Peter Hammarstedt sent an application to Sea Shepherd as soon as he was old enough to join the crew. Nine years later and with seven Antarctica anti-whaling campaigns under his lifejacket, he’s now captain of the Bob Barker and its 35-member crew, bound once again for the Southern Ocean. Bob Barker is one of four vessels patrolling for Operation Zero Tolerance, which the group says is their biggest effort yet to physically stop the annual Japanese whale hunt and its quota of 935 minke, 50 fin and 50 humpback whales. Bob Barker is tied up to the Taranaki Street Wharf this week, provisioning for the trip and visitors are welcome aboard for a tour.
Why did you want to be a captain for Sea Shepherd?
Aged 14 I saw a picture of a whale being killed in Antarctica. I could not believe my eyes. Like most people, I thought that whaling was a thing of the past. Countries like Norway, Iceland and Japan have killed over 40,000 whales since the Global Moratorium on Commercial Whaling took effect in 1986. I wanted to become a Sea Shepherd captain because when somebody is breaking the law, and the government fails in its responsibility to uphold the law, then it falls on individuals to either get government in line, or do their job for them.
How many whaling ships do you expect to encounter?
Fifty years ago there used to be 45 factory whaling ships there at any one time. There is now only one – the Japanese floating abattoir Nisshin Maru. If we shut that vessel down, then the whalers must suspend all of their operations – they have nowhere to process the whale meat. The Nisshin Maru is accompanied by three harpoon vessels, one security ship and a tanker for refuelling.
How many whales have you saved?
Last year we prevented the Japanese from taking 729 whales and in eight campaigns to the Antarctic, we’ve saved over 3,600 whales. We know how many we save by admission from the Japanese – every year they give us the credit when their quota is not met. Once we find the factory whaling ship we follow them and block them everywhere they go – through ice, through weather and through tense confrontation. On a good day, the whalers average 20-30 whales, so every day that we keep them on the run is a major victory that costs them millions.
Is there any such thing as sustainable whaling or culturally appropriate whaling?
Culture has been used to defend some of the greatest abominations in human history, from the subhuman treatment of women to chattel slavery. Japan’s pelagic whaling program only dates back to post-World War II. As far as sustainability is concerned, the whales targeted by the Japanese whaling fleet are either threatened or endangered and all are protected by law.
Have you had any scary moments?
Witnessing the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru No. 2 deliberately ram the New Zealand-flagged Ady Gil. The Ady Gil was literally cut in two and sunk several days later. The whalers showed clearly that they are simply thugs who have as little respect for human life as they do cetacean life.
Has your work ever got you in trouble?
I’ve been arrested twice in Canada for the “offence” of documenting a seal being skinned alive. Prior to the European ban on all seal products, Sea Shepherd routinely sent ships to the ice floes of Eastern Canada to photograph the barbaric butchering of 4-6 week old pups. In order to prevent these images, the Canadian government made it unlawful for any journalist to come within 926m of the seal hunt. I was arrested, deported and fined for what in every other country would fall under freedom of the press.
Have you had any really gratifying moments at sea?
I chased the factory whaling ship from the Ross Sea all the way to Chile for 15 days. When they finally reached the 200 nautical mile economic exclusion zone of Chile, the Chilean Navy threatened to arrest them if they entered. It was at that point that the whalers decided to call their season short one month ahead of what they planned. They got less than 17% of their quota that year and blamed the shortfall entirely on Sea Shepherd.
What’s your best remedy for a long passage aboard a small ship with the same crew, day after day?
The best remedy is keeping focused on the mission at hand – finding the whaling fleet as early as possible and shutting them down. At sea, we are constantly ready for battle, scanning the horizon for the whalers. However, after we sent the whalers back home two years ago, we watched several seasons of Outrageous Fortune on the homeward bound voyage to Hobart.
Originally published December 12, 2012 in Capital Times.