Something you just have to see

by Guest Blogger

January 8, 2006

from Nathan in the Southern Oceans

The last two days have been horrific down here; yesterday evening we

were trying to hold off the harpooner in very, very rough seas, heading

at nearly 20 knots directly into the wind. We were in the upper ranges

of the throttle in rugged, wind-driven chop on swells, at the brink of

what was really safe and possible in the boat, a bit off their bow to

starboard when they fired their shot off along our port beam and sent it

through the back of the minke just behind its dorsal fin. We saw a burst

of blood and flesh before the whale dove under and we all realized the

harpoon went through the animal and didn’t lodge.

Whenever they fire we back down immediately to give them room to finish

the kill as soon as possible to end the suffering. We (the “African

Queen” from the Arctic Sunrise, us in the Billy G and the hunter ship,

the Yushin Maru No.2) all cut our speed and looked for the injured

whale. We were about 40 meters off the hunter’s starboard beam when the

whale rose up just off our bow, breathed, bled and went under again.

There was so much blood in the water I was presuming it was going to

roll up dead right in front of us. But it surfaced again. They sighted

it and started to follow as we paced at a safe distance along their beam

so they had room to maneuver…

I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but over the course of

the next 20 full minutes they searched and lost the whale and searched

again, firing another shot and missing. At one point the whale came by

the starboard side of the Esperanza and our captain angrily hailed them

on channel 16 to tell them to come over and finish their job. Then

eventually lined up behind the whale and finally striking a solid shot

on their third attempt. The whale was still alive, still struggling as

they winched it to their bow. Blood everywhere. Even then they had to

fire a high caliber shot with a rifle into its head. More blood. It

was twitching a little here and there as they tied off the securing line

around it’s tail, slid it along side and started off for the processor

mothership, leaving a bloody wake.

Glance up at the clock and start timing out 20 minutes. Do nothing for

that 20 minutes. Now imagine taking that long to bleed to death or be

drowned. It’s a long time.

It was the most tortured, prolonged death we had seen yet. I just don’t

have words to fully describe it. The only thing I can feel good about

is that they had to work long and hard yesterday to get the few kills

they got.

But today it was even worse. I wasn’t out on the water today because I

was too beat up from the day before; not emotionally so much as

physically (the boat took a beating a several things broke that needed

urgent repair, so I was up ’til near midnight repairing and re-securing

stuff) so I watched from the bridge once we heard the hunt was in high

gear, and the shot seemed close. It all unfolded just in front of both

our ships; we could see it clearly. Two inflatables were working in a

bit fairer water off the bow of the Yushin Maru No.1, the third hunter

and the only one we hadn’t focused on yet. During the course of the

hunt, the harpooner fired twice but missed. Then a harpoon glanced

through the back of a whale, more forward of yesterday but still not

lodging. The harpooner would fire three more times over the course of

the next more than 20 minutes (again), the whale bleeding all the while,

surfacing, diving, slowing…finally the harpooner shoots and puts the

harpoon into the flank just before the tail of the whale – a horrible

place to spear the whale, as we were about to witness. They winched the

whale to the bow which lifted the tail upward. The whale was thrashing

all over the place, blood smearing on their bow sides, as the whale was

slowly being drowned because it could not arc it’s body to breathe.

This went on for what I would guess was something like 10 minutes, the

violent, miserable struggle. The rifleman took two shots but in the end,

it appeared the whale was drowned after being brought along side. I’ve

never seen anything like it, even though the previous day I thought I’d

seen the worst. Everyone on our bridge were just disgusted, horrified

and stricken, and already in this voyage we’ve been around a lot of

dying whales.

There is no acceptable explanation for why both these whales took so

long to die; why a professional crew of whalers, could do this. The

whalers boast of their professionalism and efficiency in doing their

grim work, and they claim their methods are humane and the whales die

quickly. Our footage should prove the lie to that. One can only wonder

how often this happens; in our experience, it appears it’s not

uncommon. Two crews on two whaling ships couldn’t put a mercy shot into

a slowly moving, bleeding animal for over 20 minutes when it’s out in

front of their boat. I cannot think of a word for it, at least not any

suitable to print.

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