Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton was also once criticized for having non-professionals on his crew. His answer was, “I need men of passion to get me where I need to go.”
And Sea Shepherd needs men and women of passion to work with us to defend the whales.
When critics say that it is dangerous to put to sea and to drive our ships through storms and ice to defend the whales with my crew, I can only reflect that since 1977 in over 300 voyages I have not lost a single crewmember to an accident at sea nor have I had a single crewmember suffer a serious injury.
In the six voyages we have made to the Southern Ocean we have not injured any of the whalers nor have any of our crew been seriously injured aside from a few cuts, bruises, and scrapes. We have not had an oil spill or an onboard fire.
Yet on the whaling ships crewed by professionals there have been three deaths and numerous serious injuries. They have had oil spills and two catastrophic fires. Obviously professionalism does not equate with safety.
December 2nd will be my 60th birthday. That is the day we will also depart from Tasmania on Operation No Compromise.
When people ask me what I intend to do when I retire my answer is that I never intend to retire. This is not a job for me, this is my life and you don’t retire from life until the day you die.
My deep commitment to the whales goes back to June 1975 when I was 24. It was off the coast of California where Bob Hunter and I became the first people ever to get between a harpoon and the whales when we intervened against the Soviet whaling fleet.
A harpoon was fired over our heads striking a female in a pod of eight Sperm whales. She screamed and the largest whale in the pod, a big male, slapped the water with his tail and dove. He swam under us and came up out of the water behind us to attack the Soviet whaler to defend his pod.
But they were waiting for him with an unattached harpoon and fired point blank into the whale’s head and the whale screamed in pain and fell back into a sea quickly turning red with blood. And as he rolled in agony on the surface, I caught his eye and he dove and I saw a trail of bloody bubbles coming towards me.
Suddenly his head broke the surface and he rose up out of the water at an angle towering above us and as his head rose, dripping with blood, I looked into an eye, an eye the size of my fist, and what I saw there put me on the road I remain on to this day. I saw understanding. That whale understood what we were trying to do and I could see his muscles tense up as he pulled himself back and his head sank back into the sea. I watched his eye disappear beneath the surface and he died.
He spared our lives. He could have killed us but he let us live, and I owe my life to that whale.
And I saw something else in that eye that day. I saw pity, not for himself, but for us, that we as a species could kill so thoughtlessly, so remorselessly and for what? The Russians were killing Sperm whales for Spermacetti oil because it was an excellent oil for lubricating machinery, and one of the uses was to employ it in the production of inter-continental ballistic missiles.
And there as the sun was setting along side the now floating body of such an amazing creature a thought struck me so poignantly that I felt a shiver go down my spine. We must be insane as a species.
And it was on that day that I decided that I had to do what I do for the whales. And I have been defending whales and other marine species now for thirty-five years.
I will continue to do so until the day I die.
And over the years I have seen many men and women come and go. Most come in burning with passion and then grow cold quickly and disappear. Others, far fewer unfortunately, come in with a steady fire and remain constant with their passion.
Both contribute in their own ways because the movement needs the hot-tempered individuals who storm the walls in battles and then retire afterwards, and it needs the strategists who carry on the prolonged struggle, year after year, without retreat or surrender.
In the movement to defend our oceans I have had the honour of meeting and knowing most of the men and woman who have stayed the course year after year without rest or complaint, who go from one battle to the next with a patience and a perseverance that enables them to do so.
These are people like Ric O’Barry, who I first sat down with to strategize in 1977. For Ric it was dolphins then and it is dolphins still. Ric will defend dolphins until the day he dies.
Hardy Jones who first went to Japan in 1978 to document the slaughter of dolphins and continues to champion dolphins to this day.
Sylvia Earle whose passion for the oceans has burned brightly for decades. Rebecca Aldworth and her enduring defence of the harp seals in Canada, and Francois Hugo’s dedication for so many years to defending the Cape seals of Southern Africa. Terri Irwin and her late husband the incredible Steve Irwin.
And on land such people as Birute Galdikas and her lifelong dedication to Orangutans, Jane Goodall with chimps, and Diane Fossey with mountain gorillas.
It is this steady patient perseverance that I see in so many individuals like those mentioned that keeps me optimistic that we can ultimately make a difference.
And this is especially so when I look at my crews. Many come and go, some for one campaign never to be seen again and a few who are always there, year after year, always returning.
And so it is once again this year that we take on new crew and welcome back our veterans.
Dave Nickarz leaves his job and his wife in Winnipeg and flies at his own expense to Australia to rejoin the Steve Irwin. He does this every year. Laura Dakin who came onboard in 2005 in Bermuda and is now our Chief Cook. Locky MacLean from Canada who joined as cook in 2001 with his wife Barbara from Brazil and is now a Sea Shepherd captain, as is Alex Cornelissen who joined in 2005 in the Galapagos. He is now Sea Shepherd ‘s director in the Galapagos and will return to captain the Bob Barker in December. Shannon Mann from Canada joined us in 2007 and is returning again this season, Lamya Essemlali from France who joined us in 2005 and is now President of Sea Shepherd France. Former U.S. marine Chris Aultman will once again return for his 6th Antarctic campaign as our helicopter pilot. Peter Hammarstedt from Sweden who came to us at 19 in 2005 and is now a Sea Shepherd First Officer. These passionate people are just the tip of the iceberg of the 4,000 crew that have served with Sea Shepherd on some 300 voyages since 1978 on ten different ships.
I am sometimes simply awed by the drive and determination of these incredible people. They are what makes Sea Shepherd what it is – the most passionate, most active, most effective marine conservation organization in the world.
There is another side of Sea Shepherd that is unsung and that is the incredible support from the people around the world who invest in us with their donations. They are the people who literally keep us afloat and make it possible to do what we do.
This last year has seen us do some incredible things: We cut the Japanese whale kill quota in half, we intervened against the illegal bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean where we freed 800 of the giant fish from a poacher’s net, we sent a crew to the Danish Faeroe Islands to defend pilot whales, we have a crew on the ground at Taiji, Japan to constantly monitor the Japanese dolphin killers, we are installing a one million Euro AIS surveillance system to protect the Galapagos Islands to deter poaching, and we are intervening against illegal fishing in Brazil.
Sea Shepherd is active all over the world and all of us who are involved from the crews of the ships to the supporters onshore are shepherd guardians of the citizens of the sea from the plankton to the great whales.
I am a Shepherd of the Sea and so are you, and so must we all be, because if we fail to defend our oceans and we lose the biodiversity that maintains the integrity of all oceanic eco-systems, the truth is that the oceans will die…and if the oceans die – we die!