What would it be like to be a ... crew member on a Sea Shepherd vessel?

We asked Peter Hammarstedt – First Mate of the Sea Shepherd’s M/V ‘Bob Barker’ – about his role in the organisation and what it’s like to be at the forefront of hindering species-endangering whaling.

Peter Hammarstedt

What made you want to save animals? (Jasmine & Elsa)

Jasmine & Elsa, when I was about 14 years old I volunteered at a local animal shelter. Working there taught me that animals have the same ability to feel happiness, sadness, fear and comfort as we humans do. I work to save animals, because they can't defend themselves and they can't speak for themselves. They need our help.

How big do the waves get in the ocean? (Sydney)

Sydney, the Southern Oceans that surround Antarctica are renowned for being rough. When we head to Antarctica, it isn't uncommon to get some waves that are as high as 12 to 15 meters. That's higher than the distance from the bridge, where we steer the ship, to the waterline.

Do you feel nervous or scared when you do your job? (Aline)

Aline, sometimes I'm scared. But my biggest fear is living in a world without whales. I fear having to look my children, or my grand children, in the eyes and telling them that I didn't do everything in my power to make sure that they live in a world with healthy oceans.

Could you please describe your responsibilities and jobs on the Sea Shepherd? (Atisha)

Atisha, I'm the First Mate on board the M/Y Bob Barker. That means that I'm second-in-command after the Captain. I'm in charge of the safe navigation of the ship from the hours of 4 to 8 in the morning and 4 to 8 in the afternoon. Being the First Mate on a Sea Shepherd ship is a big responsibility because not only are you responsible for the lives of all of the ship's crew, but you're also responsible for saving as many whales as you can from the deadly harpoons.

Peter with other crew members, including Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

What is your favourite type of whale/animal? (Clancey, Charlotte, Caitie & Caitlin)

Clancey, Charlotte, Caitie & Caitlin, my favourite cetacean is the pilot whale. Pilot whales, despite their name, are actually large members of the dolphin family. They've been my favorite cetacean ever since I assisted in a stranding rescue on King Island. Pilot whales are very social and travel in super pods of up to 200-300 other individuals.

What do you do to relax? (Clancey)

Clancey, we watch a lot of movies on the ships. Personally, there's nothing that I like doing more than getting off shift and losing myself in a really good book. But on Sea Shepherd ships, there is little time to relax. When we're chasing the Japanese whaling vessels, we're working 24 hours a day. At those times, I'm either at the helm (ship term for steering) or sleeping :-).

Do you eat fish on the boat? (Charlotte)

Charlotte, we only eat vegan food on the boat. Vegan is another word for strictly vegetarian. That means that we don't eat meat, fish, eggs or anything made from milk (like cheese).

How many whales do you think you and the crew saved last season? (Mr Beaumont)

Mr. Beaumont, we know that we saved 529 whales last season. That was more whales saved than the Japanese poachers were able to kill. Each one of those lives that we save is a victory for us. Also, each whale that we save costs the whaling fleet a lot of money in lost profit. A minke whale sells for about $250,000 in Tokyo.

We were reading about the Sea Shepherd's boats. One was once a whaling boat! Did you know that? (Elsa & Connor)

Elsa & Connor, I did know that! The Bob Barker, the boat that I'm on, was a Norwegian whaling boat from 1951 to 1962. We're making sure that it makes up for its dreadful past. Because it was an Antarctic whaling boat, the bow (front of the ship) is very strong and protected from the ice. So thanks to the fact that we have an ex-whaling boat in our fleet, the Japanese whalers can't run and hide in the ice from us.

The M/Y Bob Barker

If any whaling ships do get away and kill the whales, do you cry? (Aurora)

Aurora, it's very rare that any whales are killed on our campaigns. It has only happened once. When I saw that the whalers had killed one of the whales, I was too angry to cry. I wanted to make sure that they didn't kill any more whales, so we moved the ship to block the whaling boat from transferring the dead whale to their floating fish factory. A big collision ensured between the two ships and that was the last time that the whaling ships tried to hunt with us nearby.


What is your favourite thing to use to annoy whaling ships? (Aurora & John)

Aurora & John, my favorite tactic is to just follow very closely on the stern (back) of their big factory ship. When the whalers kill a whale, they have to transfer the whale to that big ship. The whale is pulled up a big slipway on the stern so we put our ship in the way. They can try to hit our ship and throw things at us, but we just stay on the slipway and never retreat.

On how many boats have you crewed? (Jack & Ronya)

Jack & Ronya, I have crewed on three Sea Shepherd ships including the Bob Barker, the Steve Irwin and the Farley Mowat. The Farley Mowat is no longer with us after it was captured by the Canadian police. They arrested the ship because it was taking pictures of a seal hunt in Canada. The Canadians didn't want the picture to get out. The Captain and I were thrown in jail for three days, but because of all of the attention that we got, Europe decided to ban all seal products from going overseas. That pretty much stopped the hunt!

Which part of the ocean do you usually go to stop whalers? (Maggie)

Maggie, right now, we're preparing to go to the Southern Oceans, also known as the Antarctic Ocean, to stop the Japanese whaling fleet. The whaling fleet hunts around the ice edge that surrounds the Antarctic Continent. It takes us about 7 days sailing to get down there.

The 'Steve Irwin' in the Southern Ocean dwarfed by icebergs.

What do you think the inclusion of Gojira will do to help the cause? (Mr Williams)

Mr. Williams, the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin are fast enough to keep up with the whaling factory ship, but not the harpoon ships (the boats that actually kill the whales). The Gojira can do more than 25 knots, which means that it can run circles around the harpoon vessels. It's also very difficult to detect on radar, which should help us sneak up on the whaling fleet.

The newest weapon in the Sea Shepherd arsenal is the Gojira. It's name is the Japanese form of the English-named monster, Godzilla. Which will be more formidable?

Why is it the Australian Government's responsibility to stop whaling in international waters? What they are doing is not illegal. I too perceive it as wrong, but it is not illegal. (Mr Dennis)

Mr. Dennis, the Japanese whaling is hunting endangered whales in a designated whale sanctuary in direct contravention of a global moratorium on commercial whaling. They are also in violation of an Australian Federal Court ruling that bans the whalers from the Australian Antarctic Territory. The majority of whaling in the Southern Oceans occur in Australian and New Zealand territorial waters and economic exclusion zone (EEZ). Commercial whaling was banned in 1986, but there is a loophole for scientific whaling. Japan claims that their whaling is scientific, but they do not have approval by the International Whaling Commissions Scientific Committee. Furthermore, the whales that the whalers plan to kill include 50 endangered fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales. These are the same whales that frequent the Australian coast during winter time. They are protected by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

How can we help to save the whales? (Caitie)

Caitie, when we fight to protect the oceans, we are fighting for future generations. It is children like you who will one day inherit the oceans. Although you need to be 18 to join our ship's crew, we have many Sea Shepherd kids who raise awareness in their schools and communities. They also talk to their parents, who can influence politicians. And many kids raise money to help give us fuel so that we can save the whales!

Here's a whale of a tale (tail!) John, Maggie, Margaret & Ronya drew whales diving with only their tails to be seen.

Atisha thought the whole whale deserved to be shown especially diving out of the water.

What might the Sea Shepherd crew see on their trip? Well, Clancey thought they might see jellyfish, Sydney some turtles and Caitie a tortoise or two.

Lotte and Elsa have drawn the sadder side of what the Sea Shepherd crew are trying to stop: whales caught and killed.