Allow things to unfold and you will find your purpose in life | Peggy Oki | TEDxQueenstown

Translator: Phuong Cao
Reviewer: Queenie Lee (Video starts) Peggy Oki: Oh my God! (Laughter) Captain Andy: It’s a whale. (Video ends) That was me in the background
saying, “Oh my God!” while I was visiting with some
humpback whale researchers in Alaska. The guy on the deck
shouting, “It’s a whale!” (Laughter) that’s captain Andy, who happens
to be a humpback whale researcher with quite some enthusiasm even after seeing hundreds
of humpback whales. And I’ve had a large number of encounters
with dolphins and whales myself, and I still feel very excited
when I see them. I’m just inspired by the graceful movement
of a 100-to-150-tonne whale, seeming to be moving so effortlessly
through its fluid movement in the ocean. And I’d emulate that style – that’s just graceful,
I love that graceful movement – in the things that I try to do
in my surfing and skateboarding. Over 40 years ago,
I was the only female member of the famous Zephyr skateboard team,
featured in Dogtown and Z-boys. We were known to live a little bit
outside the box, be a bit rebellious. While lots of kids were trying
to figure out how to stay out of school, we were getting into them
to skate the banks, and getting in to skate the pools, which led to our surfing style
that was our trademark: vertical skateboarding, that led
to what you see in today’s X Games. And of course, I still love surfing
that I’ve been doing for over 40 years. The action of surfing waves; but also, I get a lot from just
the thousands of hours I’ve spent sitting on my board waiting for waves
in between that time, of just having the rhythms
of the ocean beneath me, and encounters with sea life
and seabirds coming around. At the time I was on the skateboard team, I was also studying field zoology
and environmental biology. I had a real interest in animal behavior, especially in the social behavior
of dolphins and whales. They are also known as Cetaceans,
and I refer to them as Cetacean Nation. Orcas, the largest member
of the dolphin family, stay together their entire lives. Sperm whales. I’m a sperm whale groupie. (Laughter) They are the world’s
largest toothed mammal. They possess the world’s largest brain. They can dive to depths of 2,000 meters
and hold their breath for up to an hour. But what really touched me
the most about them as I was learning about their behavior is that even in fatal conditions,
where their lives are in danger, they will never abandon
their injured or sick. As I was studying animal behavior, scientists were coming out and saying
that play is a sign of intelligence. And here we are with dolphins surfing. Another connection that I feel
to these beings as a surfer myself and seeing dolphins as I’m surfing
and they are surfing waves too. Whales also surf. Imagine a school bus
dropping in on a wave at Pipeline. (Laughter) It’s happened. (Laughter) If that’s not enough to impress you
about Cetaceans, there are many stories of dolphins
encountering humans. And this is one from Whangarei
in New Zealand 12 years ago, a lifeguard, a father of three, had his three daughters
out swimming for practice off of ocean beach, 100 meters out, when seven dolphins approached them,
slapping their flukes, circling these swimmers,
almost as if they were hurting them. They weren’t afraid of dolphins, so they just kept swimming
and thought, yeah, this is pretty cool. But a lifeguard from the shore
saw what was going on, he thought it was really odd too
and decided to go check it out. He got on his little boat, went to just
outside of where the dolphins were and into the water, and what did he see? A three-meter long shark,
a great white shark. What a great day to have dolphins
swimming around you! (Laughter) In the 20th century alone,
nearly three million whales were killed. Many of them are still endangered. In the early 80s, thanks to
protests and public outcry, the International Whaling Commission
announced that in 1986, they were going to have a moratorium
on commercial whaling. A victory. We saved the whales. I remember that day. I would remember that time
that “Wow, the whaling was going to end.” Despite the millions of whales
that have been killed, there has never been a known attack
of a whale on a human. Imagine a world without war,
revenge, or retaliation, one of forgiveness and compassion. I pondered the wisdom of whales, and I thought, what would it be like
to look into the eyes of a whale. So I created this painting
of a gray whale’s eye. And then, in less than a year, on Christmas morning in 1999 while I was surfing a great spot
down in Southern California, catching really fun waves, I paddled back out and sat on my board
waiting for my next wave, a gray whale, 15 meters away from me,
just 15 meters away, lifted its head up out of the water,
like the periscope of a submarine, looking around and it looked at me, our eyes met, and I was just ecstatic;
I was blown away; I had no fear at all. This whale was so close to me,
but I was just in awe. And then, the whale just
went back underwater, and right next to it,
another gray whale surfaced, raising its huge arching back
out of the water and just going back underneath,
and they disappeared. I knew how rare that experience was. That’s very rare for whale, to come that close to a human
in their own environment. So I felt I needed to look into it. What was going on
with whales at that time? Little did I know that that experience
was actually going to be changing my life. I found out that despite the moratorium when the whales were supposed
to be protected in 1986, that they were still being killed. And numbers of up to over 1,800 whales
were being killed every year. Between Norway’s commercial
whaling activities and the scientific whaling of Japan,
and Iceland recently joining in as well. In 2007, the Japanese government announced that they were going to Antarctica
to kill 50 humpback whales. As an artist, I felt I needed
to do something about it. So I came up with an idea of painting
a portrait series of 50 humpback whales based on photo-identification records of actual humpback whales
sighted off of Antarctica. The markings on humpback
whales are as unique as the fingerprints on a human. These are sentient individual beings
that I wanted to somehow help. So, I did this art series,
which may have seemed a bit obsessive, I was wondering if people would think,
“Oh, she’s really crazy.” But actually, the show
was quite well-received, and I was really glad that I was able
to do something like that. I also tried to raise awareness
and appreciation of Cetaceans by doing large paintings of them;
such as for whales. This is an oil on board that is one and a half meters wide
of a sperm whale fluke, and it is big, but a sperm whale
is actually twice the size of that. This particular painting
caught the attention of the Santa Barbara Whale
Festival organizer, who invited me to come up with
children’s whale art activities at the Santa Barbara Whale Festival. So, I thought of origami whales. What about a goal, something meaningful with this effort, OK. 1,400 origami whales to represent the number of whales
that was going to be killed in that year. It seemed like a huge endeavor,
but the whale festival, we got children coming in,
people of all ages folding origami whales. We got halfway there and working
with animal welfare organizations who posted information
about my campaign on their websites. People from all over the country
of the United States. People from all over the world
started sending me origami whales. And I reached that goal, and then was provided the opportunity
to present these whales to the International Whaling Commissioner
of the United States. How am I going to bring
these whales to Washington DC in the most visually impactful way? I’m not going to show up with two big
plastic bags full of origami whales. How about a plexiglass cylinder
of all these origami whales as if they are kind of
in a display tank or something? Oh. No way! These animals swim 50 miles a day. They are just such beautiful beings
that should never be kept in a tank. So then I thought of
a curtain of origami whales so that each individual whale
would be recognized. When I shared the idea with my friend,
she said, “Let’s do it at my house.” And six other friends came
for an entire weekend, and we hand-stitched
these origami whales into a strand; that’s the first curtain of origami whales
that went to Washington DC. There is the IWC commissioner
of the United States at that time. Since then, I’ve created many curtains
of origami whales and dolphins for different efforts,
through my Origami Whale Project. Which leads me
to a little side-note, I guess. When I went to New Zealand in 1980,
for my first time, following the endless summer,
and I landed into Raglan. Yes. This is my 19th time in Raglan. I learned about the Maui’s dolphin,
the world’s smallest dolphin, which is unique to New Zealand, and it’s also critically in danger. In 2006, learning that there was
only 111 of these dolphins left, I decided to create a curtain
of origami Maui’s dolphins, through Maui’s Dolphin Day. But 111 being such a small number, I wanted to get attention to this issue, so I decided to create a curtain
of 1,111 Maui’s dolphins so that 1,111 Maui’s dolphins
would draw some attention. People would go, “What
is that big thing of paper dolphins?” And then right beside it, this little curtain of 111,
just to show how relatively few are left. This curtain was exhibited at Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand,
for three months, and then it went to the Waikato Museum
in New Zealand for two months. I felt, wow, this wis really great,
working with the children of all ages and having our exhibit
in such fine places. It takes a lot of people,
hundreds of people, folding origami whales,
thousands and lots of volunteers. But I was feeling very frustrated
about the lack of information getting out about whales being killed despite the moratorium
when they are supposed to be protected. So, in 2006, I came up with the idea
to create a curtain to represent the number of whales
that had been killed. That was 25,000 in that year. But I was an ambitious endeavor
that I felt I needed to take on. As 2007 was approaching,
that number grew to 30,000, but I said if I get that many whales,
I’m going to make a curtain, and I’m going to bring it to the International Whaling Commission
meetings in Alaska, which I did. Since then, I’ve exhibited the curtain
three years in a row at Whale Day on Maui. The curtain was exhibited inside of two
massive festival tents joined together, and the numbers keep growing. It went to 32,000, 34,000, 36,000 because each year I update the curtain to represent that number
of these magnificent beings. Each paper whale representing
a real whale that was killed that should have been protected. People of all ages have entered,
thousands of people, into the exhibit, they peek in and they see
the sunlight on the whales and the air flowing through the curtain
with all these colorful whales. They are not quite sure what to expect. As they walk through
this long maze of whales and read messages on them and realize the numbers
that they’ve just walked past … Some people come out feeling
a bit overwhelmed and in tears and thanking me for what I’ve done. I feel really grateful
for that opportunity to work with people, to create art that has meaning, an art that empowers
through participation, art that has purpose. I’ve had the honor of meeting
some of the volunteers of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Here’s one of them. The Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society volunteers, they go out to some dangerous places
in the world, including Antarctica. They get in their ships and, literally,
get between a whaler ship and a whale. Putting their lives on the line
with direct action, which is something that very few people
would be willing to do. In 2007, I invited Captain Paul Watson to view my exhibit
of the origami whales curtain. And he came out to another event, a few months later,
and gave me this medal of honor. I was really thrilled that my work
was being acknowledged by somebody who does some
of the most dangerous work to save whales, while I’m doing something
on the other end of the spectrum, working with kids and people of all ages
to raise awareness for the whales. A few years ago, as I was being inducted
into the Skateboard Hall of Fame, one of my friends referred to me as
“Saving the world, one whale at a time.” I’d like to think that
everybody who has participated by folding origami whales
and helping me stitch these curtains has been a part of that. Lots of people can have passion. You don’t have to be passionate
about seeing whales and dolphins. It’s turning passion into action
that can make a difference in the world. I never imagined that the Berlin Wall
would come tumbling down. But some passionate people did. They took action and it happened. I never imagined
that nations across the world would ban circuses
from using wild animals. Some passionate people did,
and it happened. I never imagined that with one remaining female
New Zealand black robin left, that that species would be brought back
from the brink of extinction. Some passionate people did,
and it happened. What sort of thing do you
feel passionate about that you feel you could
make a difference in the world for? This summer, in Raglan, while I was teaching the Whales
and Dolphins Ambassador Program, one of my students, 12-year-old Ala,
asked me for some advice. I said, “Follow your heart
with vision and actions. Create your own folds and you will connect
with your Porpoise in Life.” (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause) (Cheering)


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