Stab Magazine | Sea Shepherd: Apathy Is Not An Option

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Sea Shepherd: Apathy Is Not An Option

A far-cry from stereotypical greenies, the Sea Shepherd of now is a vigilant, roaring, ideological beast!

style // Apr 4, 2016
Words by Alistair Klinkenberg
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Charity’s become a dirty word. Blame Geldof! Sea Shepherd’s a charity, but they’re not into self-entitled soapboxing. They’re about enforcing oceanic laws and bringing justice to those who break them.

“People think we’re stereotypical greenies,” says head of the Sydney Sea Shepherd chapter, Jools Farrell. “But really, Sea Shepherd’s made up of professionals and people with skills who just happen to be passionate about the ocean.” We’re sitting in the living room of Jools’ beautiful Avalon home, waiting for our tea to cool. I didn’t know what to expect of Jools, but I knew the suburb and the median house price, so unless this was a camper van parked on the side of the road, it wasn’t likely to be an insufferable greeny abode. Jools is an ex-trauma nurse who started volunteering with Sea Shepherd six years, and is the longest standing member of the Australian chapter. “I couldn’t do what I do with Sea Shepherd without the support of my husband,” continues Jools, explaining that she and the majority of the other Sea Shepherd employees are all volunteers – apart from a select few of the crew on the ships who’re paid enough to cover their living expenses when they’re at sea – and was adamant to tell us exactly what Sea Shepherd does. Quite the novelty coming from the voice of a charity!

Pete Devries Faroes

Yeah, the Faroes are pretty wild on the eye – just ask Pete Devries jumping in the lower corner of this image. Unfortunately, it ain’t all good there; the annual coming-of-age celebration involves the mass slaughter of pilot whales.

Photography

Ben Gulliver

The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands plays host to an annual pilot whale slaughter to celebrate the young male islanders coming of age. As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with the Sea Shepherd ethics, and the organisation has a strong presence in the area. However, yet again, the non-enforcement of international law is stopping SS from doing their thing.

“They (the Faroe Islanders) have brought in the Danish Navy to help them,” explains Jools. “But Denmark’s part of the EU and whaling is illegal in the EU.”

“We’ve had 10 people arrested and deported because they’ve run onto the beach and interfered with the slaughter,” continues Jools. “They’ve even brought in a rule that if a tourist in the Faroes sees a pilot whale and doesn’t report it then they can be arrested. It’s way over the top.”

“They don’t even eat the meat. It’s just a coming-of-age ceremony where they mindlessly slaughter all the pilot whales. And you have kids as young as six wading out into blood-filled water and helping with the killing of these innocent creatures. It’s really just mindless. To hack a pilot whale to death while it’s still alive… the water’s just blood red. And they’re all standing there covered in blood. It’s just horrific.”

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Craig Anderson at Skeleton Bay, not so far from where the MV Bob Barker chased down a Patagonian Tooth Fishing vessel. Yeah, you read that right.

Photography

Alan Van Gysen

The Patagonian Tooth Fish (For real!)

Since the decline in antarctic whaling, Sea Shepherd have directed their efforts at ending the illegal pilfering of the Patagonian Parrot fish: A multi-million dollar business. And last year, SS had a major victory:

“We found the mothership (The Thunder) which is the vessel that holds all the fuel,” explains Jools, clearly elated.

“The MV Bob Barker broke the world record for the longest pursuit in history with a 112 day trailing of The Thunder, and ended up chasing it all the way to the West coast of Africa. The poachers were running out of supplies and they knew that we wouldn’t give up the chase. And so the skipper deliberately skittled the Thunder; we knew that they did it on purpose because all of their bags were packed, and they radioed the skipper of the MV Bob Barker and said that they’d need rescuing.”

“We found evidence of tooth fish and handed them over to Interpol. It was a really major operation and a great victory for Sea Shepherd.”

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The MV Bob Barker, which broke the world record for the longest pursuit in history with a 112 day trailing of The Thunder, a vessel that was mowing down The Patagonian Tooth Fish.

Whales (bloody great fishes with tails)

Jools has been on a number of transit voyages with Sea Shepherd, and one major campaign ‘Zero Tolerance,’ which was the five month pursuit of the Japanese Whaling fleet through Antarctica. Once you sign up for a mission, you’re onboard until the job’s done. Sea Shepherd’s focus for many years has been preventing Japanese whaling in Antarctica. Commercial whaling has been illegal since 1986, but due to loopholes in the law – like the Japanese killing, and subsequently selling whales for ‘research’ – whaling has continued. Chatting to Jules, one thing becomes very clear: It’s all very well making laws with regards to the ocean, but enforcing them is another thing. Doing so costs money and resources, and for the large part, governments don’t give a shit. That’s where Sea Shepherd comes in.

Every whaling season, Sea Shepherd faces off with the Japanese whaling fleet. They know the boats that they’ll be up against, the names of the Japanese captains, and, they know that they’re always outgunned, both in personnel and horsepower.

“They have three harpoon vessels that do 25 knots and can turn on a dime, and then they have the big factory ship the ‘Nisshin Maru,’ or the slaughter vessel as we call it,” explains Jools.

“It’s a constant game of cat and mouse. We both turn off our GPS as soon as we get to Antarctica so that neither of us can track each other. We then use our radar to try and locate the Japanese fleet. If we see a target on the radar, you can tell that it’s a vessel because of the speed that it’s travelling.”

“If we see something we radio through to the MV Steve Irwin and they send the helicopter, the Nancy Barnet. The heli will get a visual and give us the coordinates, and then all the vessels go.”

It all sounds very swashbuckling, but Sea Shepherd’s a peaceful outfit, and they carry no weapons. “We’re like mosquitos,” explains Jools. “We find the factory vessel then we put one of our ships on its stern, and block them from being able to upload the whales that they’ve harpooned.”

Occasionally, the mosquitos become too much for the Japanese captains, as happened in 2013 when the Japanese vessel the Sun Laurel rammed the Sea Shepherd fleet.

“The MV Bob Barker was squashed between the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese factory ship, and the Sun Laurel, the Japanese refuelling tanker, whilst trying to stop the Nisshin Maru from refuelling,” says Jools. “The Japanese skipper just lost the plot. He rammed us twice, he rammed the MV Steve Irwin, we almost capsized. We’re only a small tug, and that’s an 8000 tonne vessel!”

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“The MV Bob Barker was squashed between the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese factory ship, and the Sun Laurel, the Japanese refuelling tanker, whilst trying to stop the Nisshin Maru from refuelling,” says Jools. “The Japanese skipper just lost the plot. He rammed us twice, he rammed the MV Steve Irwin, we almost capsized. We’re only a small tug, and that’s an 8000 tonne vessel!”

The crew and operations of Sea Shepherd are a fab blend of Malcom X, Ghandi and Papa Stevie Zissou. Indeed, the SS founder Captain Paul Watson, who was also one of the founding members of Greenpeace, left GP in a puff of smoke because there was too much talk and not enough action! And that’s set the speed for Sea Shepherd’s operation. So even if charity’s not your thing, and for that we have the utmost sympathy, Sea Shepherds something that’s worth supporting. For the stories, and for the good that they do in our beloved ocean playground. Apathy’s an ugly trait, which Jools echoes in her summation. “A lot of people say, ‘The world’s fucked, the ocean’s fucked, what can I do? I’m not going to be around so why bother?’ Well, someone’s got to do something, and we’re not the sorts to sit on our hands.”

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