Iceland Blog


Sea Shepherd Iceland Whale Defense Campaign 2007 Blog

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2 July 2007

Peter Hammarstedt
First Officer, R/V Farley Mowat

Three sealed canisters of motor oil ran perpendicular to the bow keeping a 50-mile monofilament line afloat. Every fifty meters another deadly hook lay submerged to pierce the soft flesh of another living being, baited with the shredded remains of a once breathing, moving, feeling squid.

"A nuclear warhead of the sea" as I've had them explained to me once, where "by-catch," the industrial fishing term for collateral damage, is another word for dead seals, dolphins, rays, and albatross.

Water was breaking in the distance, although Alex and I were keeping the ship far from any shallows - at least ten miles from the rugged coastline of Isabela, formed centuries ago by the volcano that towered in the distance. It had to be a fish struggling against the line, pulling tautly to snap the tension, even if it mean that the jagged hook tear through the soft flesh of their lips.

Years ago, I read a passage on ethics from a Lawrence Johnson where he wrote of the common thread that binds all animals, human, and non-human alike. "Well-being interest" he called the natural response of any living creature to danger. Corner a dog or a human and threaten them with death and the reaction is the same. Both will do anything that it takes to survive, biting, kicking, and struggling, until not a breath remains. And because of that, each creature shows the willingness to choose life over death. We act to respect that choice.

The distance between us and the fishermen's fighting catch decreased as a determined crewmember wrapped the line twice around the anchor winch, pulling in the tool of destruction one foot at a time. Closer and closer came the splashing until we could see three feet of silver and yellow below the surface of the water, tossing from side to side in a frenzy.

A set of tools grasped tightly in one-hand, Willie wrapped his other arm around a rope ladder that lowered him down to meet the determined tuna. The line tightened again as the fish was pulled in towards Willie's hopeful reach lengthened by a pair of side-cutters that instantly grabbed for a hook that quickly snapped under the pressure of a human hand. She swam away quickly. And without hesitation Willie was brought back on board as the winch dragged in another hook.

Two-hundred and seventy more to go.

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15 June 2007

Anne Simonis (USA)

Today was a pretty amazing day as far as watches go. Some watches, the most exciting thing that happens is that I leave the bridge to go down to the mess to make a cup of tea or coffee, but today was a different story. About half way through the watch, Pedro called me over to look out over the starboard side of the bow saying that there was an unusual green patch of water. Just as I was walking over to take a look at what he was seeing, a humpback whale surfaced on the side of the bow where the green patch of water had been, and dived below the ship. Immediately we slowed down the ship and notified the rest of the crew that there was a whale nearby. Whenever we see any unusual wildlife, and especially whales, the whole crew stops what they're doing and takes a look. We even have a buzzer system set up to notify crew working inside the ship when there are whales (1 buzz), other wildlife (2 buzzes) or illegal fishing lines (3 buzzes). Unfortunately the whale surfaced behind the ship quite a ways and I didn't see it again, but a few other people were able to watch it as continued in the opposite direction as us.

Then about 2 hours later we saw a group of small whales surfacing about 30 meters off the bow! There were 5-7 and they were quite small when compared to the first whale, but definitely bigger than dolphins. The group veered towards the side of the ship and then continued on moving off the starboard side for a couple of hundred meters at the surface before they dove and I didn't see them again. I'm still not quite sure what they were....

And if that wasn't enough, about 10 minutes later I saw a group of 5 birds circling about a hundred meters off the port side. They weren't soaring around as they normally do, so I thought something must be up. Sure enough, upon closer investigation I saw a shark fin circling around below them. It must have been feeding on something and the birds were hanging out for scraps. I wasn't able to tell what kind of shark it was, but it was still pretty exciting to see a shark!

That was the most wildlife I have ever seen on any of my watches since leaving Melbourne a month ago. It's mind boggling to think about all of the animals that are living below the surface of the water which we never see. Even with whales and dolphins, we only get quick glimpses of them and that's if we are lucky. There's so much that we don't understand yet about the marine environment and I can't help but think about the impact that humans are having on these amazing ecosystems. As we get nearer to the Galapagos, I hope that we'll see more wildlife and get a glimpse into the unique environment that surrounds the islands.

The weather has been great for the past week and the forecast for the next week looks like we'll have calm seas and hopefully some sunny days. The mercury is definitely rising as we get closer to the equator and my plans to follow summer around the world seem to be working out!

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11 June 2007

Sarah McNabb (USA)


The weather has certainly gotten a lot better since I last wrote. The rolling from side to side went on for days and days but finally we have some good weather. Today was beautiful and calm and we're traveling at a good speed. Not long til we get to Galapagos I's finally getting warmer too which is nice so more time on deck!

So what exciting things can I report on from the farley mowat this time round? Well, today was a monumental day. My fellow deckhand Simeon and I finished making a new breadbox! Yep! We started it about a week ago and after some rough plans and measurements, we got bits of wood, cut them into the correct sizes and screwed, glued and dowled (spelling?) them into place.
After we'd finished that we took it apart to sand it all back to a nice raw wood then put the hinges and latch on and finished it in a few coats of linseed oil. I added the finishing touch to the top of it, thanks to my newly acquired rope skills, a "B" made of whipped rope.

Today we also worked on fixing more electrical appliances. T'was a little frustrating but the more we do it with the help of the bosun, conniss, the better we will get at understanding it all, I guess! This past week we learnt about engines too, learning about the small boat engines, two stroke engines, four stroke engines, diesel engines, petrol engines etc's good to learn about it all.

Most exciting is our recent passings of not one but two tropical islands!!!! Pitcairn island was our first stop. We were able to go onto the island (ahhhh land and trees and greenery!!!) thanks to the locals who came out in their boat to bring us ashore. Before we went ashore we did a trade with some of our goods for some fresh fruits and vegetables from the island!

For me and lots of the other crew, the most important were the bananas and papaya! Mmmmm So delicious!!! We didn't have a whole lot of time to spend exploring but we did get to go for a small hike up a cliff and see some caves and a view from a higher point on the island. Wow it was beautiful. We could see the farley bobbing aways off the shore! Ohh and much to my excitement were the two nesting red tailed tropic birds who were mere meters from us. As far as I could see, they didn't seem to be too put out by our short presence. We didn't stay long though and it started to rain so our trip down was a different one, through jungle and half of it I spent sliding down on my bum! Hah! We met up with the rest of the crew who had come ashore, for our trip back to the farley. But not before I got to take with me a coconut back! So two days later I hacked into it for fresh coconut juice and shared the flesh with the crew. mmmmmmm

The next day we hit Henderson island, no not literally. Hah. This island is uninhabited and not all of us went ashore but a few lucky crew got to take the zodiac to the island and went for a snorkel and swim. There were many birds living here and I hope they continue to be able to live here in this tropical paradise free from human touch.

I was hoping we would see some more signs of life around the islands and we did see quite a few birds but no life in the waters..maybe they're just down under the surface, safely staying away from the ships...i hope! There have been a lot of flying fish around lately who are awesome to watch as they fly out of the water for a good few hundred metres away from the ship! When I first saw one I was like "woah, is that a bird or a fish?" and I realized it was a fish!

Apart from that we've been doing our usual chores, whipping ropes, greasing things and very importantly taking post in the crows nest and watching out for longlines !!!!!!!! we've come across a few stray bouys but no luck with lines yet. I did have a few days of seasickness and I never really feel 100% but it's worth it to be able to be apart of sea shepherd and fight for the oceans and all life out here !!!!!

til next time, sarah xox

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5 June 2007

Steve Sikes (USA)

Today was mostly overcast. Cloudy, diffused, slightly-grey light lit up the scene from horizon to horizon. Except where I was at.

En route past Henderson Island, five of us took a ride on one of the small boats to the uninhabited island. Cut off from the beach by a reef system, we took turns holding the Zodiac in position while the rest jumped out, swimming. I've had better times, I'm sure, but not too many and I can't recall any lately that beat yesterday. There were big schools of fish swimming above the reef just below the surface of the water, tiny fish down on the reef and ocean floor, valleys of light sand and underwater draws and spurs formed out of the coral, and the scene unfolded more and more in every direction that was swam. The visibility was amazing. Better than anything I've ever seen in the Florida Keys, better than the Galapagos, just amazing.

Growing up a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and having a few days at sea on a couple of ships now, the magic of it all gets lost on me, most of the time. You can spend years looking out on the surface of the ocean and it will rarely show you anything. Just waves. Crests, troughs, maybe some foam, seaweed or debris. But underneath the surface, there's a definite magic. People speak often of the Grand Canyon - I've heard it said, "it's the one place that doesn't disappoint." - and I've always wanted to see it for myself. Yesterday though, while floating above that coral topography, I was wondering how it would compare to this. Nevermind the scale; the intensity of it all is what was considered. How would the two compare? One day I'll have to find out.

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2 June 2007, Saturday

Dan Villa (USA)

somewhere in the Pacfic

I finished watch and immediately headed out to the aft deck. It was only 4pm, but the sun was due to set in 15 minutes. From Simeon's newly constructed bench, I watched as small petrels skimmed inches above the mildly choppy waves, barely moving their wings but quickly veering up into the sky, performing a lazy turn, and rushing back down to the surface. Then the first albatross that I'd seen in many days appeared and made the petrels look small and fidgety in comparison. I watched the albatross cut graceful curves in the air, never making more than slight adjustments to its 12-foot wingspan.

I couldn't help but think that somewhere, probably many somewheres, groups of albatross were doing the same thing behind long liners. As these ships pay out mile upon mile of line and baited hooks many albatross swoop in for what they think will be an easy meal. But then a vicious hook sinks into their tongue, their throat, their flesh, snaps them from the air and drags them to a watery death. This happens more than you or I care to imagine. This is the main reason albatross populations are in decline.

It's not only long lines. Stuck in my memory is a photograph from a National Geographic magazine of a baby albatross. Its adorably out-of-proportion body is covered in gray downy feathers. Its small wings are clutched to its sides. It looks ragged. It is dead. Arranged in a solid circle to the right of the baby are the contents of its stomach. The circle is nearly as big in diameter as the limp length of the chick. It is composed of a bewildering array of plastic bits from lighters, bottles, packaging. You name it. On a full stomach, the baby albatross starved to death.

The fifteen minutes passed quickly in a wash of yellows, oranges, blues and purples playing on the clouds and surface of the ocean. As the sun moved to disappear below the horizon, the albatross made a few last passes behind the Farley and then glided out of sight.

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30 May 2007, Wednesday

Dan Villa (USA)

somewhere in the Pacific

I'd never seen one before. Pedro hadn't either in all his years at sea. He and Anne saw one the night before. I was too late. But last night at 3am, Ben and I ran up to the bridge and saw it arching across the horizon straight ahead. The moon, to our stern and nearly full, had, with its silvery light, produced a rainbow in the dead of night.

I absorbed the beauty of it for a moment and then sprung into action and headed downstairs. There were people to be awoken! There were three for sure who would love it. First was Amber. She looked dead in her sleep, face smashed into her pillow. With a prod she raised and turned her head, mouth agape and eyes, one more than the other, half open and glassy, unseeing. At the word "rainbow" a spark of life and motivation appeared in her eyes. She began to move. Next was Gemma. The lights didn't wake her. My calling didn't wake her. I poked her. She jumped up, eyes wide and popping out. At the phrase "rainbow in the night" she vaulted from her top bunk with a speed and agility I've rarely witnessed. Finally I burst into Sarah's cabin across the companionway. She awoke easily and uttered a "thanks" in the darkness so I ran back to Amber's room. An unfortunate roll of the foot had rendered her mostly immobile so I piggy-backed her, still half asleep, up the three flights of stairs to the bridge.

With our faces pressed against the windows or hanging outside the few that opened, we watched in silence as we sailed for the center of the massive arch. It must have spanned about 30 degrees of the horizon, fading slightly at its peak. It was quite surreal. We remained transfixed until, minutes later, the ghostly pale arch slowly faded into the night sky.

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21 May 2007

Anne Simonis (USA)

We are barely a week into our latest campaign, and everything here on the Farley is going well. The Tasman Sea is supposed to be one of the roughest stretches of water in the world, however it has been amazingly kind to us thus far. We nicked the edge of some stormy weather a couple of days ago which shook things up on the ship a little bit, but really it's been smooth sailing thus far.

I'm working up on the bridge with Pedro eight hours a day. We are responsible for navigation and observation which means that we are on constant lookout for possible hazards, weather and of course, wildlife! The first day I was lucky enough to spot 2 humpback whales passing by the ship, along with seals, penguins and numerous other seabirds. After my watch I just spotted about 20 dolphins near the ship heading into a remarkable sunset over glassy waters. Since then I've also seen bioluminescent algae (at night this algae glows in the water when it is disturbed) and flying fish! The other night on watch Pedro and I spotted a meteorite and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it had physically hit the water. You could see bits of it burning off as it fell, lighting up the whole night sky.

So far I'm feeling really good. It was a bit sad to leave all of my friends in Melbourne, but I was and still am really excited to be part of such a meaningful campaign. The sea sickness bug hasn't bit me too hard yet, and I'm hoping that it never will. I love being on watch up in the bridge. Watching the waves roll by and seeing so many amazing sights, I can't help thinking that I have the best "job" in the world.

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19 May 2007

Sara McNabb (Australia)

Hello everyone!!!!! Sarah here writing from the Farley Mowat somewhere in the Pacific Ocean!

So, we've been sailing for three days now and all is going very well. The first two days were amazingly calm with clear blue skies. The water was so glassy and smooth. Perfect sailing weather. Today it's a little rougher with strong winds and a storm on its way but it should be all over in the next 24 hours. It's so good to be out on the open seas again. Away from the smelly city.

After the slight delay, the departure from Melbourne was a good one. Lots of people were there to see us off, including some of my friends, which was nice. The fact that we were leaving didn't really hit me til we were actually sailing. Even the first day felt like a bit of a dream.

So what have we been up to since we left? Well, in the deck department, which is my area, we were busy making sure everything on the ship was securely tied-down and made sure the decks were clear and nothing could fly about. We did a lot of general cleaning and tidying. A few of us are new to the deck department so we've been learning knots, which is fun! I think I've learnt about 6 so far and have had to put them into practice already!

We had some drills for emergency situations where we were shown the procedures for putting on the immersion suits and what to do with liferafts etc. After that our department had a training session with the zodiac (small inflatable boats) and how to get it into the water with the crane. It went pretty well but it was good to have a practice run at it!

So far we've spotted birds, seals, dolphins, penguins and a few humpbacks! It really is amazing to be back out here. This is my second time sailing on the Farley and as much as I miss the Robert Hunter, it is nice to be back on this ship. It's super exciting to be out here on this campaign fighting for the smaller inhabitants of the oceans, the fish, the birds, the prawns, all life under and above the surface of the water! All life is precious whether
it be the life of a whale or the life of a tuna fish.

That's about it for now but I'll write again regularly and keep you updated on what's going on out here! Tonight we have birthday cake to celebrate my 30th birthday. Yay

love sarah xox

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16 May 2007

From Captain Cornelissen onboard the Farley Mowat

A great day today, as good as it gets, clear sunny skies and no wind. Seas are smooth and temperature was around 22 C. When passing the islands East in the Bass Strait (Hogan and Kent Group) we saw a lot of wildlife: seals, albatrosses, dolphins. Not much traffic after we passed the islands. Ship is performing beautifully. Speed has been very good, we're averaging 10 knots and even got it up to 11.2 around 14.00. The extra steel seems to have given us a slighter faster recovery rate although I can't really give a good judgement until we hit some rough seas.



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