The Whale Warriors : The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planets Largest Mammals
For the crew of the eco-pirate ship the Farley Mowat, any day saving a whale is a good day to die. In The Whale Warriors, veteran adventure writer Peter Heller takes us on a hair-raising journey with a vigilante crew on their mission to stop illegal Japanese whaling in the stormy, remote seas off the forbidding shores of Antarctica. The Farley is the flagship of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and captained by its founder, the radical environmental enforcer Paul Watson. The Japanese, who are hunting endangered whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, in violation of several international laws, know he means business: Watson has sunk eight whaling ships to the bottom of the sea.
For two months, Heller was aboard the vegan attack vessel as it stalked the Japanese whaling fleet through the howling gales and treacherous ice off the pristine Antarctic coast. The ship is all black, flies under a Jolly Roger, and is outfitted with a helicopter, fast assault Zodiacs, and a seven-foot blade attached to the bow, called the can opener.
As Watson and his crew see it, the plight of the whales is also about the larger crisis of the oceans and the eleventh hour of life as we know it on Earth. The exploitation of endangered whales is emblematic of a terrible overexploitation of the seas that is now entering its desperate denouement. The oceans may be easy to ignore because they are literally under the surface, but scientists believe that the world's oceans are on the verge of total ecosystem collapse. Our own survival is in the balance.
With Force 8 gales, monstrous seas, and a crew composed of professional gamblers, Earthfirst! forest activists, champion equestrians, and ex-military, the action never stops. In the ice-choked water a swimmer has minutes to live. The Japanese factory ship is ten times the tonnage of the Farley. The sailors on board both ships know that there will be no rescue in this desolate part of the ocean. Watson presses his enemy while Japan threatens to send down defense aircraft and warships, Australia appeals for calm, New Zealand dispatches military surveillance aircraft, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issues a piracy warning, and international media begin to track the developing whale war.
For the Sea Shepherds there is no compromise. If the charismatic, intelligent Great Whales cannot be saved, there is no hope for the rest of the planet. Watson aims his ship like a slow torpedo and gives the order: "Tell the crew, collision in two minutes." In 35-foot seas, it is a deadly game of Antarctic chicken in which the stakes cannot be higher.
In late 2005, award-winning adventure writer Heller joined Paul Watson and his 44-person crew on their voyage to find and halt an illegal Japanese whaling fleet en route to the Antarctic sea. Watson, founder of Greenpeace in 1972, says he abruptly left in 1977 to start his current group, Sea Shepherd, because he wanted to take intervening action to enforce international laws; others say he was "ejected for grabbing a sealer's club and throwing it in the water." Either way, Watson is a controversial leader who compels "people to drop everything-jobs, loves, homes-and follow him to the ends of the earth"; one of Watson's all-volunteer staff says, "I don't want to die, of course... But if I die looking to save a whale, that would be OK." Heller's writing is energetic and bold, at times a swashbuckling adventure, at others a portrait of a determined eco-warrior, at others a heart-rending expose on the cruelty of whalers (who use explosive-tipped harpoons and electrocuting currents against the great animals). Shocking and repulsing, Heller's adventures will inspire many readers to agree that "If the oceans are dying in our time, and we kill them... we should have committed a crime so heinous we shall not ever be redeemed."
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September 17, 2007
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Excerpt from The Whale Warriors by Peter Heller
At three o'clock on Christmas morning the bow of the Farley Mowat plunged off a steep wave and smashed into the trough. I woke with a jolt. The hull shuddered like a living animal and when the next roller lifted the stern I could hear the prop pitching out of water, beating air with a juddering moan that shivered the ribs of the 180-foot converted North Sea trawler.
We were 200 miles off the Adelie Coast, Antarctica in a force 8 gale. The storm had been building since the morning before. I lay in the dark and breathed. Something was different. I listened to the deep throb of the diesel engine two decks below and the turbulent sloshing against my bolted porthole and felt a quickening in the ship.
Fifteen days before, we had left Melbourne, Australia, and headed due south. The Farley Mowat was the flagship of the radical environmental group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The mission of her captain, Paul Watson, and his forty-three member all-volunteer crew was to hunt down and stop the Japanese whaling fleet, which was engaged in what he considered illegal commercial whaling. He had said before the trip, "We will nonviolently intervene," but from what I could see of the preparations being conducted over the last week, he was readying for a full-scale attack.
I dressed quickly, grabbed a dry suit and a life jacket, and ran up three lurching flights of narrow stairs to the bridge. Dawn. Or what passed for it in the Never-Night of antarctic summer: a murky gloom of wind-tortured fog and blowing snow and spray -- white eruptions that tore off the tops of the waves and streamed their shoulders in long streaks of foam. When I had gone to sleep four hours earlier, the swells were twenty feet high and building. Now monsters over thirty feet rolled under the stern and pitched the bow wildly into a featureless sky. The timberwork of the bridge groaned and creaked. The wind battered the thick windows and ripped past the superstructure with a buffeted keening.
Watson, fifty-five, with thick, nearly white hair and beard, wide cheek bones, and packing extra weight under his exposure suit, sat in the high captain's chair on the starboard side of the bridge, looking alternately at a radar screen over his head and at the sea. He has a gentle, watchful demeanor. Like a polar bear. Alex Cornelissen, thirty-seven, his Dutch first officer, was in the center at the helm, steering NNW and trying to run with the waves. Cornelissen looked too thin to go anyplace cold, and his hair was buzzed to a near stubble.
"Good timing," he said to me with the tightening of his mouth that was his smile. "Two ships on the radar. The closest is under two-mile range. If they're icebergs they're doing six knots."
"Probably the Nisshin Maru and the Esperanza," Watson said. "They're riding out the storm." He was talking about the 8,000-ton Japanese factory ship that butchered and packed the whales, and Greenpeace's flagship, which had sailed with its companion vessel the Arctic Sunrise from Cape Town over a month earlier, and had been shadowing and harassing the Japanese for days. Where the five other boats of the whaling fleet had scattered in the storm no one could say.
Watson had found, in hundreds of thousands of square miles of Southern Ocean, his prey. It was against all odds. Watson turned to Cornelissen. "Wake all hands," he said. nnn
In 1986 the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a group of seventy-seven nations that makes regulations and recommendations on whaling around the world, enacted a moratorium on open-sea commercial whaling in response to the fast-declining numbers of earth's largest mammals. The Japanese, who have been aggressive whalers since the food shortages following World War II, immediately exploited a loophole that allows signatories to kill a certain number of whales annually for scientific research. In 2005, Japan, the only nation other than Norway and Iceland with an active whaling fleet, decided to double its "research" kill from the previous year and allot itself a quota of 935 minke whales and ten endangered fin whales. In the 2007/2008 season it planned to kill fifty fins and fifty endangered humpbacks. Its weapon is a relatively new and superefficient fleet comprising the 427-foot factory ship Nisshin Maru; two spotter vessels; and three fast killer, or harpoon, boats, similar in size to the Farley Mowat.