt like he was looking at us asking "Why aren't you helping me? Can't you see I don't belong here? Can you please help us?" And all we could do was stare back. I wish I could say I believed that my thinking "I'm so sorry, we're trying our best" was somehow understood. It's so heartbreaking to not be able to communicate in a way I know they understand.

Today was a great de-stress day. Back at the hotel we all gathered in the lobby and sat there sharing stories and laughing for hours. At times I laughing so hard I was wiping tears from my eyes. I think everyone who's here or who's ever been here understands how important it is to laugh and have a good time. It's so nice to go to sleep on a good note, because once that early morning alarm goes off, everything repeats itself. The watching, and waiting, and praying the cove stays blue for one more day.