Shepherds to the Seals - The 2005 Seal Campaign
Report from the Farley Mowat
April 16th, 2005 - 0600 ADT
The seas are finally calming down around us. It has been a hellish week of maritime fury.
Fortunately, the weather remains nasty near the Northeastern Coast of Newfoundland and the South Labrador coast.
The latest weather reports are as follows:
Moderate to strong west or southwesterlies are forecast to prevail on Saturday as the ridge moves south of the district.
Marine interests are advised that gale warnings are continued for Belle Isle Bank and Funk Island Bank northern half. A freezing spray warning is continued for Belle Isle.
The South Labrador Coast
Over easternmost waters strong to gale force northwesterly winds will persist. Marine interests are advised that gale warnings are continued for The South Labrador Sea, Northwest Labrador Sea, and the East Labrador Sea.
Freezing spray warnings are continued for all coastal waters.
Marine interests are also advised that ice pressure warnings are in effect for South Labrador Coast and Mid Labrador Coast. Strong ice pressure is expected to ease tonight.
The sealers are having a hard time finding seals and coping with the weather. With luck, the weather will continue to hamper their efforts and cut into their profits.
Our objective of documenting the slaughter was obstructed by weather conditions beyond our control. Following is the chronology of events since April 11th.
April 11th: The Farley Mowat, tailed by the Canadian Coast Guard ice-breaker Henry Larsen arrived at the Front and encountered three sealing vessels waiting for the opening of the seal slaughter set for 0600 hours on April 12th. During the night, heavy winds begin to blow from the east pushing the ice onto the coast of Newfoundland. Most of the sealing fleet had retired to the safety of the Port of St. Anthony.
April 12th: The opening of the seal slaughter was cancelled. More sealing vessels began heading into the Port of St. Anthony. Others sealing vessels were in need of Coast Guard assistance. The ice pressure began to build up behind the Farley Mowat forcing Captain Watson to break the ship out to avoid being locked in and forced against the shoreline. The Farley Mowat moved out fifty miles and stopped to ride out the storm. The Coast Guard recorded more than 400 calls for assistance.
April 13th: The storm intensified. The seal slaughter was canceled for the 2nd day. Increasing winds and swells forced the Farley Mowat to move into the waves. A new low coming in brought the wind from the west forcing the Farley Mowat further offshore. Attempts to move into the winds resulted in difficult conditions forcing the ship to come about and move with the winds.
April 14th: The Farley Mowat made three attempts to move westward and was stopped each time by heavy seas. Captain Watson could not fight into the sea due to a breach in the stern tube that caused flooding in the aft starboard accommodation area. The crew worked in difficult conditions to repair the damage and pump out the water.
April 15th: The weather was diminishing along the coast allowing the seal slaughter to be opened. Some vessels began sealing despite the bad weather. The Farley Mowat was now over 150 miles from the area. Again Captain Watson attempted to run towards the coast and because of persistent battering by heavy seas could not attain a speed in excess of 4 knots. At that speed it would take more than a day and a half to reach the sealing area and that would be too late. Captain Watson had no choice but to abort further attempts. Any attempts to push on would result in significant damage to the ship and would not result in the Farley Mowat arriving in time to make any difference.
April 16th: The Farley Mowat moved southward. Captain Watson reluctantly announced that the campaign for 2005 could go no further. It was a frustrating situation and the crew was disappointed. However, Captain Watson advised them that for a group of unpaid volunteers with little or no experience in these waters that they had done an incredible job. They had intervened in the Gulf of St. Lawrence where some crew were assaulted and others arrested. They had turned back some sealers on the ice and had weathered almost two months at sea in cold, stormy, and difficult conditions. Most importantly they had contributed towards making the seal slaughter an international news story and thus making millions of people aware of the cruelty and the threat the slaughter poses to the survival of the harp seal. "We have done the best we could have done with the resources available to us," said Captain Watson. "We were the first group into the ice and the last group to leave. We will continue our opposition with the Canadian Seafood Boycott and we will be back next year, hopefully with a better ship and more resources."
This year was the strongest protest mounted against the Canadian seal slaughter since 1983. There were four groups in the Gulf. The Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat was at sea and helicopters from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) were flying to the ice daily to document the slaughter. The group Harpseals.org were represented onboard the Farley Mowat. In addition, renowned marine documentarian and Sea Shepherd Advisory Board Member Bob Talbot was on the ice to document the atrocity.
Sea Shepherd crew forced a group of sealers from two vessels off a floe in the Gulf protecting the seals they were targeting. Sea Shepherd crew were assaulted by sealers and the documentation of the assault was broadcast around the world. Eleven Sea Shepherd crew were arrested for approaching sealers with cameras and this will give the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society the opportunity to challenge the unconstitutionality of the regulations protecting sealers.
The Farley Mowat was able to move amongst and document the movements of the sealing vessels for the Gulf slaughter and was able to avoid arrest and seizure.
Captain Watson did over a hundred interviews with media around the world on the slaughter.
The Farley Mowat was the first anti-sealing vessel to go to the Front and the only group represented at the Front this year. During the six days at and offshore from the Front, Captain Watson did numerous interviews and debated the Federal Minister of Natural Resources John Efford on CBC radio.
The Canadian Government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars monitoring the movements of the Farley Mowat including providing a 300-foot icebreaker that for five days did nothing but tail the anti-sealing ship.
All of this activity has served to generate publicity that will help in organizing the international boycott of Canadian Seafood products. Sea Shepherd has implemented a boycott strategy and will work in along with HSUS, Animal Alliance of Canada, Harpseals.org and many other organizations of the Unified Opposition to assert economic pressure on the Canadian Government.
"We simply need to cost the industry over $16 million Canadian dollars to negate the profits of cruelty," said Captain Watson.
The Position of the Farley Mowat on Saturday, April 16, 2005:
The Farley Mowat is off the southern coast of Newfoundland heading south to the Tail of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. On Sunday, April 17th, the crew of the Farley Mowat will deploy experimental net rippers. These devices are designed to lie on the floor of the Banks and rip open the nets of drag trawlers plundering the last of the fish in these diminished waters.