By Hannah Apricot Eckberg

If you could take five minutes to help save the last of a species of dolphins from becoming extinct, would you? Or a better question is: will you?  Peggy Oki and the remaining 55 Maui Dolphins of New Zealand hope you will, right now, by joining a visual protest here .

Peggy and whales

For many years I have been inspired by the captivating art and true dedication of “Artivist” Peggy Oki. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with her in her home town of Carpentaria, to talk about her latest efforts to use art for activism: the “Lets Face It” visual protest to help save the last of the very endangered Maui Dolphins.

Peggy became an artist as a young girl, drawing pictures of landscapes and seascapes, whales and dolphins. As an adult, she uses her artistic talents to help raise awareness of the plight of Cetaceans around the world. In 2004, she started the Origami Whale Project, inspired by the Japanese folklore of the one thousand origami cranes.  Since then, she has traveled the world with “curtains” of origami whales that people have helped her make out of recycled paper. In 2007, a curtain with over 30,000 origami whales was displayed at the International Whaling Commission to represent the 30 thousand whales that have been slaughtered under the IWC since a Whaling Moratorium was established in 1987.

During a trip to New Zealand about seven years ago, Peggy learned about the tragic plight of the Maui Dolphins. Named after a Polynesian God, and found only in a small area on the west coast of the North Island, today there remain less then 60 of these magnificent creatures. Fishing by gill-net and trawling captures the dolphins in the nets where they suffer until they drown to death. Their cousin, the Hector Dolphin, found further south off New Zealand, who’s numbers hover around seven thousand, also are threatened by these fishing practices. Banned in many countries, gill nets and trawling causes enormous destruction of ocean floor habitat and kills thousands of unintended species, known as “by-catch.” 

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A few years ago, Peggy created a “Curtain of 1,111 Origami Maui’s Dolphins” with 1,000 as the traditional number in Japanese lore, along with 111 as a separate smaller section to illustrate how few of the Maui’s Dolphins remain (as estimated in 2007). This environmental art piece was to be presented to the government by a schoolteacher and students. Though the Prime Minister didn’t agree to meet with them, this curtain was then displayed in prominent museums, including the TePapa (New Zealand’s national) Museum.

To help raise awareness about the Maui and Hector Dolphins, and to persuade the New Zealand government to join the ban of gill net fishing, Peggy started a visual protest at Inspired by a similar effort by the organization Surfers for Cetaceans, people can go to this web site, download photos of the dolphins, take their photo with it, and post it to the web site. In April of this year, with her “Let’s Face It” Visual Petition campaign, 1,000 photos were organized onto three large banners, and have been used in many protests since to continue to raise awareness. In the middle of November, Peggy sent 4,856 pictures of concerned citizens from around the world to the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. She will continue to gather submissions and  support for the efforts to call for protection of these critically endangered species. 

In October of 2012, a letter from over 50 international organizations, representing over 20 million concerned citizens, was sent to the Prime Minister of New Zealand calling for the protection of the Maui Dolphins. New Zealand is the only nation member of over 600 members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature who voted against measures that would have protected the Maui and Hector Dolphins from extinction! 

Today, most canned tuna sold in the US has the distinctive picture of the dolphin and says “Dolphin Safe.” It is easy to think that all dolphins are safe to swim and hunt where they need, however, this is far from the truth. The animals know no political boundaries. And ever increasing human-caused, anthropomorphic pollution in the oceans threatens not only dolphins, but also whales and other sea creatures globally. Peggy told me about six sperm whales found washed up dead with their bellies full of plastic shopping bags. Our actions on land have far reaching effects!

Not only do we cause death to Cetaceans without knowing it, some people do it on purpose. The Japanese government grants permits for fishermen to kill over 20 thousand dolphins annually in Japan. The Japanese fisheries do indeed claim that these dolphins must be killed to “manage” the competition, as they claim both dolphins and whales “are eating too much fish”. They actually sell the meat, and label it as “whale” because the Japanese people are not educated on how closely related these cetaceans are. While they love dolphins, their view of whales is different. Levels of PCBs and mercury from ocean pollution are usually so high in whales and dolphins that the meat is considered toxic waste, and so the government is basically allowing the poisoning of their own citizens.
To help better connect people the many ways that human actions on land impact the creatures of the sea, Peggy started The Whale and Dolphin Ambassador Program: teaching age 7-14 year-olds about ocean acidification, climate change, by-catch, sea-bed mining, navy sonar testing, collisions with shipping tankers and how daily choices like which grocery bag we use affects the inhabitants of the sea. She hopes to get a grant to expand this program and hopefully replicate it in other locations. 

When asked if she feels like there have been successes in the quest to protect the Cetaceans of the world, Peggy says “yes.” The Oscar-winning documentary film “The Cove” has helped educate people about what is happening. If you have not seen the movie because you feel it is too graphic, Peggy says there are only two segments of the film when you may want to close your eyes: about 1/3rd of the way into the film, there is a 30 second segment, and then 4 minutes towards the end. However, witnessing what the dolphins experience is motivation for action. Ignorance is not bliss, nor an excess to let a species disappear forever.

To feel successful in her mission, Peggy would need to see a radical change in policy from the governments that still issue permits to kill dolphins and whales. The aquarium captive Cetacean industry also has grave impact on the animals. Pollution must be cleaned up with before it reaches the sea, and climate change and ocean acidification could have such enormous affects on all sea creatures, the consequences are hard to imagine.  Yet, Peggy stays optimistic and active!


By taking responsibility of our consumer habits and putting pressure on governments to change their fishing and killing practices, we can all be part of the solution! To other artists who wish to be “Artivists,” and use their art for action, Peggy encourages them to become educated about their passions, and find a way to integrate art into it. For example, in 2007, the Japanese Government allowed 50 endangered Humpback Whales to be killed. In reaction, Peggy painted portraits of 50 individual whales’ flukes to show how unique each one is. “Just like humans or dogs, each whale has a different personality,” Peggy reminds us.

To learn more about Peggy Oki’s activism and art, or to join in her efforts, go to Facebook and  “like” her “Origami Whale” page. Follow her “I work it for the Whales” blog at Participate today in the visual protest at .

HopeDance FiLMs will be screening the film OCEAN FRONTIERS, in 2013. Please see the trailer at HERE . Hannah Apricot Eckberg is a regular contributor to HopeDance Online. See her media projects at