We had the pleasure of interviewing Elora Malama West about her experience in Taiji, monitoring the cove. We so appreciate her taking the time to do this interview with us, and we hope you are inspired by what she shares about her experiences. Be sure to check out her blog at: http://eloramalama.com/
Elora Malama West is a homeschooled teenage activist. She is currently attending community college with plans to eventually transfer and pursue a degree in Environmental Journalism and Photography. In the fall of 2010 at age 16, Elora accompanied her father, Scott West, to Taiji, Japan for the first Cove Guardian campaign. They spent three months on the ground reporting everyday about the plight of the dolphins. While there Elora began a blog, A Teenage Activist: This Girl's Soapbox (eloramalama.com) and encouraged thousands of people to call the Japanese embassies in their area to protest the dolphin slaughter.
She returned to Taiji again in March of 2012, to assist in wrapping up the second successful Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian campaign. Elora participated in the first ever meeting between the mayor of Taiji and the activists protesting the town's annual slaughter.
She hopes to send a message to her generation that you are never too young to stand up for what you believe in. Elora wants to inspire kids to stand against cetacean captivity and protest swim with dolphin programs, and other institutions that exploit marine mammals. She believes that if you love dolphins and whales, you want to work to protect them.
Blue Freedom: What caused you to decide to volunteer to be a Cove Guardian for the Sea Shepherds?
Elora: Well, while I only had three days notice that I was going to Taiji, my journey to Taiji with Sea Shepherd began months earlier. I came home from school one day and my dad told me that he was taking us all to see a movie called "The Cove", downtown that night. He showed me the trailer for it, but I had never heard about the issue. I sure knew about it after seeing the movie. I remember barely speaking on the car ride home, and leaning against the window crying. I had seen the documentary Sharkwater about a year earlier, and I quit theatre to begin scuba diving. I wanted to dive with sharks and work on shark conservation one day. Well now I wanted to save sharks and end this hunt in Taiji; because like Richard O'Barry said, "If we can't end it here, in this one cove, there is no hope for us". I realized that I wanted to help all of the ocean, because everything is interconnected. Each species relies on another one to do it's job or be it's prey. Dolphins were my favorite animal, and I could not believe people actually killed them.
Well, a couple of months after seeing the movie, I actually had the chance to meet Richard O'Barry on Whidbey Island for the anniversary of Lolita being captured for the entertainment industry. Talking with him made me even more passionate about the issue.
Very soon after I met Richard O'Barry, Paul Watson called my dad (Scott West) and told him to: "go to Taiji and make it work". So, my dad and I traveled over and built the campaign with all of the amazing volunteers that showed up.
So it was a series of events that made me decide to volunteer. The movie gave me an awareness of the issue, Ric O'Barry was another dose of inspiration, my parents were my biggest motivators, and of course Sea Shepherd gave me the grounds to do it. I chose Sea Shepherd because they are the only marine conservation organization that gets directly involved, and even though Taiji is not a direct action campaign in the usual sense, we are on the grounds and documenting everyday to keep the slaughter in the media, on people's TV and computers, and in their heads.
Elora: I have been to Taiji, Japan, twice. The first time was in 2010, while I was 16. I was there from early September to early December. It was supposed to be a six week trip, but I ended up staying my full 90 day visa. My blog really picked up, and people cared about what I had to say. It was best for me to stay and keep documenting, I felt like I was being a voice for the voiceless and it was immensely important to me.
The second time was in March of this year (2012). I went over to assist with wrapping up the second successful Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian campaign. I was there for about a week. During this time, Sea Shepherd discovered that Taiji operates under two different permits for hunting. One allows the drive hunt and captive trade to happen from September to early March. The second allows them to kill cetaceans at sea and bring them in with their daily catch. So Taiji, Japan, kills dolphins and whales all year round. They also have two harpooning vessels that go out at sometime during the year and harpoon whales at sea.
Blue Freedom: When and how did you first learn about the killing cove in Taiji? What was it like to experience it first hand?
Elora: At the movies with my family, a few months before I was on the grounds.
It was soul sucking and tedious. The slaughter is hard, watching the innocents being driven into the cove and later a lifeless body being pulled up the butcher house steps was mentally and emotionally draining. But for me the captivity side was the worst. This is because you would watch the families fight to protect each other, and then fail or be killed in the process; and the ones selected for captivity had to live on in the pens and eventually tanks with the memories of the cove.
We would watch them being trained to rely on humans for food. We have seen trainers punch and drown dolphins that are "misbehaving". It's the worst feeling in the world, not being able to help them in that moment. I really can't put it into words what it is like to experience it first hand, except that it only made me more driven to put an end to captivity and slaughter of cetaceans.
Blue Freedom: Can you share some of your experiences at the cove?
Elora: There were so many. I could/am working on filling a book. I saw a lot of suffering and death, and met some not so nice people.
But I also had an amazing adventure and met some really brave activists living in Japan; not to mention all of the lifelong friends I made with our crew. It was the hardest experience I think I will ever love.
Blue Freedom: I remember reading about how you swam into the killing cove- what was that like for you? Can you share that experience with us?
Elora: The first time was really eerie and I didn't stay long. I was so afraid of the sea floor. I didn't want to touch my feet to the bottom because I felt like I might step on an old spear, or worse, a left carcass. Matt Smith and I just waded outside the entrance of it. There is a vlog on my Youtube page of my raw reaction to it. It was a clear reminder of what we were over there doing, and just how many innocent lives had been taken from that place.
My last swim in there was actually the hardest out of all of them, even though I did not realize it would be my last time. There had just been a slaughter, and some media were interviewing my dad at the tables on the public park area. Myself and some other guardians swam in to see what the beach looked like after a slaughter. Of course they had cleaned everything so well, there was no sign of anything. Except for some rocks, that were a slightly darker orange/red color than the rest. I whipped two of my fingers across from it and blood came up from the rock. I was so horrified, and I didn't know what to do. So, I swam back slowly with one arm out of the water, and just walked right up to the camera crew and held up my hand smeared with dolphin blood.
Needless to say, within the next few days a net was put up forbidding us from entering the cove.
Blue Freedom: What are some of the main events that stand out in your mind from your stay in Taiji monitoring the cove?
Elora: There are several events that stand out in my mind. These are just a few out of hundreds!
The first time I saw the killing cove; It was filled with approximately 85 dolphins. I was watching them thrash around and panic. It was the first time I had ever seen a dolphin in the wild, only they weren't in the wild, they were already sold or soon to be dead.
The first slaughter I witnessed; The operation was so organized and moved so fast if you didn't pay super close attention you missed something important. Learning their work schedule and slaughter techniques was tedious.
The international day of protest when the activists on the ground had the first ever meeting with the mayor of Taiji; My dad and I represented Sea Shepherd at that table.
The time my dad (Scott West) was detained at the police station for testing a bluff made by one of the officers; Sea Shepherd is not in Taiji to break laws, but we will walk right up to that line. I had to drive myself back to the hotel on the opposite side of the road from what I am used to (so I could call the U.S. consulate), with media on the phone and my fellow crew all trying to still get slaughter images and help me out.
Days off; We were lucky enough to get several non kill days and we could spend them touring Wakayama prefecture. I had an amazing time getting to know my fellow crew and friends, and spending time with my dad.
Blue Freedom: Can you tell us a little about how you saw the connections between the slaughter and the captive cetacean entertainment industry while you were at the cove?
Elora: It would be impossible not to see it. They would drive in a pod, trainers from nearby dolphinariums would come and select the best looking from the pod (usually Bottlenose females because they look like Flipper) and basically fill the orders that have come in from around the world. Any infants would be taken from the pod for a similar fate, and then the unwanted would be slaughtered and processed for their meat.
The captive industry is what funds the slaughter. A captive dolphin can be sold for over a hundred thousand dollars (USD), while the dead ones are only worth about eight hundred dollars (USD). So the captive industry is a very lucrative industry, so much so the slaughter would not continue without it.
I have also personally witnessed the connection between the slaughter and captivity industry. My dad and I followed one of the transfer trucks leaving from Taiji to a dolphinarium in northern Japan. It was Suma Aqualife Park, and we got footage of the connection.
Blue Freedom: Being a teenager, what advice would you give to other teens who want to help stop this horrific slaughter?
Elora: The best advice I can give is to get involved! Write letters to marine parks, organize protests, educate your schools and friends/family, refuse to support the captivity industry, and of course volunteer if you have the time and means. No part in this movement is a small part.
Thank you so much, Elora for sharing your experiences with us, and inspiring our readers to make a difference.