In the fall of 2010, I was faced with the toughest decision of my life. I had to choose between keeping my photography career in Seattle, my home, my pets, and most importantly, my husband of seven years – or following my lifelong dream of fighting for animal rights. In the end, I chose my dreams.
It started with an email from a friend who was in Taiji, Japan serving as a “Cove Guardian” for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society at the infamous dolphin-hunting cove. The message was simple: “We could use a good photographer on the ground.”
photo by Georgia Laughton
At first it was obvious that I couldn’t go. I had a job. I had a husband. Also obvious was the reason why I should take the invitation. Environmental activism had been a passion for me since my third grade teacher asked, What do you want to be when you grow up? and I replied that I wanted to save every dolphin and whale in the ocean.
Nearly three decades later, here was my chance. But my workplace was in the middle of a busy period, and that meant no time off. I went on photographing industrial equipment, but every drill bit and lathe chuck that passed through my studio reminded me that I had passed up the opportunity to make a difference with my photography. I asked my company to make an exception and grant me a week off. They refused. I quit.
I left for Japan on November 1, and after one week at the cove I extended my ticket for another two weeks. At the end of those three weeks, Sea Shepherd asked if I could spend three months as the new Cove Guardian Campaign Leader. I accepted without a second thought – and without even discussing it with my husband.
In that moment, everything became clear: I would sacrifice whatever it took to stay with those dolphins and fight for their lives.
Every day for the next three months I was at the cove with a group of volunteer Cove Guardians from around the world. The experience was at the same time exciting and harrowing. Each time I set foot outside the hotel I was surrounded by reporters, dolphin hunters, police, and Japanese coast guard officials. The vigils at the cove were heartbreaking, especially the sound of dolphins screaming as they were killed.
A week in Taiji felt like a year. People I knew for a few days felt closer to me than people I had known all my life. They understood how hard it was to watch a dolphin suffer.
The trauma was worsened by the fact that the one person who was always supposed to be there for me, my husband, did not understand what I was experiencing. I wanted desperately to share with him how painful it was to witness dolphins die; I wanted to tell him how much I loved him and that I would stay with him forever if certain changes were made. But somehow we couldn’t communicate. What stands out most in my memory from that time is the bitter loneliness I felt.
By my last month in Taiji, I was exhausted from being constantly under attack and was overwhelmed by depression. But I was also terrified of going home. I knew my depression would worsen once I returned to my seemingly meaningless life, away from the people who had become so important to me. I will never forget the drive from the Seattle airport; crying while I stared out the passenger window, I had never felt so incredibly alone.
Not long after I got back, I met with Captain Paul Watson and we agreed that I would join the Sea Shepherd’s flagship, the Steve Irwin, in France as a member of the “Blue Rage” campaign against bluefin tuna poaching.
Less than one month after my return from Taiji, my husband and I filed divorce papers. The distance of the three months in Japan – during which we spoke only twice – did not make us want to work to save our marriage. It was the push we needed to exit each other’s lives
When I arrived aboard the Steve Irwin, I was awestruck by how all the crew members had made some sacrifice and left “normal” lives to dedicate themselves to the well-being of the oceans’ inhabitants. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who understood my love for the sea was the remedy I needed to deal with my loneliness. Yes, the loss of my marriage was heart-wrenching. Yet even though I lost one family, I gained a new one.
When not protecting marine mammals, Libby Miller blogs at photographicactivism.blogspot.com.
Editor’s Note: Earth Island’s Save Japan Dolphin Campaign is a separate from the Sea Shepherd Society’s Cove Monitor program in Taiji, Japan.
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