Happy New Year from the Southern Ocean
By Captain Paul Watson
What a way to begin the New Year!
My crew and I quietly departed from Hobart harbor in the Australian state of Tasmania at 1800 Hours on December 31st into the teeth of a most welcome raging gale.
The blue moon could only be seen occasionally as the sky flashed with broad sheets of lighting as grey black storm clouds scudded across a sky ruby red and, fiery pinkish orange with the settling embers of the setting sun.
After a night of wild pitching, tossing, bucking and heavy rolling, the morning found the Steve Irwin’s crew working our way towards the border of the Australian Economic Zone. Somewhere on that border was the Japanese whaling fleet security vessel, Shonan Maru No. 2, the same ship that had been on our tail since December 8th when we left Fremantle.
We had gone to Hobart to lose that tail and to take on fuel and supplies and there was no time for New Year festivities or rest. We had to break through if we were to find the fleet.
Far to the south our fast interceptor vessel the Ady Gil is hot on the heels of the main body of the Japanese whaling fleet. Our task was to get past the guard of the Shonan Maru No. 2 and close in on the main body of the whaling fleet to support the Ady Gil.
Once across the line, we harnessed the protection of a second incoming storm and rode the massive swells southward shielded by screaming sheets of wind driven rain and cloaked in the swirling mists of stinging salt spray. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t much fun, but it was effective.
We slipped past the Shonan Maru No. 2 and we are now on our way South with a bone in our teeth and a living gale still hot in pursuit. But better a gale than a Japanese whaling fleet security ship.
Whales are being slaughtered in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and every day we are prevented from disrupting the fleet, more whales die. Without the security vessel on our stern, we now have a good chance of finding and closing in on the fleet.
This is not going to be an easy season. The Japanese government has invested a great deal of money and time in their efforts to stop us this year. Two ships have been deployed whose sole purpose is to intercept us and to prevent us from confronting the main body of the fleet.
A great deal of money is being spent to oppose Sea Shepherd’s efforts overall. In addition to the deployment of the security ships, the whaling ships have been armed with defensive measures including long range acoustical devices (LRADs), anti-boarding spikes, netting, concussion grenades, and firearms. On shore Japan is employing expensive public relations firms and they have hired lobbyists to harass the Australian, American, Canadian, and Dutch governments. Japan has even hired people to flood the internet forums with disinformation accusing us of being terrorists, racists and extremists. All this for an industry that only survives because of massive Japanese government subsidies.
But despite this, every year we get stronger and more effective. Our record remains unblemished. This is our 6th season of interventions and we have not caused a single injury, nor have we been charged with any crimes or violations and we have not been sued.
The reason for this is simple. We are not breaking any laws; we are simply upholding international conservation law against a massive poaching industry.
Down on the ice edge, our fast trimaran Ady Gil continues to search for the fleet and we have some new surprises in store for the whalers this year.
I am confident that once again we will disrupt the illegal operations of the Japanese whaling fleet and that once again we will cost them their profits. Our objective is to sink them economically, to bankrupt them, and to expose their shameful slaughter of the whales to the world.
It is not easy to take on the might of an entire nation? Especially a nation as economically powerful as Japan. It is not easy to voyage every year to the bottom of the world through bone jarring seas and the howling winds and huge swells of the Southern Ocean. It is not easy to skirmish with bureaucrats trying to remove our flags, our registrations, our tax status, and who constantly try to knock us down with petty regulations and trivial paperwork. It is not easy to be down in these hostile waters battling a ruthless enemy while the internet spews disinformation in a constant propaganda effort to discredit and condemn us.
It is never easy but if it were easy, even Greenpeace would be down here.
The point is that we are down here alone, fighting superior odds armed only with a passionate courage that will allow us to weather any obstacle, natural or manmade. We are down here, not to make friends, nor to impress anyone. We are down here representing our clients - the great whales.
If every human being on the planet rose up against us, we would still be here to defend the whales.
The greatest challenge has always been to explain just how important it is that we stop this slaughter.
Humankind has already exterminated over 90% of the great whales. The history of whaling is the blackest and most obscene record of abject cruelty that our species has ever inflicted upon any other species in the ocean.
Whales are the most intelligent, most evolved, most socially complex sentient beings on the planet. If we cannot defend them, how can we ever hope to defend the other species in the oceans? If the whales die, the death of the oceans will follow and when the oceans die, we will all die.
The war to save the whales is in reality a war to save humankind from the most deadly threat to our own survival and that threat is ourselves.
My crew has come from all over the world, from France and Estonia, from Australia and North America, from Africa and South America, from the Netherlands and Japan. Men and woman of passion and dedicated to risking their lives to do what our governments lack the economic and political will to do - to enforce the law!
The daunting vastness of the Southern Ocean is surpassed only by it’s ferocity, the swells called the Cape Rollers are the highest to be found anywhere in the world, and these swells conspire with the wind, the ice, and the frigid air to create obstacles that challenge the instincts, skills and experience of the greatest of mariners.
As I look forward from our bridge window, I can see our decks awash with tons of foaming frigid water, cascading in torrents from the forepeak deck onto the boat deck. The sea is torn open with white gnarly gashes as the slashing wind flogs the tops of the swells and scatters foam tossed brine higher than our masts. Seawater splashes in buckets over our windows overwhelming the wipers and anything not tied down is tossed about chaotically inside of the ship.
Added to this challenge is the fact that we will soon be tackling once again with ship, superior both in strength and speed, and crewed by men with the blackest hearts ever to sail the seas - the killers of the great whales. These are men who slaughter for profit, without mercy or remorse and men quite prepared to use violence to stop anyone who gets in their brutish way.
The whalers also have the advantage of knowing that even should they kill or injure any of us, their government in Japan will justify and defend their violence in the name of commerce.
Against this we must take every precaution to not injure any of them, nor to break any laws knowing that despite this, no matter what we do, our governments will condemn us for daring to interfere with Japanese commerce, for daring to do what they have not got the integrity or the courage to do.
But the support of governments is not important when we enjoy the incredible support of people around the world who wish to see the whales defended. This is especially true of Australia where the citizens have provided a support base to make our interventions possible.
For the next week we will make our way steadily southward towards the pack ice in search of the only commercial factory operation actively engaged in the Antarctic Treaty Zone. We are not tracking down the whaling fleet to protest, to hang banners, or to scold these killers. Our intention is to simply intervene against their criminal operations to oppose and stop their unlawful poaching of endangered species.
In a world where citizens around the world rally to rescue whales stranded on beaches or entangled in nets, the Japanese are targeting 935 protected Minke whales, 50 endangered Humpbacks and 50 endangered Fin whales. 1035 whales are facing a death sentence and our job is to win reprieve for as many as possible.
For all those who have supported us to make Operation Waltzing Matilda possible, we are very grateful. For those who would like to support our efforts please do so, we need your help. Follow our progress on our website at www.Seashepherd.org <http://www.Seashepherd.org>
Yes, what a way to begin a New Year!
We would have it no other way. Give us the storms and the dangers, for the reward we seek, and we will reap, is the satisfaction of saving the lives of some of the most intelligent and magnificent creatures on our planet. To save just one would be an achievement but we have already saved thousands and we will save thousands more and that makes all of us feel damn good about what we do.
And for those of you who make it possible for us to save these lives, you also share in this satisfaction. The whales need us and we need you and together we are all achieving solid results and together we are making a real difference in helping to defend and protect our oceans from the greed of those who are ignorantly and arrogantly intent upon destroying life in our oceans.
For the Whales and the Oceans-
Captain Paul Watson