At War for the Whales, Part 3

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's journey is far from plain sailing...

Written by Wietse Van Der Werf

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Criss-crossing the international date line over two days, the crew were very possibly the first and last people on Earth to celebrate Jan 1, 2009. (Photo by Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

New years eve. After the refuel and resupply we are back at sea, enjoying cake, drinks and a super vegan buffet. The sea is rough and outside it is pitch black. As we clear the EEZ boundary the spy ship is nowhere to be seen. Last we heard it was waiting for us just south of Hobart. Our plan of sneaking out under the cover of darkness and in bad weather seems to work. When we left in December the whalers had hired surveillance planes under false pretences so they could track our movements. This worked for a while, until the hire company found out what the real deal was. Even if they were able to find someone to hire them a plane, the weather might be too bad for them to come out. A group calling themselves ‘Taz Patrol’ later announced on Twitter that the spy ship was still waiting for us at the EEZ boundary when we had already sneaked out and were way out of their reach. Hurray!

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Dusk aboard the M/V Steve Irwin (Photo: Eric Cheng / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) 

We sail straight south towards the Commonwealth Bay area, where we were not more than a fortnight ago. An Antarctic cruise ship spotted the whalers and some of the passengers informed us. The Ady Gil is roughly in the same area, though low on fresh water and fuel, they are waiting on us to be resupplied. As we are heading down, another vessel is coming in from the west. Kept secret until now, this is our third vessel, the ice-classed Bob Barker, named after the American TV presenter and animal rights campaigner who purchased it for us. It has been at sea for over a month now, trying to reach the whaling grounds to join in on the action. With the Ady Gil south east of the fleet, the Bob Barker coming in from the west and us bearing down on them from the north, there is literally nowhere for them to run.

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The Bob Barker (photo: JoAnne McArthur / Sea Shepherd)
 
We have quite a way to go yet, about two and a half days sailing. The Bob Barker is closing in too and briefly meets with the Ady Gil. This is when things get ugly. The Bob Barker has located the whaling fleet and sets course for the factory ship Nisshin Maru. This ship, where the whales are hauled onto and processed once they have been caught, is at the hearth of the whaling fleet. You shut it down and the rest of the ships are unable to operate. The Nissin Maru starts running at full speed. Meanwhile, the other whaling ships scatter in different directions. It seems the chase is on.

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photo: Glenn Lockitch / Sea Shepherd

We are on watch in the engine room. The phone rings, it is the bridge. ‘Hey guys, have you heard the news?’ I listen intently as the story unfolds. The Ady Gil is drifting close by the Bob Barker, waiving and cheering before leaving to meet up with us, still some distance away. The vessel is drifting, not accelerating, and the some of the crew sit on the aft deck. In the distance the spy ship Shonan Maru No 2 is approaching at full speed. It is getting closer and closer and at a distance of about a hundred meters it starts to turn sharply towards the Ady Gil. When the crew realize what is going on, they fire up the engines and start to pull back, hoping to avoid a collision, but to no avail. The more than 800 tonnes heavy harpoon ship throws itself into the much smaller trimaran. It crashes into the vessel, tearing open its hull and cutting off 4 metres of the bow.

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Whalers Ram Sea Shepherd Ship Ady Gil  (photo credit: JoAnne McArthur / Sea Shepherd)

The Ady Gil starts sinking. A MAYDAY distress signal is sent out and the Bob Barker changes course and rushes to its aid. It gets there just in time to rescue the 6 crew members from the vessel. The Japanese whaling fleet ignores the emergency distress signals and steams away, hoping to loose us and continue their illegal whaling operation elsewhere. The Shonun Maru No 2 ignores the distress signal at first but later agrees to stay nearby after the Bob Barker makes numerous radio calls to them, relaying the urgency of the situation. The rest of the whaling fleet runs far west.

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Ady Gil Sinking  (Photo: Glenn Lockitch / Sea Shepherd)

The next day, everyone on the ship is catching up with the impact that the ramming and sinking of the Ady Gill is having. On the international stage, media wise and in turn how it effects people all over the world who hear about what is going on and are starting to ask questions. From the emails we are receiving and the reports we are reading, it seems that the world media is all over this. It has definitely put whaling back on the map, though I doubt that governments will finally live up to their obligation to uphold the laws they undersigned to protect these whales. In a sense it feels like governments aren’t even part of this whole situation anymore. It is down to us, the only force in the Southern Ocean to protect these gentle giants of the sea from the deadly harpoons that are after them. Looking to shoot, pull, haul up and process, what in business terms will be another few boxes of whale meat on the inventory. Another product in the freezer storage ready to be distributed once the fleet arrives back in Japan. Another statistic on the books for the whaling company. That is what it is for the whalers, for those with no regard for the sacredness of life, with no understanding of the importance that a healthy ocean and therefore healthy planet has to all of us.

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Southern Ocean, Jan 2010 (Photo:  It’s a Wildlife)

After the sinking of the Ady Gil we turn at full speed in pursuit of the whaling fleet. After 10 days they are still running from us. When they are nearing the boundary of the area they have allocated themselves to conduct their ‘research’ in, an announcement is made that the area is to suddenly be expanded by another 1000 nautical miles west. Very convenient. We are forced to change course to meet the Bob Barker as they are running low on supplies.

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Humpback breaching, Southern Ocean (Photo:  It’s a Wildlife)

‘Attention all crew, whales breaching off the bow, whales breaching off the bow’. The announcement makes everyone jump into action straight away.
‘Whales! Quick quick!’ We all rush up the stairs and onto the deck. There, about 50 meters from the ship, two humpback whales jump out of the water, throwing their huge bodies up in the air, and crashing back down, causing huge eruptions on the surface. We all stand there in awe. So far, we hadn’t seen many whales at all. Quite a discouraging observation when you consider a vast industrial whaling fleet is looming about. But they’re definitely here and happy to show off their tricks. Under the sound of cheering and clapping from the ever growing spectator crowd on deck, they continue to breach, flip and dive back down. When you see these animals in the free, open ocean, their wilderness, their world, it gives you strength to carry on. Inspiration to pursue our goals in shutting down these pirate whalers.

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Humpback breaching, Southern Ocean (Photo:  It’s a Wildlife)

Read Part 2 and Part 1

For latest updates and news, please see the Sea Shepherd website

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2 Responses to “At War for the Whales, Part 3”

  1. Valerie Pezeron says:

    Beautiful account and great writing.

  2. Amelia says:

    I agree, it’s brilliant!

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