An unforgettable chance to save endangered whales

Being on a ship in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica might be a dream come true for many people — beautiful icebergs, the calm sea (yeah, right!) and the occasional emperor penguin popping by to say hello. For me, it was about being able to tell the world what is really going in the international whale sanctuary.

All commercial whaling has been banned since 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) but there is a loophole that permits “scientific research”. Using this loophole, Japan has since then killed more than 22,000 whales in the name of science.

This “scientific research” means harpooning endangered whales, quickly chopping them into small lumps for meat packets and putting them in freezers.

Sea Shepherd is a no-profit conservation organisation that goes down to Antarctica to uphold the law in the international whale sanctuary. It does this by trying to stop the operations of the illegal whalers by blocking the slipway of the Nisshin Maru (the floating whale slaughterhouse).

By blocking the slipway the Sea Shepherd vessels thwart the efforts of the three harpoon ships that illegally kill whales, since the meat cannot be processed.

I was born close to the ocean in southern Sweden and have always had a passion for nature and wildlife. As a child I loved to save ocean animals such as starfish and mussels that were washed up along the local beaches. When I received the opportunity to be a crew member on one of the Sea Shepherd vessels, the Bob Barker, I didn’t hesitate: I took leave from my job as a learning and support teacher at two inner-city Sydney schools and signed up.

It was an unforgettable experience.

I was in my bunk bed, sleeping to the sound of the roaring engine, sliding from one side of the bed to the other due to the high swell, when I was woken up by the action station alarm.

We were under attack by the three harpoon ships. They were dragging steel cable across the bow of our ship (86 times) to try and foul our propeller, and throwing projectiles at us and were about to turn their water cannon on us, aiming at our crew.

We sent out our small boat crew in the dark, attempting to cut the cables, but the illegal whalers became more aggressive when they saw us defending our ship and after nine hours of attack they rammed us. Luckily, they rammed us above the waterline and we only got a big dent in our ship whereas while ramming they hit our anchor and holed the side of their ship (we saw them welding the hole shut the next day).

I spent 95 days in the Southern Ocean witnessing these very determined “researchers” constantly breaking international law.

They had set a quota of killing 1035 endangered humpback, minke and fin whales but thanks to Sea Shepherd’s effort the illegal whalers only managed to kill 251 whales.

On March 31 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s whaling program was not scientific research but in fact a commercial operation and ordered Japan to end its Antarctic whaling program.

Japan has said it would respect the ICJ ruling and not send a whaling fleet to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary for the 2014-2015 season. It’s a victory for the whales. Let’s hope that there will no longer be any whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.