Elora Malama, a 16-year-old from Edmonds, loves dolphins and the ocean. Her dad, Scott West, works for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. So it seemed only natural that when Scott West was sent to Japan to document the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan (as seen in the Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove”), Elora would go with him.
In fact, the trip has morphed into a high school senior project for Elora, a student at Edmonds Heights K-12 school. Through photographs, video and her blog “A Teenage Activist…This Girl’s Soapbox,” she is documenting her experiences and observations. My Edmonds News was able to conduct an online interview with Elora, who has been in Japan since Sept. 11:
How did you get the idea for this project? What inspired you?
Well, it just kinda came to us. I was originally going to do a photography protect. It was going to be various images of animal abuse, except I was going to put people in their place. But, when my dad was told he was needed in Taiji, this new idea formed. Dolphins are my favorite animals and what goes on here in Taiji is just plain murder, in my opinion. So, knowing that this is something I’m really passionate about, my dad asked me if I wanted to come (three days before he was leaving!). I had literally 24 hours to decide if I wanted to do this. In that 24 hours we discussed how we could make this my senior project, because I am thinking about studying environmental journalism in college. Once we knew that I could cancel my Running Start classes for this semester and move them to next summer, things were set in place. I was going to Taiji.
My project is about Japanese culture, daily lifestyle, and food– and how all of this ties into the Cove in Taiji, based on the claims that people, fishermen, police and parts of the government have made. But between the mercury in dolphin meat, the bull-crap excuse that this is cultural and the fact that this IS the fishermen’s daily lifestyle — they don’t seem to want to realize that they are watching the oceans decline before their eyes and hands.
What inspired me… Well, dolphins have always been one of my favorite animals. It was actually a handful of people that got me inspired to make a change for our planet . My mom (Suzanne West) and dad, Paul Watson (president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society), Richard O’Barry (dolphin activist), Rob Stewart (shark conservationist), Kim McCoy (animal and environmental advocate) and the shark angels, Annie Crawley (ocean educator)… the list goes on — and an even larger group that inspired me to go (my sister, my friends, my community).
I guess I have been inspired my entire life, I’ve just grown up around this stuff. My dad was an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) agent for 20 years, Paul (Watson) would come stay at our house sometimes, I’ve known about SSCS (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) ever since I understood what it was. The events of my past have put me where I am today.
How long will you be in Japan? What do you hope to accomplish while you are there?
Originally I was only going to be here for eight weeks. But I have brought more attention to this cause being here at my age, so that we are thinking about staying our full 90-day Visa. That is unless Paul wants my dad home in October; I go where he goes. It’s all up in the air right now; we try to only look one week ahead. But still my flight is currently scheduled for Oct. 31.
All I really had planned was to document all I could for my senior project and do a presentation at my school and local community about what I learned and what happened. Then, Jason Leopold from T R U T H O U T (a non-profit that provides daily independent news and commentary) encouraged me to start a blog. My dad and he had built a professional relationship during the Gulf Oil Spill and all that media. I never have had any interest in starting a blog, so I was somewhat opposed to the idea. That was until Jason talked me into it, and I’m so glad he did! Now my senior project has turned into me reporting everything that is happening, through the eyes and ears of me being 16. So now, I hope to accomplish a very detailed and exposing project by the time I get home.
What has had the greatest impact on you since you’ve been in Japan?
Ooo, that’s a hard one. Well everything is difficult to live around every single day. The slaughter(s), the police, angry fishermen etc. have had a huge impact on me. But, I’d have to say that the one thing that had the largest is watching the dolphins being chosen for show and being separated from their families (pods). I have a really hard time with that. I honestly believe Thomas White’s quote “Dolphins are non human persons”, so to watch them being torn away from their families only makes me think about how I would feel if I were in that place. Imagine going about your business — you, your family and your friends are rounded up and held over night. Then, in the morning something comes along and takes you away from everyone (or someone you care about is taken away) and forced to perform for food, never to return home or see your family again. That’s the hardest for me to witness. I wanted to cry when they let this one pod go after 16 dolphins had been taken away, two calves went swimming away with the broken up family, and it hit me that they could possibly be without a mother now. That has had the greatest impact on me. I felt helpless and lost. What could possess a person to do this? Money. And then I feel sick.
Tell me about yourself – I know you are 16 and attend Edmonds Heights K-12, but how long have you been interested in animal rights issues, do you have animals at home? What are you favorite subjects in school?
I have been against animal cruelty even since I knew what it was! It started when my sister and I would watch Animal Cops on Animal Planet. We loved that show because we liked to see the horrible people go to jail for doing such horrible things and watching the animals being saved. Then I got a better understanding of what my dad was doing with the EPA, and I was very into recycling and keeping our home clean. Once Sea Shepherd came into my world I have been wanting to join and help! So I’d say for about 11 or 12 years. We have a dog (Charlie), five cats (Spencer, Thai, Dragon, Captain Jack, and Roxi), a rabbit (bunny) but that is just right now. We have had several zoos in the past. My favorite subject in school is theatre (art) and writing. You wouldn’t know that writing is my favorite subject because I’m always complaining about another essay and how much time it’s going to take, but I really do love it.
What are your plans for the future? College/career if you know?
I don’t really have a grand plan for the future. I am in Running Start, so when I graduate high school I’ll have my first two years of college finished. I want to study environmental journalism, theatre arts and photography/videography. But in the near future, people are trying to get me to write a book about my experience here I am considering it.
How long have you been taking photographs/video?
I have been taking pictures for years! I love taking pictures, and I have turned it more into my form of art over the last two or three years. So me taking my photography very seriously only started about two years ago. Video on the other hand, I hadn’t really ever done until I got here in Japan. But I’m finding it to be extremely important and it is reaching a whole other audience (youtubers).
What would you tell other young people about the importance of standing up for what they believe in/are passionate about?
I would say that there is nothing more important than standing up for what you believe in. Allowing horrible things to happen and ignoring them because someone seems bigger than you is the coward’s way out. We as the younger generation have a moral responsibility to save our oceans, its fate really rests in our hands. If we can rise above ignorance and educate the world — encouraging people our age and even younger to make a change, we might have a chance in saving the oceans. What a lot of people don’t understand, is that if the oceans die, we will all die. We are the ones who have to fix what the generations before us did to this planet.
Anything else you want to share ?
Yeah! I do have to say I am completely shocked at how much attention my blog is getting. I thought at most I might get a small audience doing a presentation at my school; something like this never even occurred to me! I am so glad that I started that blog. It really is bringing more attention to this and keeping people interested instead of forgetting. When it’s been a long enough time, it’s easy for people to forget… but it’s harder when you have people constantly advertising it.
Also, it’s wonderful spending so much time with my dad…I hope my sister has the chance to do something like this — getting to know our parents as adults, that is.