Report from Taiji: September 24
The weather was perfect in Taiji this day. The wind was blowing, dark clouds spit rain, and the seas were choppy and threatening. The dolphin hunters stayed home, and at day’s end nothing was being held captive in the cove.
Dwight and Sandra Miller spent about a week with us. They are home now, but have something to share. Unlike Matt Smith, the Millers were not hassled at the airport when they departed Japan.
The purpose of this story is to give people an insight into our experience from our trip to Taiji. We hope that seeing this from the perspective of a young passionate couple that dropped everything and decided to do what we could to set an example and make a stand may motivate others to join the cause and make a point that the world will not tolerate these environmental crimes any longer. Here is our story:
Sandra and I have been "Whale Wars" fans since the series began. Like most we had it set to record on the DVR and looked forward to sitting down and watching Sea Shepherd take it to the Japanese whalers. This is how we became informed of the whaling situation in the Antarctic. Prior to that, we thought whaling didn't happen anymore. We began to constantly check the Sea Shepherd web site and learn more about the issues and other environmental crimes and campaigns that Sea Shepherd was a part of. We donated money, talked to friends and family about the causes and it was a constant dinner table issue we were very passionate about. We always talk about how if we won the lotto our first act would be to buy another ship for Sea Shepherd and have the financial freedom to be able to be part of a campaign.
I don't remember how we had first heard about "The Cove" documentary and to be honest we were afraid to watch it. I guess we knew that being ignorant to what is happening was blissful. One night we sat down and watched the film. I think like most we were completely outraged. We could not stop thinking about it, we couldn't sleep at night. The scene where the baby dolphin is trying to get over then net as it swims in the blood stained water of its family still runs through my mind. We told everyone who would listen about the film and bought two copies and rented one handing them from friend to friend and insisting they watch it. There was an empty hole in our hearts after watching The Cove and perhaps we thought by getting the word out we could fill it. Nothing we did helped fill the hole and sleep was hard to come by. This issue to us was not just about the dolphins, it was about the entire ocean ecosystem.
Dwight and Sandra Miller
One night we were talking and we said to ourselves, "Why don't we just go?" No plans, no hotel reservations just go and see for ourselves. At the time we expected that there were going to be hundreds of people there and we could meet with them and go from there. Financially we could not afford to go. We had bills to pay and commitments that were tough to break. But then we really asked ourselves what is stopping us from going? I mean really? Why not? Life is more than the house you live in, the nice car and the expensive clothes you wear. You only live once and if you have a cause that you are truly passionate about, does money really matter? Sandra asked when should we go, I was thinking of hopefully sitting at the airport in an hour carrying a hastily stuffed backpack but that was not possible with work. We both immediately went to our workplaces and talked to our supervisors and got the following week off. Sandra had to cancel clients at her salon who were more than happy to re schedule and I had to beg a few people to switch shifts with me but we made it happen. Honestly if it didn't work out with work I was planning on "falling ill" for a week and going anyway. We were going to Taiji, regardless of the cost.
This was pretty darn exciting I will tell you. We wanted to go now! We found some flights and put it on the credit card. What better purpose to get into a little credit debt for a while. We didn't even look for hotel vacancies, we went there with no plans other than to get to the cove as fast as we could and go from there. We booked the trip and were going to be in Taiji in 7 days. This was the longest week waiting of our lives!
We told all our friends and the responses honestly were mixed. Some were so excited and proud that we were going to do this. Some gave money and wished they could go too. Some questioned why we were going to a foreign country and protesting when there are causes here that we could help with. To answer that question I say this. We consider ourselves American citizens yes, but more importantly than that we consider ourselves citizens of the world first and foremost. This world includes nature’s creatures and we will speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. This cause to us was just, and we are not here to make friends happy, upset or to disrespect the Japanese people. We were here to inform the Japanese government and the local fishermen that what was occurring was wrong and the world had its eye fixed on Taiji.
During the week prior to leaving we were able to get into contact with Scott West from Sea Shepherd who was in Taiji with his daughter Elora. We told them that we were going to Taiji and would love to meet them and do whatever he thought was in the best interest of the dolphins and whales in Taiji.
We flew from San Francisco to Tokyo nonstop. I slept like a baby honestly. I knew in my heart that this was the right thing to do even though I was nervous. Sandra was up the whole time. If there was a word for nervous/excited that would be it. We had to stay a night in Tokyo as the trains to Katsurra which is just outside of Taiji didn't run that late. It rained hard as soon as we stepped out into the street from the train station. So there we were in Tokyo, luggage, bags etc with no hotel reservations and no clue! We ran around for a while getting soaked and finally found a hotel after a very nice Japanese couple saw our struggle and helped us. The rain stopped and we decided to take in the city. I must say that we loved Tokyo. We have traveled all over the world and seen a lot of amazing places, but we really liked Tokyo. The city was beautiful and the people in it were so inviting and nice to us. I could not get over how great the people were. We thought to ourselves how can this culture be ok with killing dolphins and whales? Do these people here really know about it? We sat down to eat at a neat looking restaurant. We ordered food and were talking when we looked closer at the menu and found that they offered WHALE! We were shocked. So that answers the question about if they know about the whale killing, do they know about the dolphins?
The next morning we were in the first train to Katsurra to be met by Scott and Elora. It was a long ride with a few transfers, but we got too see a lot of the countryside which was really cool. Upon our arrival in Katsuura we immediately called Scott West and they met us at the train station. They helped us set up a hotel and asked if we wanted to go to the cove now. OF COURSE! Elora wanted to go swimming and we were game. Scott warned that once we were seen with him the police would most likely start following us too and question us. That was fine with us, we had nothing to hide. He wasn't joking! When we left the train station and walked to the hotel he pointed out that there were police taking pictures of us. Sure enough, I looked to see them in a car snapping away. Cool! I thought! Scott also warned that when we arrive in Taiji and if you are wearing a Sea Shepherd shirt the attitude of the people there wont be so inviting. Again we thought, we have nothing to hide, we support Sea Shepherd. The scowls of the people in Taiji town were interesting too, they knew why we were there and they were not happy with the international attention their acts have caused.
Scott drove us to the cove. Turning the corner and seeing it for the first time is an experience I cannot put into words. Here was a beautiful place, you gasp when you see its beautiful beach, cliffs on the sides and the light blue water. But something was different and this is what is hard to explain. I don't know if one would feel this if they had no idea what goes on here and they saw it for the first time but you can sense the horror that occurs here. You feel it in your heart, your mind and your bones. This place has evil in it. When we got out of the car, we decided to introduce ourselves to the 2 carloads of police that had followed us here. Sandra and I were nervous. They asked for our passports and I gave them to them. I also handed the one who looked like the boss my police id card. The look on his face was priceless! He was shocked. I introduced my self and shook his hand and told him I was glad to meet another fellow officer. I was not here to disrespect them, they have bosses and their bosses have bosses. They were following orders. Who knows what their honest opinion is on what occurs at the cove. Elora, Sandra and I swam in the cove. Again that feeling I cannot describe creaped up on us again. Sandra said she felt like if she looked at the bottom she would see dead dolphins and got out of the water. We stayed for a while, talked and got to know Elora and Scott better and headed back to the town.
Getting to know Scott and his daughter Elora West throughout our journey here in Taiji was a wonderful experience. Here was a man and his daughter who shared a passion. Scott was full of great information and we loved to just talk with him and pick his brain learning about the issues here and abroad. Elora, wow! Watch out world, this one is going to change things. When we end this tragedy in Taiji we have not seen the last of this one! Elora is not like most 16 year olds. I have never been more impressed by a teenager and most of you who read her blog are sure to agree with me. The relationship between the two of them was fascinating. We loved to watch them together and their relationship made us look forward to having children of our own some day.
The next several days were filled with getting up early and checking on the cove. No activity there was good. We had free time to sight see and stroll through the beautiful towns of Katsurra and Shingu and meet the people. We even were able to talk to grocery store owners about the whale meat that they offered. We feel that dialogue with the people is an important step in ending this. There is a lot, in my opinion, that some could learn from the Japanese culture, they are truly a beautiful people. We were beaming, we had seen no slaughter, we were making our presence known here in Taiji and we made great friends with Scott and Elora.
The morning of Monday, September 20th changed everything. We went to the lookout point and saw the banger boats coming in. They were in perfect formation. The sound of the banging pipes wrenches your heart. When we spotted the pilot whales breaching the surface fleeing for their lives ahead of the boats we all knew our purpose in Taiji. We headed to the cove to see what was going to happen next. I was praying that we would see the animals escape and watch the Taiji fishermen leave frustrated. This was not in the cards. They were very good at what they do, they herded the scared and panicking pilot whales and Risso Dolphins into the cove securing them inside by closing the entrance off with the net. As we took all this in and were filming them in the cove the boats returned again with more. We kept an eye on them all day long as the fishermen left and we watched as the 15 or so animals swam in a spot in the cove no deeper than 10 feet and no wider than 20 feet. I know it was this shallow because Elora and I swam in that very spot the previous day. As the day went on I saw that they were getting scraped up on the rocks and each other. I could see their scars developing worse and worse through my binoculars. What trainer would want them now? I knew what their fate would be. On a positive note, that day we watched "The Cove" at the cove and had some great dialogue with Japanese visitors to the cove and explained the issues. Some had no idea of what goes on there. Some even watched the film with us. Surreal to think that a week prior we were at home watching this with no idea that we would decide to come here.
Scott and Elora left to get on the Internet to get the news of the capture out to the world while Sandra and I stayed at the cove to keep an eye on the animals. Carloads and carloads of fishermen showed up and were staring at us from atop the hill trying to intimidate us to leave. We stood our ground, we were not going to be bullied into leaving. Scott and Elora came back and we stayed until sunset and went home knowing they cannot work in the dark.
The next morning we got up early. We were all stressed and we knew what we were about to witness. Several fishermen showed up at the cove to watch. News cameras came and it was a big event. The sad thing was their cameras were pointed mostly at us. Almost as if they were more concerned with getting us on camera doing something to free these animals than the environmental crimes that were about to occur.
I wont get into detail about what occurred next. Its hard for me to talk about it. The fishermen in Taiji came in on boats and showed us all what the term, "callous efficiency" was all about. It didn't take long. I remember seeing the animals being scared further into the cove by the boat engine. They were swimming faster and faster in circles and the room ran out. They most likely beached them on the shore because where they were now was very shallow and we could not get an angle for footage of this due to the no trespass fences. I had asked one of the police earlier why there were no-trespass fences at the national park on the walkway around the cove. He said because of "falling rocks" I told him, "Yea right, I call bulls**t!" I think he understood what I meant by that. I laughed and told him that we all know why that is there. I told him that the fishermen and Japanese government were ashamed of their acts and that if they were proud of it they would not mind the world seeing what happens here. He had nothing to say in retort. The police watched us, the fisherman not working laughed and snapped pictures of us and the news crews focused on us hoping to catch us in the last second act of heroism to save the whales and dolphins. We spotted, "Private Space" from the movie there amongst the fishermen taking pictures of us.
I thought long and hard prior to this moment about what I was going to do in this situation. Sandra and I talked about it at length up late at night. I wanted to swim out there and cut the nets or do something. But they watched every move we made, we would be stopped, it would save no animals, we would be arrested, I would surely lose my job, we would never be allowed to return to Taiji and the Japanese media would only twist it as Sea Shepherd being criminals. The best we could do was document what happened here today for the world to see, and to inspire more like us to come here. We got our footage you all have seen. It was hard for me personally. I have spent 7 years so far as a police officer, when I see a criminal act I react and stop it. I swore an oath to protect. Here I was watching what to me was murder and I could do nothing. My doing something would make the situation worse for the animals and those who choose to come here in the future. The mood after this morning was as complex as anything we have ever felt. You are in a beautiful place called Japan experiencing an amazing culture. Yet here in this tiny cove atrocities occur. There are so many levels to the emotions we all felt that day that we do not have words or expressions to describe them. The only way you can understand them is to go for yourself.
Sandra and I had to leave the next morning. A week in Japan was all we could muster with work and credit limits. We talked about what we saw together all night that night. We were angry that we had to leave a beautiful place with this taste in our mouths. But more importantly and most of all we felt for these innocent animals who's lives were taken from them. We felt for the animals who are swimming in our oceans right now, who's fate will lead them to this infamous cove in Taiji, Japan.
In closing we will leave you with this. The experience we had in Taiji was something that very few will have. I promise you that if you go to Taiji you will come away with knowing that you saw something that you felt was wrong and you did something about it. You didn't just talk about it and say you were appalled by the acts, you got up and stood with us to end this. You will inspire others to go and stand with you. And one fine day hopefully in the near future the collaborative efforts of all of us fighting for what was right will end this genocide of some of the world’s most amazing creatures. After being there we could see that the international attention that it has gotten is making a difference. Please join the efforts in Taiji.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email us at DSVSTHEWORLD@YAHOO.COM.
Sincerely Dwight and Sandra Miller
We need your help now more than ever. Spread the word, send donations, join in the protest, and if at all possible, come join us here in Taiji. To join us (voluntarily, and completely at your own cost and risk) in Taiji, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will get back to you, but please be patient. I cannot keep an eye on the Cove and answer email at the same time.
There is an international day of protest on October 14, 2010, where you will have an opportunity to let the Japanese government know how you feel.
Sea Shepherd organized the first couple of these protests.
For the Oceans,
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Follow my daughter’s blog of these events.
Tarah Millen will be joining us here in November. She has started a blog about her endeavor.