For three days the killing has stopped!

by Heath

January 13, 2008

WE GOT’EM!  After two and a half months and over seven thousand miles of sailing, we have found the whaling fleet.  Where did we find them?  In the international whale sanctuary.  What were they doing?  Killing whales.

After going the gauntlet of the roaring forties and furious fifties we finally reached the ice fields of Antarctica.  We began our search of an area that covers more than one million square miles and within just ten days we had located the poachers, without the helicopter mind you, and it was not easy.  With all hands on deck, we busted through sheets of ice so thick they made the entire ship shudder.

The arctic winds were relentless as they buried the ship in snow and ice on the daily.  In every window and port hole you could find someone with a pair of binoculars scanning the horizon. During a crew briefing, Capt. Frank put a hefty bounty out for the first person to spot the fleet, 

This ESPY is equipped with radar of course, but in ice fields where icebergs the size of cities are in perpetual motion, and pack ice oozes like a lava lamp, a radar screen looks more like a kaleidescope than anything. A cup of coffee and a pair of binoculars proved just as effective as any of our high tech tools. Plus, in looking for the whalers you would almost certainly find a whale or twelve. I actually got to kiss a humpback whale in the wild last Monday.

You have to watch this video;  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0gwI_BI29c

It was around midnight when there came a knock on my cabin door followed by a whisper that said, "There is something on the radar, we think it is the fleet, you and your bear should come to the bridge and check it out."  We did and sure enough, there was a ship coming through on the radar and it was only two miles off the bow. However, the visibility was horrible and a dense snow storm prevented us from seeing more than a hundred yards in any direction.  Then almost instantly the red curtain was drawn to reveal a Japanese whaling ship, and the show began. By the time we could establish a visual, we were so close I could see into the bridge of the whaling ship with binoculars. We quickly identified her as one of two spotting ships. Bitter sweet was this discovery. It was great that we found the fleet but this was the worst ship for us to find. The spotter ships travel well ahead of the rest of the fleet to scout clear passages through the ice and to plot the most direct routes to pods of whales. As long as we could see them, they could see us, and as long as they knew where we were, they would make certain the rest of the fleet would steer a course that we would not intercept. So we "Kicked the tires and lit the fires!" We fired up the two main engines and high tailed it in the exact opposite direction of the one we had been traveling. We ran fast and we ran far, so far, many times I wondered if we could find our way back. After they had finally fallen off our radar screen and hopefully us off their’s, we stopped.  We pulled the best u-turn ever and doubled back on a course that we hoped would bring us right behind the rest of the fleet.  A complete game of ocean chess. I felt like Sean Connery was going to walk into the bridge any second and start screaming orders like, "right full rudder, steer course two seven zero, flood the tubes, man your battle stations", but of course he did not.  I did watch Hunt for Red October that night though 😉 So, for two days we back tracked. We had fled on our two main engines but were now running on our electric efficiency engine so covering the same distance took twice as long. Lots of time for chewing on finger nails and pacing around in small circles. Then again, I was awoke by a knock on my cabin door, this time it was more like pounding than a knock and it was no gentle whisper, only frantic screaming. "We got them! We got them!" When I got to the bridge I found almost the entire crew crowded around the radar. The captain had already identified three ships in close proximity and it didn’t appear as if any of them had noticed us. Then at 0230 we all stood in awe, drowning in elation and adrenaline, as one by one, the ships of the fleet rudely awoke to find they had company. It was like a barking dog had disturbed the neighborhood as each ship turned on their lights to see what the commotion was. I would have given anything to be onboard as the loud speakers ordered the Japanese sailors out of their bunks and to their positions, the gig is up. 

Then came a futile attempt at the trickery they are so infamous for.  The fleet scattered in all directions at full speed, but in doing so they allowed us to locate our target, the Nissa Maru (a.k.a. mother ship, factory ship, death star.)  Over the past eight expeditions, the Capt. had determined each ships range and speed capabilities.  So, when the ships fled the scene he was able to deduce by their speed which vessel was which.  We set a course to intercept the factory ship and put the petal to the metal.  In an attempt to create a diversion, one of the hunting ships turned and headed straight at us.  This is the same tactic they used two months ago as they were leaving Japan.  They thought we would take the bait and follow them while the Nissa Maru escaped.  Wrong!  In moments we were passing port to port with the decoy.  This was the sweetest moment for me of the entire trip thus far.  I stood on the bridge wing and with the biggest smile you could imagine I casually waved to the whalers, thinking to myself, "GOTCHA SUCKERS, GAME ON!!!"  As soon as they realized we weren’t falling for it, they turned and took up a position just off our stern.  But their bag of tricks was not empty just yet.  Another hunting ship came along side the Nissa Maru so close that their radar trails merged as one making them appear to be only one ship on the screen.  Then at the last second they spit in opposite directions forcing us to choose one.  This is exactly what they pulled when sneaking out of port in Japan, and the Capt. laughed as said, "That won’t work twice gentlemen." 

The Esperanza’s top speed is just slightly more than that of the Nisshan Maru, so it took several hours for us to close the gap between us.  It was about six a.m. when she came into sight on the horizon and we could confirm that she was indeed the ship we had traveled so far to find.  There was cheering and I think I even caught a high five or two, but the celebration was short lived as it was now time to get down to business.

That was three days ago. Since then, we have been chasing the Nissa Maru at top speed. A caravan of the Nissa Maru followed by the Esperanza followed by the hunting ship.

The so called research vessel is fleeing the scene of the crime as fast as it can.  The whaling fleet is burning hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel daily at the expense of the Japanese tax payers in order to not be exposed for commercial whaling yet again.  The bottom line is very simple and it is this, they are on the run, and as long as they are running they are not whaling.  For the last three days, zero whales have been murdered in the Southern Ocean International Whale Sanctuary. No whales were harpooned and I did not have to get hosed with icy sea water or drive an inflatable in front of a gun.  My focus now turns to my job in the engine room.  The Espy is running flat out and she is gulping down the fuel as well.  Lots of moving parts and right now they are moving real fast.

Since I began writing this a few minutes ago, the hunter ship on our tail has stopped and turned around in the direction we were steaming. Now it is just us and the "research ship" full of already packaged whale meat fresh out of the sanctuary.  It is clear by the way, that she sits in the water that the holds are flooded with dead whales. We are not sure what they are up to, but it is certainly no good.  In the meantime, they are putting more and more distance between themselves and the rest of the fleet. The hunting ships cannot hunt without the factory ship. Every hour they are apart is another hour no whales are dying. I have no doubt that they will indeed resume their hunting and when they do we will be there and we will use non-violent direct action to stop them. But for the time being, we have managed to run them completely out of the whale sanctuary.  This is more than we could have ever hoped for.

It is in many ways a surreal feeling to be in world’s slowest high-speed-chase. Two huge ships running full bore through fields of icebergs. But the best part of all, is that I just watched three whales surface right off the bow of the ship sent to kill them.  That ship had to sail right past them and those whales lived to tell all their friends about it.  They are on the run, but for how long? It is off to a good start but it is far from over. 

p.s.  every high speed chase needs spectators, here are a few of the locals cheering us on as they make sure they are well out of the way.

peace, heath

By Heath

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