Human Interaction

Peter Hammarstedt Crew Interviews Whale Wars

posted: 05/15/12

Please note that the views expressed are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the views of Animal Planet or Discovery Communications, Inc.

ANIMAL PLANET: Why did you join Sea Shepherd?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: Well I first found out about Sea Shepherd when I was about 14 years old. It was the first time I ever saw a photo of the kind of whaling that was going on in the Southern Oceans. I saw a minke whale being dragged up the slipway of the big factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, and I knew right then and there that I needed to stop it. If I can be anywhere in the world, I wanted to be between the harpoon and that whale.

I joined Sea Shepherd as soon as I turned 18. I wanted to get involved as early as possible. It's been a dream of mine for so long. This is my fifth expedition down to the Antarctic. I've been to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada to try to stop the seal hunt. I've been tackling poachers in the Galapagos. But what I really, really feel passionate about is stopping whaling once and for all. I'll keep going back to Antarctica until we finally stop it.

ANIMAL PLANET: What kind of people typically join Sea Shepherd?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: Well, what's so wonderful about Sea Shepherd is that we get people from all over the world on this campaign. We've got people from, I think, 14 different countries. We've got about 60 volunteers. We've got people from all walks of life, you know, for one single mission. And that's what they want to see, an end to whaling, and they want to see it now.

ANIMAL PLANET: What's your plan for finding the whalers?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: We're going straight down from Melbourne, Australia. We'll go down pretty much due south until we reach the ice off the Antarctic coast, at which point, we'll start looking for the Japanese whalers. It'll take about six to seven days to get there. And we've got enough fuel that as soon as we find the whalers we'll be able to keep up with them for several weeks.

ANIMAL PLANET: This means you're at sea during the holiday season, right?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: Right. This will be my fifth holiday season that I'll be spending away from my family. But, there's really nowhere else I'd rather be than the Southern Oceans, knowing that really we're the only hope that the whales have. If that involves being away from my family, if it involves risking my own life and my own safety to stop and end the killing, then I'm willing to do that. I didn't join Sea Shepherd until I could say with 100 percent conviction that I'm willing to risk my life to save the life of a whale.

ANIMAL PLANET: Why do you feel so passionate about whales?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: The reason I feel so passionate about whales is that they're some of the most social, intelligent, magnificent creatures that this world has. We live in probably one of the greatest periods of extinctions that this world has ever seen. I think the Smithsonian Institute estimates that 50,000 species disappear every year. And I think that if we can't save the whales, then we'll have very, very little luck saving all the other species that are disappearing.

The whales mean everything to me. I see them as having the same capacity to suffer as me and because of that I think they have the right to life. And I want to protect and defend them because I feel I'm one of the only voices they have.

ANIMAL PLANET: How long have you been with Sea Shepherd?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: I've been with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society now for five years. I haven't missed a beat. I've been to the Galapagos twice, where I've been held hostage by fishermen. I've pulled up countless miles of illegal long line, freeing the animals that have been caught on these hooks. I've tackled the Japanese whalers. This is my fifth time now going down to the Southern Oceans. I've filmed and documented the brutal slaughter of harp seals off the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada. I've basically tried to put myself anywhere where marine mammals are in need and I've tried to put myself in a position to stop the illegal slaughter of them.

ANIMAL PLANET: What do you think of Captain Paul Watson?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: For me, Captain Paul Watson is an incredible inspiration. He's living proof that social change comes about when individuals decide not to just sit passively by and allow horrible things to happen, but to get actively involved and try to stop them. So, Paul is my hero. It's an amazing experience for me to be able to work side by side with what I consider to be a living legend.

ANIMAL PLANET: What's Captain Paul Watson's roll on the ship?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: Well, Captain Paul Watson, he's sort of the master and commander. He's the captain of the vessel. He has command. It's his responsibility that we get back safely. It's his responsibility that we also do everything we can to save as many whales as we can. There's a lot riding on his shoulders so he's not overly concerned with crew disputes and things. He leaves that up to his officers and he trusts them to handle any sort of problems that come up. Paul's got a lot on his plate. He's really single-handedly tackling the issue of whaling in the Southern Oceans.

He is so busy. He's writing press releases, he's taking media calls. When Giles and Pottsy boarded the Japanese whaler, the Yushin Maru #2, Paul was up in the radio room for about 60 hours straight taking media calls from around the world. When it comes to crew meetings and crew disputes and things like that, interpersonal problems, Captain Watson leaves that up to his officers. He's got more important things to do. He is the master tactician of this campaign and he's too busy saving whales to deal with human problems.

Captain Paul Watson can oftentimes be found in his cabin where he's busy on his computer. He's trying to figure out the best possible way where we can non-violently but effectively shut down Japanese whaling.

ANIMAL PLANET: Can you tell us about the Steve Irwin?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: Well, the Steve Irwin is our little satellite on this planet Earth. It's a functioning society. We have a galley which is where all the cooking happens and the three meals that we get a day are. It's really one of the most important areas on the ship. We've got all volunteers so that's really the only payment you get for your hard work: three hot vegan meals a day.

We've got the bridge which is sort of the brains of the ship. It's where we're, 24 hours a day, keeping a lookout for... Not only for icebergs and other dangers but we're also keeping a constant look after the Japanese whaling ships. So, we're on the radar. We're on the satellite phone. We're in constant communication with the outside world because we're trying to let people know what's happening. We have 35 crew onboard but we're trying to get millions and millions of people into that wheelhouse with us.

We've got the engine room which, I guess, you can only describe as the heart of ship. It's where, you know, oil is pumping through like blood. It's what gets us going out. We're steering up on the bridge but this is really the energy. It's what keeps us going.

And then all around we have our deckhands. If the Steve Irwin were a functioning body, then these are our blood cells. They're going all over. They're launching our Zodiacs. They're tying down the ship. They're also cleaning our toilets and they're really keeping everything together. They're sort of the lifeblood.

ANIMAL PLANET: What's your biggest challenge this year?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: One of the biggest challenges of going down to the Southern Oceans to tackle the Japanese whalers is actually finding them. It's like a needle in a haystack. We're on a ship that goes maybe 20 miles per hour and we don't really know where to start looking. So, it's a little bit like setting off in the middle of the continent of the United States on a bicycle trying to find a caravan of six trucks somewhere out in the Midwest and not really knowing where to start.

The helicopter is one of the most useful tools we have on the ship. This is the third campaign where we've had a helicopter and it's been a huge help. It's our eye in the sky and it extends our search range by tenfold. If we're going to find the Japanese, we need the helicopter and I think (helicopter pilot) Chris Aultman would be the first to spot them.

The radar that we have on board the vessel is restrictive. We can only really see as far as the horizon goes. What the helicopter allows us to do is to go hundreds of miles beyond that range and make sure that the Japanese whalers can't pass us. And it allows us to more easily maneuver through the ice fields and through the ice floes. It allows us to see passages.

ANIMAL PLANET: Can you tell us about the inflatable boats?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: We have three inflatable boats on board the Steve Irwin. They allow us to go much faster than the 20 miles that we're pushing. So, we use them to try to harass and impede the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese any way we can. So, you'll often see our Delta boat or our Zodiac boat deploying prop fouling lines or throwing stink bombs on board the vessels, everything to try and disrupt their illegal whaling operations.

The inflatable boat we refer to as the Delta is orange and black, and bigger and bulkier than the Zodiac. It's the fastest boat we've got. We can probably get up to about 40, 50 knots with it and it's oftentimes the primary vessel we use to try to impede the Japanese whaling activities.

ANIMAL PLANET: Do your parents worry about you?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: Certainly my parents get worried when I'm out at sea, but they understand why I'm doing it, and they know that I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. They support me 100 percent in it. I think above anything else, I mean among the worry, they feel a certain sense of pride.

ANIMAL PLANET: What's it like being in a relationship as a member of Sea Shepherd?

PETER HAMMERSTEDT: It's difficult being in a relationship when you're a sailor. It's hard for you to find somebody who can understand that you spend six, seven, eight months of your year out at sea and with minimal communications to keep in touch. I'm very fortunate to have my partner, Amber, on board the vessel. We met in the Galapagos as we were tackling poachers and shark finners. It's a romance that's already forged in the fire of battle. She's one of my confidantes. I rely on her, and I'm very fortunate to have her with me on this campaign.

Amber's one of those people on the ship that's there for all the right reasons. She's incredibly passionate. She's fiery about it. She's certainly opinionated. She's certainly... the Japanese have met their match with her. She's great. We fell in love in the Galapagos and, you know, that romance continues to blossom.

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