As usual

by Guest Blogger

January 16, 2006

Today I woke as usual: clueless to the state of the water and sky. Our porthole lids are down so we can sleep because of the unending light.  A great surprise was waiting for me on the deck: the sun.  We have seen the sun late in our evening a few times, poking below the cloud line at the horizon, distant and cold, but for the most part we haven’t really seen or felt the sun in nearly two months solid.  Long ago we resigned ourselves to the overcast, rarely even seeing distinct cloud forms. Today the sun was up and out in full, framed by bands of thin, long, vertebral-shaped cloud spines floating slowly in a gentle wind above a sea made deep blue from the sky above, the sharp horizon broken and defined only by distant brilliantly lit icebergs scattered in all directions and the silhouette of ships.  And a living sky of pure white Snow Petrels on the wing.

And into this we launch again.  I take the helm at noon, after a morning effort where someone runs in and reports that two whales were spotted breaking off the hunter’s course and heading our way. The hunter didn’t see them because the sprayer was soaking their spotting nest.  THIS is the news that makes your day.  Eventually they made their kill but it took them over three hours and we know others got away.

When we launch the sea is picking up from the morning breeze which has been slowing building.  It’s going to be a rough ride.  Again we head towards the Kyo Maru, again we rinse her flying bridge and crow’s nest.  And after some time, it’s clear the hunt is on.  We spot two large minkes side by side ahead and move to block, but the sea is heavy and once again we’re pushing the edges of the boat’s limits.  Stuff is crashing around in the boat, straining at their lashings.  A fire extinguisher nearly goes off.  The safety kit’s lid is being battered and breaking loose. You can hear the sound of crunching and stretching all over the boat. The boat wants to leave the water on the tops of the chop.  Water is flying everywhere as we try to keep ahead of the Kyo Maru; these large animals can make great speed and it’s clear the Kyo Maru is going for a quick kill.  But Andrew is directing the sprayer well considering the wild seas and the harpooner has to step back out of the mist several times.  Again it feels for a moment like they might lose them among the whitecaps and waterwall we’re making, but eventually the all too familiar boom splits the air as the pair rise to our right and the one closest to us takes it inline right in the back. Once again the shot is just along our starboard side, striking the whale as it’s alongside our bow, no more than ten feet to our side.  This time there’s no commands necessary: I’ve already got the wheel hard over to port as the cable descends and snaps the water as the whale makes for it’s last dive.

We stay out and follow the hunter to the mothership, but it’s becoming clear that the sea conditions are making another attempt questionable.  Just as we begin the assessment of conditions we are called to return to the ship; news from the Arctic Sunrise is that a harpooner has shot over one of the inflatables and the boat was caught in the rope from above, and that there is at least one person in the water.

We are plucked from the sea on the crane amid confusion about what’s happened. As we lift the boat over the railing, it’s clear we’ve sustained more damage, this time from the sea: the bow protection we rigged before has been punched in from the hard pounding we took at the peak of the hunt and we’ve taken a lot of water into our forward compartment from a previous crack in the hull that’s been aggravated wider. It will be long hours again tonight to make the boat ready by morning, involving welding, draining and the dreaded fabric repair.

News from the Sunrise is that no one has been seriously injured, but it is still unclear where things stand.  Until more is known, we will stand down: since they control when they take the shot, deliberately shooting over a boat is a new, dangerous development and we have to consider what it means, to what extent they’re willing to risk killing someone to kill their whale.

From what I can see, it looks like the fleet is standing down too.  It appears that all boats are stilled in the waters now but I can’t account for all the catchers at the moment.

And all the while the sun stood as witness, staying out with us all day.  Amidst all of this, the crew is in good spirits: the sun has that kind of effect.  It almost feels warm out there, even though we’re all still in several layers and it’s only the lee side that sees any crew on it.

At this point, there are four fuels that power me: the unrelenting beauty of this whole ecosystem that pleas for peace and solitude, the messages from you folks back home, the determination of this crew to carry on and the knowledge that we in America are directly connected to this, not through me but through Gorton’s. 

It can be easy to forget the bigger picture that frames all of this down here: we KNOW that whaling will not come to an end directly from what we’re trying to do here alone, while we are here, but it’s still easy to get drawn into the blood and the steel here. I know that the Gordon’s aspect probably doesn’t seem as compelling or dramatic as the scenes of suffering and death, but the name Gorton’s keeps rising more and more to the fore of MY mind.

They’re an American company connected to this mess and damn it: if an American company is involved then we all are involved.  It simply strikes me as, yes, UNamerican for them to say that you can’t do anything about it, or that it’s not your problem, or say nothing at all.  We know that in America people are overwhelmingly opposed to killing whales, and yet, despite a direct connection between an iconic American company and these harpoons, the company stays silent. It’s outrageous, really. 

I want to bring them back the hearts and intestines and carcasses we’re having to weave around in these boats, I want to bring them the harpoons and the hauling lines.  I want to bring their executives here to see it for themselves, to hear the grenade explode and see the burst of flesh in the air. I want to bring them to within a dozen feet of a harpoon striking hard into a whale and I want them to drift in the wake of blood afterward. 

But that is not going to happen, so the link feels more abstract between them and this.  But it’s not.  This fleet runs on money: it takes a lot of money to bring these ships here, fuel them, re-supply them. These boats run on money.  The only way to quiet these vessels for good is for that money to stop flowing.  So long as Gorton’s is making money for their parent company, these boats will carry on their grim work, and the pure waters of Antarctica and those she nurtures will know what should be theirs by birthright: peace, beauty and solitude.

– Nathan

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