Elora West’s Ant City: A Cove Guardian Interview

From September to November of 2010, thousands of us followed Elora’s Malama West’s daily posts on her blog A Teenage Activist: This Girl’s Soap Box. She wrote from Taiji, Japan, where she went to protest the dolphin slaughters depicted in the Oscar winning documentary The Cove. She and her father, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society‘s Scott West, spent three months at The Cove documenting the barbaric evils of the dolphin hunters. I am honored that she granted me this brief interview. I am honored to know that our next generation is in good hands.

Holise: We know that you went to Taiji for a school project, yet you became an international icon. How did you react? What did this mean to you?

Elora: Well, I can’t say I really grasped what was going on. For a long time (at least two months) I didn’t believe that so many people were actually following/listening to me! It wasn’t until our friend Jason Leopold, editor for TRUTHOUT news, showed me how to look up the stats on my blog that I really sat back and realized just how many followers I had.

I was not expecting anything like this at all! In fact, I complained about the idea of starting a blog because I figured “only my friends and family would read it and why put everything out on the internet when I can just email them”… but Jason really thought that there was a story here and that I should set a blog up. So with his help, I did.

I wasn’t expecting a following so quickly, much less at all! So, my reaction was shocked! I had gone to Taiji to document and protest the slaughter, for my senior project and to help my dad/SSCS… I think the process of packing and leaving happened so quickly that I didn’t even consider the fact that I was a voice for my generation, until I stepped on that rock beach and watched 80 dolphins panic in front of me that first day.

Once I realized what was going on, having this following meant a lot to me. Not only did my age attract a lot of publicity for the Cove Dolphins, but people actually wanted to hear what I had to say.

Eventually urging a few hundred people to call the Japanese Embassy every time the boats went out, spreading my slaughter images around in the media, and working side by side with some of the most amazing people I have ever met… was very important to me. I can’t begin to describe how much it meant to me fighting for our innocent brothers and sisters in the sea…

Holise: Is it true that you have been a vegan all of your life? In comparison, I have only been a vegan for a short time and I now find the smell of cooked meat quite putrid. I can only imagine what life is for you as a vegan. Can you elaborate?

Elora: Haha, I’m sorry to say that I am actually not vegan. All my life I have been off and on a vegetarian. Once I was educated about factory farming, I made the personal decision to not eat any meat. The smell of things such as bacon makes me sick to my stomach now.

I will say, also, that my family and I do not eat seafood. I can’t even remember when that started…but, we feel that the oceans suffer enough, we don’t want to take from it.

Holise: As cyber activists, there are many of us who have spent almost all of our waking hours trying to make a difference for the cause. We have taken the emotional roller coaster ride with you through each day. Many of us have had to step back and take a breather. You, however, were actually there. How did you deal with it? How did you keep going for so long? What was your catharsis?

Elora: Everyone dealt with it differently. For me, it was nice to have other Cove Guardians to joke around and to laugh with… somedays we had a lot of waiting around time to kill. I would distract myself stacking rocks or eating food. I was distracting myself to stay sane and tried to find something normal in an insane situation.

The biggest distraction came naturally… I would skip and dance around listening to really happy music! I would even build little things with rocks and leaves. There was one day I was laying in the shade waiting for the boats to return and there were some flat stones laying around me. I started to stack them like blocks. Soon, I was collecting small sticks and shoving them in the ground next to the little buildings I had made with these rocks. A few ants were crawling around on the ground around the little “village” I had made. I pulled up some moss and grass and made a little city wall with a gate for entry.., and put smaller pebbles in a little clump for houses etc. I called it Ant City. Once my little creation was finished I looked up to find the last boat coming into the harbor empty!! That morning’s anxiety vanished!

It is that inner child that is super comforting (I don’t mean to say that I am not a kid anymore) but I’m talking about the time when mom, dad, my sister and our backyard adventures, and Barbie (or if you were like me, Starwars) were the center of my world. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “Life was so much easier when I was six!”

Holise: Elora, daily I find people who have just seen ‘The Cove’ and want to do more. Is there anything that you would like to say to them? What can they do now?

Elora: Calling, writing, and faxing the Japanese Embassy during the hunting season is one of the most important things you can do! It drives the government crazy… and that is what we are trying to do. Poke at them until they realize the international pressure is not worth the dolphins they are hunting. Protesting at swim with dolphin programs and places that support these prisons for cetaceans! Contacting politicians in your area asking them to protect our oceans. And of course spreading awareness in any way that you can, and donating to organizations such as SSCS and SJD who are working on putting an end to the slaughter and exploitation of marine life. It is so important that people tell other people to not support captivity programs and to spread awareness. It is amazing how many people think the issue stopped when the movie The Cove was released… it DIDN’T!

Holise: The hunting season ended early. Do you have any insight on this? Did this occur because copies of ‘The Cove’ were sent to all residents of Taiji?

Elora: I don’t have any insight… and I don’t believe that it is because of the DVDs. In all honesty, I think that they were just having problems meeting their quota and quit three weeks early. They were wasting money chasing white caps in the water.

Holise: Your father, Scott West, is a hero to us all. What can you tell us about him that we don’t already know? How is he a hero to you?

Elora: Haha, dad has always been a hero to me. He first worked with the Environmental Protection Agency putting polluters in jail and then retired to become a pirate that protects the ocean, with Sea Shepherd. So he has taught my sister and I from a very young age to always respect the environment and treat animals well.

He has supported every hobby I have ever been interested in… ballet, tap, jazz, piano, singing, musical theatre, guitar, dirt biking, scuba diving, etc!

I didn’t end up enjoying guitar at all, and I wouldn’t tell my parents for a long time because I felt really bad about the money they spent. Once I did he told me that he didn’t care that I hated guitar, he just wanted me to have the option in case I loved it!

I think my sister and I won the dad lottery! About a year ago I was having some really serious issues with a boy I went to school with, and my dad was in Antarctica on campaign at the time. Once they made it back to Australia to refuel my dad was on a plane and home to us in less than two days. I have a dad who will always be there when I need him… even if he is in Antarctica!

Holise: What are you doing now? How is life after Taiji?

Elora: Right now I am finishing high school and I am taking classes at a community college earning my AA early. So, I am a very busy bee with school!

Life after Taiji keeps changing. For a little while I was very quiet and sad but then I started to adjust… and things are getting better. I can’t explain what happens to you after three months in Taiji… I will say that I have never been more adamant about seeing our oceans protected!!

Holise: Last of all, I would like to ask you a question that is a bit more personal to me. As you know, I had been trying to get a major celebrity to Taiji as a Cove Guardian. What are your thought on this? Do you think it was a good idea? If so, why?

Elora: I think it is a wonderful idea!!! Not a day went by in Taiji when I thought… can you image how much more publicity there would be if someone famous came to protest?

Keep working on it! I think it’s great!

Holise: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Elora: Yes! I do want to add this one thing. My dad and the other Cove Guardians were in Otsuchi when the tsunami hit Japan. They were lucky to get out and survived the ordeal but so many were not. Ironically just the day before the horrible disaster of the earthquake and tsunami, I had started to have a dialog with the city council members in Ft. Bragg about their Sister City program. Hoping to get them to educate their friends about the issues with cetacean slaughter in their city, in an instant turned into a deep connection over a little place that was now essentially destroyed. I have been trying to help Ft. Bragg spread the word about their efforts for their sister city.

Via Doug Hammerstrom: The Fort Bragg Otsuchi Cultural Exchange Association, which is raising funds for the people of Otsuchi, now has a website, http://www.Otsuchi.org . Tax deductible donations can be made there through paypal.

Please help the people of Otsuchi, and donate what you can! Otsuchi was the hardest hit by the Tsunami and our hearts go out to everyone who was effected by this disaster!

Far, Fast, Deep,

Elora Malama West

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