Sunday, 30 December 2012

Taiji, a town in trouble

If you saw the most recent livestream from Taiji where we took you on a walking tour of the town (link) you may have noticed something peculiar; we didn't feature any people from the town. Indeed, we went to great efforts to make sure we did not deliberately film anyone who was not there as a Cove Guardian.

Welcome to Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

There were a number of reasons for this:

Firstly, straightforward courtesy. It is true that the dolphin killers themselves as well as their close associates treat us with absolute disdain but they number fewer than 50 in total out of a town population of around 3,500, a Prefecture population of around 1 million and a Country population of more than 127 million. So we are only talking about the tiniest of tiny minorities and everyone else in the town either pretends not to see us or else is friendly and polite towards us. We are happy to be polite and courteous in return as long as nobody expects us to compromise on our principles. We will not.

I am not naive enough to think that there will be any genuine friendships springing up in the near future but at least we have the basis for dialogue whenever the townspeople become sick enough of the killers in their midst to seek a new future for their town. Taiji has so much obvious potential if only it can stop the slaughter whilst also turning its back on capture for the despicable captive dolphin industry, aquatic circuses testimony to misery beyond human endurance and beyond dolphin dignity.

Secondly, we have been specifically asked not to photograph people directly without their permission by the Police who watch our every move.  Killers going about the business of killing are fair game for any camera that can see them - and wow do they ever go to extreme lengths to avoid that happening! - but general pics which others (not Cove Guardians) might use out of context to spread the "wrong" message are not.

Thirdly, there are simply not enough ordinary people around to take pictures of.

Taiji is in real danger of turning into a ghost town and that has nothing to do with Sea Shepherd's presence, it is to do with the nefarious business this town has been engaged in for the last 35 years or so, a timeline coinciding with the explosion of "Seaworld type" resorts in the USA and around the World. Please do not try and tell me that 35 years activity represents a generations-long tradition that has to be preserved at all costs, it is not.

Those people we do see are mostly old, many of them working well beyond sensible retirement age adding to the obvious signs that, apart from the very few extremely wealthy dolphin traders, this town is in desperate economic trouble. Towns in desperate economic trouble do not hang onto their young people. A vicious circle kicks in whereby the brightest and best escape to a better world elsewhere making it even less likely that the original problems can be solved from within and ensuring that the next year's school-leavers also follow in their big brothers and sisters' footsteps, leaving Taiji never to return.

No wonder; there is hardly any employment in this town not directly connected with the 2 dolphinariums neither of which would ever pass the welfare standards we take for granted in the UK.

Of course, we no longer have any dolphinariums in the UK for exactly that reason - it is simply not possible to construct an aquatic prison which successfully replicates the limitless world of freedom outside those prison walls. Human prisons offer their inmates greater social interaction, mental and physical stimulation than any dolphinarium could conceivably offer one of its inmates. Remembering also that these inmates were not guilty of any crime, they were simply unlucky enough to swim too close to Taiji where men in search of easy profit were waiting to pounce.

Employment for Taiji's young hopefuls in whaling is not an option, nor is membership of the fishermens' union which has exclusive rights to hunt dolphins unless they had the good fortune (for want of a better description) to be born into one of the controlling families who govern that vile pastime.

So for 35 years the ruling elite of this town has gambled its entire future success on an unlimited supply of live dolphins to a constantly expanding, worldwide, captive dolphin industry. And the currency they used for that gamble was a future for their youngsters.

If they had not attempted to hedge their bets with massive scale dolphin slaughter as a by-product, they might have got away with it, but as soon as the World became aware of that happening here the original gamble started to look shaky. As soon as volunteers from all over the World started to arrive here to protest the dolphin hunt, exposing both slaughter and captive trade  that gamble looked shakier still. Now that the word is spreading throughout Japan about the cruelty involved in both the gamble must surely be lost.

And the word is starting to spread throughout Japan.

School leavers from Taiji may be too deferential to their parents to openly criticise their choices but it is clear that they are "voting with their feet" and choosing to pursue a future which does not involve staying in this town to suffer the taint of greed and the symptoms of slaughter as their parents are. They are adding significantly to Japanese awareness of this issue from wherever they find themselves that isn't Taiji.

Even the police who follow our every move must be feeding back to their own friends and families (none of whom are from Taiji) just what is happening here. They are none of them stupid. They are all excellent judges of character and I have no doubt whatsoever that every one of them can tell the difference between right and wrong. The incredible embarrassment they must experience defending obvious wrong in the full glare of disapproving World opinion can only be another black mark against this town of shame.

I have commented in other blogs about how wonderful I have found the rest of Japan to be and how comfortable I am becoming around Japanese people. I have no doubt whatsoever that Taiji's problems can be solved by Japanese people when the dolphin drive hunts stop. I have even less doubt that Taiji's problems can never be solved by anyone - Japanese or not - unless the drive hunts do stop. Stop for good.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, 21 December 2012

New Traditions are NOT Traditional

This blog should have been written 24 hours ago but I couldn't see the keyboard for tears.

Yes, it does say Glaswegian at the top of my blog. Yes, I am tough. But I'm not tough enough to see mums and babies being driven into a killing zone; I'm not tough enough to hear the death throes of those same mums and babies being slaughtered directly below our vantage point; I'm not tough enough to then hear the bodies of those mums and babies being loaded into the killers' barges; I'm not tough enough to see the bodies of those mums and babies under the tarpaulins as the barges emerge into plain view; and I'm not tough enough to see the meat sale after those mums and babies have been delivered to the butchering shed in Taiji town. I'm not tough enough to experience all of that without emotion. So I cried.

I'm not ashamed and I'm damn sure not going to apologise even though I am clearly not as tough as the big, brave, hard, macho men of the Taiji Fishermen's Union who laughed and joked as they slaughtered those mums and babies.

I am not as tough as the male and female dolphin trainers from the Taiji Whale Museum who were present throughout the slaughter and who I am convinced are aiding and abetting some kind of grand scale "dolphin laundering" so that the captive industry can claim that "their" dolphins did not come from Taiji.

I am not as tough as those trainers who must have known what the outcome was going to be when they decided not to purchase any of those dolphins for their captive dolphin slave trade.

I am not as tough as the trainers who watched the barges being loaded with the bodies

I am not as tough as those trainers who then rode the same barges back to Taiji harbour with the killers and disembarked at the butchering shed calmly walking past the bodies of those mums and babies who they had condemned to slaughter and had seen transported a matter of minutes earlier.

I never want to be that tough.

I am not weak though and I am aware that the more my heart aches, the stronger my resolve is becoming. I have faced significant physical challenges and many moral tests in my life, this is simply a mental challenge without any moral test whatsoever. You see, I already know the difference between right and wrong and what I saw yesterday was as wrong as it is possible to be.

Let me describe Thursday 20th December 2012 in Taiji to you.

The banger boats left as normal at first light and scattered to the horizon in search of dolphins.

We now know that they had a specific order for the live capture of at least one striped dolphin (Stenella Coeruleoalba), a beautiful animal: sleek, graceful, fast.

Within a couple of hours they were back in view, clearly in drive formation: they had found their prey and were chasing it back towards the killing cove.

From around 5 miles out we could see through our long-range lenses that they had found a very large pod and waited in fear lest they had found another super-pod of 200+ bottlenose dolphins as had happened last week. (See the chilling end to that horrible capture in my last blog 101 Damnations.)

The tell-tale puffs of black smoke appeared as killers on the helm slapped engines from full ahead to full astern and back again, chasing the pod and creating walls of sound to drive the dolphins ever onward to their certain doom.

Whether by accident or design, by the time they got closer we could see that the pod had split, a large group ahead of the southernmost banger boats and a smaller group seeming to draw the hunters close attention at the Cove end of the line of death.

With more experienced Cove Guardians amongst us we were warned not to rejoice too quickly when we saw that one of the groups had escaped. These hunters were not chasing for food, as they claim they have been doing traditionally for centuries even though the dolphin drive hunt was never a tradition, indeed as practiced by the Taiji dolphin killers it would be impossible without modern technology, powerful engines and long-range communications equipment.

No, these hunters were chasing the big cash prize - live dolphins for sale to the entertainment industry. Live dolphins to be sold into a life of slavery, made to dance for and swim with human parents and children who must not know the horror which produced that experience for them and the ongoing misery which accompanies it.

Surely no parent could allow their children to participate in this international web of death and exploitation firmly tied to the evils of Taiji if they were aware of the evils of Taiji, could they?

Could you? Could you still give money to dolphinariums now that you know what is going on?

The boats got closer and closer and eventually we were able to identify their intended victims: a group of around 25 to 35 striped dolphins many of which were very young juveniles.

The murderers drove them ever onwards, no longer needing to hammer the metal tubes which produce that sickening taung, taung, taung, taung sound interfering with dolphin senses, stopping them communicating and chasing them to harm. Instead they were now throwing slap-sticks from the smaller skiffs which had joined the banger boats.

And so the pattern continued all the way into the killing cove where we watched them drop net after net to confine them ever closer to the beach, hidden from our cameras under tarpaulins erected each morning in anticipation of a capture.

So desperate are the authorities to keep us from viewing what is going on and exposing it to a still mostly unaware World that they commit a Coastguard cutter to the operation as well as an onshore police deployment which would not be unimpressive at a full scale riot involving an aggressive mob of hundreds.

All this to monitor our slack handful of vegan pacifists armed with nothing more deadly than a camera, carrying nothing more offensive than a bottle of water and a packed lunch.

We don't break laws here but it is very obvious that no-one has any fear of us breaking any laws, they are just terrified that we get the one picture which horrifies the World into action.

The Taiji fishermen know that if the World becomes fully aware of what is happening here that they will be forced to stop. They also know that, like Governments the World over, the Japanese Government is scared to stand up to them, a minority for sure, but a powerful and vociferous minority in the fishing community.

These men are the controlling kingpins who have the biggest boats, the biggest houses, the most expensive cars and the greatest unfair influence on how funds are distributed amongst a community which claims to offer fairness to all who go to sea but which patently fails to deliver on that promise. These men pander to the captive entertainment industry who are the main source of BIG income for them, not the dolphin meat sales which they claim as their "traditional" raison d'ĂȘtre.

I don't have that iconic image yet but if a picture paints a thousand words then I hope and pray that my thousand words paint a picture and that you will share them far and wide. Share them with anyone you think does not yet know about this. Share them especially with any Japanese friends you have because even a few miles away we are aware that Japanese people are simply unaware, they just do not know what is being permitted in their name.

But we are aware, and, like my fellow Cove Guardians I already have impressions of the most awful horror represented by images like this:

When the dolphins were eventually brought all the way into the Cove and herded under the tarps, we were told that the trainers from the Taiji Whale Museum had rejected them all as unsuitable for their dolphinarium. Very simply, the babies were too young to survive without their mothers and the mothers were no use to these evil people.

So the slaughter began. Their way of dealing death is by using a spike t-bar to stab through the dolphins spine. The death throes are lengthy and horrific to listen to. Again and again and again.

The photo above shows the last dolphin which tried to escape that slaughter by throwing herself onto the rocks lining the cove. She was dragged off and sent back to her death.

This photo shows a youngster leading a mum and two babies from the same family group and was taken less than 10 minutes before that slaughter began, less than 20 feet from where that slaughter took place. There was no escape, there was no mercy. They were not wanted by the dolphinarium so the fishermen had to kill them.

These evil men could not let them go or else people would question their "traditional hunting to feed their families," although no-one seems to question why so many of the actual "fish" fishermen in this town are having to scratch a desperately poor living while the dolphin salesmen get rich beside them.

Despite the horrors of Taiji I am nevertheless falling in love with the rest of Japan. It is a beautiful country and her people are mostly wonderful, friendly, warm-hearted and generous. She also has the most magnificent diversity of marine wildlife and the scenery has to be seen to be believed.

Taiji is a problem though. It must be one of the few regional main fishing ports in the World which doesn't feature in any published English language tourist guide books.

That is insane given the hotels in the town and the potential of this area to compete with the best wildlife tourist resorts in the World. Taiji's negative impact on the entire prefecture, indeed on the entire Kii peninsula cannot be ignored either; nobody wants to be tainted by association with what is happening here but everybody is. So we see a familiar pattern again, a few wealthy men become even more wealthy and the majority have to offset the cost of that wealth with undeserved damage to their own reputations and the obvious impact on their own earnings.

If like me you think this is wrong. If like me you think that killing dolphins in the 21st Century is blatantly wrong. If like me you think this needs to stop then please encourage everybody you know to read this blog and to visit these links:

Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians on Facebook Cove Guardians Page (Official)

Cove Guardians on Sea Shepherd Web Taiji Dolphin Defense Campaign

New traditions are NOT traditional. They are changeable. Changeable for the better.

Thank you for reading.


Apparently the 20th December was International Human Solidarity Day. Not sure what that meant for the rest of the World exactly but I damn sure didn't experience any solidarity whatsoever with the malicious dolphin killers here in Taiji. There are a growing number of wonderful Japanese people who I do feel solidarity with, some of them even in Taiji, but they are people with whom I have a strong common bond - like me, they detest the killing. Like me, they want it to stop as well. Please help their voices be heard.

Monday, 17 December 2012

101 Damnations

This is my first post as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian, having been in Taiji, Japan for just over 24 hours, partnering my very best friend Anna as a team from Scotland in support of this most important campaign.

It has been one of the most emotional full days of my life so far, and I do mean full!.

I had to laugh when I logged onto Facebook this evening and it asked me to review what it thought were "my" top 20 highlights of 2012. There can be little doubt after today's events that my top 20 most memorable events of 2012 will now happen during the next 2 weeks.

No one comes to Taiji under any illusion that it will be a holiday and that was particularly true for Anna and myself having had the benefit of first class briefings on what was happening and what to expect during the first day or so. We also had the benefit of excellent reporting on the Cove Guardians' Facebook Page and knew that in the few days before our arrival somewhere in the region of 200 bottlenose dolphins (the "Flipper" dolphins most prized by the captive facilities) had been hunted and driven into the Cove to await an uncertain fate.

We were told that dolphins netted into the Cove means we should expect one of 3 things: either capture and processing into a life of captivity performing tricks for the entertainment of the unaware, or, just as bad, slaughter to turn beautiful life into unwanted meat or, hope against hope, we might see them being released back into the wild from which they were stolen in the first place.

Today we experience all 3 and I am feeling completely wrung out.

Let me pause for a moment and tell you our experience of the Japanese people since arriving in Osaka and travelling South to Wakayama Prefecture - most famous for the Nachi Waterfall at Kii-Katsuura, a ten minute drive from where we are staying during our sojourn in this part of the World.

I only mention that because people seem to know all about the waterfall and lots of people have recommended that we visit it but nobody knows about Taiji and they find it hard to believe when we tell them.

Regarding the Japanese, we had been told to expect hostility from the outset. We had been told that, "[They] are cruel and callous."  We had been told that they hated foreigners. We had been told that they especially hated Sea Shepherd. None of this came from Sea Shepherd sources of course and I am not surprised because none of it was true.

Without exception we have been met with friendly smiles, pleasantries and courtesy of the sort that makes you feel so uncomfortable because you know you have never been as gracious to perfect strangers as the grace and dignity being offered to you. We have received gifts twice already as random acts of kindness from complete strangers in a land where gift giving is imbued with the greatest significance. We have seen hard-work and effort, courage and citizenship to the highest degree. We have even had our first interview with the police by torchlight on a cold and windy dockside in the small hours of the morning and that interview ended with smiles and laughter and best wishes for the day ahead.

I love Japan and I love her people. Well, almost all of Japan and almost all of her people, there is, after all, still the issue of Taiji and the Dolphin Drive Hunts. Not tradition, just a bloody, an oh so very bloody, excuse for extreme profit from extreme disregard of the difference between right and wrong. Not a Japanese trait, not an any nation trait, just a sad and all too common trait amongst evil, selfish and greedy men the World over, in this case they just happen to be in this country where I am still just a temporary visitor.

The evil men (and women) capturing and killing dolphins in Taiji have surpassed themselves in diabolical design this week, cynically attempting to win a propaganda coup with the release back into the wild of between 80 and 100 dolphins, perhaps hoping that no-one would notice the 23 bottlenose dolphins which earlier today they slaughtered for meat.

The full tally for the last week was 25 beautiful dolphins which transferred to the butcher's slab when you add the 2 which had earlier died by horrible drowning trapped in the nets of the Cove.

Most dreadful of all though has been the total of 101 bottlenose dolphins sold into captivity.

101 Damnations

Let me go straight back to the wonderful Japanese people we have met. Kind, generous, hard-working - extremely hard working - and, like kind, generous, extremely hard-working people the world over earning just about enough to cover the bills with not a lot left over.

Contrast them with the wealth that is now plainly evident to me as I have been moving around Taiji today and consider that 101 captured and sold into slavery dolphins could represent as much as $1 million per day for each of 6 days work and that will be shared amongst just 30 or so men and women.

I will be returning to the theme of captive dolphins a lot over the next few weeks because in just 1 single day here it has become crystal clear to me that the dolphinarium industry is THE problem at Taiji, not any kind of "traditional" indigenous means of putting food on the table for an otherwise starving family. That isn't and they are not.

I also need to get my head round the dolphin trainers - men and women from all over Japan and beyond who stood by watching whilst 23 dolphins were ruthlessly, bloodily and noisily slaughtered.

Dolphin trainers who then dragged their own live prizes through the blood fouled waters to start earning a return on their investment in the marine parks which paid their expenses for this mission of evil.

I can't write about that at the moment, I am still too shocked at their calculated refusal to acknowledge any sort of moral responsibility by the very act of participation in a bloodbath such as the one we were forced to witness.

Following today's events my emotions are still all over the place but I am trying so desperately hard to bottle my anger at the theft from their families and from the wild of those 101 dolphins, temper my rage at the cold-blooded and wholly unnecessary murder of 23 dolphins from that same family, suppress my fury at the pointless and avoidable deaths of 2 more members of that dolphin family in the nets which were used to hold them all in the killing Cove and instead try to ignite the spark of comfort from the remaining 80 or so dolphins who we saw swim to freedom this afternoon.

I think that is the happy thought I would like to end this blog on today.

Thank you all for reading, thank you all for your support.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Haiku for Taiji

Evil men killing
My heart bleeds as dolphins die
Stop it. Stop it now!

More Haikus for Taiji at the end of today's blog.

The blood of a pilot whale slain in Taiji, Japan
Picture courtesy of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardiians

Taiji, Japan, is a place of horror. A place where they butcher several thousand dolphins and small whales every single year.

If you are reading this then you probably know that already. Therefore, the task for us all now is to spread the word as far as we possibly can because as anyone who has seen The Cove knows, the one thing the dolphin killers of Taiji fear most is exposure, "If the World finds out what we do here, we will be shut down..."

Every day this task becomes easier as Sea Shepherd's amazing Cove Guardians discover more and more innovative ways to get the message out to those of us who are desperate to offer support of our own, providing videos, pictures and commentaries for us all to share as far and as wide as we possibly can.

Here is a great example of just that:

Regularly our onshore volunteers and other supporters come up with other innovations of their own so today's blog is dedicated to Steve Jack (follow him on Twitter here) who came up with #Haiku4Taiji (clickable link) as another string to the ocean defender bow.

There is never going to be "THE" solution to the problem of raising awareness about the horrors taking place every day in Taiji but there are many, many "A" solutions. This one got popular, it got popular real quick and its popularity continues to grow. I hope this blog will help it grow again and I truly hope that between us all we manage to open even more eyes amongst a disbelieving public about just how awful Taiji really is.

I can't copy all of the Haikus for Taiji, there are many hundreds but do please click on the link above and see for yourself how powerful this initiative has been. And do please tweet some of your own adding the hashtag #haiku4taiji  If you have never written a Haiku before here is a useful guide How to Write Haikus

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourites from the last month on Twitter:

Peace now dolphin souls
Still and deep, flying from those
Who bring harm; deal death

When they've gone, what then?
Oceans die slowly leaving
A blue cove ~ bereft

Tonight it's too hard
Tears and words spilled and dried yet
Guardians endure

Dolphins wild and free
Exactly where they should be
Not dead in Taiji

The Taiji Livestream
Keeps me awake at night
But I have to watch

They watch and mourn
Breaking hearts make stronger wills
Brave guardians of the Cove

Hunters on the prowl
Death and murder on their minds
Conscience they have none

Dollars for dolphins
Children squeal; audience claps
They don't know the truth

Skiffs in formation
Early morning procession
Taiji's wake of shame

News reports protests
War, injustice, poverty
Dolphins need your voice

Dolphins need your voice.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Risso's No More

Today's blog is dedicated to the beautiful Risso's Dolphin (Grampus Griseus), the largest Dolphin species with the word "Dolphin" in its name.

I haven't been blogging this last week. I have wanted to. Day after day I have logged in ready to pour out my heart but day after day I have logged in and gone straight to the Cove Guardians page on facebook to see what has happened in Taiji while I have been sleeping. This week I have wanted so much to pour out my heart - this week my heart has been ripped from me.

Cove Guardian Nicole McLachlan
Nicole, who is actually on the ground in Taiji and not just viewing from afar as I am for now, has poured out her own heart in her report of the week up until 5th December here, Operation Infinite Patience: December 5, 2012 and as well as her powerful words, there are videos on that link that you should see.

As I read her report I came to this comment, "It was on December 2nd that the most horrific display of greed played out before our eyes. All of us Cove Guardians, who were present during the three days that followed, will never be the same."

I knew what the rest of the report was going to be about because I had followed it frame by horrible frame on Taiji Dolphin Defense TV. I am sorry for not blogging but no words of mine could soothe that pain, it would not have been therapeutic for me, it would not have been good reading for you.

If this is all new to you then please follow each of those 3 links in turn and make sure you know what is happening in 2012 in the World that we share. If you won't take the time to follow the links then please read my November blog, #Taiji or Head in the Sand instead.

From speaking to close friends, some who have already been in Taiji as Cove Guardians and others who have flights booked and are just about to go, as I will be doing soon, I know that we all read those notes in numb disbelief. Little could any of us have realised that it was about to get even worse.

Photo Courtesy Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians,
Slaughter of 7th December 2012
The Today in Taiji report from December 7th began,

"A pod of 15 Risso's Dolphins were hunted and slaughtered within the cove this morning.. They frantically fought against the dolphin killers' deafening boats and terrifying walls of nets- all were killed for human consumption as none were 'suitable' enough to spend their lives entertaining humans in the captive trade."

Risso's are an amazing species of dolphin and one of the largest if you exclude Pilot Whales and Orcas. They span a wide range of ocean habitats between 60° North and 55° South. In Scotland -  where I spend most of my time - we see them alone or in small family groups of up to 20 although there are reports of mega-pods of Risso's 100+ in number.

These beautiful creatures grow up to 12 feet in length and can live to at least 30 years old. As long as they stay away from Taiji.

Slaughtered Risso's Dolphins
If you have seen the film The Cove you will know that the Taiji fishermen claim that they kill every dolphin caught - but not sold into captivity - as "pest control" because they have been told by their Government that the collapse of wild fish stocks is nothing to do with man and his insatiable appetite for ever larger and ever more effective fishing programmes.

Somehow they have convinced themselves that if you kill every dolphin and whale then somehow, magically, the nets of their pelagic trawlers will be full to bursting on every haul. This "scientific wisdom" coming from a nation which has contributed so much to genuine science!

Even if that was true for some species (it isn't) then it most certainly does not apply to the Risso's which prefers a diet of squid, octopus and cuttlefish which they catch and swallow whole. Have another look at the picture at the top of this blog, those scars did not come from a mackerel encounter!

This diet already puts the Risso's in severe danger from mankind, specifically from mankind's most destructive invention: the plastic bag.

Post mortems on squid eating cetaceans such as Risso's Dolphins and Sperm Whales regularly reveal that the animal had nothing in its stomach other than plastic bags. Not a nice way to go and, although they can dive to depths of over 1 kilometre and can remain below the surface for up to 30 minutes, Risso's are believed to eat mostly at night when squid rise closer to the surface - guess where plastic bags float?

I once had a "half in fun, whole in earnest" dig aimed at me on a facebook post asking why, if whales and dolphins were such hyper-intelligent creatures, how could they not tell the difference between a squid and a plastic bag? My response was even simpler:

If we are such hyper-intelligent creatures how can we not tell the difference between right and wrong?

To all those Risso's Dolphins who lost their lives yesterday in Taiji's killing cove I am sorry my fellow man lacks the humanity that you should be entitled to take for granted. We will remember you swimming wild, swimming free, swimming far and swimming deep.

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Whales, Cows, Pigs, Cars and Motorbikes

Whales, Cows, Pigs, Sheep, Fish, Chickens, Dogs, Cats, Guinea Pigs, Kangaroos, Snakes, Crickets and any other life-form you care to mention; somewhere in the world, someone is eating one right now.

That, dear reader, is the argument most regularly put forward by the apologists for whale murder who seem to appear en masse every time a campaigner highlights the atrocities perpetrated against ocean wildlife in the killing fjords of the Faroe Islands and the killing Cove of Taiji.

It is not, they will tell you, the whale murderers who have the problem, it is us, the stupid, hippy, tree-hugging, eco-nutters who fail to understand that these poor, impoverished people have to kill to survive. We fail to understand that it is traditional for them to kill whales. To top it all, they will tell you that if we don't protest against battery farms (remember when they used to just be for hens - did you know that pigs and cows are factory farmed as well now?) then we are being hypocrites for campaigning against unnecessary and extremely cruel whale murder.

I am going to deal with that last point in today's blog. Future blogs will look at the ridiculous claims for "tradition" and the even more ridiculous claims for subsistence, coming from 2 of the richest nations on the planet.  You can be sure that the people of the Faroe Islands or the fishermen of Taiji have neither need to survive on forage nor any demonstrable adherence to tradition in a material form other than the barbarities which they inflict on defenceless animals using rather non-traditional tools to do so.  For now, let us deal with the hypocrisy challenge.

Stealing cars is a crime. So is stealing motorbikes. Both modes of transport. Both could be said to be similar.

If I witness someone attempting to steal a car and step in to stop it does it make me a hypocrite if I don't step in to stop some other criminal attempting to steal a motorbike at the same time? Let me take that a bit further. If, while I was concentrating on the car crime, I knew that there was someone else concentrating on the motorbike crime and therefore my assistance was not required - am I still a hypocrite? 

Does anyone think the respective owners of the car and the motorbike actually care who stopped their vehice being stolen? Do you think either owner said, "Hey, why are you stopping that being stolen, I wanted the other guy to stop it?" Doesn't seem very likely does it? Frankly, neither of them would care who prevented the crime, they would just be glad it had been prevented.

There are an enormous number of animal rights campaign groups out there. Some are general ones campaigning for all animal rights, regardless of species. Some are very specific, targeting just one species.

My own organisation, Sea Shepherd is not specifically an animal rights campaign group, it is an ocean conservation society and that is where our focus must lie.

Of course we have sympathies with many of the other groups Those sympathies are shared especially by the vegans amongst us of which I am one. But we are highly focussed on protecting ocean wildlife worldwide and - if you will forgive my hubris on this occasion - we are rather good at what we do.

It is true that you could argue we are only interested in protecting cars whilst leaving others to worry about the motorbikes but then, there are others protecting "motorbikes" so what is the problem? Is it perhaps just that our enemies would rather all the various campaign groups were arguing amongst themselves rather than getting on with the job of protection? I think it might be.

I must say though, that even if there were no other campaign groups out there, if it was only us - and sometimes it sure feels like it! - then I would still not be willing to sacrifice my ocean focus.

You see, whilst the vegan in me does not really see a difference, cruelty is cruelty is cruelty, the researcher in me (and in particular the researcher part which has actually been on the beach and in the water and in boats alongside pilot whales in distress) understands that there is a world of difference between the manner in which agricultural animals are killed individually and the way in which entire families of dolphins and pilot whales are ruthlessly slaughtered.

I can't give you a safe car vs motorbike analogy for this one. the closest I can get is someone being executed on death row (which I also think is totally barbaric just in case you wondered) vs the Rwandan Genocide of very recent history. Let me not dwell on that but instead describe what happens to dolphins being slaughtered in Taiji's killing cove

It can take 6 hours for the killers to drive dolphins into the cove. 6 hours during which the terrified animals are herded together and pushed to near exhaustion (and in some cases beyond exhaustion to actual death), kept disoriented, frightened, scared beyond limits that any human could endure, forced to face fight or flight as a family group with nothing to fight against and flight being the inevitable acceptance of trickery away from apparent danger into apparent safety. In fact, into certain death.

There is no quick way to kill dolphins and pilot whales. It is a slow, agonising death and these are highly vocal animals who scream with pain, over and over again. It can take more hours.

There is no way to break the social bonds which these animals have in there large, extended-family groups. No way short of death. As this death is not short, as this death is horrific, as this death is not quick and as the death of any one amongst a family group and as the death of each one in succession becomes a shared horror, there is no way this can be compared to the death of any other animal other than, perhaps, those humans who have experienced the extreme war crimes associated with ethnic cleansing by an oppressor who had no fear of reprisals.

Can you imagine the terror of a child swimming in its own mother's blood, hearing the screams for hour after ghastly hour of its brothers, its sisters, of all of its family members? Can you imagine waiting for your turn next? Can you imagine relief turning to numb disbelief as you are captured live and transported to a life of captivity entertaining spoiled adults with their dragged along children in an ocean park claiming to be an educational centre of excellence?

Still want to tell me I'm a hypocrite because I am willing to tell you how much I care about that but not give someone else a hard time because they put butter on their bread?

Taiji, Japan and Faroes, Denmark are places of horror. A horror that must be stopped. I don't have a lot of energy left to focus on other things right now, my focus needs to be on doing what I can to end ocean cruelty. End it especially in these two revolting shrines to slaughter.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Big Game Dog Fishing

Dogs are in trouble. Thanks to the motion pictures Paws, Paws II, Paws III, which feature a monster dog attacking the residents of sleepy seaside village Amity, these poor misunderstood creatures have been demonised and hunted to near extinction all for the sake of Dog-fin soup.

I'm sorry. Did I say dogs? I meant of course sharks....

...except. Let's think about this for a moment. Imagine doing the same to dogs as we do to sharks:

From the back of an enormous sports 4x4, a dog-fisherman casts a large hook baited with a hunk of meat somewhere in Hyde Park, one of London's largest parks (it is actually larger than the entire Principality of Monaco) and considered prime hunting ground for dogs. He doesn't really know where he is but the skipper says there are big dogs here and the money he is paying for that advice he knows he will be going home with some great photos of his magnificent, manly, heroic exploits.

Slowly motoring forward, heading towards the Serpentine, the driver takes his time as the dog-fisherman expertly works his troll line, hoping that this time it is not the plentiful labrador he catches - good eating but doesn't put up much of a fight - this time he is hoping for that prized catch, the rare Irish Wolfhound. (Editor's note - the previously most feared pit-bull type was hunted to extinction during the Lennox era.)

It doesn't take long till he feels the tell-tale tug on the line which tells him he has prey. The truck skipper appears by his shoulder - an experienced dog-hunter, he has been taking paying clients into Hyde Park ever since the cat-fishery collapsed and forced him to chase the mighty tourist dollar to continue funding his luxury lifestyle.

"Let him run," says the skipper. "Wait till you feel him slow down before you strike or you will miss him and they are wary beasts these big hounds, he might not give you a second chance."

"Now!" comes the shout and the dog-fisherman feels the hook bite deep, along with a renewed thrashing as the hound reacts in shock to the extreme, excruciating pain as the barbed hook penetrates the walls of his throat. Breathing becomes difficult, pain makes it difficult to think, his fight or flight instinct kicks in (just as it does in humans) and he chooses flight. Again the dog-fisherman lets him run, he needs him tired if he is to land him successfully. A fit dog is too much of a challenge, they always run for safety instead of just giving in and that would stop him getting the sort of pictures he wants for the boys down the pub.

Feeling the line go slack he knew the next few moments would be telling, would the beast go to ground or would he attempt to break free. "There!" shouts the skipper as about a quarter of a mile away the most magnificent, beautiful large animal breaks through the bushes and shows himself to the car-load of killers. (Errm, sorry, I meant manly heroes.) "Take in the slack, take in the slack!" And so the pattern continues for another hour until at last, the exhausted Irish Wolfhound is brought alongside the now mud-splattered 4x4.

The skipper reaches over the tailgate with a gaff hook, impales the now near-death dog through the shoulder and drags him onto the truck. He warns everyone to stay clear of the dog, it will probably take about 30 minutes to die and it will thrash around while it does so. "And look at those jaws - it can still bite by reflex!" Keeping people safe is good for business but it's also good to build the sense of danger because that is good for future business as more thrill-seekers part with cash for a similar experience.

By the time the 4x4 returns to the garage the still beautiful but very dead animal has stopped thrashing. At the business centre they have a tripod arrangement which lets them haul the body full stretch so that the successful hunter can have his photo taken with his kill. In seconds it is posted to facebook, twitter and pinterest. This one is special, it's a new record weight for an Irish Wolfhound caught in Hyde Park so all the tabloids want to run a feature whilst the BBC and Sky send mobile broadcast vans to capture it for the early evening news.

Police decide not to arrest the small handful of protestors from the Hyde Park Shepherd Conservation Society, they don't want martyrs in the press while the tourists are still parting with cash.

Dear reader, dog-hunting like this is not real but shark-hunting is. It needs to stop.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Wisdom of Solomon

Today's blog I have re-worked from an original sermon I heard delivered by the Right Reverend Dr Idris Jones, the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway 1998-2009 and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church 2006-09.

It is not going to be an overtly religious post though for a couple of reasons

Firstly, because I am not particularly religious myself. I do believe in God but I view churches as not much more than competing commercial organisations - and when they compete on an International scale... well that's where wars come from even as the churchgoers themselves live with the belief that they are the only ones on the planet who somehow have God on their side! Did you see the picture of the apple-banana in #Taiji or Head in the Sand? That.

Secondly, this isn't a religious blog, this is a blog about things that need fixed. Hmmm, maybe I really only do have one reason after all.

Dr Jones sermon concerned a reading from the "Apocrypha" which I now know was first published in the Lutherian Bible of 1534 but was also first excluded from print by the Calvinist Westminster Confession of Faith during the English Civil War in 1647.

The men who took that decision seem to have considered it rather too Roman Catholic for the prevalent political mood of the day although, to be fair, in an age where getting it wrong politically resulted in beheading we could perhaps show them some leniency in our judgement of their behaviour  Nevertheless, hmmm, again, Church leaders deciding what us mere mortals should - and should not - be encouraged to read.

So successful was the established church at swinging popular opinion against the Apocrypha that by the start of the 19th Century the British and Foreign Bible Society refused to print it and so the modern "King James Bible" contains only a limited library of books. Specifically, The Law, the Torah which is the foundation on which everything else rests; the Prophets who interpreted that Divine Law in their day; and the Writings with books like Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes which give a reflective and philosophical slant to religious thought. Bloggers in the Bible if you like, although a bit safer to add your comments to my blogs than any of those I would suggest...

Let me now use Dr Jones own words' (with only the very lightest of paraphrasing to suit the secular context in which they are being repeated) to continue today's journal:

This Apocrypha was written in the period of 100 years before the Christian Era and 100 years into that era. and was given the name of King Solomon because it reflected the glory of his day though it was written in very different circumstances and centuries after the time in which he lived.. The book is a record of a struggle that is part of all religious belief and faith which is the struggle to determine how far you can go in making sense of eternal truths in a changing contemporary world without betraying those same truths. All faiths today are engaged in that struggle over a variety of moral questions.

During that period of 200 years the Wisdom of Solomon was a product of the same sort of struggle around basic questions. The questions that asked what is the meaning of life and what is the meaning of death.

When life is going well; when things make sense and when there is a feeling that there is justice in the World that is one thing. But life is rarely like that for us - and certainly not all the time. When things go wrong; when justice seems denied and in particular when good people suffer and evil folk prosper - in those times what has faith to offer?

The writings of the Wisdom of Solomon spanned just such a time when things could not have been more unlike the golden age of King Solomon. During those 200 years the nation was divided and over-run by occupying powers. Jerusalem, the city of peace was wrecked, destroyed, rebuilt and wrecked again. the Holy Temple was desecrated, destroyed, built again and finally razed for ever in 70 CE under Roman Occupation. Many men who fought on the side of goodness had died under the heel of the oppressor, people had been indiscriminately killed for standing up for their beliefs. What on earth was going on - what was the point of it all, indeed was there any point?

Thankfully not many of us have to contend with that kind of upheaval but there will have been times when we know those feelings of being unable to make sense of life: and whilst death comes kindly to some for others it raises all those familiar feelings and questions.

I remember at a time of bereavement a wise councillor saying to me, "Don't ask the question why? There is no answer."

The Wisdom of Solomon gives no answer either but encourages us to hang on to a deep commitment at the most profound level of our very being expressed in these words:

"God did not make death and takes no pleasure in the destruction of any living thing. He created all things that they might have being." The Wisdom of Solomon 1 v 13 - 15

At this point I shall take my blog back and suggest that today was not about me telling you what I think, it is me encouraging you to think for yourself.

Read that last quote from the Wisdom of Solomon again and tell me why in the early 1600s we (i.e. humankind) were being allowed access to only selective knowledge whilst Church and Establishment (of which Church was the most part) led by (bad) example the rejection of simplicity and the descent to carnism (see Vegan in the 17th Century).

Ask also why religious bias is being desperately held onto by a tiny minority of Government rulers and influencers the World over whose own prejudice is causing the suffering of countless millions of human and non-human lives day by day by bloody day.

We are only beholden to dogma if we choose to be so.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Time is all we have...

Lose an hour in the morning, spend all day looking for it.

So goes the quote and I think we can all sympathise with it to some extent. Even the most effective time manager cannot predict the unpredictable

It's been a struggle to fit everything in today but for once I don't feel to blame. Everything that had to be done no matter what has been done and I have coped with a number of unexpected but both urgent and important issues into the bargain. If I had spent the morning writing the blog instead of concentrating on what actually pays the bills then I may have been guilty of messing up my own day but I dealt with the really important stuff first and left the more pleasant tasks for later. Or maybe that's my way of saying sorry for posting 3 hours later than normal.

It's a roosting fruit bat (vegan!)
Most of the really active Sea Shepherd volunteers who I share such a large part of my life with are incredibly busy people. They are the sort of people you always wonder how on earth they manage to fit everything in.

Some of them you wonder if they ever sleep, or if you assume that they must do sometime then you can't help wondering when?

At risk of creating the same sort of fable as Pliny the Elder managed with his ostriches (see blog #Taiji or Head in the Sand) I wonder f some of them have chiropteran blood flowing through their veins and like to surprise us all by being up and active when we are tucked up safe and warm.  Good thing for the planet to have Sea Shepherds on 24 hour watch just the same!

So how do you get more into an average day than the average person does? Simple, you never ever even contemplate having just an average day.

Of course how much you want to do is always going to be a matter of choice. I am certainly not about to suggest that there is anything right or wrong about the lifestyle choices any of us make - as long as you stick to the principle of First Do No Harm. But if you really want the extra time you need in order to make all the difference you want, here is a point to ponder:

If you genuinely set your alarm clock for the time you wanted to get up, why did you hit the snooze button when it went off? Or if you did set it accurately and you did still hit the snooze, what difference did it make?

Have a look at these numbers:

1 minute per day works out to 6 hours per year. Even if you were slow getting out of bed, someone somewhere is already doing more than you.

Stretch that to 4 minutes per day and you have lost an entire 24 hours (or 3 full working days if you are a tpical wage slave.)

Stay in bed 30 minutes longer than you needed to and you have lost an entire week. Imagine all the amazing things you could do with an extra week. And then imagine not having it when everyone else does.

I wonder where the quote, "If you snooze you lose!" came from?

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

New #Vegan Shoes

Today's blog is a bit of a blast from the past. It is the first ever picture blog I posted as @T_Veg and it was originally and very generously hosted for me on Sasha and Mitsu's brilliant vegan web encyclopaedia To Happy Vegans

It's not a lazy option though, I am not just trying to avoid typing up an hour or more's worth of deep thinking on a mid-week morning. No, today's blog was inspired by my latest delivery from Veggie Shoes and the realisation that vegan shoes - in fact vegan everything - have become very ordinary to me now. I hadn't realised that until I started to blog about them and found it hard to come up with anything exciting enough to justify stealing your time with.

So what I wanted to recapture today - especially for anyone reading this blog who is either newly vegan or very close to becoming vegan - was the huge excitement of my first, my very first ever, consciously vegan lifestyle purchase. To show you how positively reaffirming it was to go one step beyond (hahaha no pun intended on a blog about shoes!) not eating or otherwise exploiting our friends for food, I wanted to ensure my lifestyle was as planet friendly as it could possibly be and this was my first experience of getting there:

For anyone who doesn't already follow me on twitter as @T_Veg, I adopted the persona of Tyrannosaurus Veg to play on the notion that I was an old dinosaur in so many respects and changing my ways was inevitably going to be a bit of a challenge. I was also playing on the notion that I was possibly the most unlikely vegan you would ever meet.

I still love the reaction when people find out - it's brilliant to see the mental gymnastics going on as they realise I don't fit their stereotype so they might need to challenge me on facts rather than prejudice and then realise the facts are so heavily stacked in favour of the vegan that they might as well not bother.

So here it is, a (very mildly) adapted version of, 

Tyrannosaurus Veg and the New Shoes

Thanks to the brilliant moral support I have been getting from Mitsu in particular, the incredible efforts the wonderful Mrs T_Veg has been going to for my meals plus all her moral support and fellow Vegans everywhere just saying, “Keep going” I reckon I have cracked this Vegan diet thing now. 

Generally speaking, it has been much easier than I expected and a million times nicer than I ever thought it could be.

The time has now come for me to change my non-vegan lifestyle choices and that has started with shoes.  I followed the link on the THV home page to Vegetarian Shoes in Brighton: Veggie Shoes

Not really knowing what I should be ordering, I phoned them and spoke to Lucy (she is lovely) who talked me through the choices and made a specific recommendation based on what I had told her.

Less than a week later a package arrived at work:

Opening up the package (go Vegan, it’s like Christmas everyday!) I found this inside:

I had to put the box on the floor, it’s bad luck to have shoes on the table – even Vegan ones.  Inside the box was more wrapping, still feeling like Christmas.

Which pulled back to reveal Lucy’s recommendation for a Vegan businessman:

Which looked even better out of the box:

Looking good so far but can they really be Vegan, surely they picked up the wrong brand when they were packing the order?

Nope, Vegan shoes from Vegetarian Shoes – and you can just see the toe of my old leather ones at the bottom of the pic.  I honestly cannot see the difference, they even feel the same except at the seams where the new shoes feel smoother and better made.

The soles are hard-wearing rubber, very easy to walk on, very comfy and MUCH warmer than the thin leather most other businessmen I know will be sliding around on this Winter.

Remember that old Eric Morecambe joke, “They fit like a glove, which is odd because I’m wearing them on my feet, boom, boom!”  They look good, don’t they?

Still  looking fabulous with a suit from my perspective looking down.

And looking just as fabulous with a suit for anyone looking towards me.  How will I convince people that I really am a Vegan when they see me in these, no one will believe me unless I take them off and show the label!

The very last test for shoes fit for the boss:  what do they look like on top of the boss’s desk?  Pretty good I would say, such a shame that is the one and only time I will be able to rest them there – honest guv, would I tell a fib?

My final comment needs to be that Vegetarian Shoes is a brand name and not a description, suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. 

Although now I have them and am wearing them in style and comfort I wonder if we should just call them Shoes?  Why would you need to hurt an animal when the alternative is this good?

Many thanks to everyone at Vegetarian Shoes, and thank you as ever to Sasha and Mitsu for putting up with this old dinosaur on their wonderful web site.



Those shoes are 2 years old now and I still wear them 2 or 3 times every week. The heels are starting to show signs of age but they are still perfectly suitable as formal wear shoes. I alternate my shoes every day to extend the life of them (an old Jeeves type trick) or I would take a snap of them to show you just how good they are. Instead, here is a pic of the brogues which arrived the day after the ones above. These have also delivered many miles of foot transportation for T_Veg and have been worn not less than 200 times:

Honestly, being able to achieve that effect without harm to animals and for less than the cost of the equivalent business shoes... Animal produce on your feet? Why would you?