“Sometimes what I do can be very emotional, but if I don’t do it, then it will just continue,” said Dorian Hermann. Hermann, 60, is a rescuer and always has been — of people, of animals and of dolphins. She’s recently returned from Taiji, Japan, where she is a Cove Guardian for Sea Shepherd, a conservation society with a focus on marine animals. Hermann is also part of the El Dorado County Search and Rescue team — a member of the technical rope rescue team as well as the ground search team.
She’s talking about her work in Taji, where every day, from September through March, hundreds of dolphins are legally slaughtered for human consumption, but the petite redhead could be talking about rescuing hikers or climbers in Desolation Wilderness. “If someone out there needs me, then I want to be there,” Hermann said.
Hermann has lived in Placerville for 35 years where she and her ex-husband raised three sons. “I was always a humanitarian and an outdoorsy kind of person and I always volunteered,” said Hermann.” From volunteering as a candy striper as a teenager to volunteering in her sons’ classrooms and working as a Disaster Relief nurse for the American Red Cross to volunteering with numerous animal activist groups, it was only natural for Hermann to volunteer for Search and Rescue.
More than two years ago, Hermann, who has spray-painted baby harp seals green in Newfoundland to protect them from those bent on killing them for their snowy white fur and protected California sea lions in Oregon who are slated for execution for eating endangered salmon, joined the all-volunteer El Dorado County Search and Rescue Team. “They are a great bunch of very dedicated volunteers and they all love people and animals, just like me,” she said.
Although Hermann has only been with SAR a short time, she has had a lot of training. The technical rope team is trained in vertical, steep and low angle rescues, knot tying, anchors, mechanical advantages and rescue techniques among other things. Ground search crews are trained in map and compass navigation, wilderness survival, helicopter rescue and many other techniques.
“You go out with the team for a whole year to learn before you are a member of the team,” said Hermann of the technical rope team. “We’re called out by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office to focus on the extraction of subjects unreachable by non-technical resources.” Translation: people or animals stuck on the sides of cliffs or at the bottom of them.
“You always want to find them alive and healthy, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” said Hermann. “It’s sad to do body recovery, but it does provide closure for the families.”
At 5 feet 3 inches tall and 110 pounds, Hermann is deceptively fragile looking. “What’s important in a technical rope rescue is problem solving,” said Hermann. “Sometimes there may not be enough places to anchor or you have to drag the ropes a long way. I’m not very big, but I’m super strong and I can set a mean anchor.”
It’s a strenuous job — hiking in rough terrain, climbing, carrying heavy ropes and equipment, but Hermann loves the work and the members of SAR. Her best rescue, so far, was a year ago. “We were called out in the middle of the night to look for three young people in the Tahoe area. The Hasty Team found them, but I was in the patrol car that picked them up and took them back to their families. They were crying and I hugged them and told them it would be all right. A rescue like that is why you do it,” Hermann said.
In December, Hermann spent two weeks in Taiji, Japan as a Cove Guardian. Cove Guardians act as observers who document and do live streaming of the daily slaughter, reporting and counting every dolphin held prisoner in the cove. They are not allowed to interfere in any way and as the terrified dolphins are rounded up and pierced in the neck with metal pins, causing great pain and death, they can only watch … and tell the world what they witnessed.
“The dolphins spy hop up and they see us,” said Hermann. “It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, to observe and not be able to help. It gives me nightmares because you can hear them scream and see their eyes, but I do it because while I might not be able to save one dolphin, maybe I can help save their species. I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be able to see dolphins in the wild, forever.”
Just as she discovered in Newfoundland, it can be a dangerous job to interfere with someone’s livelihood. “In Taiji, we were constantly surrounded by seven or eight policemen everywhere we went — not trying to protect us, but waiting to arrest us. We had to go everywhere in groups and stay in our hotel rooms when not at the cove because the fishermen would try to kill us,” she said.
“Most of the Japanese people aren’t aware of the dolphin slaughter because their government is keeping it quiet. Dolphin meat is hugely tainted with mercury. People eat this meat and feed it to their children in Japan,” said Hermann. “We are trying to get the word out and make people aware, to save the children and the dolphins. If we don’t do this, it won’t stop.”
Hermann, a grandmother to three, is also an active member of the Nataraj Belly Dance Troupe, a local troupe whose performances are often done to benefit causes they support. On special occasions, like her beloved Giants winning the World Series, she fires off her Civil War era replica cannon. “I make my own charges,” she said.
What’s next for Hermann is SAR training at Ice House, going to Astoria again to help with sea lion rescue in May and spending the summer looking for the lost in Desolation Wilderness. Maybe a trip to Antarctica to help defend whales — Herman is going to be rescuing something. “I’m not going to stop anytime soon — that’s just not an option,” she said.
To find out more about El Dorado County Search and Rescue or the dolphins in Taiji, visit Websites comspark.com/esarc and seashepherd.org.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.