The Whale Warriors: Whaling in the Antarctic Seas
Would you give your life for a whale? For a determined crew on a tiny ship at the
bottom of the world, the answer is easy. By Peter Heller Photo by Paul Taggart
COMMITTED TO THE CORE
: Joel Capolongo (far right) and other members of the
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society prepare to confront the 8,000-ton Japanese
National Geographic Adventure by Peter Heller, May 2006
What woke me at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning was the bow of the ship
plunging off a steep wave and smashing into the trough. The hull shuddered like a living animal, and when the next roller
lifted the stern, I could hear the prop pitching out of the water, beating the air with a juddering moan that shivered the ribs of
the 180-foot (55-meter) converted North Sea trawler. We were 200 miles
(322 kilometers) off the Adélie Coast, Antarctica, in a force 8 gale. The storm
had been building since the previous morning. I lay in the dark and breathed. Something was different. I listened to the deep
throb of the diesel engine two decks below and the turbulent sloshing against my bolted porthole, and felt a quickening
in the ship.
Fifteen days before, we had left Melbourne, Australia, and headed due south on the
the flagship of the radical
environmental group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The mission of her captain, Paul Watson, and his 43-
member, all-volunteer crew was to hunt down and stop the Japanese whaling fleet from engaging in what they
considered illegal commercial whaling.
Watson had said before the trip, "We will nonviolently intervene." But judging by
the preparations conducted over the past week, it seemed he was readying for a full-scale attack.
I dressed quickly, grabbed a dry suit and a life jacket, and ran up three lurching flights of narrow stairs to the bridge. Dawn.
Or what passed for it in the never night of Antarctic summer. A murky gloom of wind-tortured fog mingled with blowing snow
and spray. White eruptions tore off the tops of the waves and streamed their shoulders in long streaks of foam. The sea was
chaos. When I had gone to sleep four hours earlier, the swells were 20 feet (6 meters) high and building. Now monsters
over 30 feet (9 meters) rolled under the stern and pitched the bow wildly into a featureless sky. The timberwork of the bridge
groaned and creaked. The wind battered the thick windows and ripped past the superstructure with a buffeted keening.
Watson, 55, with thick, nearly white hair and beard, wide cheekbones, and packing some extra weight underneath his