TAKING ON the whalers
Without hesitation, Jools Farrell will lay down her life for a whale.
This is the pledge made by Sea Shepherd volunteers before they head to the Southern Ocean to take on the Japanese whaling fleet. And when the combative whalers have ships 7,000 tonnes heavier than Sea Shepard's and are becoming increasingly aggressive after a long stretch of failed quotas, it is far from a trivial procedure.
There is a very real possibility of physical harm. No one is more aware of that than Ms Farrell.
“I was a quartermaster and medic for our most dangerous and successful Antarctic campaign to date, Operation Zero Tolerance,in 2012,” she says.
“During that campaign [the Japanese whalers] were ramming all three of our vessels with their factory ship Nisshin Maru, which was 8,000 tonnes compared to ours, which were under 600 tonnes.
“ The Nisshin Maru also has a water cannon about 20 times stronger than a fireman's hose and they fired that at the bridge window on one of our ships for about 10 minutes trying to break it.
That was even scarier than the ramming because we knew if the window was to break our whole ship (oceanographic vessel MV Sam Simon) would be disabled.”
On top of the water cannons and ramming, and of course the volatile ocean, Ms Farrell tells Peninsula Living the Sea Shepherd vessels have even been hit by flash and concussion grenades.
“They hate us, they despise us, because they have to reach 70 per cent of their quota to make any money at all and for the last probably eight years they haven't got that, so they dislke us immensely and they’re getting more and more aggressive as a result.” she explains.
Sea Shepherd's main strategy is to cut off the whaling fleet's supply line to their refuelling tanker by placing one or more of their own ships between the two. During Zero Tolerance, the recklessness of the Japanese fleet almost resulted in the sinking of one of Sea Shepherd's vessels, the Bob Barker, and caused severe damage to the boat.
“The Nisshin Maru and harpoon ships just fled and left us there after they smashed into us and sandwiched the Bob Barker. We thought it was going down, which would have been absolutely horrific,” Ms Farrell explains.
As a medic, Ms Farrell was also asked to fly up to Brisbane secretly to set up a treatment room in an ex-whaling vessel they purchased undercover from the Japanese.
“That was really exciting - I wasn't even allowed to share the specifics of the trip with my husband,” she explains.
“I went up there and had to fit out a makeshift medical centre, all the while pretending it had nothing to do with Sea Shepherd. Unfortunately, while we were still up there, it was leaked to the Japanese and next thing you know a convoy was heading towards the dock.
"Luckily we had enough time to quickly put all the insignia on the ship, finish the Sea Shepherd paint work, and depart.”
Ms Farrell, who lives in Avalon, is busy organising and running community fundraising events for Sea Shepherd.
For the last couple of years, she's also been visiting Northern Beaches schools and sharing her experiences with students. She's amazed by students' knowledge on the issues and heartened by their general concern.
“I'm constantly blown away by what they know and they're so socially conscious." she says.
We do that a lot, travel around to different schools and the kids really love it. They're always so interested and some of the questions they ask are almost even beyond me.”
This year however, she intends to add another chapter to her intriguing life story by returning to the frontline once again.
“I’ll be going on another campaign to the Southern Ocean this year - i just love being in the thick of the action,” Ms Farrell explains.
“There's no better feeling than when you're sitting at the beach and you see a pod of minkes [whale] migrating north and you know you and your friends might be the reason they are alive.”
To donate to this not-for-profit conservation organisation or to learn more about their fight, email Australia@seashepherd.org.au or visit Seashepherd.org.au.