My Week on the M/V Farley Mowat

by Les Stroud - Survivorman

Les Stroud. Photo: Carolina A CastroLes Stroud. Photo: Carolina A Castro

Joining the Sea Shepherd on a campaign was never anything I took lightly.  I realize that they have received some fame, along with some infamy, from the TV show 'Whale Wars'. But my instinct told me that the Sea Shepherd team was involved in some very powerful and effective activities meant to put a stop to at least some, if not all, of the atrocities occurring in our oceans today.  As a man of action, this appeals to me-- I don’t mind sending my dollars to help out.  And I don’t mind voting in a direction that I think will make a difference.  I enjoy debating the issues in groups of people.  However, unless I can get actively involved I never quite feel like I am grasping and as a result, having an understanding of the full story. 

My trip to join Operation Milagro aboard the M/V Farley Mowat would also coincide with a growing need within myself, to be effective in a more "ground level, one thing at a time" approach to my activism (one whale - one dolphin - one shark - one ecosystem).  The general attitude of the crew on board the Farley Mowat (a former coast guard cutter) and the Martin Sheen (a beautiful monohull sailboat) the two boats on the mission in Mexico, feels much like a 'refreshing excitement' for their meaningful work.  They maintain a constant anticipation of the next action they can take to ensure the survival of the vaquita porpoise in the Sea of Cortez. 

Everyone involved has a no nonsense, hard working ethic and a strong desire to be out as much as possible doing as much good as possible.  This "good" includes finding and pulling illegal ‘gill’ fishing nets, disrupting (safely and legally) fish poaching, rescuing any distressed ocean life they come across and staying in constant contact with the local navy and environmental protection agencies who enforce the anti-poaching laws.  They are volunteers willing to do anything they can to help and they are joined and led by people with skills in marine mechanical, diving, marine biology, media management and filming and, of course, the chefs and the experienced boat captains and crew.  They welcomed me with open arms and I went aboard hoping they did not see in me some kind of TV celebrity but rather someone with skills willing to put them to good use. The last thing I ever stand for in any situation is being pampered.  Thankfully, there is no pampering on board a Sea Shepherd vessel.

In the first three days of my stay aboard ship, we found and pulled up one illegal gill net per day.  Sometimes they are ages old and have been floating agents of death for who knows how many years.  At other times, they are possibly quite new and the carnage of all manner of sea life from dolphins to sea turtles, from sharks and rays to swordfish and tuna is evident every few feet.  The crew works tirelessly to pull up nets up from the depths, that range from fifty feet to a few miles long.  Two days before I arrived they had found a newish net that was over a mile and a half long and contained over 70 sharks.  All but 13 were dead. Indiscriminately killed in the pursuit of the Totoaba, an endangered fish valued (by Asian markets) for, of all things, its swim bladder.  They don’t settle down at night either.  All night long they patrol the waters flashing massive bright lights on illegal fishing taking place within the fish reserves and using illegal nets.

The crew is inventive as well.  They remained, in the down hours, always working.  This time, they are designing a ‘phantom hook’ meant to troll behind their boats in the hopes of grabbing unseen illegal gill nets.  And this week their efforts are being rewarded daily it seems.  The system works so well they are introducing it to the local navy to use as well. Even in the galley, the philosophy of protecting the earth and its oceans runs deep.  They do not want to be perceived as hypocrites so all meals on the ship are delicious to start with and completely vegan.

The final day of my week long stay was powerful and unforgettable.  The Martin Sheen spotted a small humpback whale trapped and unable to move, entangled in a large and long gill net.  It would surface every few minutes to steal a breath of air and then try desperately to dive and move forward.  It could not advance even a foot.  The net was wrapped around its head and held to the ocean bottom by massive and heavy anchors on either side.  It was drowning to death through exhaustion. An intense 4 hours later I have only good news to tell you; we cut the whale free of the net.  Though there was some initial scrambling as the crew is not really trained for such a job, cool heads prevailed and working with the navy we all pitched in to cut away the net while the little whale (and by little I mean roughly 8 tons) struggled in distress.  I myself will have the lifelong memory of knowing I made the actual last cut (along with the navy and our crew working the other side) while hanging off the front of the Sea Shepherd zodiac dinghy.  At one moment we were all working hard to do all we could to free the whale and the next moment there was nothing. Until suddenly one hundred yards away the beautiful young whale surfaced to our cheers!

As I stated, when I started; I’m happy to give money, happy to vote and happy to debate intelligently the issues dealing with our oceans.  However, the Sea Shepherd organization is putting all its money where its mouth is by being constantly and actively involved wherever it can be. Its safety record is spotless.  Its legal status is unquestionably on the right side of the law.  As Paul Watson is fond of saying to poachers; “If you aren’t doing anything illegal, then what are you worried about?”  Well, they should be worried indeed!  Worried that their ability to rampage the ocean, raping and running, essentially clear cutting the fish out of the ocean will become more and more powerless.  Their days are numbered.  I want to believe this with all my heart.  And it's the efforts of organizations like the Sea Shepherd that give me confidence that what needs to be done to save this planet, is being done. 

As the Sea Shepherd teams around the world (the fleet is growing) continues to work in concert with government, navy’s and environmental protection agencies they are still accused wrongly of being ‘ecoterrorists’.  But it is the Monsanto’s of this world that are the ecoterrorists.  The powerful food and oil and logging companies that do not operate with integrity and ethics that are terrorizing our nature, the wild lands, the vast forests and, of course, our deep blue oceans.  The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society only wants what you and I do; a clean, healthy planet with intact ecosystems  and variety of flora and fauna for our great, great grandchildren to enjoy.  I will return to many more Sea Shepherd voyages in my lifetime to help out.  Of this I am certain.  That is until the notorious worldwide problem of illegal poaching is eradicated.

Les Stroud helps free whale. Photo: Logan KananLes Stroud helps free whale. Photo: Logan Kanan

Les and his kids Rayleen and Logan crew. Photo: Carolina A CastroLes and his kids Rayleen and Logan crew. Photo: Carolina A Castro

Whale entangled in net. Photo: Sea ShepherdWhale entangled in net. Photo: Sea Shepherd

Crew making hooks to catch nets. Photo: Carolina A CastroCrew making hooks to catch nets. Photo: Carolina A Castro

Shark caught net. Photo: Logan KananShark caught net. Photo: Logan Kanan

Operation Milagro II
Visit our
Operation Milagro II
site for more information.

 

Pin It
Sea Shepherd
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is returning to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III to save the near extinct vaquita marina porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass. The M/V Farley Mowat is back on active duty with the M/V Sam Simon joining the Milagro campaign for the first ti...
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
The Farley Mowat Sea Shepherd crew is called out to investigate a dead Brydes whale in the Gulf of California on November 5th, 2016 while patrolling the vaquita refuge. To help the Sea Shepherd crew to continue its work in the Sea of Cortez, including protecting the near-extinct vaquita marina porpo...
Entanglement in the South
Entanglement in the South
Operation Guardian Angel - In and around Bahia de Los Angeles, in the Gulf of California, countless marine species are entrapped in nets with little or no hope of rescue. Rosalia Tellez works for CONANP, a department of the Mexican government that acts as park rangers to enforce laws and assist in ...
Good and Bad Days
Good and Bad Days
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers over the course of two days. The first day Sea Shepherd locates and removes a long line from the sea; fortunately no animals were caught in the net. However, the next day volunteers find a sea lion that has been caught and died in a fisherman's net.
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Sea Shepherd campaign Operation Virus Hunter saw the vessel RV Martin Sheen under the leadership of Alexandra Morton, head up the coast of British Columbia Canada to expose open pen Atlantic salmon farms and the impact they are having on wild Pacific salmon and the the surrounding eco-systems.
Illegal Totoaba Nets
Illegal Totoaba Nets
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers through the process of locating, retrieving and disposing of illegal nets in the Gulf of California.
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
August 12th 2016: Early Thursday morning the R/V Martin Sheen assisted Melissa Willie, a band councilor of the Musgamagw Dza’wada’enuxw nation, in hand delivering a letter to three farms expressing the nations disapproval of the industry. Sea Shepherd crew alongside independent biologist Alexand...
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
Ross McCall travels to the Faroe Islands to explore the truths behind the centuries old tradition of the brutal Pilot Whale drives.
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Sea Shepherd Chairman of the Board, actor/activist Pamela Anderson, cautions viewers about the dangers of eating farmed salmon.
Why Just One?  Indiegogo Video
Why Just One? Indiegogo Video
Support Sea Shepherd's documentary by sharing and backing our Indiegogo campaign here: http://bit.ly/1OfvER6
Milagro Summary - English
Milagro Summary - English
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Operation Milagro II has come to an end. Milagro is its campaign to fight the looming extinction of the vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. With an estimate of less than 100 surviving vaquita, Sea Shepherd ships the R/V Martin Sheen...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Watch the crew of the Farley Mowat capture footage of illegal fishing activity with a night vision drone and pull up a totoaba net in the dead of night. This is the final vlog of Operation Milagro II!
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project is dedicated to collect samples from whales in the Gulf of California to measure levels of toxins in whales in order to determine the levels of toxins in the Gulf of California itself. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Never before seen footage. Sea Shepherd catches critically endangered totoaba poacher in the act. The Sea Shepherd crew filmed these totoaba poachers as they were checking one of their illegal nets in the protected vaquita habitat. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the wor...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Watch‬ the routine of our crew doing valuable work in the ‪Sea of Cortez‬. We have been very effective at removing illegal fishing gear from the ‪‎vaquita‬ porpoise's habitat. So much so, that now, most of the time we remove nets and lines that are mostly empty, our favorite thing to do....
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
The Sea Shepherd crew has found 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks in the month of march of 2016. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org/milagro2
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
While patrolling the waters of the upper Gulf of California the Sea Shepherd crew found a dead vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the whole world. The crew also found a Great White Shark caught in an illegal gillnet.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
This week, the crew of ‪Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The M/V Farley Mowat and The RV Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass long line from the critically endangered ‪vaquita porpoise habitat. The totoaba fish is also critically endangered. Watch all episodes at: http...
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd crew rescued a whale entangled in an illegal totoaba gillnet in the Gulf of California. Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in Mexico's Gulf of California on OPERATION MILAGRO. Our goal is to save the vaquita porpoises, the most endangered marine mammal. The vaquita are caught as a r...
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
You might know Gregg Lowe from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now watch him explain Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro and understand why we must save the #VaquitaMarina - The most endangered cetacean in the world. Help us save the vaquita at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/donate-now/vaquita-appeal...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
This week the crew of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The Farley Mowat and The Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass net from the critically endangered vaquita marina's habitat Watch all episodes at: http://www.seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia/videos.html ‪#‎OpMilag...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Actor Gregg Lowe crews with Sea Shepherd to help us protect the vaquita. The M/V Farley Mowat lights up the vaquita refuge and deters poacher from laying deadly nets in the vaquita marina's habitat. Watch all episodes at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
The first video of our new series "Sea Shepherd Wildlife". This episode is about one of the lesser know large dolphins - The False Killer Whales. Learn more about these beautiful creatures with the Sea Shepherd crew. Share it with your friends. Video by Carolina A. Castro Narration by Nicole D'Entr...
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 05 - Gillnet Damage
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 05 - Gillnet Damage
Join the crew of the R/V Martin Sheen as they witness the damage a gillnet can cause to marine wildlife while patrolling the endangered vaquita's refuge in Mexico.