Saturday, January 26, 2013

Killing, It's What We Do

I’m sorting through a few thousand photos from my trip to Taiji, trying to make sense of what I saw. I’m clearly in the minority of humans in the way I now see animals. I don’t believe in god so, I don’t think god put animals here for our use and abuse. I understand that suffering is part of all sentient beings but don’t understand why we perpetuate it. I have a small group of friends that fight for better lives for all living creatures. I have another batch of friends that thinks everything is ours to kill. It’s a weird world and the divide is massive.

Striped dolphins swimming for their lives off the coast of Taiji, Japan
Everyday before sunrise, except some Saturday’s and holidays, if the weather is favorable, the dolphin hunting fleet of 12 boats leaves Taiji harbor in search of dolphins. While I was there, they were usually successful. When this picture was taken, a small pod of Risso’s dolphins was already in the cove. I wasn’t a big fan of Risso’s until this day, that melon head and all. But watching them rocket through the water out in front of the boats with almost no breath, these guys are like Olympic swimmers. And once in the cove they swim and turn with grace, their scared bodies glowing white just under the surface. I have a new reverence for them. Like all the other dolphin species, they stay together until the end.

Once the Risso’s dolphins were secure in the inter nets of the killing cove, they were killed and taken to the slaughterhouse. With the cove now clear of bodies, the dolphin hunters drove in the pod of striped dolphins they’d been holding off the coast. The yellow tarp was set to keep bodies from getting cut on the rocks. Striped dolphins throw themselves on the rocks trying to escape. Advocates have video of these little guys bleeding on the rocks. Perhaps those videos lead to the use of tarps and thus a little less suffering in the last minutes of their lives.

Hunters done a good job hiding the actual killing with a set of tarps that cover the cove. Since my trip two years ago, the fence on the opposite side of the cove has been moved closer restricting the view into the killing cove. The butchering barge is no longer used and so there are no large slicks of blood in the water.

People ask me, how do we stop it? I don’t know. Hopefully, someone does and we can end this and the mustang roundup, the sea lion cull at the Bonneville dam, the bison hazing outside Yellowstone, the wolf hunts,… but as I said in the beginning, most people must want this killing to continue because it’s what we do. I’m also asked why do you go? Because I think what’s happening is wrong and I want the world to at least know what’s happening. I hope that one of my photos might touch someone in a way that sparks an action and leads to change. To see some of my photos from that day click here.

What isn’t in my photos are the sounds. The bodies hitting boats. The yelling. The tail slaps. The screams. And then nothing…

For the souls of the ocean

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Photography Class and Stallions in Nevada

Last summer, my wife, Lisa shared that she was thinking about taking a writing class at the University of Washington. She mentioned that there was a photography class too. So, for nine months, we went back to school. To anyone thinking about doing this, if you’ve been out of school for say 30 years, it’s hard even if it’s “just photography.” I heard that description occasionally from someone taking a real writing class. It was nice though. Every Tuesday we had date night with dinner at a little Thai restaurant near campus. My class also met on Thursday nights and with additional darkroom time on the weekends, the schedule was time intensive. But, I loved it …most of the time.

I signed up for the class to make better images and to focus on photography beyond life’s other distractions for an academic year. I’ve been playing with photography for years. My first serious camera was an Olympus OM-1 that I bought in 1980. Going to Japan in 2010 to photograph and document the dolphin hunt and following the work of the International League of Conservation Photographers, made me realize the power of a strong image and the impact it can have on viewers.

HomeDepot security watching day laborers make breakfast
while they wait for work
The photography class had homework and darkroom assignments. We were to pick a project and work on it. I started to photograph the day laborers who wait in front of Home Depot. I spent mornings and lunch hours with them, winning their confidence until they allowed me to take a few photos. I wasn’t able to get close like I wanted and I was hearing and seeing things that were best left undocumented. Next, I thought I’d play with rain in Seattle. It didn’t rain for weeks. After winter break, I showed the class some photos I took in Nevada at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mustang roundup. My classmates made it pretty clear to me that I should be concentrating on horses and helicopters and, with over 2000 photos, I had plenty to work with from my winter trip.

Wild mustangs being driven into the trap.
Wranglers hide, waiting to chase and close them in
The Tri-State Calico Complex is over 1 million acres at the intersection of Oregon, California, and Nevada. The days I was the there, the roundup targeted horses north of Winnemucca and west of Denio Junction, a big chunk of land that butts up against the Sheldon Wildlife Reserve. Our caravan of BLM PR people, Rangers, and two animal advocates arrived after they had already driven in the first horses into the trap. For this trip, I splurged and rented a 600mm lens and it was a good thing I did. The viewing area was setup approximately one half mile from the trap. The other challenge was that we had to shoot into the sun. Not the best situation but the big lens helped.

Horse obscured by exhaust
I had the honor of standing alongside blogger Elyse Gardner. She’s witnessed many roundups and it was an opportunity to learn. Be sure to check out her blog, Humane Observer. There’s a lot of standing and waiting at roundups. You can hear the helicopter working a band of horses over the ridge before you can see it. My goal was to capture the fear and exhaustion of the horses and to give the viewer insight to what is happening on public land. What is more difficult to capture is the compassion the horses show for one another and their defiance against the helicopter. After a group was driven into the shoot, I relaxed but then heard a crash. By the time I focused the camera back on the trap, a stallion had jumped out. He didn't run far. He turned and waited for his family to follow. They didn't. He worked his way down the hill toward us and actually got quite close. I didn't know why a wild animal would seek us out. I wanted to think he was asking for help.

Calico Escapee
This photograph received honorable mention and won the people’s choice award in an equine photo contest. It’s now part of a traveling exhibit along with my talented classmates’ photography. I also sold two copies in an auction to help a friend. This stallion means a lot to me. Looking into his eyes and being in the presence of his strength were humbling and I could only mutter, "I’m sorry." On a subsequent drive, he was captured. He’d been chased for hours that day and his head was hanging as he entered the trap. It was difficult to watch. Days later, as I edited photos, I hoped he was the one that stood up to the helicopter or the one that walked alone over the hill at the end of the day but in reviewing the details it was clear it wasn’t him.

Calico Complex Burros
The next day, I arrived ahead of the caravan to photograph burros. The burros were scheduled for removal the next week. Joining Elyse and me was Laura Leigh of Wild Horse Education. In recent years, Laura has been to more roundups than anyone else including BLM employees. Laura works hard on the legal side for the horses. The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 was enacted to protect the horses and give them land to live on. The 2004 Burns Amendment changed enough language that the horse population is now suffering and the BLM continues to remove horses. It’s estimated (because there is no census) that more horses exist in holding facilities than in the wild. It's wrong when laws are manipulated to serve a special interest and not held to the spirit that drove the original law into being. Conrad Burns, the Senator that wrote the amendment, is a cattleman.

Trap Site in the Tri-State Calico Complex
On my last day at the roundup, they moved the trap. The viewing area was closer to the trap and the sun was behind us. Perfect, except much of the area was behind a mountain so our view was limited. The sweaty horses made the slow death march from behind the mountain to the trap, their heads hanging low. I believe the helicopter had the first couple groups exhausted and staged for our arrival, waiting to just push them over the hill. After the first few drives the horses were less cooperative. A stallion escaped at the mouth of the trap. He followed the trailer, containing his family, down the dirt road. When the helicopter returned, he ran toward it. It was the thing that took his family. I have huge respect for these animals.

Stallion pacing, trying to gain access to his family
Driving home, I took a wrong turn and drove through the Sheldon Wildlife Reserve. I saw wild horses not being chased by a helicopter. They were beautiful in the evening light and so tender with each other. I was thrilled to find these healthy equines and to spend a short amount of time with them. I was so happy that these horses were safe in this reserve. I was wrong. On August 4th, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began removing these horses from Sheldon. FWS plans to remove all them in five to ten years.

Horses of Sheldon
For more information on the issues and roundups, I recommend American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. They also do a great job with letters and petitions and are supportive of my travels and photography. Laura Leigh has been an invaluable resource in planning my trips. My fellow photography classmates have been tremendous supporters of my work. They often ask, “Where are you going next?” I’m not sure. Sadly, wild horses and burros are continually rounded up, the Japanese dolphin drive starts September 1st, and our government persists in eradicating wolves, buffalo, sea lions… There is no end to the suffering of wild animals or photo ops.

On a happy note: Elyse stayed until the Calico roundup ended and witnessed the release of our captured stallion, Calico Escapee, and his return to the range.

Special thanks to Lisa Lorden for the editing help

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dolphin Extremes

I wasn't sure how I felt about a trip to swim with wild Atlantic spotted dolphins. Here in the Puget Sound, we must stay 200 yards from orcas and with the number of boats following them every day even that seems too close to me. But after my time in Taiji, I thought getting close to dolphins might be an antidote to the horror that I saw there. Lisa and I booked as soon as Samantha Whitcraft posted information about her Dolphin Defense Workshop & Eco-Cruise on Facebook.

Half of us arrived at the boat in Bimini four hours later than scheduled due to a paperwork mix up with the airline. This meant we missed the tide and were unable to leave that day. A potential dolphin day was lost. The next days were spent wandering around Bahamian waters looking for dolphins and running from the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily. I was surprised how few boats we saw on the water. Maybe they were smarter than we were.

On the last day of the trip, we finally found dolphins. We followed a mother and calf for hours and they didn’t try to evade us but instead, played in our bow wake and rode waves near the boat. It was wonderful to see this pair after days of nothing. With all of the close interaction, spyhops and breaching, I was satisfied when they swam away. I’d hoped for five solid days of swimming with them but this was fabulous. The boat continued in their direction in hopes that we’d find them again.

A short while later, we heard, DOLPHINS! Another pair appeared; mature dolphins this time. Soon, we saw six more. A little bit later, they were everywhere. Our dolphin spotter, Bradley, counted tirdee-tree (33). It was a wonderful sight. The original mother and calf were in this group. They had led us to their pod. I was asked if this was the antidote to Taiji I hoped for. I realized then, that there is no antidote for what I saw in Taiji. This experience was separate and special and would have been even better if our captain had stopped the boat and let us in the water.

The captain announced that the dolphins needed to “chill” and that we needed lunch. It wasn’t up to us but it appeared that the dolphins were completely chill and none of us would rather have mac and cheese than swim with dolphins. But that’s how it went down. We were like little kids trying to scarf down a meal while we watched our friends play outside. By the time we got in the water only a few from the pod were left so the captain put out the ropes to drag us through the water to catch back up to them. It worked and I had my first in water experience with dolphins. I don’t know the words to describe what it was like. But to have an animal swim inches from you and look you in the eye… it’s very special. There’s someone in there and I’m honored that they swam with me.

On a second drag through the water, the captain yelled to get off the ropes and swim forward to the front of the boat. My human pod got ahead of me as I watched two spotted dolphins swim toward me. One stopped and whistled something and then started clicking. I can only imagine what he was thinking, why doesn’t this watery eyed, meat puppet answer me? While I was enjoying this moment, my captain was screaming at me to stay with the group. I think Sam Kinison is alive and well and driving a dolphin watch boat off the coast of Bimini. When I caught up to my pod, they were watching bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins share an intimate moment. It was pretty wild and I learned later that this type of inter-species interaction is considered rape by some. It looked consensual to me.

When I got out of the water, I scanned the horizon for other boats. There was one lone sport fishing boat off the bow and a tug off port that was on the horizon every day, like a catcher in the rye. It seems, in these waters, this kind of interaction is fine and is really on the dolphins’ terms. It wouldn’t work in the Puget Sound as every yahoo would be chasing orcas and trying to jump on their backs.

I wish the fisherman of Taiji would spend a week in the Bahamas, have close interactions with dolphins and learn how to run a trip like this. I think it could open their eyes to a new possible revenue stream that might be more lucrative than what they are currently doing. If the Taiji fishermen keep moving in the current direction, the dolphins will be gone and so will this alternative form of income. Don't the people of Japan deserve the an opportunity to enjoy a close connection with these glorious beings?

For the souls of the oceans

Sunday, April 24, 2011


A friend asked, “Where are you going on vacation?”
“Maui”, I replied
“Oh no, what are they doing to animals on Maui?”
“It’s just a vacation. I’m unplugging this trip.”

I find it ironic that I’ve been actively looking at the plight of animals for all of 6 months and it’s already the way people see me. On this trip, I really wanted to savor nature and step away from the advocate roll for a few weeks. What I found is that while you can say that’s what you want, once you open your eyes to what’s going on, you can’t not see it.

On a drive up the west coast past Kapalua, we saw a mongoose. Pulling over to take a closer look we found that he was eating the remains of a skinned and gutted feral pig. So a hunter removes one invasive species but leaves food for another invasive species. The mongoose was brought to the islands to help control the rat population but it is now taking its toll on the indigenous bird population. I’ve been to Maui a few times and have never seen mongoose before. On this trip, we saw several.

I love snorkeling and body surfing. Coming back from a long float with the fish and turtles, I swam around a corner of the reef to a spear pointed in my face. This was just a little unsettling. I swam around the woman brandishing the spear to see her friend, standing on coral yelling at her to spear the fish as he chased them out to her. I didn't say anything because I was really trying to unplug and this is a situation where I knew I would just start screaming at these people in very colorful, inappropriate language. Fighting back the anger, I swam back to shore. Later, bobbing in the waves, I overheard a man tell friends that he saw a lobster in the reef. (I would love to see a lobster.) “Why didn't you catch it?” a woman asked. “Should I go get my spear?” asked another. Why do we feel the need to conquer and kill everything? Another day, I swam past two spear fishermen towing two tiny convict tangs whose bodies were pierced. I just don’t get the taking of these. It certainly couldn't be for food.

The number of fish on the reef was way down from past years. I don’t know if it’s the spear fishing or the fact that sand was washing back on the beach. In the two weeks we were there, we watched the beach sand increase by two feet. I enjoyed watching the rebuilding process. I was also pleased that I never saw anyone come out of the water with any big fish. Several times we swam with several very large crevalle and the fisherman love crevalle.

It really was a great trip. One night we took a full moon cruise and heard whales singing in the moonlight.

On one murky snorkel, I was floating out past the reef looking for turtles when I noticed something large swimming toward me. It was a manta ray passing within arm’s reach. We watched each other swim by. I love that I am not the top of the food chain in the ocean and the crevalle and rays seem to know that I’m not. The little reef fish and turtles know it too and they let me share their space.

I’m rested, recharged and looking forward to what’s on the horizon but enjoying what’s here now.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Taiji in Nevada

“Hey, I'm heading to Wells NV to watch the BLM gather Mustangs and burros. I think this might be similar to what is happening in Taiji but I'M paying for it. wanna come?” email to Matt Lorden

I’d heard about the wild horse “problem” for years but paid no attention to it. I assumed our government was doing what they had to, ridding the land of these pesky over breeders. I saw a news piece on the wild horses after I returned from Taiji. I searched and found that the truth I held about the horses may not be true. On the Bureau Land Management (BLM) website, I found a list of “gathers” and sent an email to the kind folks at the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. They gave me specific information and how to meet-up with Deniz Bolbol, their person on the ground. A warning: if you show a little bit of interest in a cause, you will be recruited. All you have to do is show up.

My Brother Matt and I hit the road, driving through Wells to Ely, Nevada. During the two-day, sixteen hour drive, we saw thousands of cows, a few deer and antelope, but no wild horses. We didn’t see any mustangs until our drive into the “gather” when we passed a film crew watching three beautiful horses on a hillside. At 6:15AM, we met with the BLM, all 4 cars of them, off of State Route 93. They asked us to sign in, similar to the police asking for my ID at the cove in Taiji. No passport was needed but it’s odd having a government official asking you for your information.

The waiting started. The contractor needed to get setup before we could move into the area. At one stop, we hopped out of the cars; the air, so cold and crisp, filled with the smell of sage. I asked one of the BLM guys what made the big hoof print on the dirt road. He said, “I have no idea.” I thought that was strange; this man worked for the BLM for 9 years and didn’t know animal tracks.

We finally got to the viewing area. Laura Leigh, Matt and I were escorted in by 5 BLM employees. Two were BLM Rangers with guns. Animal advocates are known to get unruly. We got to pick between two viewing areas. (I always gave my kids two choices when neither option was good.) Our view was obstructed by large junipers and we were kept at quiet a distance, similar to the drive fishery in Japan. Soon the helicopter drove the first band of horses toward the chute. The contractor used the terrain to hide the trap and to help guide the animals toward it. In Taiji, banger boats drove the dolphins to a natural channel in the rock that leads to the cove. We can’t see the chute. It’s in a gully. Our view of the pens was blocked by the contractor’s horses.

It was frustrating trying to get clear photos but the whole experience was new and interesting so I didn’t complain too much. The crew that was filming the horses on our drive in, arrived at the viewing area. It was Emmy Award winning film maker Ginger Katherns and her interns. I was inspired by the work of Louie Psihoyos. His movie The Cove motivated me to go to Taiji. Now, I’m sharing a viewing box at a mustang roundup with the film maker of Nature’s Cloud Series. At one point, Ginger discussed the finer points of the roundup (she refuses to use the word “gather”) with a BLM employee. When she was done explaining helicopter technique, trap placement, pen size, all things that made the horses’ experience better, I blurted, “why are they rounding them up in the first place?” She quietly said, “That’s a discussion for a different time and place.” She’s been at this for 18 years. I have much to learn. Looking down, someone asked what kind of rock was on the ground all around us. None of the BLM employees knew.

The BLM PR people are very nice and don’t let you out of their sight. When I needed to go back to the car, I got a friendly, “I need to go too. I’ll go with you!” I would have to grab my rocket launcher another time. As we walked back to the viewing box, we heard the helicopter working behind a hill. Once it was in view, we watched it drive the heard back and forth across the horizon for more than 45 minutes. It was painful to watch. Even the BLM representative seemed upset by the amount of time the helicopter chased the band. Finally the pilot abandoned the chase and flew off to refuel.

An announcement came over the BLM radio that the trap was moving. Matt and I took this opportunity to drive into the hills and explore. These public lands are, well, public and you owe it to yourself to visit them and stop and smell the air and look at the plants and terrain.

Matt and I caught up with the others and drove to the new trap site. I thought we were just going to see the setup and leave for the day so I didn't bring my camera bag or coat or... they started driving in a band right away. We needed to get in the taped off area and stay down. This trap seemed to work much better as they caught two bands pretty quickly.

Just like in Taiji, we cheered when one got away.

The similarities to Taiji kept showing themselves.

Both dolphins and mustangs are wild animals that live in family groups.

Both travel miles each day.

Both are seen as pests.

A helicopter is used to chase the horses, where banger boats are used to herd the dolphins.

Both driven into a netted area.

The public is kept at a distance and view is restricted.

The sounds of bodies hitting boats and bodies hitting the walls of the trailer are eerily similar.

The pretty ones are selected out for a life in captivity. In Taiji, the dolphin that aren't selected are slaughtered and their meat is sold. I guess this is where things are different. The wild mustangs that are captured, that aren't adopted, are taken to holding pens to live out their lives. There are now more mustangs in holding pens than there are in the wild. In the 1800's there were over 2 million wild horses roaming free in the USA. Today, there are less than 30,000 by BLM estimates.

The BLM didn't know what kind of animal made the tracks. They didn't know what kind of rock surrounded us. But, they did know the wild horses needed to be removed from the land.

Contact your legislators and tell them to save our tax dollars and let these wonderful symbols of American freedom live free.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Yesterday, the Hunt Resumed

After a long holiday break the fisherman of Taiji returned to work. In this video Nicole McLachlan captures the selection process. You can see dolphins in slings taken away to perform and others dragged off by their tails to be slaughtered. Nicole's blog is very powerful and worth a read.

Tim Burns captured the following video

For the souls of the oceans

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years – A Time to Reflect

A video of a teenager beaten on the streets of Seattle aired again recently. It amazes me that no one stepped in to stop it including security people. When do we choose to do the right thing? Is it only when we know someone is watching? I’ve been handed too much change and in my younger, poorer days, struggled with it but now it’s easier to say, “You gave me too much” and return the extra. It might be a stretch to compare watching a beating to receiving extra change but the core is the same to me. It’s right or it’s wrong. Not everything is this clear and learning more about issues sometimes clouds things up. Often it’s easier not knowing. Like the bystanders watching beating in Seattle, sometimes people just look the other way.

I went to Taiji to witness the dolphin slaughter and I was forced to look at myself. This blog and Facebook have introduced me to animal advocates and a world I knew was there but chose to ignore. Now, when I make the choice of what to have for lunch, I have friends around the world who are ‘with’ me and influence my decisions. The dolphins, in my mind, are intelligent beings that need our protection and respect. For some Japanese, dolphins are food and pests who eat deteriorating fish stocks and need to be eliminated. The same thing happens here in Washington State with sea lions that eat salmon at the locks or dams. The state killed dozens of them and is considering killing more.

When you open up, new information comes flooding in. I think it’s important to research and weigh all sides. Whether you believe in global warming or not, anything we do to reduce climate change just makes the planet a cleaner, healthier place to live. So, I will work to reduce my carbon footprint. My challenge now is to figure out how much to take on without burning out. People are working on so many issues that it’s hard to keep up. I’ll keep following the dolphin hunt in Taiji and other issues but my focus will be local. Depending on the Bonneville sea lion decision, I may make a trip to photograph their fate.

For two weeks, no dolphins were killed in Taiji. It’s a small victory and probably a planned break for the fisherman. Yesterday, a small group of fishermen left the harbor and performed a ceremony. I assume it’s a sign that the killing will continue. I would love to be in Taiji when they have the ceremony ending the hunt. I would gladly spend my vacation dollars to see that. Until then, I’ll be writing letters, making phone calls and not looking the other way.

For the souls of the oceans