Merryn is a doctor with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
She works in community paediatrics, is a DEA member from Victoria and is a doctor on the Steve Irwin in Antarctica hassling Japanese whalers. Here is her first blog. I suspect that many DEA members are envious. You can donate by going to www.seashepherd.org -Editor.
We made our way down to Antarctica on the Steve Irwin over the last two weeks, after a farewell party in Perth that included Bindi Irwin singing a song about friendship with whales. I had to push my fashionable cynicism aside – it was lovely and afterwards she and her brother did a great job of being normal kids, quietly trailing close behind their Mum.
Alarming evidence of climate change when we saw an iceberg at 47 degrees south… usually they don’t appear til the fifties at least.
We’ve been tailed since we left Australian waters by a Japanese harpoon “spy” vessel keeping track of our movements. There have been with a few spectacular run-ins on the high seas and then in the ice. A couple of days ago, as we neared the continent we were slowed in an ice field. Their ship, the Shonan Maru 2, made multiple runs at the side of our vessel, all the while announcing “I am turning. Keep clear”. It was pretty outrageous. As was their aiming an acoustic weapon at our helicopter pilot when he flew over them! Weapons are illegal in Antarctic waters and interfering with a pilot is prohibited under international aviation treaties to which Japan and Australia are signatories. As we know: not necessarily a dererrent to the whaling fleet.
We sought assistance from the French Antarctic base at Durmont D’Urville and spent a couple of days in their waters. Our first officer helicoptered over to the base for a meeting. The French were supportive, providing an official letter offering their support for our mission and that we could take shelter from the whaling vessel with their ice breaker “La Astrolabe”. (And I believe from photographic evidence they may have given our helicopter pilot and first officer some great cheese though they haven’t told us vegan crew!).
For the last two days we’ve been anchored in Commonwealth Bay, for tactical reasons (can’t discuss!)- which has given us a chance to drill up and do some amazing once in a lifetime activist-tourism.
After the “penguin swim” – jumping off the side of the ship into the freezing antarctic waters, no wet suit (people were very amused when I took the defibrillator out on deck in case of long QT syndrome) – we went in our delta boat onto the Antarctic continent, to visit the Australian Antarctic explorer Mawson’s hut.
It was absolutely magical. The weather was perfect: a couple of degrees above zero, perfectly lit, no wind. Every vista of a penguins, ice, ocean, icebergs, grey granite rocks, penguins and seals under a bright but moody sky looked like a professional photograph; I’m sure a set designer couldn’t create a more remarkable place! (No offence meant to any scenic painters in my audience)
There are literally thousands of Adelie penguins here and they are just gorgeous. They swim and dive around the boat, doing mega-quick jumps above the water surface like dolphins. And cause great hilarity when they hop vertically out of the water and land upright on the ice (or once, in our small boat!).
There was small colony of huge Waddel seals was lying around on the ice, turning lazily to size us up before settling back to sleep like cats. Neither seals or penguins were particularly bothered by our presence – in fact groups of the Adelies would run up to stare at us, or follow us around curiously. One of our crew, Michael, a professional nature photographer was in heaven.
We walked up to the penguin rookery overlooking spectacular ice cliffs with a view of Commonwealth Bay, then took tours of Mawson’s hut with the conservators and enjoyed the hospitality of the 10 base members. Doctor:patient ratios were pretty favorable: they have two doctors on their expedition team – one is also a qualified engineer (!), the other the expedition leader, and they compare constructing their bases to orthopaedic surgery.
Personally I was really excited to see one of the world’s longest-situated tidal sensors pulled out of the water by the guys from the base with some of our divers. The data it contains is important for measuring sea level rise caused by global warming. Matt style, I now have a climate change holiday snap to add to my climate change talk!
Soon we’ll be in the thick of the campaign again. I’ll be thinking of you all over the next few weeks and would love to hear news from home – especially some post-Copenhagen updates (though I’m afraid they might be depressing), and especially if the Liberal party is tearing themselves apart. Looking forward to sharing some stories and photos when I arrive home!
Best wishes, merry Christmas!!