Night and Day
by Guest Blogger
January 16, 2006
When I last wrote, we were a few days into a heavy rotation of driving off the bows of the catchers to thwart the hunt. Then, right after I sent the last update and went to bed, some rather strange events happened in the "night." (If I didn’t mention it before, we’ve been in 24 hours of light for the past month. Night is almost a vestigial reference at this point.)
While I was sleeping
First of all, the Oriental Bluebird, the bunkering (refueling) ship for the whaling fleet, reappeared on the horizon. We were quite south of the border of the Antarctic treaty waters (which prohibits bunkering at sea below 60 degrees south,) so at first we were a little surprised to see them again. The Bluebird and the Nisshin Maru (the mothership, or processor boat) then tied up together. We sent the heli up and found out that the Nisshin Maru was transferring pallets of boxes labeled "whale meat" to the Bluebird. Further investigation revealed that the bunkering ship is actually a specialized bunker/reefer ship, tied directly to the fleet and is based in Japan even though it’s flagged out of Panama. Conjecture here is that since the fleet doubled it’s quota of whales to kill this year, they need the reefer ship to take some of the meat back to Japan because they don’t have the space on the single processor ship, despite her great size.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen this type of activity, so we documented it. It drives home the sham of the “scientific” mission of the fleet and exposes the endeavor as what it is: commercial whaling.
While the transfer was happening, the Arctic Sunrise crew pulled off an impressive impromptu labeling of the Bluebird. They hopped in their boats, loaded up the paint and rollers and wrote "WHALE MEAT FROM SANCTUARY" on the side of the boat in large letters and "WHALE MEAT" on the stern as well.
While finishing this up, the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat appeared on the horizon. About this time, the Nisshin Maru hurriedly dropped her lines, pulled away from the Bluebird, made a full turn astern of the reefer and set a collision course towards the Arctic Sunrise. This was quite unexpected. The Sunrise kept her slow speed and course as per the maritime rules of the road, but then went full astern when she realized the Nisshin Maru was bearing down on her, in an attempt to avoid colliding. But the ships collided, bashing the Sunrise in at the bow pretty hard. Then the Nisshin Maru steamed north at near full speed, with the Esperanza in pursuit while the Sunrise assessed damage and made repairs. The whole thing appears to us to have been a deliberate act on the part of the Nisshin Maru captain, staged in a way to make it look as if the Sunrise rammed the processor. Given these guys some credit: they’re a clever and treacherous lot.
Then I woke up
We followed the mothership north all the way to 62 degrees south, the upper limit of the ‘box’ they set to whale in before the hunt began. Then we traveled west a bit, then eventually turned to southwest and have returned to the waters just off Antarctica, below 65 south, last night.
I have to admit, it was nice to have two days off from boat driving; it was wearing us out pretty thin. Our "days off" are spent repairing boats, cleaning the ship and working on new things while the ship pitches and rolls and corkscrews around, meaning you get tossed around into the walls and don’t get much real sleep.
Then when we return to the whaling grounds, we’re right back in the boats. This is pretty fatiguing stuff; you just never get a break one way or the other. That said, the stamina of this crew has really been impressive and the focus remains tight. All are committed to staying as long as we can to carry on the activities of the campaign. This is certainly the most physically sustained effort I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m just astounded about how capable this crew is, and it seems to just get better and better as we go.
We’ve got our launch and recovery maneuvers down so well it just flows with efficiency, feeling a lot like a pit row operation at times. Meanwhile, if you’re not on deck or otherwise involved in whatever activity of the moment, you’re bringing people tea and hot chocolate or doing their laundry or picking up the daily cleaning chores, or helping the engineers. All the while the boats are out on the water, all this other stuff is always going on. And you can still find someone in the lounge from time to time, having a beer at the end of the day, swapping stories and jokes, playing the guitars. While we pursued the mothership on her most recent run, the captain graciously gave us a full day off; I took the time to fashion a mount out of scrap aluminum for the harmonica I brought along so that folks can play the guitar and harmonica at the same time. For those of you concerned about our mental and emotional states, we are still having fun, still keeping sane, still keeping a good eye on each other and still hungry to do what we can to stymie this fleet.