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Odyssey For The Whales: 20,000 Miles, 68 Crew Members, And 83 Days At Sea For The Whales In The Southern Ocean

March 15, 2008

Odyssey For The Whales:
20,000 Miles, 68 Crew Members, And 83 Days At Sea For The Whales In The Southern Ocean

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Our arrival back in Melbourne marks the conclusion of our 2007-2008 voyages to the Southern Ocean, which began on December 5, 2007.

The Steve Irwin covered a total of 20,090 nautical miles (37,205 kilometers) and made 3 return trips from Melbourne, Australia to the coast of Antarctica in 3½ months. In total, the ship was at sea for 83 days between December 5, 2007 and March 15, 2008.

20,090 miles is only 1,590 miles short of circumnavigating the globe at the Equator (21,600 miles).

It was an epic voyage and an extremely effective campaign. We accomplished more than we thought we would, engaged in numerous confrontations with the Japanese whalers, and exposed the issue of illegal Japanese whaling to the entire world--especially in Japan where for the first time Japanese whaling was a frequent news topic in the media.

It was a long, arduous, and complex voyage involving international organizational logistics and fundraising going back to February 2007, directly after the return of the last campaign from Antarctica.

A total of 68 individuals from 12 different nations participated in the 3 voyages this season. 33% of the crew members were women. 16% of the crew members participated in all 3 voyages.

The hardcore 16% include: Captain Paul Watson, 1st Officer Peter Brown, 2nd Officer Peter Hammarstedt, Quartermasters Mal Holland and Shannon Mann, Engineers Charles Hutchins, Willie Houtman, and Jessica Gartlan, Cooks Zin Rain and Amber Paarman, and Deckhand Benjamin Potts. Simon Houtman was also the only media person to go out on all 3 voyages.

The crew came from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, Italy, Great Britain, Belgium, Spain, and Japan. 33 crew members-2 short of half the crew--were Australian.

As is usual with any large group of people, there were a few who were disappointed, a few who were side-tracked by trivialities, and a very few troublemakers. But overall, all 3 crews were instrumental in the overall success of the campaign as a whole.

Captain Paul Watson has cited a few individuals as exemplary and expressed his special recognition for services and courage above and beyond that expected of them.

The people on the crew so recognized are:

From the Galley Crew: Chief Cook Zin Rain from Australia and 2nd Cook Amber Paarman from South Africa. There is no doubt that the hardest working crew on the ship are the cooks, and to serve 3 vegan meals a day on schedule in constantly changing sea conditions takes discipline and determination. Both of these women performed an incredible job in the Steve Irwin's galley, and they did so with a positive attitude and without complaints. Both women also served for all 3 voyages. Nicola Paris from Australia served as the 3rd cook with distinction on the 3rd voyage.

From the Engine Room Crew: Without engineers, the ship would go absolutely nowhere, and this year was especially daunting with the breakdown of one of the main engines on the first voyage and the destruction of a main engine turbo charger on the 2nd voyage. The engineers made repairs twice in record time, thus buying more time to defend the whales at sea. Maintenance of the machinery on the Steve Irwin requires a high level of professionalism and mechanical skill. Thanks to the following crewmembers, the Steve Irwin had a first class, first rate engine room crew: Chief Engineer Charles Hutchins of Great Britain, and Engineers Willie Houtman from New Zealand, Stephen Sikes from the United States, and Jessica Gartlan and Stephen Bennett, both from Australia.

From the Bridge Crew: Three different watches navigated the ship through stormy seas and through a maze of icebergs constantly chasing the Japanese fleet. 1st Officer Peter Brown of the USA and 2nd Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden both did an excellent job. Of the Quartermasters, Mal Holland from Australia stands apart for his skills and his courage during close action with the Japanese ships. And the other Quartermasters who did their jobs with dedication were Shannon Mann from Canada (who along with Mal served on all 3 voyages) Mihirangi from Australia (who became an expert on ice conditions), Nigel Mattison from New Zealand, Jeff Hansen from Australia (who was very intuitive about finding whaling ships), Leila Von Stein from the USA (whose Russian helped us in communicating with Toothfish longliners), Carly McDermott, from Australia, and Kim McCoy from the USA (who is also the Executive Director of Sea Shepherd).

From the Deck Crew: A very special recognition to Dan Bebawi from Great Britain for taking over the deck department on the 3rd voyage and cleaning up the problems from the 2 previous voyages. He did an outstanding job.

The deck crew were the most numerous of the all, and Sea Shepherd appreciates the efforts of all who served on deck, with special commendations to Peter Bradley of Australia for his excellent rope work and also serving as a paramedic, Riccy Jamieson of Australia as Bosun's Mate for the first 2 voyages, Robert Garcia, Rob Longstaff, Aaron Barnes, and Paul Martin of Australia, and Ian Martin of Great Britain.

Confrontation Crew: Special thanks go to the front line crew, the ones who engaged the Japanese whalers by boarding the Yusshin Maru No. 2 and harassing the Nisshin Maru. Benjamin Potts of Australia and Giles Lane of Great Britain courageously volunteered to board the Japanese harpoon vessel, Yusshin Maru No. 2, where they were held for 3 days before being released. Special thanks also for the skill and courage of our confrontation crew, for standing their ground in the face of grenade attacks and shots fired from the Nisshin Maru, including Laurens De Groot of the Netherlands and Ralph Lowe and Alex Wallman of Australia. Special recognition goes to 2nd Officer Peter Hammarstedt for being the officer in charge of the confrontation crew.

Specialist Categories: Helicopter pilot Chris Aultman of the USA did an incredibly outstanding job flying in very adverse weather conditions. His participation made a great difference to the success of the overall mission. Also deserving of recognition is Brad Axiak of Australia, our helicopter technician and mechanic who had to service our helicopter in less than ideal circumstances.

In waters so far from land and engaged in dangerous activities, it is always great to have a good doctor onboard, and we had an excellent Medical Officer with Dr. David Page, who during the course of the voyage had to deal with an officer with a broken thumb and a crew member with a fractured pelvis in addition to bruises suffered during confrontations.

Keeping the ship connected to the outside world is the job of Communications Officer, and the Steve Irwin was lucky to have one of the best computer and electronic whiz kids around in the personage of self-confessed nerd and trekkie Tod Emko of the United States, affectionately known as "Sulu" by the bridge watches.

The one person whose name cannot be released is also the most courageous crewmember of all.  We refer to her as Yoko (not her real name). Yoko was our only Japanese crewmember, and she took a great risk in participating. She acted as our translator and did numerous interviews with the Japanese media without divulging her identity.

We would like to acknowledge also the dedicated crew from Animal Planet that documented the entire campaign for a 6-part series. They were Robert Case, Nicole Henrich, Jesse Dowd, David Bollinger, Keith Worthington, Charles Howard Ashley Dunn, Ann Aucote, Simon Wearne, Simeon Houtman, and Sam O'Reilly.

Photographers Ferne Millen, Chantal Henderson, Joie Botkin, Noah Hannibal, and Ling-san Mark, all from Australia, covered the campaign photographically. Noah stood with the confrontation crew and caught the incoming grenades on camera.

And last, but certainly not least, were our support crew manning the phones at our headquarters in Friday Harbor--Allison Lance and Alex Earl. Because of the various time and date differences, they had to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their service was essential.

And to our "special friends" who know exactly who they are, thank you for making this campaign the success it has been.

No Navy can survive without resources, and that holds true for the Whales' Navy as well.  For this we thank our dedicated "honorary crew" of international supporters, who provided us with the means to fuel and prepare our ship to carry our crew down to the Southern Ocean. The stronger our support base, the more effective we have become, and that is evident in the fact that each year, our efforts become more and more effective.

As we keep the pressure on, refuse to back down and surrender to the pressure being brought to bear against us, and continue to return to the Southern Ocean year after year, we will end the crime of whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

As the Governator of California once said, "I'll be back."

Sea Shepherd will be ready to return to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in December 2008 if needed, to once again represent the right of our clients--the whales--to live without fear of the illegal atrocities of the Japanese whaling fleet.


Overview from Some of the Crew:

Even after covering twenty thousand six-hundred miles on an eighty-three day epic expedition at the bottom of the world, I'm just starting to realize the enormous impact that a committed group of thirty-some-odd volunteers on board one single ship can have. For five-and-a-half weeks, not a single whale was killed, which translates to more than five hundred whales saved. And for me, every one of those lives saved is a victory. Thanks to the support of people around the world, we were able to accomplish what the worlds' governments could not--a stop to the spilling of cetacean blood in the Antarctic. And all we had to do was board a ship, throw some rotten butter, get fired on (or in the case of Captain Watson, get shot), and not cede one-square-inch of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to the whale killers. Heading back to Melbourne for the third time this whaling season, I am overjoyed knowing that we did everything that we could, with the resources that we had, to save the whales.

Peter Hammarstedt, 2nd Officer, Stockholm, Sweden


After nearly four months and three trips to the southern ocean from Melbourne, we are finally finishing up this year's Antarctic Whale Defense Campaign. I have participated in many campaigns over the years, and I feel we might have actually turned the corner on this one, and the Japanese might not be back... a real victory for the whales.

They spent millions of dollars for what? They did not get their self-imposed quotas, and the SSCS ship Steve Irwin hounded the fleet constantly for the entire hunting season. With information from past years and positions updated from tracking information, we kept them on the run each and every day we could remain on station.  In spite of engine problems on the first two voyages south and limited fuel, we succeeded on many fronts. Captain Watson's hostage scheme was brilliant. Not only was the boarding of two crew members justified because of an Australian high court ruling, but the story also made front page news around the world.

After returning to Melbourne, the engines were repaired and funds were generously donated to continue our efforts. Many new and enthusiastic crew arrived for the final assault. This time we pursued and chased the Japanese whaling ship thousands of miles through the Antarctica Whale Sanctuary, virtually stopping the hunt. No whales were killed for weeks while we hounded the Japanese whalers.

With fuel running low, and the season coming to an end, the Captain initiated a final assault on the Japanese factory ship with rotten butter, adding to their misery. Our success can be measured by the level of frustration shown by the normally subdued Japanese. Flash-bang grenades were thrown, and ultimately a gunshot was fired, striking the Captain in the chest initiating another round of press coverage. Even the oft silent Japanese press has shown increasing interest... this all adds to an end of the bloody outdated whale slaughter... All in all a very successful achievement.

1st Officer Peter Brown
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA


The odds were stacked against us. One ship and a crew of 33 people up against 8 ships of the ruthless Japanese whaling fleet. Yet we took the support of thousands worldwide who want an end to the inhumane slaughter of the gentle giants.

I am an Australian citizen onboard the Australian icon M/Y Steve Irwin that has had concussion grenades thrown at it by armed Japanese Coast Guard Officers in Australian waters, and still my government does nothing. We are down here doing the work that the Australian people want, that my government is too gutless to carry out.  The WWII soldiers would be rolling over in their graves in disgust!

The beauty of Antarctica makes me see how imperative it is that we protect it. Antarctica is possibly just far enough away that we can leave it alone! It's one of the last places on earth like this, and we must make a stand.

And make a stand we did! We chased and scattered the fleet in all directions until we came upon the mother ship. With each pass of the Nisshin Maru, we were all warned of tear gas and flash-bang grenades, yet we did not for one second hesitate in going back outside to stand out in defiance of what these ruthless cetacean murderers are doing.

It is this stand that has frustrated the whalers so much that they have made a critical error that might just see them stay out of the Whale Sanctuary for good.

Quartermaster Jeff Hansen  Fremantle, Western Australia


 

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