For nine years, I have challenged the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.
Robert Falcon Scott led two expeditions to Antarctica. Roald Amundsen led one expedition and Sir Ernest Shackleton led four expeditions and participated in Scott’s first expedition for a total of five expeditions in all. That makes eight Antarctic expeditions by these three famous Antarctic explorers.
I realized this season that this is the ninth Antarctic expedition that I have embarked upon to challenge the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean. That is a total of more than 27 months of time spent in these remote and hostile but awesomely beautiful waters.
My total time does not exceed Shackleton or Scott, who wintered over many times, but it does exceed Ronald Amundsen who wintered over only once.
Why is this relevant?
What these three great explorers did a century ago along with explorers like Australians’ Sir Douglas Mawson and France’s Dumont d’Urville was to bring awareness of this mysterious continent to the people of the world. They were here for science, and they were also here to plant their countries’ flag at the pole. It was the early 20th century equivalent of the mid-20th century Soviet-American race for the moon.
I won’t begrudge them that. I was a friend of Robert Falcon’s Scott’s son, Sir Peter Scott, and had more than a few conversations with him about Antarctica, about whales and birds and his father. I told him that I had always been a great admirer of the courage, tenacity, and sagacity of these three very different but all powerfully motivated men.
But in truth, as much as I respect them, my respect for Sir Peter Scott was greater. This great ornithologist was a founder of the World Wildlife Fund and helped to create wildlife reserves around the world.
Whereas his father was motivated by geography and science, Peter was motivated by wildlife and nature.
The three Antarctic explorers certainly observed much of Antarctica’s wildlife in addition to killing and eating quite a bit of it as well. I have always felt that walking up to a friendly penguin and bashing it over the head with a club was hardly the way to greet the natives of a newly discovered continent; but then again it seems consistent with the “discoveries” of the Americas, Africa, and Australia.
But they were men of their time, whereas Peter Scott was more a man of our time. He saw that the most pressing challenge of the 20th century was the conservation of wildlife, of biodiversity, and that is what he chose to focus on. In this way he was a greater inspiration than his father, for he had even more of what Amundsen called “sagacity” than his father before him.
Sagacity is the quality of being discerning, sound in judgment and farsightedness.
Robert Falcon Scott, just before he died, wrote a letter to his wife where he asked her to “make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games”.
Peter Scott was only two years old when his father froze to death in his tent in that great frigid white wilderness whilst trying to return from the Pole.
Captain Scott was the most scientifically inclined of the three aforementioned explorers and this example of sagacity motivated his son to become the great conservationist that he became.
I am not an explorer in the same way as Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen, but I have been locked in the south polar ice numerous times, stood on the Ross Ice Shelf, on Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, on Scott Island, weathered storms in McMurdo Sound, and gone ashore at the Bay of Whales to walk amongst the penguins. I have seen Shackleton’s hut and Mawson’s hut but most importantly I have had the privilege to see the same animals that they saw: the penguins, the whales, the seals, the skuas, the petrels, and the albatross.
I am a different kind of Antarctic explorer, with the mission of defending and protecting diversity in these supposedly protected waters.
The world declared this the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, not I, but as a citizen of this planet, my crew and I have seen it as our responsibility to defend the integrity of the whale sanctuary.
We are exploring the means to ensure the survival of the whales in the sanctuary from poachers who get away with their crimes simply by the fact that they are wealthy.
And we are dedicated to seeing that this last relatively untouched continent is not assaulted in a greedy quest for coal, cobalt, uranium, and other minerals; that oil rigs will not be sunk offshore of the continent; and that the fish, the whales, seals, plankton, and penguins be unmolested. We need to have one place on this human-dominated planet that is not subject to our greed and ignorance. We need to let them be, to leave them alone and let them carry on their destinies without imposing our selfish will upon them.
It is a daunting task to be sure but that is the task before us. Scott, Amundsen, and Shackleton opened the door to this continent and thankfully a century later the hordes of humans intent on profit through resource exploitation have been kept out because of the Antarctic Treaty.
The only destructive invaders during the last century have been the whalers from Europe and Asia, and they undertook a great reaping of life from which the whales still have not fully recovered. The slaughter was ruthless, excessive, and cruel, and only when they ran out of whales to slay did they go home, leaving these waters to the few survivors who have struggled to recover over the last fifty years.
Now the only unwelcome trespassers are the Japanese whalers, who spit upon the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and contemptuously dismiss the global moratorium on commercial whaling and the rulings of the Australian Federal Court that prohibited whaling in Australian Antarctic territorial waters in 2008.
For that is why I now have four ships, a helicopter, and 120 volunteers from 24 different nations down here in the ice waiting for the Japanese whaling fleet to arrive.
We are the Antarctic explorers of the 21st century, and we come not to plant flags, not to chart the land, or examine the rocks, and certainly not to dine on penguins.
We are here to explore the possibilities of defending the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and to set an example for others to explore the ways to defend the continent of Antarctica itself from exploitation.