Before five seasons of Whale Wars, starting with the 2007/8 campaign and sixth season sure to come, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was conducting campaigns against the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research in the waters off Antarctica in a single ship, the RV Farley Mowat.
Peter Heller’s The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals documents two months of a campaign during the 2005/6 season. That’s a simplistic description because the book serves as both an examination of the efforts by Sea Shepherd to combat whaling and it is a historical vignette of an organization that has changed quite a bit in the intervening years.
Despite the best efforts of the author and the members of the crew of the Farley Mowat, the endeavor comes off less eco-pirate adventure than amateurs in a disaster waiting to happen. In all of the campaigns conducted by Sea Shepherd in Antarctica there has not been a serious injury or death. Reading this book you will be amazed that someone has not fallen into the frigid waters never to be seen again or suffered some grievous injury in the high seas. I am amazed.
I am amazed throughout reading the book the lengths to which the Australian government goes to placate the Japanese, who seem to violate every standard of conduct with regard to Australian territorial claims. The Japanese are a country that is engaged in highly charged brinksmanship with China over a few rocks masquerading as islands because of the potential for energy exploitation. They want everyone else to respect their claims while treading on another nation’s claims. It’s ridiculous. I believe Paul Watson is right when he says if an Argentinian or Indonesian whaler were operating in the area Australia would send warships to enforce its territorial claim. However, because it is the Japanese every effort is made at appeasement. I laughed at the member of the Australian government quoted as saying that Japan did not respect Australia’s territorial claims to Australia during World War II. Solid gold.
At the time of the book the Sea Shepherd fleet in Antarctic waters consisted of a single ship, the RV Farley Mowat. The 2005/6 campaign was the first time that the organization would employ the use of a helicopter and the service of pilot Chris Aultman. Anyone familiar with the organization today knows that the fleet in Antarctica will consist of four ships—the Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, Brigitte Bardot, and Sam Simon which are all named for benefactors and supporters of the cause—and Chris Aultman has become a fixture of the effort to combat whaling. Granted, it’s been seven years but the change is amazing.
One thing that does not seem to have changed in the intervening years is the enmity between Paul Watson and Greenpeace. Watson was a founding member of Greenpeace in the 1970s, but left or was kicked out of the organization depending upon who you believe. Nonetheless, he saves little spite when describing Greenpeace as the “Avon ladies” of the environmental movement. It does seem that Greenpeace has become a fund raising organization that seeks to maximize publicity without really trying to “save the planet.” Furthermore, Greenpeace’s lack of cooperation over the years with Sea Shepherd has probably resulted in the deaths of more whales. Remember, Greenpeace has a fleet as well and during the 2005/6 campaign described in the book had two ships in the region to “bear witness,” whatever that means.
On a separate, but related note, what is up with pointing out the fact that the boats of the Sea Shepherd fleet are vegan all the time? It’s not only something that the author does because in press releases by government agencies the term vegan is used almost as a synonym for radical. Note to everyone not familiar with vegans—it’s a dietary choice that may be arrived at for ethical, moral, or health reasons. Do not assume that someone is an environmental radical because that person is a vegan. My sixty four year old father who turned vegan at the age of sixty two for health reasons would look and sound no more like an environmental radical than one of the Koch brothers.