Melissa's Japan Dolphins Blog

Melissa's Japan Dolphins Blog

The journey of an actor, teacher,
filmmaker & now activist

A Beginner's Guide to Saving the World

I am so happy to announce the launch of the official Facebook page for my upcoming feature-length documentary film, "A Beginner’s Guide to Saving the World."  Thank you SO much to everyone who has already shown such wonderful support of this project.  This film follows the journey of one woman as she follows her heart and fights for what she believes in, in an effort to make change happen in this world.  And in the end, I hope to show everyone that ONE person CAN make a difference and that change DOES happen!  No matter what the cause…animal rights, climate change, human trafficking, poverty…it’s up to all of us to figure out what we are passionate about and what we can do about it, and my hope is that this film will help anyone who has ever wanted to do something to make a change in the world and just didn’t know where to start.

The film will feature Ric O’Barry, star of "The Cove," my hero, and a beautiful example of what’s possible, Matt Sorum, activist, philanthropist, Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and The Cult drummer (and not to mention Rock and Roll Hall of Famer), and several other courageous, passionate and inspiring people that I have met in my journey.

I would so appreciate your support!  If the idea of this film interests you at all, please go to the official Facebook page for the film and watch for updates…including the launch of our official website, Kickstarter campaign, and more!

Thank you so much!

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Proposal Seeks To End SeaWorld Orca Shows In California

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My re-entry into the “real” world has been very bumpy.  So tonight I watched my video from the Japan Dolphins Day event at the cove and it helped.  It helped to be reminded of the beautiful, passionate people that all came together on September 1st to stand for peace in Taiji.  I didn’t realize that I had never posted this video on my blog, so tonight I’m sharing it. 

On this day, in this town of secrets and shame, I witnessed the best of who we are as human beings, and it was powerful and moving and inspiring and it gave me hope not only for the dolphins, but for humanity.

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I left Taiji yesterday, and my heart was broken as I boarded my plane to come home.  At 5:00am we went to the cove, where the pilot whales who had been driven in on Wednesday were quietly awaiting their fate.  As soon as there was enough light, the hunters appeared in the cove and the violent slaughter process began.  It was horrific to witness the terrified pilot whales thrash about as they unsuccessfully tried to escape.  Several tried to flee and swam straight into the nets, where they became tangled and even more frantic.  One brave young pilot whale got over two sets of nets and swam toward the beach and tried to beach himself on the rocks.  A sweet big boy that we’d admired the night before was so hard to push under the tarps that divers in the water had to tie him up with ropes to push him under and kill him.

Once it was all over, they opened the nets and instead of swimming out to sea, the remainder of the pod swam straight into the killing cove on their own…to be with their dead family.  The nets were wide open but they wouldn’t leave.  One lone baby who had witnessed his family get slaughtered swam alone in their blood for quite some time.  He must have been so disoriented and probably injured because he slowly swam around by himself and finally disappeared around the point.  His odds of surviving on his own, tired, weak and without his family, are not good.  I can’t get the image of his sweet little head bobbing in the bloody water out of my head.  I have lots of those images that have stayed with me and they’ll probably never leave.

At the harbor, Vickie and I watched a banger boat bring the last of the dead pilot whales in and unload them at the Fishermen’s Union.  Keeping their shameful actions out of our view has become a science for the hunters - they have tarps to cover their every move, and the Coast Guard quickly moves into place to cover any holes where we might be able to see in.

We drove to one of the butcher houses, followed by the police, and just as we approached the intersection, we were cut off by an unmarked police car.  We now had police in front of us and behind us, and as soon as we approached the building, I saw all of the dead pilot whale meat, and a panicked older woman wearing a blood-stained apron quickly closed the sliding doors before we could pull our cameras out.  They argue that this is tradition, that this is culture, but I’ve never seen anyone go to such lengths to hide a tradition. 

As we walked back to the car, exhausted and in shock, I could hear the dolphin show in process at the whale museum. It was surreal and infuriating. 

I heard someone refer to Taiji as a very hard place to be and an even harder place to leave.  That’s exactly how I feel about this beautiful, eery, shameful place.  I’m grateful to be home, but my heart will remain in Taiji until this ends.

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The last three days have been good days for Taiji standards.  Up until today, no dolphins had been brought in.  Every morning, though, I wake up wondering if today is the day that the peace will end, and today it did.  The boats went out at 5:15am and it didn’t take them long to find a pod.  They chased a pod of pilot whales for several hours and finally drove them into the cove a little before 11am.  It was a long and grueling fight for these poor pilot whales, who I’m told are the most docile of all the species and who are also the most family oriented of all the dolphins.  They were netted into the cove and will stay there overnight, and tomorrow this beautiful pod of pilot whales will probably die.  

Tonight is my last night in Taiji.  I get on a train tomorrow to Tokyo and tomorrow night I’ll be on a plane headed back home.  But before I leave, I will go to the cove and be with these dolphins for whatever happens, whether it’s a selection or a slaughter.  I am glad I will be there with them. I would much rather be there with them than on a train or an airplane not knowing what’s going on.  Last year I left on September 8th, and the day before I had witnessed the first drive of the 2012 season — a huge pod of pilot whales.  I boarded my train and plane shattered and with so much guilt for leaving them.  So there’s a very special piece of my heart reserved for pilot whales.  

Please pray for them and please pray for humanity.  Someday we have to wake up.

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Saturday, September 7th

We witnessed the selection and capture of 11-13 dolphins today.  It is a horrible, violent process.  My saddest news to report is that we also witnessed the first death of the 2013/2014 season here in Taiji, and my heart breaks to report that it was a baby.  This video is my footage of the progression of the last two days, including the drive hunt, the selection and transfer into the sea pens, and the baby being brought to the Fishermen’s Union for processing.  

It has been a sad, sad day.

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Friday, September 6th, 2013 - Drive Hunt

I am sitting here at the cove after what has been the longest day of my life. That’s the second time I’ve said that sentence in a week, and I’ve meant it both times. The days are long here in Taiji. And today was especially so, but it was nowhere near as long and horrible as it has been for the dolphins that now swim in front of me, trapped overnight with no food and with a gruesome day ahead of them tomorrow. They fought for almost six and a half hours, swimming deep for long periods of time, swimming in every direction they could, but after a full day of fighting for their lives, these brave dolphins lost.

The hunters chased three pods of dolphins for hours, and they drove the first pod into the mouth of the Taiji harbor and held them there with three skiffs and one banger boat. The hunters periodically banged their metal pole to keep the pod contained and unable to escape. The second pod miraculously got away, and that left eleven banger boats to drive in the third pod. Our day started at 4am. We went to the harbor, and all twelve boats were heading out to hunt for dolphins. By 8am, we could see the boats in three separate formations, and we separated so that we could document the drive. I stood with fellow Cove Monitors (and friends) at the top of Mount Takababe for over five hours watching and waiting and praying.
Everything is so unpredictable here. These drives can happen very quickly, and they can go slowly too, but Tim Burns, our Cove Monitor Coodinator who has witnessed over forty drives, said that today’s was the longest he had ever experienced.
They appear to be bottlenose dolphins, and because of the Fishermen’s Union’s agreement with WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) not to slaughter bottlenose dolphins in the month of September, hopefully none of this pod will be killed. There will probably be a selection tomorrow morning, and several of these beautiful animals, who were swimming freely this morning, will be chosen to live the rest of their lives in captivity. In this group, there is at least one mom and baby, and babies are very attractive to buyers. I’ve been told that usually during a drive this long, the calves don’t make it. They aren’t able to keep up and because their lungs aren’t fully developed, they can’t breathe as well, and they are often left behind. The calves who do make it are often separated from their mothers during selection and they may nurse with a surrogate mama, but sometimes they don’t, and they are force fed by humans and they most often die.

As horrific as today was for these dolphins, for some of them - those unlucky ones who are selected tomorrow - the worst is yet to come. People don’t realize the cruelty behind their visits to Sea World or other dolphin shows or their dolphin swims while on vacation. And even though parks in the U.S. are not legally allowed to buy dolphins from Taiji, many of the dolphins in those programs can be traced back to Taiji. And not only that, captivity itself, no matter what the source, is horribly inhumane, unhealthy and unnatural for the dolphins. And so even though you may not visit a park whose dolphins came directly from Taiji, the dolphins your child kissed may have been the baby of a mom who was taken in Taiji. And even if there is absolutely no line back to Taiji, as long as people are buying tickets and swimming with dolphins, there is a demand and a market and this will never end.
Tonight once again I am praying for these dolphins and for all of the dolphins who will be captured or slaughtered during this next seven long months. And I pray that humanity wakes up because this is just about the worst example of our greed and blind, arrogant speciesism.
One of my students sent me this quote today: "The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do." ~Sarah Ban Breathnach
I am grateful to have been surrounded by dreamers who do today.
Thank you to everyone who has been so very supportive - my family, friends, students and strangers. Thank you to those of you who have reached out, commented, liked, and loved. It helps.
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Photo by VC

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No dolphins were killed today, but 6 dolphins were transferred from the sea pens in the Taiji Harbor to Dolphin Base. 5 of these dolphins (including one tiny juvenile) were lifted by crane and lowered into a very small tank. The Dolphin Base staff make it very difficult for us to get good footage of the transfer, so this is what I could get under these conditions.  I’ve never seen this process firsthand before.  It was so heartbreaking to watch these beautiful, wild creatures being lifted by crane into a shallow tiny pool.  They were so calm, they didn’t fight.  My guess is that they are in shock.  After the transfer, I saw a Dolphin Base worker using a spray bottle to spray dead fish and put them into buckets to feed to the dolphins.  I asked a veteran Cove Monitor what was in the spray bottle and she said, “Antibiotics.”  They will feed the dolphins antibiotics and anti-ulcer medication because of how brutal the transfer process is and how dangerous captivity is for them.  They’re not meant to be lifted from the ocean and placed in tanks.  My heart is broken for these 6 sweet animals — especially the little baby that was taken.  You could barely see her in the sling - all you could see was her tiny little fin.  

I’m grateful that no dolphins have been killed yet, but today’s transfer and the reality of these dolphins’ futures is simply heartbreaking.

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Blog: Video of Japan Dolphins Day in Taiji | SaveJapanDolphins.org

Save Japan Dolphins’ blog including photos and my video footage from the September 1st Japan Dolphins Day event at the cove…it was a powerful, emotionally charged day as passionate people from all of the world came together to fight the annual dolphin hunts.  Please support Save Japan Dolphins (savejapandolphins.org) and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project (dolphinproject.org)!

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8:45am - skiffs bringing selected dolphins into Taiji Harbor

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After spending several days in Tokyo and a magical, wonderful, life-changing experience swimming with dolphins in the wild at Mikura Island, today the 2013/2014 dolphin hunting season began and it has been a sad, surreal day.  I went out with a large group of fellow Cove Monitors this morning, grateful for a night of heavy thunder and rain and hoping that the banger boats would not head out to hunt.  But when we arrived at the harbor a little after 5am, all twelve boats were just leaving.  I was happy to see two friends from last year – Heber and Elloy – and a bus full of over twenty of their Brazilian activist friends.  I was overwhelmed by the ripple effect, the impact that just one person can have.  Heber and Elloy were our bus drivers last year, and this year they rallied their own peaceful troops to stand for the dolphins’ lives and freedom.  I was so touched by the impact that human beings can have if we just step up and begin to take some responsibility for our world.  This world needs us, now more than ever, and change CAN happen, even if it seems to happen slowly, and we ARE making a difference.  We are.

 We watched in horror and disbelief as the hunters drove in a pod of approximately 30 to 40 dolphins.  I still couldn’t believe this was happening on the very first day of the season, with so many activists and media in Taiji.  Last year the first pod wasn’t driven in until September 7th.  And my heart was even heavier, having just experienced the opposite of Taiji while swimming with wild dolphins at Mikura Island, where the dolphins are honored and protected, and where our dive instructor Taguchi San showed us footage of the Mikura dolphins playing catch with seaweed and caring for their babies.  Spending time with the Mikura dolphins only deepened my love, respect and awe for these creatures, and it was absolutely heartbreaking to watch them now being violently driven into the cove and trapped to await an unknown and horrible future.  

Once the pod was netted into the cove, we ran from our lookout at Mount Takababe and arrived at the cove.  It was an overwhelming sight – there were Japanese Right Wingers and Nationalists yelling over loud speakers across the cove at the large group of Japanese activists, Brazilian activists and activists from Save Japan Dolphins.   The police and press were scattered all over as well – it was chaotic and emotional and soul-stirring.  These people have come from all over the world to stand together to protect these dolphins, and it was especially moving to see so many people from Japan raising their voices against this atrocity that is going on in their country.  It was the best of who we are as human beings, and on such an emotionally and physically fatiguing day, it gave me hope. 

Tonight my heart is with the family of dolphins trapped in the cove.  We will be with them in the morning.  

This video is my footage from the drive.  Please share far and wide…for the dolphins….

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8:44am The hunters are driving in 2 pods of dolphins. Swim fast and deep sweet dolphins.

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We’ve arrived into Taiji and have been processed by the police. It’s eerily calm and quiet as usual. This little town has an energy that I still haven’t found the right words to describe. It’s dark for sure. Our hotel for the next 2 nights is right next door to the Taiji Whale Museum, a horrible place where dolphins are kept in tiny, dirty tanks, and from our window we can see stressed dolphins circling in tiny sea pens. And in our hotel gift shop, they sell dolphin and whale figurines with cans of whale meat on the same shelf. It’s bizarre. I really don’t like this town.

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We have spent the last 2 days here on Miyakejima (Miyake Island), and my heart is so very heavy as we head to the ferry boat to go back to Tokyo. This tiny remote island is so beautiful and enchanting. And I’m so sad because we’ve been hidden away on this little fantasy island where the dolphins are honored and protected and now the reality has set in that we have to now go to a place where the extreme horrific opposite is true. I’m grateful for this experience - it has only deepened my love and respect for dolphins, and it is a glimpse at what’s possible. I came face to face with a dolphin in the wild yesterday. She swam to me with such grace and curiosity and such an absence of fear. She trusted me. None of them were afraid of us humans. They knew we were not there to hurt them, and we all just swam together…we were the same. We are the same.

Thank you Miyakejima.

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We made it to Tokyo! Vickie and I both arrived safe and sound and after holding our breath through customs and immigration, we were let through with no questions asked and simply a smile and, “Enjoy your stay in Japan.”
I’m so very grateful to be here after all we have gone through to get here. I’ve intentionally stayed quiet on my blog but now that we are here safely in the country, I can get back at it.
I am definitely regretting my oversized, overstuffed suitcase.

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