In 2007 I took a trip to the Arctic Circle to photograph killer whales. The setting in the Norwegian fjords was incredibly beautiful and I found myself profoundly moved after coming eye-to-eye with one of these magnificent creatures.
It was just days after my return from Norway, when still on a high from the trip, I saw Irish Greenpeace activist, Dave Walsh speaking on the TV news about the Esperanza's anti-whaling expedition in Antarctica. Until then, whilst I knew that whaling still happened in parts of the world, I had no idea it was taking place on such a large scale. The television footage was truly heart-breaking and I couldn’t understand why in this day and age, anyone would need to hurt a whale, let alone set out to hunt down and kill over one thousand of these defenceless animals.
So I emailed Dave on board the Esperanza and started to follow the campaign closely online. I quickly became deeply inspired by the brave, committed crew and by the peaceful, yet proactive, stand they took against the might of the Japanese government-run whaling industry.
But it wasn't just the crew I was impressed by, my background is in communications, and I was bowled over by the genius creation that was Mister Splashy pants – the whale named by Greenpeace’s supporters who became the mascot for the highly successful 2007 advocacy campaign to stop plans to expand the hunt to humpback whales.
The story got picked up around the world – Sky News, BBC, CNN, Reddit, you name it. Mister Splashy Pants became hot stuff! Thousands of people around the world got behind it, and the international pressure, quite simply, worked - the Japanese abandoned plans to hunt humpbacks and haven't raised it again since.
While all of this was going on, I thought quite seriously about applying to become a member of crew on a Greenpeace ship myself, but I soon realised that I wouldn't survive a week, let alone several long months, out on the high seas.
But one thing I can do is raise money.
So as the whalers carried on hunting fin and minke whales, I got more and more involved with the anti-whaling campaign, and raised as much as I could to help support it, even became Greenpeace'sInternational Fundraiser of the Year – quite honestly, one of my proudest achievements to date.
In fact, somewhere in the Southern Ocean swims a humpback whale by the name of SIDD - one of the other whales tagged in Greenpeace’s humane research programme - who I felt very privileged to be asked to name. I took the naming very seriously… after much debate and discussion with friends and family, we agreed we wanted to name him for the Esperanza's crew – SIDD is an acronym of the initials of the first names of the three Irish crew members Sara, Dave and David, and of Irene, the ship's blogger.
The other thing I realised I could do for the whales was write.
After my experience in Norway, and with the Greenpeace campaign, I read every book and watched every movie and documentary about whales that I could find. I volunteered on a whale conservation project in South Africa and it was there, surrounded by whales, that I started to write my novelLook into the Eye.
I felt compelled to write the story as a way of trying to understand the almost ethereal nature and mystery of these beautiful creatures myself, and thereafter to share my findings with perhaps a whole new audience of potential whale lovers. A fictional story about two troubled people whose lives change after an encounter with a whale, Look into the Eye is set against the background of the 2007-8 anti-whaling campaign. It’s sad in parts, funny in others, and part of the action takes place on board a fictional Greenpeace ship. Mister Splashy Pants himself even makes a guest appearance!
And so, as long as there's breath in my body and ink in my pen, I will continue to speak up for whales, and for those that fight for their rights, and for the health of the oceans that are their home. I dread to think what state this world would be in today, let alone tomorrow, if people didn't stand up, speak up, or take action, for what they believe in.
Jenni Barrett is a Greenpeace Supporter and author of Look into the Eye. She's donating half the proceeds of every purchase to charity, and 10% to Greenpeace. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook. For more about Mister Splashy Pants, check out the Ted Talk by Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian: