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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

At War for the Whales: #1 Heading Out

At the end of last year, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society headed for confrontation with a whaling fleet in the freezy waters of the Antarctic. The aim was to non-violently shut down the fleet which looks to kill 950 whales illegaly. Wietse Van Der Werf reports...

Written by Wietse Van Der Werf

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The M/V Steve Irwin looks for a way out of a dense field of icebergs (Photo: Eric Cheng / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

As a young kid, visit this dosage I was always fascinated by the idea that the Blue Whale, more about the biggest animal ever to have lived on this planet, pill was still out there roaming the oceans. I prized a giant mural of a whale above my bed and every couple of months I sent some of my pocket money off to organisations who worked to keep my whale friends safe. Although whales and the whaling issue were kept in the back of my mind, it wasn’t until I reached my mid-twenties that I started realizing that these wonderful creatures were still actively being hunted, despite all the protection they are supposed to enjoy under international treaties. The more I read up on it, the crazier the whole situation seemed. For example, Fin whales are listed as an endangered (and thus protected) species on the IUCN Red List since 1996. They are illegaly hunted down and killed every year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a protected area for whales put in place by the United Nations in the mid 90′s. A whaling fleet from Japan enters these Antarctic waters around mid December to kill nearly 1000 whales (Piked whales and Fin whales) for ‘scientific research’.

Minke whaleIllustrations by Kerry Lemon

One night, after reading some news articles about whaling, I just got so angry. Here are these beautiful creatures, hunted down and killed for a bit of quick money. Scientific research? Yeah, right! It makes me mad when I think about some ignorant businessmen down the line, filling their pockets with total disregard for the animals, the environment and the future generations that I hope will live to see these majestic creatures live freely like they deserve to, just as much as we humans do.

My anger quickly translated into action and within weeks I signed up to join the Sea Shepherd ship’s crew for their annual anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson is known for his direct action tactics and the fact that he won’t back down from opposition or controversy and is more willing than anyone to put up a fight to defend ocean wildlife. Since 1979, Sea Shepherd has scuttled and sunk 10 illegal whaling ships at dockside, rammed and boarded ships at sea and confiscated many miles of illegal longline and driftnet. All this in the last 32 years in a war that has put the lives of whales, seals, dolphins, sharks, fish and sea birds first. Most importantly, a war in which Sea Shepherd has never sustained or caused injury to anyone as a result of its actions.

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A whale surfaces at the edge of the sea ice in Antarctica. (Photo by Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

As a trained violin maker I had no ship skills whatsoever but the ship’s carpenter role was one I was able to fill. Sometimes people ask me what carpentry work there is to do on a ship. ‘Surely it’s all steel?’ Honestly, I have never made so many cabinets, bunks, cupboards, boxes, holders, storage racks, tables, benches, toilet roll holders and other wooden contraptions as in the last 18 months. The ship is always a hive of activity with deckhands, engineers, quartermasters, officers and cooks working hard to get the ship in top shape for the job at hand. Having been involved in activism for over 10 years, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with such a dedicated, hard working and committed bunch of people.

Bryde's whale

With a samba band, Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin and many local people waving us off at dockside, we left Fremantle on 7th December with a course set for Antarctica. As soon as we left the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone we were trailed by a Japanese surveillance vessel, which has been following us ever since. We will reach the whaling grounds within the next few days and more that ever before we have the ability to shut them down. We have more resources at our disposal, more public support than ever before and the people of Japan are increasingly questioning the ongoing spending of millions of their tax payers money on this useless and cruel industry.
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Close up of the Japanese harpoon ship. (Photo: Barbara Veiga / Sea Shepherd)

As the world leaders gathered in Copenhagen last month, failing to come to an agreement on tackling climate change and make emission cuts mandatory by international law, we were forced to set sail for thousands of miles to uphold another bit of major legislation they had agreed upon, but which they chose to ignore to enforce. What was it again, this thing agreed upon in the 80′s and at the time hailed as a massive victory for conservation? Something to do with whales?

If the nations of the world can so blatantly ignore an international treaty that is supposed to protect an endangered species in an established whale sanctuary, than what hope is there for the international community to enforce any type of legislation that is to fight climate change? The ongoing illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean is a slap in the face to conservation efforts around the world. A set back for environmental activists the world over. A stab in the back to those people who worked so hard to get the legislation agreed upon in the first place. For the sake of the whales, the international community and future generations we will sail into the Antarctic, find the whalers and give them what they deserve.

For latest updates and news, please see the Sea Shepherd website: www.seashepherd.org

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One Response to “At War for the Whales: #1 Heading Out”

  1. Amelia says:

    I’m so glad Wietse is doing what he’s doing, here’s to proactive people! Zofia

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