PHOTOS: Grey whales near Shell’s Kulluk rig

by George Pletnikoff

January 11, 2013

Humpback and California Gray Whales surface near Ugak Island off Narrow Cape in the Gulf of Alaska January 10, 2013. The pod of hundreds of whales were just miles away from where Shell's Kulluk was grounded DDecember 31, 2012. Photo by Greenpeace

@Tim Aubry/Greenpeace

The Kulluk, Shells oil drilling rig, could not get far enough away from us. Greenpeaces visuals director and myself traveled 120 miles round trip to witness Shells attempt to fix the latest in its long list of mishaps during its Arctic-drilling campaign. The rig originally ran aground New Years Eve off the coast of Alaska while the oil company was towing it south during hurricane-like conditions.

During the trip from Kodiak Harbor to Kiliuda Bay, we bumped into a pod of mostly California grey whales and a few humpback whales, which our ship captain thought, himself having fished in and around Kodiak Island for more than 20 years, were numbering in the hundreds. It was simply amazing. Traveling to witness a sure destroyer of the environment contrasted with this amazing site was painfully ironic. Nature at its best, in the cold North Pacific Ocean, and mans thumb on the innocence of nature in stark contrast. We had to move on.

As we traveled on to the Kulluk, the weather held fine, but the visibility dropped to a mile or two. The closer we drew to the rig, four miles, three miles, one mile, we could not see it. Then, as the saying goes almost anywhere you travel in Alaska: if you dont like the weather, wait a few minutes. And it did. The January fog began to lift. We saw the Kulluk and all its support vessels coming through the mist. Scampering around, both Tim and I began shooting as quickly as our fingers could push. Me on my cell phone, Tim on his long glass, as he calls them, his telephoto lenses.

And what we saw frightened us. For four days, we looked at the Kulluk only from the air. Today, we both were at sea level. She is listing, as far as we can see. And she has drifted closer to Sitkalidak Island, just over the mountains from where she originally came ashore. What is the plan? Are they not paying attention, or are we, they, gambling once again with the power of Mother Nature?

Our Skipper Chris then shouted to us. Unless we begin to head on back to Kodiak, we may be caught up in another storm, as he heard on the radio. As he said that, the ceiling of the visibility came back down. And so we fired up the duel engines of our charter vessel and began heading back, hoping our witness would provide evidence of whats at stake, not only up here in Alaska, but across the globe.

A day of contrasts we had for sure. We wanted to witness, from sea level the condition of the rig that is causing the degradation of the waters of Alaska, and eventually of our planet. We also saw nature at its best with hundreds of whales feasting and eating the foods provided by the ocean. No matter where the Kulluk goes, we will find it. We will work to stop it from potentially destroying the last pristine place on our Mother Earth, the Arctic Ocean.

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