New Idea (Aus) – December 10th 2007


Isabel’s Prison Heartbreak

Former Home and Away star Isabel Lucas cried as she paddled out into the ocean and rounded the rocks enclosing a bay to protest against whaling. She was shocked the water had turned crimson from the blood of slaughtered whales and dolphins.

‘It was heartbreaking,’ she tells New Idea. The protest would lead to a warrant for her arrest, but it all began very innocently.

Isabel, 22, received an email from a friend studying to become a vet. It detailed the horror of the killing of more than 20,000 whales and dolphins in Japan each year.

‘It’s a bloodbath – unbelievably cruel and barbaric,’ she says. ‘I had been telling friends about how terrible this slaughter was. Then I met David Rastovich [co-founder of Surfers for Cetaceans] at a Byron Bay blues festival, and he told me about a protest he was organising to draw attention to the horror of what was going on in Taiji in southern Japan. I had just been for an audition for the movie Daybreakers, and I promised myself if I got the role, I was going to Taiji.’

She won the role, alongside Ethan Hawke and Claudia Karvan, and travelled to Japan in October. Also protesting were David’s wife Hannah Fraser and Heroes star Hayden Panettiere – Isabel and Hayden are both spokespeople for Save the Whales Again!

‘The first day the harpoonists weren’t around – they heard we were coming and were determined not to be caught,’ she says.

‘But the next day when they thought we’d left, as we intended to, we heard 25 pilot whales had been caught. So we went back out. By the time we paddled out about half the pod had been slaughtered.

‘The way these beautiful creatures are slaughtered is gut-wrenching. They’re left to bleed to death as they’re flipping around in the water. It’s unspeakably cruel.’

Dolphins are also pursued. ‘The fishermen target the known dolphin migration routes and position their boats strategically, spacing out to form a line,’ Isabel says.

‘They wait for the dolphins, drop metal pipes into the water and bang on the pipes to create a wall of sound. It interferes with the dolphins’ ability to navigate, so they become disoriented and panic.’

As the dolphins swim away from the noise, the fishermen herd them into a small, shallow bay with nets drawn across its mouth, trapping the dolphins.

So appalling are the killings, which are often concealed by tarps, that nothing could prepare Isabel for the experience.

‘As we paddled out to the fishermen, the whales, some with babies, were swimming in the blood of the whales that had been killed and were reaching up out of the water to us,’ recalls Isabel, who’s also an ambassador for WWF. ‘Whales are intelligent and can sense if you’re fearful and they’ll swim away from you.

But if you put out a good vibe, they’ll pick up on that. Even though they were traumatised, they were swimming towards us and I think they must have sensed we wanted to help them.’

But what was planned to be a peaceful protest quickly turned violent. ‘We knew we could face arrest, and we all had our passports encased in plastic sleeves inside our wetsuits in case it happened,’ Isabel says. ‘But we weren’t prepared for just how violent the fishermen would be.

‘They started stabbing us with their metal poles. Hannah had a huge bruise on her leg and we decided to return to shore before things got really out of hand. Thirty seconds later we heard sirens and we were all rounded up and questioned by the police.’

As if that wasn’t enough, a warrant was issued for her arrest when she came home. Isabel, as well as the other protesters, were charged with ‘interfering with international commerce’ for crossing the nets.

‘I’ve been told if I go back to Japan I risk being detained,’ Isabel says. ‘But I’m not scared. We all want to return next year – and there are several well-known names who want to come with us. We’re just weighing it all up and considering our options.

‘If anything, this just emboldens us. What they are doing is barbaric and if they were to arrest us, that would just bring more attention to the inhumane slaughter.’

After also leading an anti-whaling protest in Sydney, Isabel was on set filming Steven Spielberg’s new mini-series The Pacific. Clearly still enjoying acting, Isabel’s not too concerned a conviction could affect her chance to pursue work overseas.

‘This isn’t about my acting or being part of the film industry,’ she says. ‘I feel so passionate about this I would be doing it regardless of the career I’d chosen.’

For more information about the cause, visit www.savethewhalesagain.com