Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Icebergs and Whaling Ships

Darius Fullmer
Deckhand, Bob Barker

Icebergs. You would be amazed at how convincingly a combination of Antarctic twilight and anxious anticipation can make distant icebergs look like whaling ships.

It had been a frustrating and often tedious week on the lookout. For 24 hours a day we rotated watches on the monkey deck, the highest level of the vessel, scanning the horizon for the whaling factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, and their satellite harpoon ships. Each began the same, with high hopes that today would be the day, and each would end the same--frozen hands and disappointment.

By February 6 we really hoped we were close. Peter Hammarstedt, our

First Mate, requested an additional watch atop the ship's foremast, a spot more exposed to the icy wind than the monkey deck, but also higher and thus offering a further view.

Again, the highest of hopes on the climb up, disappointment on the climb down a couple hours later. Checking in with Peter, he suggested we maintain the foremast watch an additional four hours, a statement that would prove prophetic. After a few more crewmembers descended without any sign of the fleet, I drew the straw for the last of the foremast watches.

An hour and a half later, with the dim Southern Ocean night falling and the mercury dropping, this was disappointment on a new level. We had all felt we were close. Not only was this the end of another luckless watch, this was the end of the day we all sensed was to be the one. One last scan of the horizon. Icebergs. Nothing.

Stiff from the cold, it took some time to remove my heavy mittens for the climb down. I allowed myself enough time that it was worth an extra look about before calling it quits.

I raised my binoculars, and there it was. There it simply was. Having emerged from behind an iceberg, mast light twinkling, too big to be one of the killer ships, this was it, the Nisshin Maru factory ship.

As we gave chase, whale organs were spotted floating in the water. Only hours earlier these had been some of the most magnificent creatures on earth. We had interrupted their dirty business, a business we had every intent to putting a stop to.

And stop it we have. As I write this, it has been eighteen days of chasing the Nisshin Maru through the Southern Ocean. We have been lead through pack ice, storms, been soaked by water cannons, and even rammed by a harpoon ship. Nothing has stopped or even slowed us. Our resolve is solid, thankfully so is our hull. Eighteen days, no whales killed. An indefensible and criminal operation brought to a standstill.