watching the cove: an exclusive interview with Elora Malama West
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/
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
Blue Freedom: What
caused you to decide to volunteer to be a Cove Guardian for the Sea
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
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.
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.
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
Blue Freedom: When
did you go to Taiji and how long where you there?
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
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.
and how did you first learn about the killing cove in Taiji? What was
it like to experience it first hand?
the movies with my family, a few months before I was on the grounds.
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.
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.
you share some of your experiences at the cove?
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.
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
remember reading about how you swam into the killing cove- what was
that like for you? Can you share that experience with us?
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.
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.
to say, within the next few days a net was put up forbidding us from
entering the cove.
are some of the main events that stand out in your mind from your
stay in Taiji monitoring the cove?
are several events that stand out in my mind. These are just a few
out of hundreds!
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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