30 Days of OCEANS: Jeff Pantukhoff, the Whaleman

Jeff Pantukhoff has used his filmmaking skills to help alter a variety of ocean and marine animal fights, most notably with grey whales along the Mexican coast. He has also unabashedly relied on the media and committed celebrity spokespeople(including Pierce Brosnan and Hayden Panettiere) to draw attention to his causes, which he insists has made all the difference. An excerpt from, OCEANS, The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.

I believe one of the best ways to get a message out to the public and to influence decision makers is to use the power of celebrity and the media to deliver the message. My experience is that you can put the brightest scientist or the world’s greatest expert on any given subject in front of people and more often than not, they will get glassy-eyed and lose attention. But put a passionate celebrity in front of them delivering the exact same message, someone that they think they know and someone they relate to, and they will pay attention.

But it can’t be just any celebrity. Merely lending their name to a cause – which many celebrities do – doesn’t often make a difference because they are only doing so to help improve their own image. To truly be effective, your spokesperson has to passionate, to truly believe in your cause and also be self-motivated and committed to the point of wanting to take direct action to help raise awareness be it through press conferences, television appearances, protests and more.

I believe one of the main reasons we were ultimately successful in stopping Mitsubishi from building the world’s largest salt plant in San Ignacio Lagoon was because Pierce went to the lagoon with us, witnessed its beauty and the amazing encounters with the friendly gray whales there firsthand. As a result, he was deeply moved and motivated to do whatever he could to help us take on and beat one of the world’s largest corporations.

When I first met Hayden Panitierre on set of a friend’s film, she was only fifteen years old. But I was immediately impressed not only by how talented she was, but by how she handled herself on set and the relationship she had with Lesley, her mother. As we talked I soon discovered that both were animal lovers. At the time I was looking for someone to spearhead our Save the Whales Again! Campaign. After showing them some of the our public service announcements and previous films I asked daughter and mother if they would be interested in getting involved and they immediately agreed.

The first place I took Hayden and Lesley was San Ignacio Lagoon to experience the gray whales and share our success story. The trip had a huge impact on them both. Later, when I showed them the footage of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji — Japan’s notorious dolphin killing cove — and asked if they wanted to go there and take part in an action that was being planned by my friend and fellow activist Dave Rastovich, they did not hesitate.

In October 2007 we traveled together to Taiji. Images from our visit were seen around the world, bringing international awareness to the issue later heightened with the release of the documentary film “The Cove”, which also included scenes from our visit.

HAYDEN PANETTIERE: The brutal practice in Japan of herding dolphins and small whales into coves and killing them is ongoing. The hunters blind and frighten the helpless animals by hammering on metal poles in the water, driving them into small coves where they are trapped in nets and then killed.
I experienced this slaughter first hand when Jeff invited me to join him on that 2007 trip to Taiji. Along with actress Isabel Lucas, our Australian spokesperson, we took part in a peaceful paddle-out ceremony. Along with four other activists, we paddled surfboards out into the blood red waters where over thirty pilot whales had already been slaughtered and we honored all the beautiful animals that had lost their lives there. During our peaceful ceremony, the Japanese fisherman, unprovoked, became violent and physically aggressive towards us. Though being hit with large poles and threatened with spinning boat propellers, which came inches from us, we held our ground. The resulting international media attention generated by the incident was massive, and the support from people around the world has been incredible.

The irony is that most of the Japanese public is unaware that these hunts even happen, that over twenty thousand dolphins and porpoises are being slaughtered by Japanese fisherman every year
The reason I choose to focus my efforts on saving the dolphins and whales is two-fold. First, is because dolphins and whales are charismatic creatures, both intelligent and beautiful. The second is because dolphins and whales are also the barometer of the overall health of our oceans; I truly believe that as go the dolphins and whales, so go our oceans, and as go the oceans, so goes all life on earth. If we can save the dolphins and whales, we will save our oceans and ultimately, we will save our planet and ourselves.

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