First published on jivamuktiyoga.com
Upon returning from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary recently, where I took part in Sea Shepherd’s whale defense campaign, Operation Zero Tolerance, it was deeply heartening to feel the support and curiosity of the Jivamukti and wider community. Every year for the past eight years, Sea Shepherd has made the journey to the Southern Ocean to protect whales from the Japanese whaling fleet. This year, I was able to be there too.
I first became involved with Sea Shepherd when Jivamukti Yoga Sydney began offering free classes to the crew of one of the organization’s ships, the Bob Barker, between campaigns. I was instantly in awe of the bravery, hard work and dedication of the crew. Sea Shepherd crew really put themselves on the line to stop whaling and the decimation of the oceans and are currently one of the most effective examples of direct action out there. The ships and crew don’t just watch and document the slaughter of these beautiful beings but intervene and interrupt whaling activity. Their work has a really tangible effect and is counted in lives saved. Sea Shepherd’s Southern Ocean campaigns have saved over 2000 Great Whales from the Japanese whaling fleet over the past eight years.
Inspired by the crew, who were such a positive presence in class, I began volunteering on the Bob as a deck hand a couple of days a week and applied to crew. Last October I got an email offering me a position as vegan cook on the Brigitte Bardot, the high-speed interceptor vessel. I booked a ticket to Hawaii, where the stabilized monohull was docked after an anti shark-fin campaign in the Pacific, and I arrived two weeks later, a little uncertain that I would be able to pull it off.
Living on the Bardot was a challenge. Consecutive days of cooking in rough weather always took its toll. There is not a lot of space to move around, so asana wasn’t practical – unless it was a very calm day and I could go outside on the deck. That was a big sacrifice, going from moving my body all the time, whenever I wanted, to not all that much at all ever, other than a few pull-ups on a handrail, or walking from the dry-store to the galley and back. And living together with 11 other people on the 33 meter-long boat with no escape certainly was interesting. But on the calm days, in the middle of the vast ocean, it was absolute magic, especially when the dolphins came and said hi and rode the waves of our bow, or when the many beautiful humpbacks would give us a wave with their fluke in Antarctica.
We set off for Antarctica, from Wellington at the start of January. This year was the latest the whaling fleet had ever left Japan. Normally they start heading south at the end of November or the first half of December. Through the temperamental waters of the Southern Ocean the Bardot sailed, finding one of three harpoon vessels, the Yushin Maru #3, before a single whale had been killed.
Unfortunately the Bardot exited the campaign before it was finished. The Sea Shepherd’s three other ships, Bob Barker, Steve Irwin and Sam Simon, are still there, disrupting whaling activity, on the tail of the factory ship, the Nisshin Maru. The most recent news, at the time of writing, was that the Japanese Nisshin Maru rammed the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin, almost toppling the Bob Barker completely and causing quite a bit of damage. The Bob Barker, Steve Irwin and Sam Simon were blocking the illegal refueling of the Nisshin in the sanctuary. The Nisshin also rammed its own refueling vessel, the Sun Laurel, several times in the fray.
This year will be the most successful campaign yet, with no whales killed in December and January, and very few in February. We won’t know final numbers until the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) puts out their annual report. Every year, the whalers aim to take around 1000 minke and fin whales from the sanctuary under a loophole in the International Moratorium on Whaling allowing lethal ‘research’. This year, we know they haven’t taken anywhere near that number – because a group of dedicated, thoughtful citizens decided to act boldly and come together to change the world, to paraphrase Margaret Mead.
There are so many people we can look to who are planting the seeds of compassion and kindness, but what we see in them is also within us, which means every one of us can be an agent for change – we just have to act.
Part two in this three-part series explores awakening the peaceful warrior within and the spiritual in the activism.