Archive for January, 2010

Save The Whale T-Shirt

January 27, 2010

(First Posted Saturday, March 8, 2008)

The Ying and Yang whale motif created by the Whale & Dolphin Coalition in 1977 as part of a campaign of nonviolent direct action against Australia’s last whaling station in Albany, Western Australia.

The whales on the t-shirt have the box noses of sperm whales, the type of whale being hunted by Australia at that time.

‘Close Cheynes’ is a reference to the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, the last whaling company in Australia.

The Whale & Dolphin Coalition brought to Australia Canadian Bob Hunter, Greenpeace’s first president, to lend his expertise honed in the North Pacific against the Soviet whaling fleet … using Zodiac inflatable boats to put people between harpoons and whales. The Whale & Dolphin Coalition later morphed into Greenpeace Australia
Classic ‘Save The Whale’ t-shirt (below) created in 1977 during the campaign to close Australia’s last whaling station. The t-shirt was worn, and is still owned, by Aline Charney Barber during the nonviolent direct action campaign in Albany, Western Australia.


Write Inside the heads of Australia’s last whalers

January 27, 2010

(First Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2008)

Chris Pash will be (2008) discussing the techniques used to write The Last Whale when giving a paper at The Art of the Real: National Creative Non-Fiction Conference at Newcastle University May 16-18.

The Art of the Real is presented by the Literature, Cinema, Culture Research Group, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle and the Hunter Writers’ Centre.

The paper will discuss the paths and techniques to gift the reader with immediacy, a sense of now, of being inside the heads of real people creating history, sharing thoughts, fears, joys, wins and losses — and to do all that with an accuracy true to the experience.

The Last Whale narrative follows action recreated from memory mining through interviews, plus official documents including police witness statements, diaries and letters.

The book, to be published by Fremantle Press in October 2008, is written from two viewpoints: anti-whaling activisits and whalers. The story follows a group of people as they plan and execute a dangerous at sea protest against Australia’s last whaling station in 1977.

Whale Meat Prices Fall, Whaling Costs Rise

January 27, 2010

(First Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2008)

Japan’s whaling industry is in trouble again — this time it’s financial.

Whale meat prices fell in Japan while the cost of whaling operations in the Antarctic rose.

The Institute of Cetacean Research, the body behind Japan’s whaling operations, is struggling to repay interest-free loans from the Japanese Government, according to a newspaper report.

Apparently, Japan has been catching so many whales that this has increased supplies of whale meat to the market by thirty per cent. This caused a twenty per cent fall in price.

At the same time the cost of whaling increased by ten per cent as the whaling fleet was expanded from five ships to six.

And last year there was a fire onboard one of the ships. More cost.

The Ashahi Shimbun reports: “Japan’s research whaling has long been criticized from around the world as commercial whaling in disguise. Now, research whaling faces a domestic blow–stagnant sales of whale meat. A series of accidents involving whaling ships last year and disruptive protests from overseas activists have also hurt the finances of a government-affiliated foundation in charge of research whaling. “

In the 2006 financial year, the institute posted a 700 million yen (around $6.5 million USD) loss. Kyodo Senpaku, the company which processes and sell the whale meat, made a profit of about $46,000 USD.

The Phantom

January 22, 2010

(First posted Monday, March 19, 2007)

This 1977 photograph is of Jean Paul Fortom-Gouin, dubbed ‘The Phantom’ by Australian anti-whaling activist Jonny Lewis. The young Australian met the Frenchman in Canberra in June 1977 while protesting at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

Jonny Lewis took this image from a Zodiac inflatable while chasing Australia’s last whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean off Western Australia. In the background is the Cheynes II one of three whale chaser ships.

(c) Copyright Jonny Lewis

Dangerous ideas

January 22, 2010

(First posted Wednesday, February 21, 2007)

It’s the 1970s. Drugs, sex and rock and roll. And dangerous ideas. One of them is the concept that man may not have a free hand to do what he wants with the world’s resources.

Australia’s last whaling station at Albany, Western Australia, is hunting sperm whales in the Southern Ocean. Whaling has been going on since before European settlement. The local crews of the whale chaser ships have standing in the community. They’re the good guys. They go out each day and take a crop from the ocean. They bring money into the town. More than 100 people work in whaling, one of the biggest industries in town.

In other parts of the world, opposition to whaling grows. The industry has a history of overexploitation, hunting whales, such as the blue whale, to the point of extinction.

A bunch of activists decide to take the fight to the point of the harpoons. They are led Australian Jonny Lewis, Frenchman Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin and by Canadia Bob Hunter, co-founder of Greenpeace. Bob and his wife Bobbi arrive in Sydney in mid 1977 to be met by Australian Jonny Lewis, a photographer, who has formed a group called the Whale and Dolphin Coalition. The Australians want whaling stopped now. They don’t want to wait for the political agenda to be changed.

The catalyst for the direct action planned is a Frenchman called Jean Paul Fortom Gouin. He’s got money and he wants to save the whales. Jean Paul puts up the money to bring the two Canadians, veterans of the Greenpeace campaign in the Northern Pacific against the Soviet whaling fleet, to Australia. Jean Paul’s strategy is hit Australia hard. Get them to stop whaling and use Australia as a launch point to stop whaling in the rest of the world, a domino effect.

Bob Hunter pioneered the tactic of using rubber Zodiac boats to place people between the harpoon guns and the whales — human shields. This is what’s planned for the three whale chaser ships of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company at Albany, Western Australia. The key difference between the Soviet fleet and the Australian operation is that the Albany whaling is shore based; they return their catch to land each day. This means that the activists won’t have to scour the ocean to find the whalers.

The Hunters, Jonny Lewis and his architect friend Tom Barber, start gathering equipment and plan the campaign. First they have to get everyone and the gear, including Zodiacs and outboard engines, across to the other side of Australia.

Obituary – Australian Whaling Ship Captain

January 22, 2010

(First posted Monday, February 19, 2007

By Chris Pash

Andrew Gordon Cruickshank
Born: October 8, 1925
Died: May 5, 2006

Gordon Cruickshank liked to sneak up on a sperm whale. He’d come in behind the pod, drift into position and line up his target, the one whale he wanted.

The master and harpoon gunner of the chaser Cheynes III bagged one of the last whales caught in Australia. He was there at the end when Australia’s last whaling station, and the last in the English-speaking world, closed at Albany on November 21, 1978.

The Cheynes III could drift without power for several miles and still have some steerage. Gordon liked to be as quiet as he could.

“I’d shut everything off about 50 yards out, come right up behind them and get a shot just under the little flipper they have on their side.”

A head shot was no good. It was an easy target, almost one-third of a sperm whale’s body length, but it was tough. A harpoon could bounce off.

Recounting the technique in the pub, he would emphasis the point of the story with a sudden jab of his fingers to the nearest person’s ribs. The tender spot under the arm.

The Scotsman arrived in Fremantle in September 1949 on a fishing trawler, the Ben Dearg, as a coal trimmer shovelling ten tonnes of coal a day all the way from the UK.

The Anglo-Australian Fisheries venture, established to trawl the Great Australian Bight, didn’t last long. “Australian coal was too green. It wasn’t a good steaming coal.”

Gordon got a job with the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company as a deckhand. He became first mate and then a relieving skipper when he got his skipper’s ticket in 1968. He moved from relieving skipper to the master of the Cheynes III after Ches Stubbs lost his leg in an accident at sea.

Gordon spent his life at sea but he almost didn’t get his wish to be a seaman. His family tried to stop him because his grandfather and great uncle both drowned.

As a boy in Aberdeen, Scotland, read tales of adventure at sea. He always wanted to join the navy, visit China or go whaling. He did all three.

He left school in Scotland when he was fourteen and joined the Royal Navy when he was seventeen.

His mother didn’t want him to go. His older brother, home on leave from the Army, said Gordon would go anyway, no matter what she said. If she let Gordon go, at least she would know where he was.

When he joined the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, his war experience as a Royal Navy gunner came in handy. He could service a harpoon gun with his eyes closed.

Gordon always said a clean kill was in everyone’s interest. A bad shot was a messy business costing time and money. The chaser would have to move in for a killer shot, a wooden harpoon with an explosive head, to make sure the whale was dead.

“If the whales comes up and turns on his side and his mouth is open, I take that to be instantaneous. If he comes up and thrashes a bit, we bring him alongside to put a killer in him.”

And no one wanted an undersized whale. No profit, no bonus, in that. And Gordon would have to spend hours on the paperwork. He hated making excuses.

He started one report: “This whale being undersized was as much a surprise to me as it was to the whale when I shot her. The whale was on its own, which is unusual for cows, and at the time it looked quite big enough. If I had thought otherwise I would not have shot it.”

Gordon built a deep knowledge on the habits of sperm whales. He knew he had to be fast when he hit a pod.

The big bull sperm whale would take off first, running underwater across the pod. Gordon would keep the chaser in the area and try to meet the bull as he came up.

Gordon could tell the difference between the sexes in an instant. A female had a pointed head, more of a taper, while a bull was squarer and bigger.

A sperm whale can keep up a ten to twelve knot pace for a long time and dive deep for thirty minutes or more. A high flick of the tail usually meant the whale was heading for the depths. A bend in the tail, a short dive of twenty metres.

The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company worked to an annual catch quota set by the International Whaling Commission.

Under the rules, more bulls than cows were taken. Gordon thought this was sensible. The males were larger and returned more sperm whale oil tonnes per harpoon.

And there was always a young bull waiting to take the place of the older, bigger males. A pod of 200 or more females was governed by one large bull. The eager younger bachelor sperm whales followed the harems at a distance. Sometimes a large pod would shrink when a young male made his move and took off with forty to fifty females.

The benefits of technology –spotter planes, sonar and modern ships –didn’t make catching whales easy. And the final decision to take a whale was always Gordon’s. In an instant, he had to judge size and sex. Is the whale pregnant or not? Should he take this one first? Would that scare the others off? In a big swell, a whale might be in one trough and the chaser in another, the crew straining to catch glimpses.

On a good day Gordon would stroll down the catwalk connecting the bridge to the harpoon deck at the bow. In bad weather, he’ll leave it to the last moment. Waves could wash over the harpoon deck and move the forerunner, the lines attached to the harpoon.

The Cheynes III was run on Australian casual lines. The crew called Gordon by his first name, thongs were worn on deck and the officers and crew ate the same food. Gordon took his job seriously and had a strong work ethic. Anyone not keeping up was a ‘lazy bastard’.

Gordon wasn’t impressed when, in 1977, the growing world-wide anti-whaling campaign arrived in Albany in the form of inflatable zodiac dinghies zipping between the three whale chasers 30 nautical miles offshore, trying to spoil the aim of harpooners.

“I dropped the forerunner (the rope connecting the ship to the harpoon) on them, into the rubber ducky,” Gordon said. “They weren’t too happy.”

In 1978, when the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, established a judicial inquiry into Whales and Whaling, Gordon took the commissioner, Sir Sydney Frost, out on the Cheynes III. The commissioner was seasick all the way. Gordon admired his determination.

On the last day of operations, Gordon relaxed the no-drinking rule. “We had a few beers on the way home. I told the boys: It doesn’t matter if we get the sack.”

Gordon always said he would go whaling again at the drop of a hat. All he needed was a ship.

He is survived by his wife, Betty, son Gordon, four grandchildren and several great grandchildren.

The First Whale War

January 22, 2010

(First posted onFriday, February 16, 2007)

This blog is about the war for the whales, the first battle in 1977 and 1978. The campaign changed Australia from a pro-whaling nation to an international advocate for the whales. It also saw the formation of Greenpeace in Australia.

I worked for the local newspaper, The Albany Advertiser, in Western Australia at the time. Albany was then a small sleepy town on the south coast. Next stop the Antarctic.

The arrival of activists wanting to confront the whalers at the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, the last whaling station left in Australia, turned the town upside down.

Clashes took place at the gates to the whaling station and 30 miles out to sea — a contest between rubber Zodiacs, open boats, and steel, sea-going whale ships.

I’ve written a book about the events on the people. More on that later. This blog will be a deposit of stories and accounts from that time including photos and documents. The story is from two sides: the whalers; and the activists. The whalers, as you will see, got a raw deal. The activists were all but forgotten.

Chris Pash