News & Media Opinion Pieces Antarctica Update (number 2) from Merryn Redenbach of the Sea Shepherd CS

Antarctica Update (number 2) from Merryn Redenbach of the Sea Shepherd CS

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 second blog for us. I suspect that many DEA members are envious. You can donate by going to the Sea Shepherd site click here -Editor.

The last month and a half of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Waltzing Matilda have taken us onto the Antarctic continent, back to Hobart, to the French Kerguelen Islands (a week’s sailing west of Australia) and back to Perth, have seen us resupply the new Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker with food, water and medical supplies and transport the ship-wrecked crew of the Ady Gil back to Australia. Thankfully there have been only minor medical issues.

January 6th was one of the more dramatic days in Sea Shepherd’s history.

During my 0400-0800 watch we received a phone call from the tiny fibreglass trimaran, Ady Gil, reporting that they had found and were chasing the Nishin Maru, the whaling factory vessel that processes the bodies of the whales killed for “research” into meat for sale in Japan.

A few hours later Captain Paul Watson announced our big secret to the media; that we had a third vessel to assist our campaign. The Bob Barker is an ice class ex-whaling ship, about the same size but faster than the Steve Irwin. I hoped our medical supporters in Australia would now realise why we had requested so many extra medical supplies!

With information provided by an Antarctic cruise ship and then the Ady Gil, the Bob Barker also found and chased the whaling factory ship on January 6th. But only hours later, news of the Bob Barker’s appearance became side-lined by the collision between the Ady Gil and the Shonan Maru.

The 18 tonne Ady Gil was virtually stationary when the 780 tonne Shonan Maru turned into it, breaking several international collision avoidance regulations. The video footage from the Bob Barker is chilling. After the Shonan Maru makes several turns toward the Ady Gil, the small vessel disappears under its bow. Seeing the footage it seems miraculous that the crew escaped nearly unharmed. The crew members later described how, for that twenty seconds or so, they expected to die. The Shonan Maru missed the cockpit and crew by feet.

That day was our first encounter with the whaling fleet proper. Until then it had been a game of cat and mouse as we chased the whaling fleet through Australian and French Antarctic waters, and in turn we were chased by the Shonan Maru, which hounded us with water cannons and attempted to turn into the side of our ship when we slowed for helicopter operations or in ice.

Three weeks earlier we had taken refuge in Commonwealth Bay to escape Shonan Maru and had the great privilege of spending a few hours on the Antarctic continent, surrounded by inquisitive Adelie penguins and incredible views of ice cliffs. We met two doctors who work at the Mawson’s Hut Foundation base at Cape Denison. Chris, a multi-skilled general practitioner and engineer, is the expedition doctor and Peter, an Antarctic veteran, the expedition leader. After showing us around Commonwealth Bay and Mawson’s hut (I had a special tour of the medical chests) they explained how their medical experience could be transferred to the Antarctic environment: among other things, constructing buildings and drilling for samples is similar to orthopaedic surgery. Later, the whole team joined us aboard the Steve Irwin for a vegan sushi dinner.

Back in Hobart to refuel and shake off the Shonan Maru we were once again amazed by the generosity of the medical community in providing advice and assistance. After a call out for some additional supplies we were able to get everything we needed. One of the highlights of my time in port was seeing the children of two local doctors passionately and eloquently explain their opposition to whaling to a French TV crew. Meeting their adventurous doctor parents made me realise my non-conventional medical career path is not without precedent!

Two weeks ago, after chasing the whaling fleet west through several time zones, the Steve Irwin anchored in the Morbihan Gulf off Kerguelen Island, surrounded by snow covered mountains, tiny rocky islands and within sight of the small French research base.

A few lucky crew went ashore to dine with the base’s inhabitants and to meet some of the local elephant seals. For the rest of us it was a busy half day, leading up to the electric moment when another big black ship emerged through the fog, emblazoned with the white Jolly Roger logo. It was the Bob Barker. Nearly a month later than we’d originally planned, we greeted our sister ship with jubilation. No one slept more than an hour or two as we exchanged supplies, stories and people.

The MY Steve Irwin is palatial compared to the Bob Barker whose winding companionways, rusted and exposed piping and successive layers of alterations are reminiscent of the crowded hutongs of Beijing. Their medical area is the second bed in the first mate’s cabin, and most crew bunk in rooms of 3 to 5 people.

The Bob Barker also has a medical officer on board; an emergency room physician known in Sea Shepherd folklore for doing back-to-back Deck and Bridge shifts and 27 pull-ups in a row (I’m not competing on either of those counts!). Finally, we were able to hand over their defibrillator, spinal board and four boxes of donated medical supplies while discussing the finer points of treating sea-sickness and, hopefully unnecessarily, contingency plans for major injuries.

At 0630 I went to sleep expecting to spend another hour with the medical team and crew mates from previous campaigns “in the morning” but strong winds necessitated that the ships separate. So I awoke in the medical cabin with a porthole showing only the bay and a feeling of sadness at leaving our old and new friends so soon.

However, we had new crew mates as the “Gilbillies”, as they referred to themselves, tossed mattresses on the floors of our dive locker and office for the seven day voyage back to Perth.

We kept our arrival in Perth secret as long as possible, hoping the whaling fleet would continue to run from us in Antarctica until the Bob Barker could rejoin the chase, this time free of a security vessel tail. It also meant we once again left Australian waters free from a tailing security ship.

Despite the short notice, we were greeted by a throng of media as well as investigators from the New Zealand maritime safety board who interviewed the Ady Gil crew. Two days in Perth were busy and blissful: fresh fruit, phone calls with family, sitting on the grass in t-shirts, running and resupply.

We left four days ago on a campaign we hope to continue until the end of the whaling season. Every day now brings us closer to shutting down the whaling fleet.