Feel like saving the planet this weekend? Okay, that sounds like I’m asking you to be a super hero, but I’m not. You really can contribute just by visiting the Sea Shepherd ships which are dockside in Melbourne at Williamstown and open to the public for tours this weekend.
Donating helps too. Not just money – long-life food stocks that Sea Shepherd can take on its missions are greatly appreciated because it’s an organisation that relies completely on the generosity of supporters. There’s also a stall where you can buy Sea Shepherd t-shirts and souvenirs.
We went along for a tour of the ships last weekend and it was a real eye opener. Fletch’s fellow Neighbours actor Saskia Hempele and her partner, TV presenter Kayne Tremills also joined us.
Just in case you haven’t heard about Sea Shepherd, these guys put their lives on the line trying to prevent the illegal poaching of protected whales and dolphins. We were also shown a couple of videos of clashes with Japanese whaling ships and I can only imagine how terrifying it would be to be caught on one of their smaller boats, being deliberately rammed by these massive vessels.
We were given a tour of the Bob Barker by Quarter Master Ben Harris who explained Sea Shepherd’s background. ‘It was founded in 1977 by Paul Watson,’ he said. ‘Watson was one of the original founders of Greenpeace but left Greenpeace to found Sea Shepherd because he wanted a much more direct action organisation. We’re a marine conservation organisation but we use direct action tactics to directly intervene in the poaching of whales.’
This ‘direct action’ is heavy stuff. The Australian arm of Sea Shepherd makes an annual pilgrimage to the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary every year. ‘That’s been a whale sanctuary since 1994 and whaling has been banned since 1986,’ explained Ben. ‘But the Japanese whaling fleet continues to whale illegally – under a legal loophole which allows them to whale under the guise of scientific research. They go after either Humpbacks, Fin whales and Minkes which are endangered or close to being endangered.
The Bob Barker played a huge role in the last campaign. ‘We used this ships as a wedge,’ said Ben, ‘because they were refuelling inside the whale sanctuary which is breaking another whole load of rules. But we put this ship between the Japanese factory ship and the refuelling ship. The factory ship is 5000 tonnes and our boat is 500 tonnes. We were nearly squashed but we stopped them from refuelling.’
It was this bravery that made February’s intervention the most successful Sea Shepherd campaign yet. ‘We saved 932 whales,’ said Ben. ‘They had a quota of 1135 whales but because they couldn’t refuel, they cut their season short.’
Was anyone hurt in this campaign? ‘No, we’re aggressive but not physically violent. We’re not out to harm anyone. They’ve never lost anyone and we’ve never lost anyone. The only injuries that have been caused happened when some of our crew was pelted with large nuts and bolts from the whalers. They also swung a grappling hook at us,’ he said.
Next stop was a tour of the dining quarters. If you want to volunteer to be part of a Sea Shepherd campaign, make sure you’re happy to go vegan. After hearing about the horrific slaughter of whales and dolphins all day, it’s something I’m going to have to seriously consider.
Ben says that less and less of the Japanese population eat whale meat now, as awareness about the plight of the whales grows. ‘People have gone off the idea. They’re also aware there’s a lot of mercury in the meat, so they’re getting better educated, but the industry keeps pushing it, trying to get the next generation to eat it but putting it in school dinners. But now less than 4% of their population actually eat it.’
Worldwide support for Sea Shepherd is growing rapidly. It was fascinating to hear how so much has been donated by the US celebrity set. The Bob Barker ship, for instance, is named after the US games show host from The Price is Right, who donated a whopping FIVE MILLION DOLLARS to not only buy the ship, but a helicopter as well. Actor Pierce Brosnan is on the board of directors.
And I loved the story about how Sea Shepherd purchased its latest boat, the Sam
Simon, from a whaling fleet. ‘They didn’t know it,’ said Ben. ‘We did it under a different name. It even has heated toilets – a really luxury! So that’s a very modern ship.’
It’s the modern ‘factory’ whaling ships that are the most lethal. Ben says they can completely process an entire whale just 45 minutes from when it is captured, into portioned meat pieces in boxes.
The crew we met last weekend are all volunteers and are passionate about their cause. You’d have to be, seeing the risks on video with whaling ships hosing them with torrential water and trying to capsize their fleet.
So make sure you get down to Williamstown this weekend to show your support. The ships set off next week, so it’s your last chance to get up close and personal with these guys before they leave. We wish them all the best with their upcoming mission.
LOCATION: Seaworks, 82 Nelson Place, Williamstown (entry via Ann Street) – 12 pm – 4:30 Saturday and Sunday