East meets west

Arrived in Katsuura almost 24 hours after walking out the door of my house in Perth. Flying here involves a transit through Denpasar then into Kansai international airport, Osaka. I opted to travel the 200 kms from there to Taiji by hire car and I’m really glad I did. (Thank God for George, my trusty Garmin GPS, pre-programmed with maps beforehand!) The highway sweeps through many tiny villages, all quite industrial with banks of little houses painted a shabby earth red, or tan or grey, with sombre grey roofs. But it’s the coastal region that is breathtaking to me. Every little coastal town sports a harbour with fleets of small fishing boats. The wild blue of the North Pacific ocean meets heavily treed hills and mountains on a rocky coastline. The air smells fresh with an aroma of the surrounding trees. I felt ashamed that I didn’t know what kind of trees these were! Indeed I feel like the ignorant foreigner at times.

Katsuura harbour

The language barrier is the biggest thing to overcome…I would love to converse more with the Japanese people I meet. They have a beautiful nature about them – a humility and a politeness. And that makes me want to learn their language all the more, rather than “gate-crash” their land speaking only in my native tongue and expecting them to understand. My crash course in basic Japanese phrases is now expanding though, borne out of  sheer necessity! I haven’t worked out the toll gate system yet but “Hello”, “excuse me”, “can you help me” and “thank you so much” are now rolling off my tongue with ease!

We westerners are strangers in a strange land here in Japan. One of the key elements to dealing with the dolphin slaughter will be in first recognising that we are dealing with a proud culture. Walking in with the attitude of the brazen righteous Western conquerer will do nothing but put people off-side.  The Americans never did “win the hearts and minds” in Vietnam.

“Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” (Japanese proverb)

イルカのため   For the dolphins.

 

Katsuura town street

 


Different latitudes, different attitudes

Cetacean rescue training course - Ballina NSW

Australians have a love of whales and dolphins. They are larrikins at heart but Aussies have a love of the natural world, and there is something about the wild, free nature of whales and dolphins that they recognise and connect with. I am not Australian born but I have lived here most of my life and this is an aspect of the Aussie spirit that I love….their tremendous sense of fair play and respect of freedom. Sometimes I wonder if the whales that eyeball us with curiousity in our whale-watching boats see a kindred spirit in us!

We are fortunate downunder that we are on a whale “super-highway”….both the west coast (on which I live) and the distant east coast are on the migratory route of several species of whales, who make the annual round trip from the warm northerly waters where they give birth, to the rich feeding grounds of the Southern ocean. Today whale and dolphin watching is popular on both coasts of the continent and plays a vital part in eco-tourism.

In May this year I flew across to the east coast to attend a whale and dolphin rescue course held by volunteer organisation ORRCA. With such vast and harsh coastlines, whale and dolphin strandings occur fairly frequently, and ORRCA co-ordinate rescues at the stranding sites. The training course was full on but I was blown away by the passion and the knowledge of the ORRCA trainers. And such an amazing group of trainees too…people from all walks of life who all shared a common desire and enthusiasm. How heartening to be around so many likeminded people.

Pilot whale stranding - Hamelin Bay WA

As I read the heartbreaking reports from the current Taiji Cove guardians this all comes rushing back.

This year I trained to rescue and rehabilitate whales and dolphins. I stood in the freezing winter surf with my fellow classmates, but we never felt the cold because the feeling that we were contributing to something important and worthwhile far outweighed the discomfort. It was worth it simply to know that we could save and protect these free spirited travellers of the ocean.

Taiji and it’s senseless slaughter seems a world far removed from this. A total polar opposite. How do I put perspective on that?

For the whales and dolphins.


It’s all about pest control

I have a month to go before I make the trip to Taiji and winter in Japan. Rather than just report on what’s happening on the ground at the Cove in this coming month, I would like to give you a different view of things and hopefully some food for thought…..

I’ve been having a tough time of it at work lately. I am an ex-pilot currently working in the aviation spares industry. This past week I’ve been doing battle with my boss who has decided that our department’s reduced profits are in some way my fault.  When planes fly less hours they require less maintenance and hence require less in the way of spare parts. Customers buy less from us. Faced with the same problem our competitors have aggressively cut their prices and offered cheap parts to our customers. And faced with the prospect of answering to the board of directors for the reduced profits my boss rationalises this as being my fault. When the heat is on, it seems we always have to find someone else to blame!

Japanese fishing boats with catch of giant jellyfish

So what, you ask does this story have to do with the plight of Japan’s dolphins? Well let me explain. Japan is a nation that relies heavily on sea food to feed it’s population. Fish stocks and fish populations globally are dwindling due to the actions of we good humans. Furthermore, heavy metals, mercury and toxins are finding their way into the marine food chain courtesy of  our irresponsible waste dumping. Rampant overfishing in the waters off Japan, plus the increasing danger of remaining fish stocks being contaminated are putting the pressure on Japan’s fishing industry. A great deal of Japan’s fishing takes place in shallow coastal waters….there are relatively many fishing boats and relatively fewer fish. Under this pressure the Japanese blame the dolphin pods as a major cause of the reduced fish supply. When the heat is on, it seems we always have to find someone else to blame! And so, far from being viewed as the intelligent self-aware creatures that they are, dolphins are considered a pestilence to be eradicated. Dolphin slaughter in Japan is all about “pest control”.

How is it possible for these fishermen to commit such brutal atrocities on Japan dolphins without compassion or remorse?  Next time you step on a cockroach without batting an eyelid, you will have the answer.

For the dolphins. For the oceans.

Riding the bow wave



The most intelligent species on the planet…

Take a good look at these two photos…one of them shows the most intelligent species on the planet going about daily business. The other photo is of a bunch of people in a city.

Another perfect day on Oxford Street

Cruising...a pod of common dolphins

 

Recently I watched a DVD which included footage of a pod of  common dolphins riding the bow wave of a yacht…I could physically feel their joy and elation with each of their choreographed leaps.

It was “joy to be alive”….pure and simple. It exuded from them. Creatures engrossed in the simplicity of their natural surrounds. Living in harmony with their environment.

What made this simple act stand out all the more starkly was the fact that I had just returned from a trip to the city during the lunch hour rush. What struck me about that was just how damn miserable all we humans looked. Take a look at the photo. Can you see our joy and elation? Creatures living in harmony with their natural environment? On the contrary, we seem to be a species that lives in ignorance of it’s surroundings. A species that chooses to beat the environment into submission to suit itself. We equate technology with intelligence. We admire complexity and associate it with achievement. And likewise we equate simplicity with under-achievement. “You’ll have to speak slowly…he’s a little bit simple”.

Quite frankly I’ll take simple any day. Ironically if we were intelligent enough to see the simplicity we would see exactly what we’re doing to our natural environment and the creatures co-existing in it.

And so this is the reason I made the decision to journey to Taiji, Japan. To do my bit to help protect one of the most intelligent species on the planet. And maybe, in some small way, to help save ourselves in the process.

For the planet. For the oceans.