Bainbridge mom proud of her anti-whaling efforts

Izumi Stephens, the Bainbridge Island woman who traveled to the Antarctic to defend whales against Japanese whalers, has ridden an emotional roller-coaster during her first 40 days at sea.

Izumi Stephens

One thing Izumi has learned is that the sight of a humpback whale can lift her spirits, she told me today by satellite phone from the Southern Ocean.

A native of Japan, this single mom signed on with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a translator. She is serving aboard the Steve Irwin, which is part of a three-vessel anti-whaling fleet in pursuit of four Japanese whaling ships. (Check out previous descriptions of Izumi in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 31 and Water Ways Nov. 1.)

The Steve Irwin left Hobart, Australia, on Dec. 2. Izumi was at sea about three weeks — having survived a bout of severe sea sickness as well as homesickness — when she spotted a massive humpback whale off the side of the ship.

“Before I saw a whale, I was desperately wanting to see my daughter and go back home, and I wanted to touch my dogs,” she told me. “Then I saw a whale, and I think my determination and motivation and everything caught up with me.”

She still misses her children, her friends and her community, she says, but seeing that first whale reminded her why she had joined the battle in the first place.

“I’m doing this for the whales and our future and our community,” she told me, “and I’m so proud.”

Spending weeks at sea is an experience like nothing she has ever faced before, Izumi said. She takes her turn at mopping floors, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. She has used her language skills on only a few occasions — mostly to speak to Japanese reporters covering the story and updating Sea Shepherd’s new Japanese-language website.

Watching whales swimming in the ocean has brought real meaning to the anti-whaling campaign, she said. A day or two after that first sighting, Sea Shepherd faced its first encounter with the Japanese whaling fleet.

It was New Year’s Day, and all three vessels in the Sea Shepherd fleet were tailing the Japanese processing ship, the Nisshin Maru. As the vessels moved through large chunks of floating ice, the three Japanese harpoon ships tried to block the way so that the Nisshin could get far ahead. The pursuing ships were slowed but able to get by.

“There were very dangerous blocks of ice everywhere,” Izumi said. “It was a scary moment. I was here on the bridge, and I saw the beautiful sky and the crisp air. It was like a scene in a movie, and I still can’t believe it is reality.”

So far, the Sea Shepherd has had no need to hail the Japanese crews, but Izumi could be called into action at any moment. As I write this on Friday, the Sea Shepherd fleet is following a tanker ship just outside the Antarctic Treaty Zone. The current strategy is to keep the Japanese vessels from refueling from the Korean-owned tanker Sun Laurel. Apparently, nobody on board speaks Japanese, or perhaps they are simply refusing to respond to Izumi’s radio calls.

“Life here is inconvenient,” Izumi told me, “but the people are so nice, and they have a passion, and that makes a difference.”

I asked her if she had been filmed by the crew working on the television show “Whale Wars,” which is scheduled to enter its fourth season this summer on the Animal Planet network.

“They’re here right now shooting me,” she said as we spoke on the phone.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether any shots of Izumi survive the production process and make it to the television screen.
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Here are the actions reported so far by Sea Shepherd since leaving Hobart on Dec. 2:

Tuesday, Dec. 2: Sea Shepherd leaves Hobart with two vessels: Steve Irwin, the longstanding command ship, and Bob Barker, a faster ship added last year. The newly added Gojira, a monohull trimaran capable of 24 knots, is enroute from Western Australian to join them. This year, Sea Shepherd is deploying a faster, longer-range helicopter capable of carrying more people.

Wednesday, Dec. 10: Steve Irwin arrives in Wellington, New Zealand, for a four-day celebration and send-off for the anti-whaling crew. The ship takes on a maximum load of fuel for the ship and helicopter along with a ton of donated supplies. The ship leaves at noon on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

Saturday, Jan. 1:
The three Japanese harpoon ships attempt to block all three Sea Shepherd ships from pursuing the factory ship Nisshin Maru through the ice. Clashes involve high-speed chases and near-collisions. The whalers fire their water canons, while Sea Shepherd crew members toss stink bombs.

Wednesday, Jan. 5: Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd orders a pontoon boat to go after the harpoon ship Yushin Maru 2, which he claims is fast approaching and possibly threatening the Gojira as it tries to refuel. Those aboard the small boat are able to toss several stink bombs onto the harpooner’s deck while attempting to tangle a rope into its propeller. The Institute of Cetacean Research, which represents the Japanese fleet, releases this short video, complaining of the Sea Shepherd attacks.

Friday, Jan. 7: Two of the harpoon boats, Yushin Maru 2 and Yushin Maru 3 continue to tail Sea Shepherd’s large vessels, which are trying to catch up with the factory ship, Nisshin Maru. The faster Gojiro goes ahead to look for the Nisshin Maru and begins deploying a new tool — high-altitude weather balloons equipped with cameras and radar to search large areas for the factory ship.

Sunday, Jan. 9: The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research claims Sea Shepherd threw a flash-bang grenade and releases a video that shows a flame on the side of Yushin Maru 2. Sea Shepherd denies ever using such “dangerous weapons” in retaliation, saying they are stink bombs and smoke bombs.

Wednesday, Jan. 12: Sea Shepherd announces that it has located the supply ship for the Japanese fleet. It is said to be a Korean-owned, Panamanian-registered tanker named Sun Laurel. Said Watson, “We have found the Achilles heel of the whale fleet, and we intend to stay on it like a bloodhound and keep this ship from delivering fuel and supplies to the whaling fleet.”

Thursday, Jan. 13: Sea Shepherd advises the Sun Laurel that it is a violation of the Antarctic Treaty to refuel vessels in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The captain of the Sun Laurel reportedly agrees to leave the sanctuary by heading north across the 60th parallel.

Friday, Jan. 14: The Sun Laurel is now north of the 60-degree line, still being followed by the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker. Yushin Maru 1 replaces Yushin Maru 2 behind the Steve Irwin, meaning all three harpoon ships are within sight of the Sea Shepherd vessels. Because of the close proximity of the harpoon ships and speed of travel so far this year, few if any whales have been killed by the Japanese, Watson says, adding that a third of the hunting season is now over.

See Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Institute of Cetacean Research for the opposing viewpoints.

3 thoughts on “Bainbridge mom proud of her anti-whaling efforts

  1. Sorry, but, however they feel, what sea sheppard does at sea is the same sort of terroristic threats and illegal activity that extremist protestors do here when they spike trees, vandalize agriculture they disagree with, or vandalize/destroy shops they don’t like. It is illegal here when it is done and it is illegal there. They do it for coverage in stories like this. You wouldn’t see such sympathetic coverage about a group slashing SUV tires. Intentionally attempting to foul a ship’s screws with line or nets is the same as spiking a hunters gas tank and driving a knife into her tires. The fact that such illegal activity gets coverage is terrible, let alone charitable coverage. It is more about inciting illegal activity than about journalism. Everyone who gives money or aid to Sea Shepherd should be prosecuted for aiding illegal activities. The whaling companies should sue the organization and their supports, especially those with deep pockets. We don’t need anarchy anywhere at sea or at home.

  2. I understand there are strong feelings on all sides of this issue, and I have never felt a particular need to cover Sea Shepherd’s activities. But people are interested — particularly now that we have a local woman involved.

    Here’s what I wrote in my first blog post about Izumi Stephens in November:

    My coverage of Sea Shepherd’s activities should not be construed as a personal endorsement. I once asked readers of Water Ways if they would prefer that I write frequently about Sea Shepherd, ignore the group’s activities altogether or something in between. Based on the response, I try to update Sea Shepherd’s activities in this blog two or three times a year.

    With Izumi Stephens serving on the Bob Barker until March, I hope to bring you a few more reports from her perspective. I perceive Izumi as a local person, a mild-mannered but passionate woman who is out of her element yet involved in the adventure of a lifetime.

    Tim, I welcome your viewpoint and encourage anyone to offer their opinions about Sea Shepherd or my coverage. I will also take comments from those who would like to defend Sea Shepherd. For me, how to cover this subject is a bit of a dilemma.

  3. What the Sea Shepard is doing is not illegal. What the whalers are doing is. They are not killing whales for research, they are killing them to sell the meat which is big in Japan. They hid behind the research stuff and are killing whales in what is supposed to be a no kill place for whales. While the people you are referring to as slashing SUV tires and burning down houses built in the woods, the difference is that it is not illegal to build in the woods if you have the permits and it is not illegal to own an SUV as long as it meets standards. There is a difference between an ecoterrorist and the Sea Shepard regardless if you care what is happening to the whales. I saw the video when the whalers ran over the fast boat last season. They did it on purpose, it was not an accident, and that is threatening lives of people. Stink bombs and ropes are not threatening people, just making it much harder for the Japanese to kill whales. Go Sea Shepard!!!

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