Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Voiceless: 2014 in review -- THANK YOU

Hey everyone,

I know this is a bit of a late new-year update, but I promise there is a good reason for that: thanks to you guys, we've been crazy busy with the production of our film Voiceless!

This past year was loaded with surprises and progress for us. In late November we launched our Kickstarter with a goal of 16k, which we had reached and exceeded within the first week of the fundraiser. Over the course of 30 days, we raised a grand total of 22,542k!

What does this mean? This means Voiceless, thanks to you, will become a reality! It will be made, released, and available worldwide-- on the internet and in classrooms --for free.

Thanks to you, we blew up Kickstarter. We cannot say thank you enough for making 2014 the greatest year for Blue Freedom yet.

I can't express enough gratitude to the amazing team behind the Blue Freedom Voiceless Kickstarter project. These guys put forth the blood, sweat, tears and many, many hours of work to produce the project and get it out there. I can't thank them enough.


amazing student support in Spain

Katie speaking at "Blackfish Brigade" in Rochester, NY
Voice of The Orcas speaking at the "Blackfish Brigade" in Rochester, NY
Katie interviews former SeaWorld trainer, Carol Ray

Katie and Abbie interview and film former SeaWorld trainers Samantha Berg and John Jett

hanging out with the Voice of the Orcas team 

Interviewing Howard Garrett of the Orca Network
holding a baleen plate sample at the Orca Network's Langley Whale Center
Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for constant updates on our projects, campaigns and the production of Voiceless. We appreciate and depend upon your continued support-- you fuel and inspire this movement!

This is the time, and we are the generation-- let's end captivity!

Thank you for making 2014 amazing.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Lets make Black Friday 'Blackfish Friday'!

Lets make Black Friday 'Blackfish Friday'!

The Kickstarter project for our film Voiceless is off to an awesome start thanks to all of you. We just need to get this out there: YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME SAUCE.

So let's keep this momentum going! The film Blackfish shines a light on Tilikum and plight of captive cetaceans. If you haven't seen the film, be sure to check it out. Our goal with Voiceless is to bring this vitally important information about the archaic nature of captivity to OUR generation--in a format that will be easy to share and available to everyone for free: a YouTube campaign with the potential of going viral.

So this Friday, instead of freaking out over last minute holiday shopping, what if we focused on giving freedom-- pushing for it harder than ever?

Give from your heart here, and above all else, even if you can't give right now, help us SHARE, share, share--it's a massive help:

and USE THE HASHTAGS. On Twitter, Facebook, wherever you use hashtags. USE THEM. #BlackfishFriday #VoicelessProject #BlueFreedom #GenerationBF

Love you guys!


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Far. Fast. Free: A student's thoughts on the Taiji dolphin drive

September is usually one of my favorite months. The scorching heat of a midwest summer is beginning to be relieved by cooler temperatures, if only for a few hours while the weather tries to decide whether it's ready to shed its sunkissed soil and green leaves for a more barren landscape. It can be a bit of a roller coaster, but after three months of unrelenting sun and humidity, I'm more than happy to welcome the weather whiplash in exchange for some semblance of autumn.

But September always comes to me with a sense of dread. The reason for that dread is something with which most of you reading this are probably familiar with.

September 1st is a day that all of the cetacean activists throughout the world wait for with baited breath. It's the opening day of the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins, porpoises, and small whales in a hidden cove in the town of Taiji, Japan. Here is a quick rundown of what this slaughter consists of:

From September until late March, the fishermen's boats leave the harbor early in the morning in search of dolphins that migrate past Taiji this time of year. If a pod is unfortunate enough to be found, they are herded into the Cove by the use of long metal poles that are placed into the water and banged on by the fishermen. As acoustic creatures, the dolphins naturally move away from the sound and find themselves netted into the Cove, terrified, confused, and unable to escape.

The young and attractive dolphins are taken from their families to be used in the dolphin shows often seen in marine attractions and amusement parks. They'll never see their pod again and, if they fall prey to statistics, over half of them will die within their first two years of captivity. Those who survive will be condemned to a tank that will never be as large as the ocean and their days will be spent entertaining crowds and doing tricks, lest they have their meals withheld from them.

For the dolphins left in the cove, they will spend the night worrying and waiting for what the future holds. There are no studies proving that cetaceans can feel hope. And I wonder, if they can or could, do they spend that night believing in the next sunrise, holding out for the feeling of freedom that they felt just hours before? Or do they somehow know? Do they realize there's no way out of this nightmare and that this cursed cove is the last thing they will ever see?

The morning after the drive, the fishermen return to the Cove to begin a massacre that will turn the water red and stain the beaches with the lifeblood of dolphins that will spend every last forsaken moment fighting for their lives and screaming for their families. The updated method of slaughter employs the use of a metal rod which is jammed behind the blowhole, in hopes of severing the spinal cord. While this is supposed to provide a humane death, hidden footage has revealed that death is not instantaneous nor humane(watch video here). In an effort to keep the blood from spilling into the water and being filmed, the fishermen kill the dolphins under tarps and shove wooden corks into the dolphins' wounds. And when it's over and the water has stilled and everything is silent, the slain bodies will be dragged to the butcher house and processed. The meat, though contaminated with toxic levels of mercury, will be sold to the people of Japan; oftentimes it is mislabeled as whale meat in order for it to be accepted as “healthy”.

I discovered the horrors of the dolphin drives in 2012 when I took interest in the controversial captivity debate. As I researched the story behind captivity, I read mention of the slaughter and how the captivity industry helped fuel it. I saw the pictures and was understandably disturbed, but it didn't really come to life for me until I saw The Cove( The Cove is an awarding winning documentary that features former dolphin trainer turned activist, Ric O' Barry, and exposes Taiji's annual dolphin drive using covert techniques and undercover footage.

It popped up in the “Recommended For You” section of my Netflix account and I settled in to watch it.

I knew what to expect from the research I had done, but I still felt unprepared when footage of the slaughter came across the screen. I saw the innocent blood spilled in the Cove and I heard the squeals and cries of those being brutally murdered-I say murder because that's the only word I can think of to describe it as. Nothing that barbaric and drawn out could ever be considered anything else. I saw these things happen and I cried.

I am not one to cry at films. Despite being an emotional person, I find it difficult to get drawn into any film enough to legitimately shed tears.

But I cried.

I cried, I got angry, and I cried some more. I paced my floor. I opened and closed a word document. I tried to find words to describe how I felt until I finally settled on dumbfounded.

I didn't get it. I still don't. How could anyone intentionally seek out a creature of any kind and drive a metal rod into its spinal cord and watch as it thrashes in pain, desperate to keep living? How could someone participate in that and not be kept awake at night from the nightmares of what they had done?

But somehow the fishermen of Taiji manage to do just that.

It's called “tradition”. But the practice of Sati(a funeral ritual in which a widowed woman would kill herself, usually on her husband's funeral pyre) was called that as well. In similar fashion, neither dolphin slaughter nor Sati is or was accepted widely by the people within the country.

And should something filled with such cruelty ever be considered true tradition anyway?

And even if it were, traditions change because people do.

That being said, the real driving force behind this slaughter is the captive cetacean industry. The meat of a slaughtered dolphin could go for $500 while one chosen for an aquarium display goes for, on average, $32,000 with prices capable of reaching figures such as $250,000.

You do the math.

For a while after discovering what goes on in Taiji, I felt powerless.

Blatant cruelty was staring me right in the face and there wasn't a thing I could do to stop it.

But then I realized that I couldn't be more wrong.

Sure, I couldn't hop on a plane and fly down there. I couldn't really do anything to change the situation physically. But there were some things I could do:
I could write letters, send emails, sign petitions, and most importantly, use my voice in such a way that there was no way anyone who paused for a moment to listen wouldn't hear about what happens in Taiji and why it needs to be stopped.

Some of you may be thinking that one voice can't change much of anything. You're just one voice out of millions, what good does it do you?

Let me share with you what a small group of concerned people can do. In 2009, 2,500 dolphins were killed. In 2010, it dropped to 2,000. In 2012, only 800 dolphins were slaughtered. All of this is due to global pressure because groups like The Dolphin Project and the Cove Guardians answered the call to bring this cruelty to light. Why does that work?

Because when you talk to someone about something that they're passionate about, something that gets them so fired up that their voice cracks and their hands shake and their eyes glisten, how could you not be moved? This is how revolutions start. All it takes is one person to stand up and say, “No. I will not accept this.” Someone sees that person speak so bravely and a flame of inspiration ignites. And that flame touches the next person and the next and the next until the whole world is one fire because one person decided that they would not be passive.

Recently, I heard a quote that resounded deeply within me. It said, “The power of willful ignorance cannot be overstated.”

People choose to stay blissfully unaware because they're afraid. Afraid what they find might make them feel guilty about their choices. Afraid of what others might think of them. Afraid that no matter how hard they try, they might still fail.

But can the world really afford to live this way?

The dolphins of Taiji can't.

Can you?

Let yourself be heard. Shout it from the rooftops and demand an end to the slaughter until this kind of cruelty is something that our future generations will look back on and not be able to imagine. Because unless we do, the dolphins will continue to be massacred, the people of Japan will continue to consume toxic meat, cetaceans will continue to languish in pools in what could be argued as existence, not living. And it will continue in this vicious cycle of capture, kill, and deceive until we decide to stop it.
The dolphins are counting on you. There's a day coming where they won't have to worry about what might happen if a boat passes by because it's full of people who want them to be free to swim as far and as fast as they please. But it's up to you to bring that future to them.

Be their voice.

Be brave.

Be the change.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Voiceless film update: interview with Howard Garrett

In May, we headed out to Whidbey Island, WA to spend some time exploring, filming and interviewing. While unfortunately we missed the southern resident Orca (J,K,L,) pods on  this trip, we did get to witness and shoot some great imagery of baleen whales, (Minkes and Grays) off the coast.

It was thrilling and a complete privilege to be able to witness these creatures up close and personal. There are really no words to describe the feeling of being close to these massive, wild beings.

Most exciting, however, was the opportunity we had to interview Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. We visited Howard and Orca Network co-founder Susan Berta at their picturesque home on Whidbey Island to film an interview that will be featured in our upcoming YouTube film campaign, Voiceless.

Getting to sit down and talk about Orcas with Howard was a great privilege for me, as in my early activism I read his papers and studies released through the Orca Network's website religiously, and gained much insight on what directions Blue Freedom should take based on the facts and statistics I discovered.

Katie Emmons, founder and president of Blue Freedom, and Howard Garrett, co-founder and president of Orca Network

In addition to our initial interview, we also talked with Howard about Lolita, her current situation and what actions are being taken now to urge for her humane return to her home in Washington waters.

Quoting from the Orca Networks website, here are some great and simple ways that you can participate in helping us reach the goal: Lolita's freedom from 40 years in captivity.

"Please contact Palace Entertainment and ask that Lolita be released back into the waters of her birth. Please be courteous and concise, and simply express your wishes for Lolita in a positive way. We are not aware of the intentions of the company, so this is to acquaint the new owners with the groundswell of public opinion in favor of Lolita's return to her home waters."
 Fernando Eiroa, President and CEO
c/o Palace Entertainment
4590 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 400
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Email: Fernando Eiroa

 or use the online comment form

Not sure what to say in your comments to Palace Entertainment? Here's a quick, simple but effective message:

Dear Palace Entertainment,
I am a concerned citizen, urging you to make the right decision in the case of Lolita the orca whale who has been held captive in Miami, FL for the past 40 years. 
Captivity of intelligent, sentient cetaceans is an outdated and unethical practice, and it is now viewed internationally in a very negative light. It is a thing of the past and not the future.
Please take this opportunity to shine as an innovative company by returning Lolita to her native waters for rehabilitation. It is the right thing to do, and I urge you to make this positive decision. 
Thank you.

Track updates about this project for Lolita's release here. Also, be sure to like up the Orca Network's Facebook page to stay up to date on this campaigns progress.

In addition to these updates, we also interview Howard about the upcoming film Fragile Waters, about the endangered Southern Resident orcas. "The film will create awareness of this fragile population of orcas, and inspire people to work together to help bring back our endangered orcas, and the endangered salmon they depend upon to survive." (Read more here.)

Our exclusive interview with Howard about the film should be up soon-- so keep your eyes peeled.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

event recap: Voice of the Orcas in Rochester, NY

From left to right: Samantha Berg, John Jett, Carol Ray, Jeffrey Ventre, Phil Demers, Diane DiGravio
screen shots from Katie's talk at the Blackfish Brigade symposium 

Interviewing former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg for 'Voiceless'

interviewing former SeaWorld trainer Carol Ray for 'Voiceless'

It's one thing to have knowledge on an issue or a topic. It's an entirely different thing to be able to take that knowledge and communicate it in a way that will actually make an impact and a change.

A few years ago, if someone had told me that at 19 I would be engaged in an education program that would have an expansive, international reach, and that I would be privileged to role as an educator in this program... I don't think I would have believed them.

I've always loved working with my generation, with middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students-- it's a web, woven intricately, and getting to work within that web and see my place within it, it becomes simple to see it's ability to impact the way our world works in really huge ways.

In many ways, I'm glad that I didn't know back when I was 15, where my involvement in humanitarian and environmental causes would lead, because for a kid with mild stage fright, I may have run from the idea. But looking back, I'm profoundly grateful that the experiences I had lead me to where I am today. I feel privileged to be able to be an example for other young people out there, of the fact that one person-- and more specifically, one kid can make a big impact. You don't need to have a degree or a title in order to understand truth and stand.

There are more resources available to us now than ever before. Quoting my friend and also former Sea World trainer, Samantha Berg M.Ac., Dipl.Ac. , "You can learn more about Orcas in five minutes on the internet than you will in an whole day at a place like SeaWorld".

That's how I started. Having been involved in ocean projects since I was about twelve, I naturally had questions when the fatal attack at SeaWorld occurred in 2010. I was able to wade into the details of the issue because of the resources available. I was able to become educated on the issue because of the resources available, and I was able to start a movement among my own generation, again-- because of the resources available.

Things aren't like they used to be. We can start using our own tools for change right now, right where we are.

It was an honor for me to be able to assist Mrs. Diane DiGravio, a science teacher in Rochester, NY and Martha Sullivan in organizing an educational symposium on the topic of cetacean captivity and student involvement, and it was also an immense honor to be invited to speak alongside former SeaWorld trainers Carol Ray MA, CCC-SLP, Samantha Berg M.Ac., Dipl.Ac., Jeffrey Ventre MD, DC, and John Jett, Ph.D., also former MarineLand trainer Phil Demers. It was awesome to be able to listen to them speak on this issue, and answer so many great questions from the audience.

It was also amazing to listen to the inspirational speeches given by several of Diane's amazing students. It was really amazing to hear about their dreams and goals and most of all their passion to make a difference.

It was incredibly special to me, to be able to have a chance after the symposium to chat with so many passionate and inspired young adults. I was deeply touched by how each one of them was impacted and inspired by my talk at the close of the symposium, and I can certainly say that the inspiration was mutual-- I was greatly inspired by them as well.

Getting to see first hand the passion embodied in my generation is a very special thing. So thank you to every young adult who was there that night, thank you to everyone who supported the event, who donated, who listened, who asked questions, and who made this event really super awesome. Thank you to Abbie, Ashlyn, Susan and everyone on the BF team for their astounding efforts.

Recommended resources: 

Monday, April 14, 2014

California Proposed Bill: An end to cetacean circuses?

There's been quite the buzz around the cetacean scene lately; OSHA denying Sea World's appeal for trainers to return to water work, the International Court of Justice declaring that Japan's “scientific whaling” is no longer authorized in the Southern Ocean, and legislation in California is seeking to ban the captivity of orcas for entertainment purposes.

This bill(AB2140), which was proposed by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, is aimed at ending the use of orcas for entertainment, specifically at the Sea World park in San Diego and, if passed, Sea World's famous killer whale shows would come to an end. Although voting has been postponed until 2015 as the committees involved take a step back to learn more, the “educational” whale circuses could very well be tanked(pun intended). In California at least.

Sea World lobbyist, Scott Wetch, implied that if the bill were to be enacted, the whales would be moved to different locations outside of California, not released into sea pens. Wetch seems to be under the impression that release into sea pens would mean “certain death” for the whales. I wonder what he thinks of the multiple death of orcas that have lived at Sea World parks? Perhaps he's forgotten that concrete tanks aren't the natural environment of whales and dolphins nor would release into a sea pen come without an in depth rehabilitation plan. Indeed, not every orca in San Diego is eligible for complete release, but the alternative is release into a netted off cove or bay. The public could still visit them, but they would be in their natural environment and not be coerced into doing circus tricks. But as Sea World is constantly reminding us, their facilities are state of the art; although that cannot be denied, one must ponder whether a cage that is gilded is any less of a cage?

In a release from his office, Bloom stated, “There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes. These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.” The Orca Welfare and Safety Act would eliminate performance-based entertainment and the captive breeding of the whales with the end goal being killer whale captivity being phased out of California entirely.

The legislation comes in the wake of the release of Blackfish, the controversial documentary depicting the events that lead to the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in February of 2010. Since the documentary has been released, the public has grown more and more aware of the sheer intelligence of cetaceans and exactly how self aware they are. Blackfish remained disciplined in it's exposure of Sea World, but the events depicted in the documentary were enough to spur public interest and many have sought out answers to their questions on their own, pulling the dark history of Sea World even further into the light. Despite desperate claims from the marine park that captivity is necessary for cetacean conservation, it would seem that people are finally coming to the realization that the time for orcas and other cetaceans to be used for entertainment should be left in the past.

In my perfect scenario, the passing of this ban would jump start Sea World into being what they claim to be: an educational powerhouse at the forefront of marine conservation, minus the corruption and exploitation of sentient beings. If they want to return to being the poster child for family joy and education, perhaps they should start listening to the indignant cries of the public before they sink even further into the pit of being Public Enemy #1. In case they haven't dug the cotton out of their ears yet, I suppose I could spell it out:

-There is nothing educational about cetaceans beaching themselves on slide outs or doing tail walks like a synchronized swim team.

-It is incredibly behind the times and in denial of modern research to claim that a tank is an enriching environment for a whale or dolphin.

-The wool can no longer be pulled over anyone's eyes. The truth has come out. The public is waking up.

And I, for one, hope they never fall back asleep.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Captive Athletes: the link between the Olympics and the captive cetacean industry

          There is something special about watching the world come together to watch a live sports event. For a brief moment, all the happenings of the world become dim background noise as the audiences of each nation hold their breath, waiting to see who will earn one of the coveted medals. Athletes from all over the world compete against the best of the best until a few come out on top, crowning them victor in their sport of choice.

I think it's safe to assume you all know I'm referring to the Olympics.

Almost everyone enjoys the Olympics. It's exhilarating to watch top athletes try their hearts out to try to win a gold medal. We cringe at their mishaps, grieve when it costs them their winning chance, rejoice when they reach their goals, and become inspired when we see an underdog rise to the top. But what happens when the Games are over? We turn off our televisions and return to the “real world”, whether that be work or school or other daily activities. The athletes board a plane and go home to their families, with or without a medal, and continue to train for their next event.

But what if some of them didn't get to go home? What if they were left somewhere unfamiliar, isolated, and far away from their homeland? And what if that's where they were expected to spend the rest of their lives?
For two orcas, who were recently taken from the wild along with five others, this is looking to be a definite possibility. The Sochi Winter Olympics, hosted by Russia, is planning a grand display of these two orcas for their opening ceremony. In order to get to the planned display, they will have to fly across seven times zones, only to end up in a tank where they will spend the rest of their lives, away from their families and their home, suffering the same ill effects other captive cetaceans experience. While we humans enjoy rooting for our athletes, these two creatures, athletes in their own right, will be nothing more than entertainment, another means for monetary gain with not a second thought given to their welfare. No matter how well they perform, after the scores are given and the medals are handed out and the victors are named, they don't get to go home. The thought of that puts quite the damper on the Olympic celebrations.

To further my disgust, it's also been stated that they intend for a Black Sea Bottlenose dolphin(an endangered species, mind you) to take part in the Olympic torch relay. The intention is for a trainer to hold onto the fin of this dolphin with one hand while carrying the torch in the other. This is scheduled to happen in a small pool at the Black Sea resort on February 4th, three days before the opening ceremony. The degrading aspect of this aside, I can't help feeling like this is an accident waiting to happen. After all, fire isn't exactly on the list of things aquatic animals tend to encounter.

When I first heard about these plans, I wasn't sure what to feel, other than dumbfounded. How is it possible for humans, the supposed superior species, to continue to use these self aware and intelligent creatures for profit, despite all of the science and research that says captivity is detrimental to their well being? But then I remembered; sometimes greed takes the front seat instead of compassion.

Those in charge of the opening ceremony probably wish we would all ignore this little fiasco and look the other way. But, in all honesty, the only thing I'm looking away from is my TV screen. I'm not asking you to not watch the opening ceremony or to even boycott the Olympics. All I'm asking is that when you're watching the skiers take those daring leaps or the figure skaters displaying their fine tuned skill and grace, you remember the athletes that don't get to go home and don't win any medals. I know someone out there is likely wondering what the big deal is. It's just a few animals, why worry about them when there's the Olympics to focus on? To them I say:

If I don't worry about them, who will?

For those interested in contacting the International Olympic Committees with your concerns:

President Thomas Bach
Chateau de Vidy
Case postale 356
1001 Lausanne

Phone: +41 21 621 61 11
Fax: +41 21 621 62 16

Please sign the petition!