February 11, 2009
Blocking whaling operations
At 6:30 in the morning, I fall out of my bunk to the zigzagging motion of our ship and loud sirens coming from outside. I run to the bridge and see high-pressured water-cannons spray the entire portside of the ship, with our crew and my friends outside getting wiped by the water. We pass the 'mother ship' of the Japanese whaling fleet by on our port. Crew on our eco-ship sends stink cans to contaminate the whaler's decks. I find out from an officer that a whale has been killed under our watch. It's now being chopped up and packaged on the 'mother ship.' We are fighting to stop this from continuing. This is the war I am in, an eco-war, a whale war.
It's February 6th and after five days of Sea Shepherd chasing the Nisshin Maru of the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean - the whaling fleet retaliates. Sea Shepherd had disabled their whaling operation through the tactic of run and chase. But today, they tested their ground and killed a whale. Out of sight, the killing went undetected. And with two nautical miles distance from the Sea Shepherd ship, the M/Y Steve Irwin, to the 'mother ship,' the Nisshin Maru - the dead whale transfer was impossible to stop.
It was the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No. 1 that had a Minke whale tied dead on its portside. Within minutes, an effective operation by the whalers transported the dead carcass bleeding up the slipway to the Nisshin Maru. In thirty minutes, there was nothing left of the whale but a spinal cord and the harpoon.
Solely keeping the processing ship, the Nisshin, on the run had shut down whaling for eleven days in last year's anti-whaling campaign by Sea Shepherd and five days this year. But now Sea Shepherd had to innovate a new strategy and fast. The fleet was now whaling, the very thing Sea Shepherd had come here to stop them from doing, and they were doing it right in front of us. We were no longer intimidating enough.
Within two hours, the fleet had transferred two more dead whales to the Nisshin for processing. The Irwin still shortening its distance to the 'mother ship,' and unable to do anything but watch the blood and guts come pouring out of the 'death ship' ahead. Reports of two more whales killed and on their way to the Nisshin comes in from our helicopter in the air. But before they can be transferred - we strategize.
"Blockade the stern. Allow no more whales to go up that slipway - that is our objective," says Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd.
Blocking transfer makes killing any further whales impossible for the fleet. First Mate, Peter, from Sweden keeps within 200 meters of the 'mother ship's' stern, fencing the fleet's whale transport, and stopping whaling once again.
But will it work? For how long? Can we gain our ground back again in this whale war?
The battle gets ugly. The whalers are desperate. Sea Shepherd keeps blocking the transfer of dead whales, making further whaling impossible in the Southern Ocean. The Sea Shepherd eco-ship, M/Y Steve Irwin, stays close to the stern of the Nisshin Maru, fencing any harpoon vessels from transporting their whale cargo to the 'mother' processing ship.
Desperate for their product not to be spoiled as whales hang dead off the side of two harpoon ships, a third harpoon ship is sent to attack us. Yushin Maru No. 2 closes in on the Steve Irwin with 20 feet distance. The Yushin two throws metal bolts and uses high-pressured water-cannons on the Sea Shepherd crew. They send sound wave signals through an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) that penetrates painfully the skull, muscles and body of the activists. Then the Yushin cuts dangerously close across our bow several times, and at one point, our boats collide.
"It was a slight nudge, but gangster tactics if I have ever seen them," says Laurens, a policeman from Holland.
After hours of this chase, the Nisshin Maru ahead turns circles. The Irwin, as well as all the harpoon vessels follows. It was like a lethal marry-go-round. War circles that went on for hours nearly causing me to get sick. But my adrenaline was pumping and subsided the sickness I felt in my stomach.
Eventually all the ships straighten out, at which point, the harpoon boats carrying dead whales attempted to transfer their cargo with us 100 meters away, attempting to nudge their way in between us and the Nisshin. Within seconds lines were being crossed between the Yushin Maru. 1 holding a whale and the Nisshin. A whale transfer was eminent. And whale killing would continue.
Unwilling to allow this to happen, Captain Paul Watson took the helm and attempted to wedge the Irwin between the two vessels ahead cutting the transport line in the process. Within twenty feet of the vessels, the Irwin shook wildly in their wake. Defiant and unafraid it appeared, the whalers stood their ground and successfully sent the whale up the Nisshin's slipway.
But all was not lost, the second dead whale on the Yushin Maru No. 3 was getting ready for this same heated transport. This would be the fifth whale delivered to the Nisshin if successful. This would be the final straw - the whalers would know they could continue their illegal operation with or without the activists near. Whaling would continue unscathed.
Again the harpoon ship came alongside the Nisshin quickly and within seconds lines were being exchanged. Attempting to wedge between and cut the line - so close it looked like it would be successful. But then I saw it - the whale was in the water on its way to the slipway. Before I could turn to tell anyone this - the Irwin bounced in the wave the harpoon ship produced.
All of a sudden, the ship is ten degrees on its side - we've collided!
Both ships had collided - it looked like each ship was halfway headed into the ocean and halfway up in the air. I was on portside, the side headed for the ocean. But all I could see was the starboard side up in the air. Water cannons and metal was sprayed onto the crew of the Irwin from the harpoon vessel. Rancid butter cans thrown to the harpoon ship from the Irwin activists. Screaming and yelling from both ships. Screeching of metal as the two ships slid off each other. This truly was war.
Once our ship was off the harpoon vessel, the whaling ships steamed ahead. We fell back to check the damage. No serious injuries to the crew. We're safe! But the Sea Shepherd crew made their stand for the whales, and made their stand for the planet.
At that point, whaling stopped. The whalers did not attempt to kill or transfer any more that day. It was 1830HRS and the battle had ended. But the war would rage on.
Five whales lost their lives in this battle on February 6th. But many more would live. Because of forty individuals from around the world and one black ship at the bottom of the world made a stand against whaling, and stopped a six ship whaling fleet and its 240 person crew for over five days in their illegal hunt. We put the government run organization, the Institute of Cetacean Research, on a stand-still in this time. We cost the company, Kyodo Senpaku, that profits off the hunt tens of millions (US$). Hurt the whaling industry by lowering the economic feasibility for the continuation of this industry, and showed that individuals can still make a difference in the twenty first century.
At present, the Sea Shepherds continue the eco-war in the Southern Ocean chasing the Nisshin Maru. The fleet continues to not whale from activists efforts.
The whales are counting on us for protection . . .
We are counting on you to keep us fighting for them.