Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our Journey Through Tsunami

First off I'd like to apologize for the lack of pictures recently on my blog. The internet security here in Northern Japan will not allow me to upload any images. I will have them available as soon as I arrive back in North America or get a different internet connection.

I run the risk of being repetative with this blog post, as "The Cove Guardians" (Mike, Marley, and Carisa) and Scott West have both written about this same experience. I do have some followers, however, who do not follow either of those blogs so I shall post about our experience over the past few days.

Early afternoon on Friday we headed into Otsuchi with three new Cove Guardians, Carisa, Marley, and Mike from my home on Vancouver Island. They had arrived the night before and we were giving them a tour of the city whilst waiting for harpoon boats to return with Dalls Porpoises. Two boats had left the harbour that morning in search of porpoises to molest. One boat had returned, sans Dalls, and instead carried a load of small fish, and we continued on with our tour. During the tour of Otsuchi we stopped to wait at the inner harbour when we felt an earthquake. Based on the qauke we had experienced the day prior, we realized that this one had a much higher intensity.

Realizing the need to head to higher ground, we immediately jumped in the vehicles and raced through Otsuchi to a nearby mountain road. Workers ran from their workplace in processing plants and factories. Children were riding their bicycles quickly down the streets. Everyone in Otsuchi sensed the need for urgency, as we did. A few minutes later we arrived on higher ground and scouted the area. We were joined on the hill by a firetruck and a few other vehicles. Only minutes later we witnessed the entire city of Otsuchi covered by water. The water receeded and surged again and again into the night.

Boats immediately drove from the harbour, knowing that the only safe refuge was at sea. Many still did not make it. As the water receeded into the Ocean leaving the rock below exposed we anxiously waited, knowing that it had to come back into shore. It was not long before the water came rushing in, an enormous black crashing wave dragging along with it houses, vehicles, bodies, and debris of all kinds. We watched in horror as the entire town of Otsuchi was destroyed by the water. What was not taken by water was taken by flame. We watched and filmed as the Tsunami ripped apart Otsuchi. Oil drums had been overturned and sucked out to sea. The pollution left in the ocean was of a mass scale.

It came time for us to explore our escape options. The firemen and other local residents had headed into the hills to check on family members. We hiked down, traveling the road that had brought us up to the hill. Before long it became evident that we were not going to drive out of Otsuchi. The vehicles would remain there for the long haul. The road was destroyed and a river had taken its place. We could not believe the carnage. Nothing remained of this coastal town. We explored the other end of the mountainside and were met with the same destruction. Boats were scattered over the roadway, debris in all areas, a dead body strewn within.
                                                                The road to our hill 

The cries of a young woman floating on a rooflike structure could soon be heard. We enlisted the help of a young Japanese woman to act as a translator and try to quell her fears. We decided to utilize the Fire truck. Mike and Marley drove it over close to the area of the floating woman. It took some time, but we were able to work the radio, loudspeaker, and search lights. We radioed for help. None came. Both Iuka, our Japanese friend, and myself utilized the loudspeaker, calling to two boats in the harbour. It took two hours before they responded to our calls. By that time we had attempted to throw the young woman a rope, taking a risk by walking on the Tsunami walls. The surge of the water kept her out of reach. The boats headed into the wreckage but ceased searching after only 30 minutes or so. We were very frustrated and felt helpless. We could not hear her cries any more.

Snow had set in and it was becoming very cold. We could only hope that the boats had found the young woman as she was swept out by the powerful current. Diving into the freezing, powerful water would have only created more death. We had to settle in for the night. The 7 of us packed into our two small vehicles, keeping warm by periodically starting the engine. We awoke in the morning to thick smoke rising out of what was once the town of Otsuchi.

The firemen and local residents appeared from the hills, creating a plan of escape. We loaded into the Fire tuck and drove to the base of the hill. From there we hiked through the debris and upwards on a very steep mountain. Our resolve was strong and assisted us in climbing the mountainside. We came down the other side into an area filled with locals. Their lives had been destroyed, left with nothing, dead family members piled in beds, yet still food and fire was generously offered to the Westerners in their midst. Great kindness was shown to us. An offer was placed for us to stay, but we knew that we would simply be a burden to them. We went on our way.

We spent the next hours of the day hiking through unimaginable wreckage. Hiking over burned houses, crushed vehicles, family photographs, black, oily sludge, and personal belongings. We repeatedly saw footprints from small companion animals. Propane tanks exploded around us as helicopters rescued locals off of burning buildings. The town of Otsuchi was a desolate wasteland, an image taken from a horror movie of war. Smells of death and burning asaulted us as we tore through the town, experiencing aftershocks all the while.

After our ascent from the wreckage we arrived on a bridge. Speaking to the Police we realized that we would receive no assistance. We started walking. We were a long ways from our hotel in Tono, farther inland. We walked for miles before happening upon a very generous man. He walked us into a village and got us a lift to a bus station in the mountains. We were left there wondering what was to come next. Not long after, he arrived back with a woman and her van. She had lost everything, but offered what little she had to us. She got us safely back to Tono.

We have come farther since this, and have been told of the plight of dolphins in Taiji. Around 20 dolphins were left in the pens in the Taiji harbour during the Tsunami. The fishermen did not set them free. Instead they were left to the force of nature, thrown violently against the rocks by the surging water, screaming in pain as they lay dying.

My heart goes out to the innocent families and individuals in Japan affected by this Tsunami. But I can feel no remorse for those who kill so needlessly. The time has come for change. The damage done to this earth by humans can no longer be denied. I hope that through this time of sorrow we can rise above and right the wrongs of the past. It is time for us to respect our mother earth, hopefully allowing us to avoid destruction of this magnitude in the future.

For The Oceans,


  1. So glad to hear you're okay Tarah. My heart goes out to you, your team members, and all others affected by this disaster. Stay safe.

  2. keep on trucking guys. have you seen any dogs? cats? farm animals?

  3. Has the dolphin slaughtering ceased even temporarily?

  4. Dear Tarah,
    My partner Mike and I, and other animal rights supporters here on Denman Island (and everyone everywhere, of course!) are so relieved that you, and the whole SS crew are all safe...we've been checking every few hours online, waiting, hoping for some word. So all of your communications have provided a beacon of hope in the midst of this disaster.

    Thankyou for your efforts on every level; your courage is incredible. We remain worried about others unheard from in Japan, and our hearts go out to all the survivors, the country as a whole, and the countless animals suffering and lost.

    Scott's mention as well of the incredible generosity of people in crisis, people without the option of 'getting out', is such an important reminder that while opposing the brutality of animal exploitation, we must never forget that the inherent dignity of every human being is always worthy of respect. It is likely that survival for thousands will now depend, tragically, on scavenging for whatever might seem edible.

    As you have witnessed first hand in this life-altering experience, the awesome force of nature reminds us all of human frailty... and the ignorance of the notion that we have ever been 'in charge' of this planet, including the myriad other species that share our home.

    Safe journey home to Courtenay and the arms of your loved ones, Tarah, and thankyou! -Fireweed

  5. Oh Tarah! So glad to hear you are well! Oh my! What an ordeal! Glad you and your team knew to go to higher grounds! Wishing all others could have known as well! I'm praying for you!... every one in Japan... and planet earth! Buckets full of aloha love and hugs! You're definitely an earth angel!!!

  6. I'm glad you're safe but I find your photo a bit offensive...posing like this horrible scene is some sort of tourist attraction, at least this is how I feel, and I'm pretty sure some other might feel the same way.

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  8. Thank you everyone for the support. The dolphin slaughtering has ceased, if only temporarily. We are very happy to be back, but completely exhausted. I'm very grateful for the wonderful support and kind words.

    I'm sorry you feel this way Gyyunyuu. If you had any concept of how we feel, you would never insinuate that we felt this is a tourist attraction. I find that to be a disgusting concept. Thousands of people are dead. I posted this picture simply because it cannot be stolen by news stations.