Monday 29 August 2011

Every day is Dolphin Day

It’s shocking, compelling, distressing, inspiring. I watched The Cove again last night, an impassioned plea to stop dolphins being killed in Japan, and had to write something here, if only to urge those of you who haven’t seen this film to see it. 

It’s part doco, part adventure story about a group of American activists, film makers and free divers, led by reformed and repentant dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry (who trained Flipper for the 1960s TV series), on a stealth mission to capture footage of an annual dolphin slaughter in a secluded cove in Japan.

Having studied zoology, I don’t go in for anthropomorphising animals, but I've also surfed with dolphins on the Australian coast, swum with 300 dolphins in New Zealand and watched them from boats all over the world, and find it hard not to feel a connection with them, and all cetaceans. Besides, O’Barry’s arguments against keeping dolphins in captivity are compelling. In the wild, they can travel 60 kilometres a day, he says. They’re also acoustic creatures – when we’re in the water with them, they can see right through us, see our hearts beating. Their sensitivity to sound makes confinement especially stressful.

O’Barry is making amends for his complicity in training dolphins, by being an activist and bringing to the world's attention what is happening in this cove. 

This is what is happening: up to a dozen fishing boats go offshore from Taiji (in south-east Japan, south of Tokyo) and bang on the ends of long metal poles they put into the water, herding passing dolphins into a nearby bay and trapping them behind nets. Dolphin trainers come here from all over the world to choose wild dolphins for their sea worlds and marine parks, paying up to $US300,000 per animal. The film says Taiji is the world’s largest supplier of dolphins to marine parks.

(As an aside: apparently many dolphinariums protested at the film’s portrayal of their role in the Taiji hunt and in the US it has been illegal since 1993 to import dolphins caught through drives such as the one at Taiji, but the fact remains that marine parks are keeping dolphins in captivity for the amusement of our species.)

The remaining dolphins are herded into a cove, out of sight of the road and any onlookers, where they are speared, knifed and harpooned by men in open boats. All the dolphins are killed, and the meat sold all over Japan. “It’s the largest slaughter of dolphins on the planet,” says O’Barry.

About 23,000 dolphins are killed at Taiji between September and March every year. It's about to start again, on 1 September. What can we do? 
  • Watch The Cove (it's on DVD). Directed by National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos it has won more than 20 awards including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. The film doesn’t demonise Japanese people and in fact a Japanese activist group called People Concerned for the Ocean distributed free DVD copies of the film to Taiji’s 3500 residents in March this year.
  • Visit for ideas on what to do
  • Find out more at SaveJapanDolphins, which has a comprehensive FAQ about Taiji
  • Sign a petition to help stop the dolphin slaughter
  • Don’t go to dolphin shows at zoos; if demand dries up, zoos will stop keeping dolphins.
  • Join Surfers for Cetaceans
  • Using your iPad or smartphone, recreate the scene from The Cove where Ric wears a screen showing footage of the Taiji dolphin hunt at an International Whaling Commission meeting. See this link for images and video. 
  • Celebrate Japan Dolphins Day on 1 September, and remember that every day is dolphin day. May they swim in peace...

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Nature + night

Last night I did something I’ve never done before: I joined a bunch of women to go trek-training at Balmoral (Sydney). It was a mild winter’s night, you could see stars between the clouds and we spent two hours beach-walking, hill-climbing and bushwalking in the dark, with head torches, led by the fearless and super-friendly Di Westaway, who runs Wild Women on Top training sessions for female trekkers. Di also has a new book, How to Prepare for World Class Treks, which has all sorts of tips and wisdom specifically for women, on how to train for and tackle treks all over the world.

Everyone was there last night for different reasons; I’m training for a trek in Nepal next month, some are preparing to climb Kilimanjaro or Aconcagua, others are doing the gruelling 48-hour Oxfam Trailwalker next weekend - which, incidentally, has a host of "tread lightly" guidelines for the 100km Hawkesbury to Sydney Harbour trek. (I love learning about events like this.) 

It was beautiful to be outside at night – walking past warmly lit houses, and not missing being inside at all. There was chatting and laughing. It felt like a little adventure in the big city. 

Of course it was too dark for photos so I’ll include a couple from a daytime bush walk I did last weekend. The wildflowers are out, and some other flowers too (jasmine is surely the scent of spring).

There's a lot of talk about saving energy, but it feels great to expend some (non-harming) human energy now and then, at night, in a natural place. It's the way of the no-impact warrior (princess).

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Let there be candle light

It’s winter, it’s getting dark early and that’s a good excuse to burn candles – beeswax* of course, and made by Northern Light. Love my new Northern Light beeswax candles. I ordered them online, and a couple of days later a little box of goodness arrived on my doorstep. It’s incredible the lengths these people go to, to be sustainable. The packaging is all post-consumer waste paper, printed with soy-based inks, the boxes are designed to be folded so there’s no need for toxic glue, and they’re sealed with paper tape.

Inside, I found a little hand-written note (on recycled paper of course) welcoming me as a new customer, and a very welcome gift: a “Calmer Light” poured and packed by Carmelite nuns with a message on the bottom that you can only read when the candle has been burning long enough to make the wax transparent: “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly”. See what I mean? The candles themselves exude a sweet, honey scent and a golden glow. 

Northern Light’s commitment to sustainable manufacture is impressive, to say the least. For instance: the wax is melted using a heater that runs on macadamia nut shells instead of electricity, rainwater is used instead of chlorinated town water and the studio (it can hardly be called a “factory” situated as it is in the lush hinterland of northern NSW) is designed to maximise natural light, wind and rainwater for heating and cooling. 

The wax-melting room even has a glass roof, to reduce the power required to keep the wax molten (it can get up to 50ÂșC in there in summer), thereby cutting carbon emissions. Naturally, all their candles are made using organically certified, Australian beeswax – “the cleanest, purest beeswax you can buy” – and cotton wicks.

The man behind all this sustainable candle-making is Jeffrey Gibbs, who has been involved in beekeeping for over 30 years. I called Jeffrey this afternoon with a few practical questions – like: what can you do with leftover beeswax, and are the tin wick-stands recyclable? – which he was happy to answer (see below, and yes) before the conversation veered onto more esoteric subjects. “There’s nothing better in the world than living with peace in your heart and doing something you love,” he said at one point. It was a breath of fresh, Byron Bay air in my Sydney afternoon.

Northern Light made the world’s first beeswax tealights, in 1992, and were also the first to put tealights into reusable, recycled Australian tin cups, instead of the throwaway aluminium cups that come with most tealights. Now they're the world’s largest producer of beeswax candles, making 650-700,000 tealights a year, with just seven staff. 

Their candles have lit up post-tsunami Japan, Ferrari family functions in Italy, Rae’s on Watego’s (a luxury lodge at Byron Bay), even the Vatican; 25,000 Northern Light candles illuminated the Pope’s World Youth Day event in Sydney in 2008.

Here are 7 more beeswax-related things I learned today:
1. Before World War I, bumble bees were called “humble bees”; even Charles Darwin called them that in The Origin of Species, in 1859.

2. Australian native bees don’t produce much wax, traditionally used to make the mouthpieces of didgeridoos in northern Australia. Northern Light’s bees are Italian.

3. The average worker bee has a lifespan of 4-5 weeks. 

4. Beeswax is the cap that seals the honeycomb chamber in which bees put their honey. Sealed like this, honey can last for 1000 years.

5. Candle-makers were once called "chandlers". 

6. Tealight wicks have 24-strand wicks; large cathedral candles have 96-strand wicks (and you thought thread-counts were just for bed linen).

7. Leftover beeswax can be melted, strained through a cloth bag and scented with tea tree oil to make a waterproof shoe polish. Who knew?

Thank you, Northern Light, and thank you, bees.

*Beeswax candles, for the uninitiated, are the only non-polluting, good-for-you-and-the-environment candle. They’re better than paraffin candles (which emit, cough splutter, toxic fumes because they’re made from petroleum), better than palm oil candles (which are causing deforestation on a massive scale in places like Indonesia and Borneo, the last bastions of the endangered orangutan and Sumatran tiger) and better than soy candles (the soy is often genetically modified and has to be converted into a wax which is energy intensive and involves adding all sorts of nasties).