Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Saving whales: Japan 1 (Greenpeace Days)

Hmmm. It doesn't seem that these party-ers are a likely
bunch to save whales, now does it?
Suppose you and a group of friends want to stop Japanese whaling. It's not like there's an instruction manual to follow. You'll have to figure this stuff out as you go along. 

Imagine the research (there are several coastal whaling towns--based on various factors, choose Wada Ura),  the strategizing (with no ship at your disposal to catch the harpoon boats as they ply the waters a hundred miles from shore, you'll have to wait and watch for a whaling boat to return to the shore station--and then try to stop it from going out again), the preparation (you'll need small inflatable boats, engines, gas tanks, walkie talkies, and a rental van to haul everything), the contacts to be made (Japanese people sympathetic to your cause, but who must be protected from arrest and prosecution). 
Whoops, no offense meant. Go ahead and try it, then.
But Kevin, how about uncovering your eyes before
you drive that inflatable boat...

It took many months to pull it all together. But somehow we did. Of the larger Greenpeace group that worked on this effort, there were four of us--Bruce, Kevin, Rusty, and me--who went to Wada Ura to wait for the whalers to come in. One little detail: we couldn't let ourselves be seen in Wada Ura. It was a whaling town, and any gaijin (non-Japanese) would immediately be recognized as Greenpeace. Tourists just didn't frequent the little town. If we had any hope of approaching a whaling ship unaware, no one in the town could see us.
Just your ordinary Japanese person driving to work.

So how to observe the whaling station in Wada Ura without being observed ourselves? We rigged the rental van with blue curtains behind the driver and across the windows. Now we had somewhere to hide. Rusty became our designated driver by virtue of being the appropriate height and least conspicuous. Even so, she had to wear a cap pulled over her curly hair, and one of the hygienic masks polite Japanese wear when they have a cold. 

We stayed many miles away in another, larger town, and Rusty drove us each day to a beach we'd scoped out, from which we could see the whaling station. The plan was to watch for an incoming whaling boat; when one was sighted on the horizon, we'd leap out to inflate our boats, install the engines, and zip out onto the water. (And if we were spotted by beachgoers and recognized as Greenpeace at that point? This was before cell phones, my friends. No worries that someone might call the authorities from a beach, for crying out loud.) 

Bruce & me, watching for whalers. They'll probably
 show up any minute now.
Once our two inflatables were launched, we'd drive flat-out for the whaler. Kevin's boat would hold the cameras; Bruce's boat would hold me, and a pouch around my waist would hold a 5-foot chain with a lock. I'd board the ship and chain myself to the harpoon gun. The crew would call the authorities, have me arrested and taken off. I'd get a trial that would give us the media attention needed to explain to the Japanese public that whales were endangered--and the whales would get a respite from the killer boat during the time it took to haul me away.

Boredom and/or a glint of madness in our eyes.
It was a pretty good plan, we figured. We hadn't figured, though, that we'd be captive in the blue-tinted confines of that tin can from 7 AM to 5 PM, for fifteen long, long, very loooong days. The whalers were not rolling in with the regularity they once enjoyed--they were having a difficult time finding whales, and were staying out far longer between visits to the shore station than they ever had. Did I mention we were hiding in there and waiting for fifteen (15) days? And you got the part about this being pre-cell phone, pre-tablet, pre-handheld games, right?

Somewhere in the middle of those days, I was eating an apple when Rusty rounded on me. The rhythm of my CRUNCH, munch munch munch swallow ... CRUNCH, munch munch munch swallow had become more than the poor woman could bear. 

In my defense, it was a very juicy apple.

But as the days went by, we wondered if the whalers had discovered that we were there; we wondered if they had moved their operations to another shore station. We wondered if we were failing the whales, while sitting stupidly in our tin can.

Then, before dusk on the fifteenth day, we noted a little activity at the station. We determined to arrive at daybreak the next morning, just in case...

TOMORROW: Saving Whales: Japan Part 2 


  1. Wow! It's like I'm right there in the van, feeling the tension mounting, breathing the stale air, listening to the totally annoying chewing.

    Can't wait to find out what happens next!

    (By the way... you really had it going on back then, girl! Even with the glasses!)

    1. Ha! Alas, I have never had it going on. But nice of you to say so, Denise!

  2. You have been far more adventurous in your life than I have.

    1. Shoot, Rose, there's still time! When we're old ladies, let's join the Peace Corps and go to Africa, okay?!

  3. Pat, I remember a steamy shower on deck one night. Or, was it every night?
    Now, I'm getting the back story!!!

    1. Anna, I wrote about that many years ago! You have a very good memory! The Greenpeace ship I was on had run low on water, so we had to take "showers" on the deck with salt water. Good times...

  4. A really great adventure.

    1. It is in hindsight. It was the opposite of adventure when we were in that van, lemme tell you.

  5. Not even a deck of cards? I'm surprised you didn't kill one another.

    1. It remains a crowing achievement of Greenpeace, that all of us emerged intact from that van.

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