Friday, 14 October 2011

October (Red October) 2011


12 hours is a long flight … Paris to Osaka Japan. Unable to sleep in the cramped economy class seats gave me lots of thinking time.. which wasn’t really welcome. Here I was, again, travelling to Taiji to be a Cove Guardian for Sea Shepherd… me, a Mrs Average 40 something-year-old working Mum.

Same time last year, early October (Red October), John (my husband) and I had travelled to Taiji and the unknown. This year was different, we were not travelling into the unknown.. and worse than that... we weren’t unknown.   Last year we were tourists, right up until the moment we arrived at The Cove and police took our passport details, …. I knew this time we were “marked”.
So I spent that 12 hours going over every scenario.. every possible question and answer customs might have for me. I worried that if John and I were held what would Sarah do?? Sarah’s our 17 year old daughter who was coming with us. I worried that if they didn’t let us in we’d have spent £££££s on nothing …. I worried that if we did get past customs there was a 100 strong specially trained police squad waiting for us .. I mean, I’d seen all the media hype of them training … I worried and fretted while John and Sarah laughed at me.

So picture my surprise… Osaka airport.. customs .. I sailed past!! The relief!! So did Sarah (not that I didn’t expect her to). I turned to smile at John, only to see John being escorted away by a couple of officials.  Mmmmmm.
So Sarah and I made camp on the cold floor near the doors he’d vanished through and waited…. 90 minutes later a very elated John came back to us. He was elated because .. well.. if we weren’t making a difference they’d have had no wish to detain him. It was a measure of our success.   He’d been questioned by 3 guys with a translator … the usual, why are you here? do you have money? do you have accommodation? how are you travelling … then he was left alone for a while (John thinks it was to give him time to get worried so he just played games on his phone)… then they started again, only this time they asked the question he’d been waiting for “you are with Sea Shepherd?”. John didn’t deny it. He answered every question honestly … stressed he was not in Japan to break any laws ..and eventually they couldn’t delay him anymore.. they had no grounds.  We were not travelling in our colours or waving a SSCS flag so it confirmed to me our passports were marked. And if we needed any more confirmation Patricia (fellow 2nd timer) who flew in later the same day from the USA was also held.

We were in Japan… phew.

Next we needed to collect the hire car … So picture another surprise .. we complete the paperwork and are escorted to the collection point. Nearly every car in Japan is white or silver… we are standing in a car park full of white and silver cars .. where we are presented with a green one.. a pea green one. Maybe I’m suffering from a little (healthy) paranoia .. but what’s the odds … John had told customs where we were hiring the car from and here it was .. a green car for the Eco-terrorists. We were not going to be missed.

So we drove the 4 hours to Taiji .. as we got close we checked the FB and Twitter updates. We knew the CGs were still around and when we saw a … what is the collective name for CGs??.. well anyhow when we pulled up along side them Sarah, in her excitement, tumbled (literally)  from the car and ran over.
It’s strange.. here was a group of people we’ve never met and we’re instantly good friends.
The CGs (Rosie, Marley & Carisa ) were watching for a baby humpback that had been spotted …the fishermen had been to investigate ..  but he’d disappeared. I’m still hoping his Mum was waiting for him to tell him off for venturing so shallow.

And so our 2 weeks began.

Rosie Kunneke was our leader.  I can see why Sea Shepherd picked her for the role. As a veteran of several campaigns, who didn’t appear to know the meaning of the word “fear” when it came to the protection of our dolphins, she instilled confidence in her “troops”.  Her bravery was infectious …. And her passion was unquestionable.  I think in the whole time we were with Rosie I only saw her frustrated once…sad lots of times when we witnessed the cruelty inflicted on those beautiful dolphins… but frustrated only once…  people had facebooked asking why we Cove Guardians “weren’t f **cking doing something”.  The comments really got to her…
And they got to me … because we are doing something. I agree this campaign is not Sea Shepherds usual direct action approach, but if any idiot, sorry I mean if anyone doesn’t think we’re making a difference I can only refer them to

Operation Infinite Patience: Return of the Cove Guardians

If we weren’t doing anything why else would the fishermen go to great lengths to stop us getting photographs? The cost of the coastguards and police must be ridiculously high. One day Sarah, Patricia and I were at The Cove as a pod of dolphins were being killed and there were 5 officials to each one of us girls. They just stood and watched us … . 
I can assure everyone that we’d love nothing more than to jump in and save the dolphin, but we wouldn’t get close and even if we did cut nets to free them we couldn’t drive them back out to sea. Last year I watched as part of a pod were released ( a PR stunt??).. the banger boats really struggled to drive them back out to sea.  We guessed that they didn’t want to leave the rest of the pod that were being slaughtered and that they didn’t have a leader.

Someone commented on Facebook that this year there seemed to be a lot more pods being chased and escaping. I’m only speaking for me, what I believe, but I think it’s not that more dolphin are eluding the fishermen, it’s that we can see the chase through the better cameras. Last year what John and I saw as dots on the horizon are confirmed banger boats, we can see the formations, the black smoke they make as they speed up and change direction at about 10 miles out… we can see the pods breaking the water 2/3 miles out. 
The chase is the part I hate the most. Knowing there’s a chance…willing them to swim far, fast , deep….  2 or more hours most mornings with my heart pounding. They lose them, they find them, they chase north then south.. they cross the shipping lane… they break formation…and on it goes…..

Last year there were 2 occasions where I’m sure Scott West would have written on our CG report card “could have done better”  J and this year we did. Scott if you are reading this then know what a difference a year makes.
Last year John staked out for hours to get photos of a slaughter only to be found by the police/fishermen before it started … this year he stayed hidden from the police who only found a pea green car… he attributes this success to the hours he spent building tree houses with our kids J
The other time was when we went to photograph a dolphin being loaded onto a truck to be transported to its life in a tank. We got the photos and returned to the other Cove Guardians were Scott asked had we not thought to follow the truck … This year the truck was followed! Not very covertly in the pea green car … but successfully to Adventure World.

Did John and I do the right thing taking a 17 year with us? Taking her out of school in her A Level year?? We have no doubts that we did. What did Rosie call her..… oh yes, “Kick-Ass” . And she was. She did so much more than anyone expected of a teenager and showed no emotion in front of the fishermen. Her efforts to speak Japanese were a great help to us and appreciated by the locals.

It was a hard and bloody 2 weeks.  I am so grateful to Sea Shepherd for the opportunity for my family to join their team and be part of Operation Infinite Patience. I know we helped make a difference as more CGs meant we could cover more areas which was vital when so much was happening.

I am grateful to the change in the weather which kept the boats in as we left Taiji to travel home…appeasing our guilt …to leave knowing the boats were hunting would have been soul destroying.  

We leave our hearts with Rosie and the CGs to follow and will support them by contacting the Japanese Embassies each and every time a pod is driven towards The Cove.

Till next year xx