Sunday, August 5, 2012

My life after Taiji

Warning: This is going to be a long one. Where to begin..

I feel like this is incredibly overdue. It is not so much about dolphins, so if that’s all you’re interested in, stop reading now. No offense is taken. It is, as the title suggests, about how my life has changed since first coming to Taiji in October 2011. There have been some things that have been bothering me and I felt I wanted to get them off my chest so that I may have a bit of closure to it all. Do you care about any of this? Probably not, I guess it depends on the context in which you know me, but I’m writing it for me, and if anyone chooses to read it, that’s fine, too. And hey, this is my blog, so I can write whatever I want. :)

Ok, so, after my third and final trip of the 2011/2012 season, I was feeling the post Taiji blues and decided to sit down and reread my posts. I started at day one and relived every day, every slaughter, and every emotion in my mind like it was a clear as yesterday. I got to January, the morning of the bottlenose slaughter, and that’s where it ended. That was the last post I had written. I was a little confused at first; this was certainly not the last slaughter I had witnessed, and I’d even gone home and come back again since that last post. No, that was not the last slaughter I witnessed, but it was the last time I talked about it, and that has given me a lot of guilt. I cannot physically stop the fishermen from finding and killing dolphins. I cannot cut the nets and release the captive dolphins I see suffering. All I can do is tell the world about it, yet toward the end of my stint here, I watched the horror but said almost nothing. Well, this is the story..

I’ve heard so many people say they could never come to Taiji and do what we do because they wouldn’t be able to handle watching it. If you have said this before, it isn’t my intention to call you out, these are just my thoughts. I do not love this statement. First, I feel like it implies that whoever says it thinks they care more about dolphins than we do. This may not be true, but that’s often how I take it, and sorry, but no. Secondly, this statement has always confused me, because I don’t exactly understand what “can’t handle” means. Are they implying they are going to spontaneously combust from the extreme emotions of it all? Their very being will cease to exist? Doubtful. I think a better way to say it would be that they wouldn’t be able to handle it “well’. That is a statement I can comprehend, but while some do handle it better than others, I don’t know that any of us really handle it “well”. I for one did not, and it is that thought that brings me back to my blogging – err – lack thereof.

It was around January that I began to shut down. It was as if it was breaking me. The pain grew more immense with every slaughter I witnessed, but my ability to process it was diminishing. I remember coming back to the Charmant after documenting whatever bloodbath took place that day, going through my photos, stressing about getting as accurate of a dolphin count as possible, writing my SJD report - knowing that those words were some of the only words those dolphins were ever going to get, and most of all, trying to cry. I felt so much pain in my heart, but my body couldn’t let it out. I could feel the tears building up inside me, but I couldn’t ... I felt dead. And then I felt even more awful for having just watched the death of my family, and not even crying about it.

The drive hunts were not my only stressor though. Go figure, like every other human on the planet, I had other things weighing on me, too. I had just experienced my first Christmas away from home and my family, and even though I had an amazingly awesome Christmas with a dear friend and her family, it was still bothersome to have missed my traditions. Many people back home did not understand why I had made that choice. It was decided to extend my stay in Taiji another couple weeks, and as a result of that I had people close to me criticizing me for that decision. My marriage was falling apart in an undeniably obvious way. I was faced with having to once again abandon the dolphins and leave Taiji, and go back to my mess of a life at home, which now seemed so trivial.

The stress of it all must have been wreaking havoc on my immune system, because I then became the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. Pretty sure it was salmonella poisoning. So my last few days of that trip were absolutely brutal. I was so weak, but couldn’t keep even a sip of water down. I had my mom following the hunts on Save Misty’s page and sending me text message updates to let me know if a hunt was happening so that I could somehow drive to the Cove. With my temperature burning, all I could do was sit on the beach and dry heave, listening to the last few breaths a pod of striped dolphins would ever take. The next day I was then ordered to bed rest, so to speak, so that I would have the energy to make my upcoming flight home. Dolphins were being murdered in the Cove, and I was just sitting in my hotel room. It was probably essential for my health, but it was murder on my conscience. 

Back in the states, life had barely resumed before I was asked if I could come back and testify in Erwin’s court case. I think I’d been home about two weeks – two very rough weeks. I stressed about the decision of whether or not to go. It seems like an obvious one (yes), but there were serious potential repercussions no matter which way I went that needed to be considered. I decided yes - it’s always important to speak the truth, especially when it frees an innocent man. I headed back to Japan for the third time in three months. Let’s just say it was an “unpleasant” airport drop off, and I bawled my eyes out for pretty much the entire 12 hour flight. I stressed about people (mainly the police) misconstruing my actions to mean that I was now Sea Shepherd. I returned to Taiji. More slaughters took place. I sat in my busy hotel lobby, now unable to hold back the tears, sorting through pictures of dead dolphins, and having an online discussion with my husband that ultimately ended with the decision to get a divorce. I quite reluctantly left Japan once again, to “deal” with what my life had become. Crying and airplanes seem to go hand in hand for me. I’ll stop the story there, but within 2 months I had yet again boarded an airplane, this time headed for a new life in Australia.

This might sound a bit like I’m trying to have a pity party for myself. Well I’m not, this all happened 6+ months ago, so I’ve already been there, done that, gotten through it. That’s actually another one of the reasons I stopped blogging – I didn’t want to complain about my life, I wasn’t looking for sympathy and I didn’t want it to come across that way. This might also seem like a bit of an over share. Well, I’m guessing at this point my mom is the only one still reading… Hi mom.. and I found out a few months back that my divorce had made news on some Japanese anti-activist blog, so my “business” is out there anyways. I’m glad they’re taking an interest in our personal lives. And I suppose I could have shortened the story a few paragraphs by saying “my life was a living hell”, but I have had six hours to kill at the airport and I needed some form of self entertainment.

So that’s been my life since I last left off. It got worse, which I’m not going to go into, but now I’m loving Australia and loving life. It’s hard to regret anything that’s happened, because if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

And where I am now, is the Kansai Airport, fourth-time-heartbroken to be leaving the dolphins. I came on my week off from work to document the swim/with summer program in the Cove. Two risso’s are held in a seapen, and let out twice a day for 15 minutes at a time. Tourists are invited into the waters of the Cove to swim with and touch the dolphins. It costs nothing, and I imagine it’s somewhat of a free for all. I can only imagine the stress this puts on the dolphins. Even having to be back in that Cove must be absolute torture for them. The last time they were there, they watched as their family was murdered all around them. I can’t imagine what that must be like for them to be held captive there again… Unfortunately for my plans, there’s been a typhoon here, so the risso’s were taken out of the pen and I was not able to observe the program. I’m really disappointed about this, and I feel like I’ve had a really unproductive trip to Taiji. At least I know this is not my last time here, and I did get to check on and play with Hope, Faith, and the little striped dolphin at the Whale Museum.

For anyone still reading, I’m thoroughly impressed, and would like to thank you for the continued support. My life is completely different now, and I am a completely different person from when I first came to Japan. I wish that another season was not upon us already, but I can say that I am 100% ready for it, and I look forward to standing next to you all again, both in person and spirit.

In response to all the activist-against-activist drama that I’ve noticed/been a part of lately, I just want to acknowledge that each and every one of us involved in this cause is just trying to do everything they can for the dolphins, so for that, I thank you all. We may see things differently, but I encourage everyone to keep going. In the words of Save Misty the Dolphin: Never give up, never be silent.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taiji Take Two: 2012 Begins, 40 Lives End

When I woke up this morning it had been two weeks since the dolphin killers had last gone to work, and two weeks since I saw dolphins slaughtered in the Cove.  The holiday break ended today though, and the fishermen did not hesitate to make up for the lost time.  The banger boats had only been out for about half an hour before spotting dolphins.  Two boats began herding this pod, while others continued to search for dolphins on the horizon.  It seems the two boats lost interest in this pod, perhaps because of it's small size or perhaps their still avoiding Risso's dolphins, but regardless of the reason, these dolphins were not pursued.  Our relief did not last though – it wasn't long before they located a much larger pod and began to drive it towards shore.  According to the fishermen (conveyed to us by the police), it was a pod of approximately 200 striped dolphins.  My heart stopped.

Driving a pod of this scale using only twelve boats must be next to impossible, so we were not surprised (although still somewhat relieved) when we saw nowhere near that many dolphins being pushed toward the harbor entrance.  Many had escaped, and the pod was now about 40-45 individuals.  This was one of the largest pods I have seen here in Taiji.
The boats slowly drove the dolphins towards the Cove, and divers lined the rocks, ready to intervene if and when the panic-prone dolphins entangled themselves in the nets or threw their bodies against the rocks in an attempt to flee.  Because the pod was so large, the fishermen were unable to push them all into the killing Cove (out of the range of our eyes and cameras) at once, and for a while there were dolphins cordoned off in three different sections of the Cove.  One lone dolphin swam between the outer nets while its family members were being slaughtered; watching, listening, and waiting.  After those dolphins already under the tarps were either killed or otherwise restrained, the fishermen opened the inside nets so they could drive the remaining individuals to their death.  The final lone dolphin was not cooperating with the skiffs and resisted swimming towards the now bloody beach.  A diver approached the dolphin and when it tried to flee, he grabbed hold of it.  The dolphin was clearly extremely stressed by this contact and made a mad dash towards its family, under the tarps and out of our sight, towing the diver the entire way.  His hand was placed over the dolphin's blowhole, and I wondered if he was trying to keep it submerged and out of our sight.

There was little more to be seen, but we could hear the dolphins still thrashing on the beach.  One dolphin managed to escape, and we could see its body lying on the bottom of the Cove.  It was too injured to come up for a much needed breath of air, and while we watched from high above, this little dolphin died, either drowning or from the extensive injuries inflicted by the dolphin killers.

The loud 'thud' of dolphin bodies being tossed into the skiffs filled the air.  As the first loaded skiff departed to deliver the bodies to the slaughterhouse, a fishermen noticed the dead dolphin in the water.  A diver came to collect it, and more divers began searching for any other potentially escaped dolphins that they had missed.

Blood tainted the blue waters of the Cove.

Peace has ended here in Taiji, and it is my wish for 2012 that we get it back, once and for all.


Here is a beautiful poem I saw shared today in response to their unnecessary deaths:

“A Hopi Prayer”

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry; 
I am not there, I did not die.