Elora Malama West is a teen activist who loves animals, and took her love for them to the next level when she began working for animals’ rights at the age of sixteen. I got the chance to talk to her about her animal rights activism, and I learned that we can take our love and passion and turn it into action.
Liz: How old were you when you started getting into animal activism?
Elora: I was 16. My dad brought home the movie Sharkwater by Rob Stewart when I was 15, and it completely changed my perspective of the world. I had no idea so much destruction was happening in our oceans. I grew up in a pretty educated
household because my dad is a retired SAC with the Environmental Protection Agency. The movie sparked something in me, and I eventually dropped out of musical theatre and took up scuba diving because I wanted to dive with sharks. Scuba diving with sharks still hasn’t happened, but it’s on my list of things to do!
When I was 16, I saw the movie The Cove by Louie Psihoyos and really wanted to do something to actively help the dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Every year in Taiji, a small group of fishermen hunt dolphins and whales off their coast and drive them into a killing cove. Before slaughter, trainers from nearby dolphinariums come and select dolphins for captivity. The dolphins selected for captivity are sold to dolphinariums all over the world for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and their remaining family is slaughtered.
Around the same time I saw this movie, my dad, Scott West, had retired from the EPA to work with Sea Shepherd. Paul, captain and founder of Sea Shepherd, called him up and asked, “What would happen if someone went to Taiji and never left?” Then he said, “…go find out.” Three days before my dad left, he asked if I wanted to go with him. We were there for 3 months and started the Cove Guardian campaign, with the help of many volunteers that came over to join us at different periods of time.
Liz: It’s so cool that you got inspired by movies! Now, what are some of the accomplishments that make you the most proud?
Elora: I’m really proud of my blog. It attracted so much attention when I was in Taiji for those first three months. I am really grateful that so many people cared about what I had to say and that I could be a voice for the voiceless.
I’m also very proud of the campaign. My dad, Matt Smith (the first volunteer), and I started it with Sea Shepherd. Now it’s in the 4th season, and it’s gaining media attention, celebrity and diplomatic support from all over the world!
As for personal accomplishments… I’m proud of myself for working on issues I care about while finishing school. If you work hard, you can do both while you’re young!
While finishing my associate degree I took time off to return to Taiji in2012, join the Steve Irwin in Australia for a few months (also in 2012), worked on issues close to my home, and I worked part-time for a non-profit rescue and release facility in Washington, called Sarvey Wildlife Care center, where we care for injured and orphaned wildlife in the greater Seattle area.
Liz: Can you tell me about your blog?
Elora: I originally didn’t want to start my blog because I didn’t see how powerful it could be. Jason Leopold (former senior editor for TRUTHOUT news, now writing for Al Jazeera) convinced me that it would be a powerful tool.
I had no idea that people really wanted to hear what I had to say and see the photos I was taking. I think the people following my blog really wanted to connect with what was happening and read about the issue/see it from someone they could relate to. I was just a normal high school girl who was writing candidly and witnessing everything for the first time with them.
Liz: It’s amazing that you were able to make such a successful blog at sixteen! I’m sure that you are glad you did it now. What are some good charities or organizations for people to get involved with who want to do what you do?
Elora: Good charities and organizations… I’m heavily involved with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society right now. There are many different entities around the world, too. I really love their work, and I’m proud to be a part of their crew.
There are many amazing organizations out there, but it depends on what people care about. My idea is that everyone should go out and work to create change for whatever issue they find important because, if everyone actively got involved in what mattered to them, the world would be a much better place. My cause right now is ocean conservation, and it will always be something I work for, even if I add other projects on as well.
Liz: What are some steps young girls can take to get to where you are?
Elora: I think you just have to actively search for ways to be involved, follow through on your commitments, and it helps to be working for an organization or cause that you really care about and love (because that gives motivation to get the work done).
I don’t really know how I ended up where I am. I was just as surprised as anyone else when my blog reached over 100,000 hits and people were following it so religiously during my time in Taiji.
I think if you care enough about something, and use whatever skills you have to make that something heard, people will listen. You just have to be loud enough.
Here is a link to my blog where kids and teens can get advice for looking for ways to get involved.
Liz: Can you give me an overview of what you do? What is a typical day in your life?
Elora: I do lots of things. I blog what’s important to me, and I speak out against environmental causes and animal injustices. I get involved in local movements (for example, I go to school. I work.). I’m still figuring out what my summer is going to look like before I start school.
Liz: I think that it is so cool that you still work with your blog and animal rights, even though you are in college. Where do you envision your project going?
Elora: I don’t know where my blog and my activism will go. I am super focused on marine life and ocean welfare right now. It’s a major concern of mine.
I transfer to the college I was accepted to as a junior later this year. It will take two years to complete my bachelors, and then I will see where life takes me.
I am studying Media Activism, which is mass media, visual journalism, documentary film and photography, and everything else needed to create change in a media world.
That is my plan right now— to get my degree in something that is meaningful to me and will prepare me to create more waves in the future. I plan to stir the pot and make some real change happen, and I plan to work for a more educated and engaged electorate.
Liz: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me! I’m sure that this will inspire others.
All images and links courtesy of Elora West’s Blog: This Girl’s Soapboax