marine mammals ocean

Captaining Direct Action



We need to capture the moment that we find them hunting or killing whales because that’s what speaks to people’s imaginations. If they can actually see what’s happening, then people get upset and hopefully they will be upset enough to stand up with us and fight the governments on this.

Sustainable Lens caught up with Capt Wyanda Lublink on a resupply stop as part of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Nemesis patrol of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.


Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk to someone making a positive difference. We try to find out what motivates them. What it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Captain Wyanda Lublink and I’m on the motor yacht…


Wyanda: Motor vessel


Sam: Motor vessel, Steve Irwin, the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin. Thank you very much for joining me. Thanks for letting me on the ship.


Wyanda: No problem, you’re very welcome.


Sam: Let’s start with some questions about you then. Where did you grow up?


Wyanda: I grew up in the Netherlands, many, many years ago. All my family lives still in the Netherlands. I was the only one that actually moved to Australia 10 years ago.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Wyanda: When I grew up, I had no idea what I wanted to be. My parents were butchers, so I definitely did not want to be a butcher. My dad was also into marketing, and at that stage, my sister went to a marketing course, so I decided to do the same. Because you’re young, you have no clue what the world is about, so you just follow in your dad’s footsteps, basically. That’s what I did. I went to study international marketing management.


Sam: Did you enjoy it?


Wyanda: Well, the study itself had a few nice aspects, but most of all, I really enjoyed being a student. A student’s life is different from the real world out there. I did enjoy the four years of university. I didn’t so much like the studying, but that comes with it.


Sam: Did you use that marketing?


Wyanda: I did use it for a little while. Because I studied international marketing, during your university years they want you to go abroad for at least half a year. We had to choose a study abroad, which mine brought me to Pontypool in Wales in the United Kingdom where I did half a year of … I’m not over fond of being a student. I came back to the Netherlands to continue studying. Third year we have to do a practical training we call it. I had an opportunity to do it in Poland which was special in those years because we’re talking about 93, I think. It was a long time ago. I really enjoyed that. I did a marketing research in Poland.


Then, in my last year in university, when you do your final project, I decided to do it internationally as well. Which was just over the border, I went to Germany. I did it there, another marketing research. Because I really enjoyed the travelling, as soon as I finished my university, I didn’t even wait for graduation day, I was on a plane to the States. I worked in a children’s camp for a while in the kitchen, summer camp for children. It’s a very popular thing in the States. I did that for I think it was for 10 weeks. Then, I travelled the United States, which I absolutely loved.


Sam: Somehow you got from there to the Navy.


Wyanda: I did. There was a few years in between. When I came back from America, I really liked travelling so I got the travel bug. I went back to the Netherlands because my money ran out. I actually worked in the field of marketing for a little while, for a year. I already knew I wanted to go see Australia and New Zealand and Indonesia. I worked for a year. I had three jobs, got as much money as I could, went on a plane to Australia for a year, including a few months here in New Zealand. Really enjoyed what I did in Australia.


I wasn’t a scuba diver before, but when I backpacked around Australia, I did a diving course. Absolutely fell in love with the underwater world. I went to Australia, I visited New Zealand for three months. Went back to Australia, started working dive school, worked my way up to dive master. Over-stayed my visa, got an extension, luckily, for the time that I spent in New Zealand, I could extend my time in Australia. Then, it was time to go back.


I was supposed to be a month in Indonesia as well, but I only had enough money for a week. I did change my flight back to the Netherlands. I knew already then, that my heart was in Australia, and I really wanted to go back. When I went back to the Netherlands, I looked into emigrating to Australia, but Australia has got a very strict point system, and I did not have enough points because I didn’t have any work experience after I graduated because I only travelled. I said to myself, “Okay, I’ll get my work experience and then I’ll try again.”


In the meantime, I fell in love with a guy in Holland and he was in the Dutch Navy. I really needed a job that didn’t put me behind a desk with all my travelling experiences. I needed a job that I could travel. He just came back from a deployment in South America, in the Caribbean and told me all about that. I thought, “Oh wow, that really sounds amazing. That’s what I want to do.” I applied for the Royal Dutch Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the Army. Eventually, I chose a job in the Navy, and that’s how I joined the Navy, the Dutch Navy.


Sam: What did you do in the Navy?


Wyanda: I was a little bit older than the average person. A lot of the Navy officers, they join when they’re 17 or 18 and they still go through the five years of academy. I was already 27, and I already had a university degree, so they put me in a class where they needed to train mine warfare officers, so I could go straight for the rank of officer. They really needed people on the mine hunters. For me, it didn’t really matter. I just wanted to do something good for our country, but most of all, I wanted to lead an adventurous life. I did that, nine months at the Academy and a year of probation on a ship, which was a mine hunter. That’s what I did.


You start as a watch keeping officer on the mine hunter and you look for mines. Which is in these waters, especially Australia and New Zealand, there’s not so many around. If you look at Europe, the North Sea, the Baltic Ocean, they’re still full of mines from the first and second world wars. We were actually doing quite a good job by finding these mines and blowing them up. Which thinking back, I did destroy a lot of wild life by blowing up mines. Because you would find a mine, and it’s really hard to see if it’s from the first or second world war.


It’s really hard to see if it’s a mine or a rock because it’s overgrown with under water life and fish are swimming and starfish and lobster. Then, if you know for sure it’s a mine, you need to blow it up because otherwise accidents might happen. I did destroy a lot of wild life. Yeah, I kept doing that for four years, the mine warfare department, or six years, I think it was. Yeah six years. I had a contract for six years. I extended my contract for another year in the Navy. Then I wanted to extend it more because I didn’t know what to do after the Navy.


Sam: You were having a good time.


Wyanda: I was having a good time, again. Then I became a full commissioned officer, I went on to do frigates. In the meantime, my relationship with the Navy guy broke. We split up because it’s really hard. I was away a lot. He was away a lot. To maintain the relationship is very difficult, so we decided to split up. Then, the whole urge of me wanted to go back to Australia. I wanted to emigrate to Australia. I came back.


I started looking into jobs available in the Australian Navy, because I meet an Australian officer who was on exchange with the British Navy and we did a deployment with them. He said, “Your skills being a mine warfare officer in the Australia Navy, in the Dutch Navy, is what we’re looking for in the Australian Navy.” Therefore I started a whole application with the Australian government to join the Australian Navy. It was what they were looking for. It took me two and a half years, but they did recruit me in the Australia Navy. I quit the Dutch Navy and joined the Australian Navy.


Sam: Moved to Australia?


Wyanda: Moved to Australia.


Sam: How long did you last in the Australian Navy?


Wyanda: I did my initial time, which was two years. Then, I left. I wanted to travel, because Australia is so beautiful and my idea was to travel from Sydney to Broome, because somehow I had it in my head that I wanted to live in Broome, I don’t know why. I put everything in storage, packed my car, left Sydney, went along the coast, I drove from Sydney to Melbourne. Got to Melbourne, went north of Melbourne, found a little place that was called Kangaloola Wildlife Shelter. Got started talking to the owner, she was a wildlife carer and she obviously cares for wildlife. She rescues a lot of Australian native wildlife. Anything Australian native, apart from snakes, because she wasn’t allowed to handle snakes. I got really inspired by her so I wanted to volunteer there for a week because she does take volunteers.


After a week, I said, “Can I stay a little bit longer?” I wanted to stay longer and longer and longer. I ended up staying for three years, living in the bush, very sustainable, I would say, because we just depended on rain water. We had no electricity. We had a generator going for when it gets dark to have our lights and some kind of electricity. All we lived for was the animals we rescued. We did rehab, and if possible, we let them go. If they wouldn’t be able to go back into the wild, they had to be put down most of the time. Absolutely loved it.


Sam: Sounds very pleasant but not at sea.


Wyanda: It was definitely not at sea. After three years living in the bush, which was by far until I got to Sea Shepherd the best job I ever had. I was a volunteer, it cost me more money than I would be making. I wasn’t making anything, but it didn’t cost me anything either. Because the wildlife shelter is I didn’t have bill. I didn’t have my house, I just had my car. We used the caravans, the whole wildlife shelter just consisted of caravans. Just building more yards for the animals. It cost me vet bills, basically. Because wildlife sanctuaries in Australia I don’t know how it is in New Zealand, but they don’t get money from the government whatsoever. We need to support everything we did financially. We did it ourselves.


After three years, I thought, “I love what I do, but it’s heartbreaking if you’re passionate about animals. Because so many animals needed to be put down.” You get in contact with so many people that don’t care about animals. It was getting really difficult, and I really missed the ocean. After three years, I decided it was time to move on, packed my car. After I left the Australian Navy, I got my master five skipper’s ticket in Australia.


I started driving up the coast to Queensland, because if you like boats, and in the meantime, I was also a diving instructor. The best place to find a job is Queensland in Australia along the great barrier reef. I did that, and I ended up on a small island called Magnetic Island.  Visited for four days, got a job offer on a really beautiful sailing yacht, a schooner, doing tourist trips. Took that, ended up staying there. Ended up doing the job for a year. Although, it was absolutely stunning and the job was great, you took tourists out in this really nice sailing boat and snorkelling. They would go snorkelling. I would have one deck hand help me with everything. The weather’s always nice, it’s just south of Cairns.


After working at the wildlife shelter for three years, I thought I don’t do anything that helps the world. I make people happy that can go on the trip. Okay, I like what I’m doing, but I don’t do anything sustainable or I don’t help anyone in need. Even if I would not do my job as a skipper, surely they could get somebody else to skipper the yacht. I’m not saving anything. I looked into how can I use my skills as a quite experienced person at sea and my love for animals and rescuing animals, how can I combine them?


I visited my parents back in the Netherlands, and they like to watch Whale Wars. Most people like Whale wars. I was looking at it. I knew it existed. I never really thought about it, Sea Shepherd. My mom made a comment, “I can see you do that.” I thought, “You know what, I think she’s right.” I looked online and found the application form, filled it out. This was in the beginning of 2013. I thought, “They’re never going to ask me.” They sometimes have famous people on the ships that go to Antarctica. I thought, “It’s going to be plenty of people that they want.” I applied in March, in July I was on the way to South Africa to join my first ship, the Sea Shepherd. That’s how it happened.


Sam: Was there something about Sea Shepherd that attracted you?


Wyanda: I think it’s the fact Sea Shepherd is all about saving marine life. I mean it’s four years later now. Now, I’m a captain of a Sea Shepherd. I’ve learned so much about the organisation that I did not know then. The fact that what you see on TV, I was an ex-Navy officer, and I had so much in the Navy. I know, for myself, how much I like that part of it, and they’re saving wildlife. This is exactly what I want.


Everybody when they look at Whale Wars, they can see the fight with the Japanese whaling fleet and the collisions that happen. It is exciting. Although it’s not always what a whole Southern Ocean campaign is about, but it’s part of it. I thought I need that kind of … I enjoy that kind of action. I just love the fact that they’re saving wildlife that nobody else cares about.


Sam: You find yourself on a ship in South Africa, but heading for Antarctica.


Wyanda: No, they were on a secret mission. They were preparing for it then, the secret mission. It’s a smaller ship, it’s called the Jairo Mora Sandoval. It was named after a Costa Rican activist, conservationist who protected the turtles in Costa Rica. A very young guy, Jairo Mora Sandoval. He got killed by the poachers. He got shot trying to save the turtles.


We named the ship after him, in honour of him. The ship was in Richards Bay, South Africa near Durban. They were doing it up because it had been sitting on the slip for two years. They were doing it up and they prepared a mission to Liberia. I was going to be first officer, with only five crew. Because it’s a small ship. I was going to be first officer on that campaign to Liberia. A lot of things happened.


We were supposed to leave five days after my arrival in South Africa. Six weeks later, I still find myself sitting on the ship in South Africa, being a deckie. Which there is nothing wrong with being a deckie, but it’s not really how I imagined it. Because I need to be out at sea and not doing rust repairs or something like that. I went to Mozambique to do some diving. I said, “Let me know when you’re ready for the trip and I’ll come back.” Then, Peter Hammersted called me and  – Peter Hammersted was our recruiting officer then. He’s one of our most famous Sea Shepherd captains. He said, “Would you like to go to Antarctica instead to do a Southern Ocean  campaign?” I said, “Oh yeah, I’ll do that.” Two months later, I joined the Sam Simon in Melbourne.


Sam: When you joined the organisation, is there an induction process about what their philosophy is and so on?


Wyanda: No, not so much. I think everybody that wants to join Sea Shepherd as a volunteer, I think, in general, they do know what we are about. What we stand for, what our philosophies are, what we want. I think 99% of the people do realise, especially going to the Southern Ocean campaign that as soon as we leave Melbourne going to Antarctica, you do actually risk your life going to the Southern Ocean  because it’s definitely not an easy campaign.


Another thing is anybody joining the ship that has no idea what we’re doing, the crew that comes on the Southern Ocean campaign is chosen to go on that campaign. It’s not just a deckie that joins, a deckhand that joins a week before a campaign to the Southern Ocean and can stay. The Steve Irwin did one more campaign in Australia. For the rest of the years, she’s been preparing for Southern Ocean campaigns.


A lot of the deck hands, the galley team, the engineers, they have to work at least three months on the ship while in Melbourne, alongside. We get a whole bunch of volunteers through from those volunteers that come through, we need a recruiting officer together with the ship’s manager and heads of departments. They choose the crew members that they think will fit the most and will do their best and give it their all. They’re the ones chosen to go to Antarctica.


Obviously, being a bridge officer or an engineer, we don’t have as much choice as for deck hands or cooks. We need to get the right team because once we’ve let go of the lines in Melbourne, it takes two or three weeks to go to the Southern Ocean. You can’t just say, “You’re a rotten apple. We don’t want you. You don’t do your job very well. You can swim home now.” It just doesn’t work. You need to work together three to four months.


Sam: Because no matter what you’re doing with this ship, you’re running it as a proper ship. You’re properly registered and all of those sorts of things. People have to be appropriately qualified.


Wyanda: Yes and no. In the past…we are a private ship. We’re not commercially run. Officially, we don’t need any captain’s papers or chief engineers or bosons or … because we are private. If you run commercially, you need to have your papers. You need to have a proper skipper’s licence to run a ship this size. Because we are becoming such a big movement now, it’s not just Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Australia anymore, that’s the American part. We have chapters in so many countries in the world now.


We’re so big. The Sea Shepherd exists 40 years this year. We’ve gone really big. We’ve become really well known, so we have a lot more volunteers coming in and applying. We have a lot more people applying that have actual papers so we get more choice in choosing people that have the experience. Which is absolutely great. We don’t necessarily need people with the papers. What we want most is passion, which is way more important than paperwork.


Sam: Just in case anybody doesn’t know, you can give us Sea Shepherd 101. Who is Sea Shepherd?


Wyanda: Sea Shepherd was originally founded by Paul Watson in 1977. For people that don’t know, Paul Watson, he was co-founder of Greenpeace in 1971. They started Greenpeace because they really wanted to do something. They really wanted to make changes. One of the first, most important campaigns was against the seal slaughter in eastern Canada. Eastern Canada, people go out on the ice when the pups are born and they bash them with base ball bats, just for the fur. It’s absolutely horrible. That’s what one of the first campaigs was.


Paul Watson’s idea was not quite the same as the rest of the founders of Greenpeace. After awhile, he decided the way Greenpeace was taking, it was not what he anticipated. He said goodbye to Greenpeace and he started Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1997. He bought a ship and he really wanted the direct action part, it’s very important. He wanted to do that and Greenpeace was not really all about that. We still fight for the same.


They don’t have the direct action as much as we do. He bought a ship and he actually went after illegal fishermen and poachers. He became quite well known. For some people, they might say, he did not become known for the right reasons because he did sink vessels. He never killed anyone. He never hurt anyone. He took the law in his own hands, so to speak. There’s all these laws out there about illegal fishing and not killing whales in the Southern Ocean whales sanctuary, but nobody enforces these laws. He did that. He became well known. He always had this passion about whales.


Once he started going down to the Southern Oceans to protect the whales, his first campaign was in 2002, and the second campaign was in 2005, which were basically the foundations for how we could run the campaigns now. He became well known in Whale Wars and Animal Planet picked up on it and started making this reality show. Once it came on TV, Whale Wars, this is where it all went. It all became really big.


Sam: These treks in the Southern Ocean are to cover the Japanese whaling programme?


Wyanda: Yes. What a Japanese whaling fleet is doing is … Because everything below 60 degrees south in the Southern Ocean is called the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. It was established by the international whaling commission and all the whales are protected. It doesn’t matter what species. If we’re talking, minke whales or humpback whales or fin whales, pilot whales. Actually, pilot whales are dolphins. Nobody is allowed to kill anything, according to the international whaling commission. We also have the Antarctic Treaty, which also says all the species are protected.


The only reason organisations are allowed to kill is for scientific research. This is where the Japanese saw money. They were commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean before the moratorium of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean. Of course it’s big money for Japan. Japan is the only country that keeps whaling in the Southern Ocean. They thought, “If we can do it for scientific reasons, then we just come up with a scientific research programme.” They came up with JARPNI and II, which is a scientific research programme. They had a self-allocated quota of 1,035 whales that they needed every season for scientific research. The majority, 935 Minke whales, 50 humpback whales, but also 50 fin whales and fin whales have been endangered for quite a while. That’s 1035 whales every single season.


They told themselves they’re allowed to kill for scientific research. Sea Shepherd has been following them for quite a few years now. They realised never any proper results were being published. Where was all this research for? What were they doing with it? 1035 whales a year. It’s massive. It turns out that scientific research was just a whole lot of bullshit actually, to cover up commercial whaling. Because they can’t do any commercial whaling, that is illegal.


For a few years, Sea Shepherd was able to locate the Japanese whaling fleet. They would catch them in the act and when they were actually killing whales, so we know what kind of system they have. They kill a whale with one of their harpoon ships. They shoot off this harpoon. It takes the whale 20 or 30 minutes to bleed out and die, which is absolutely horrible. For them, it doesn’t matter if it’s the male or the female. If it’s the female, they often have the young so the young will hang around as well, so they have that one too.


They have it done alongside the harpoon ship. From the harpoon ship, it needs to go onto the big factory ship. It’s called Nisshin Maru and it’s a massive big ship. We call it the slaughterhouse because they then take the dead whale onboard. They take the dead whale onboard and it goes onto the deck. It’s like a slipway on the back of the Nisshin Maru, and once they have it onboard, they clean out the guts and everything. They put big hoses in and all the blood and everything gets washed out. They start cutting it up. We have proof, we have recorded everything. They start cutting it up, all the guts and everything goes back in the ocean. They cut it up in nice pieces. It goes down below in the freezer hold. We’ve never seen any scientific research being done on them.


Sam: Despite their ship’s got a big sign on it that says “research”.


Wyanda: It did, not this year.


Sam: It doesn’t?


Wyanda: It’s gone. It’s gone. It does still say that on the harpoon ship, but the Nisshin Maru does not have it. I think they finally painted it over.


Sam: Then all the meat goes down below in the freezer hold. Obviously, we can’t see inside the ship, but then, it comes back to Japan at the end of the season and it goes into storage and it’s being sold in the market. They want have the kids to take it to school. We’re talking about highly contaminated meat as well. There’s so many mercury levels and other not so good stuff in the ocean.


Wyanda: What is your job in going down there?


Sam: What we’re trying to do, apart from informing the world what is happening, because media is a very big part of a campaign like this. What we try to do from the start we want to locate the Japanese whaling fleet. First of all, we would like to stop the killing. They have the Nisshin Maru, which is the factory ship or the slaughterhouse. They have three harpoon vessels. Those three harpoon vessels are very manoeuvrable, very quick ships. They do 22, 24 knots, and they come in very well at high speed.


All the ships that Sea Shepherd have, that we had to buy with donated money, because we don’t get anything from the government, they are always a little bit slower and not always highly manoeuvrable. They don’t turn very quickly. What we try to do is get in between the harpoon ships and the whales if necessary. We will use our ship, I will use the Steve Irwin for it. Or I will have the small boats in the water. Because they are high speed and they’re very manoeuvrable. The guys in the small boats know it can be very dangerous.


In the past, the Japanese running fleet would stop hunting when we arrived. Over the years, because we frustrated them so much, they did not manage to get the quota anymore. They were losing a lot of money. They actually started whaling right in front of us. Once they actually shot off a harpoon right over the heads of the guys in the small boats. It could have easily killed them.


If we do not manage to stop the actual killing, then we want to stop the off-loading of the whale onto the slipway of the Nisshin Maru. When we leave Melbourne for campaign, we always say, the captains say to each other, “We’ll see you on the slipway of the Nisshin Maru.” Because that’s our goal. That’s where we want to be. If we can stop the transfer of the whale onto the factory ship, then we can stop the killing. Because the rule of the whaling fleet is that the whale needs to be offloaded in four to six hours.


The only reason a whale needs to be offloaded in between four and six hours is otherwise the meat’s off, the animal’s been dead for too long. In scientific research it should not really matter that much. If we can block that transfer, if they cannot transfer whale off to the Nisshin Maru, they can’t kill any new ones. That’s always a very big one to try and stop the transfer.


Wyanda: How do you manage that risk? Are there rules?


Sam: Being a ship at sea, there’s always rules that you need to follow. At least Sea Shepherd can say, we’ve never, ever, in all our campaigns, not just the Southern Ocean campaigns, we’ve never hurt anyone who we fight against. We can’t always say that from our enemies, so to speak. There is a very big risk involved. Obviously, you don’t become a captain on a Southern Ocean campaign overnight. You don’t go down to the Southern Ocean as a captain on a ship you’ve never been before, without knowing what Sea Shepherd stands for and what we do. I started in 2013, and I did become a captain within a year.


This is my first Southern Ocean campaign, as a captain. I’ve done two Southern Ocean campaigns before. One was an anti-whaling campaign. Obviously, we do talk about what we can do and what we can’t do before we leave as captains. The main thing is we have one thing, we have one goal and that is protect the whales. The crew knows that, the crew has a choice. They’re volunteers. They have a choice. They can be on the ship or they cannot be on the ship.


Obviously, although priority number one for me is to stop the whales from being killed. My second or third is I protect the crew as much as I can. I want to take them all back to port safely. Of course, I don’t want to sink the ship or damage the ship. My most important thing is saving the whales or any marine life I’m protecting. Whatever kind of campaign I’m on. Then the life of the crew. They know that. Everybody knows that, because otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. They’re also passionate.


We turn off the heating down in the Southern Oceans to save fuel. Nobody complains. If I would do that in the Navy, where we’re all just doing our job because we need to pay the bills, I cannot imagine turning the heating off. Being somewhere in Norway or whatever because they would complain. Here we just put on another jumper, we walk a little bit faster to keep warm. They don’t care. If it saves us days to spend more days in the Southern Ocean looking for the fleet, they say, “Go for it”.


Sam: You’re in Dunedin calling in on the way back to Australia, having You’ve been at sea since December, is it?


Wyanda: Yes. We left Melbourne the third of December last year. We spent 83 days at sea. We have been contemplating filling the ship up with fuel and food and everything and going back down. Deep down in all our hearts that’s what we want to do. Because the Ocean Warrior, our second ship of Sea Shepherd is still down there, trying to chase the Nisshin Maru.


We also know where the Japanese fleet was located last. It’s over 3,000 miles away from Dunedin, which takes us at least two weeks to get there. That’s going down with good weather. It could even be longer. Instead, we’re starting to get to the end of the whaling season. The end of the whaling season is mid-March. It’s the end of February. If it takes us two weeks, we get there mid-March. Then, it’s really hard finding the Japanese whaling fleet. We might get there and they might be on their way up.


Sam: Don’t ships have to have a transponding thing on saying where they are?


Wyanda: Ships over a certain size need to have this, but as soon as those ships, like the Japanese whaling fleet, leaves territorial waters they turn it off.


Sam: So, you’re out there, going backwards and forwards trying to find them.


Wyanda: Yeah, as I told you, they have a self-allocated quota for 1035 whales. The area that on the scientific programme that they used to have until 2014 was not really a very big area down in the Southern Ocean. It was the Ross Sea, which is Australian. New Zealand has a part of territory waters there. There is a part that is French, but in 2014, the international court of justice and the Hague ruled that what they were doing was illegal, so they came up … That year, Japan did not go down to kill any whales. They came up with a new research programme in 2015 and we couldn’t go down because we didn’t have enough money to protect the whales. The self-allocated quota went down to 333, only Minke whales. Which for us is a massive win.


The plan is for 12 years. The number they don’t kill for one year, they can add on to next year. Even if we had managed to save 333 whales this year, they can add it on to the quota for next year. That will go on for another 10. Last year, they had 333 Minke whales. They killed them. The majority being pregnant females. We’re talking at least 500 Minke whales that they killed.


They also extended the search area to at least twice the size. This is massive. We’re talking about half of the Antarctic continent that we have to circumnavigate to try and find them. It’s like finding a semitrailer in the size of Australia. It’s really, really difficult. Lowering the number to 333, in all the years that we have been defending the whales in Antarctica, they never really managed to get much more than that number. For us to say we saved 333 lives is really not going to happen.


The most important thing that we can do now is, of course, I tried to save those 333 whales. Because it’s still too many. For us, we need to put pressure on the government, the Australian government, the New Zealand government, whoever owns territory waters there. Or whoever feels like those animals should be protected in the whale sanctuary, we need to convince the people that it needs to stop. There’s only one group of people that can do that and that’s the government. The rules are in place. It’s very easy. It’s the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.


Sam: Are the governments, are the navies down there doing the same things?


Wyanda: The Navy is not down there. Australia does have a custom built or purpose built ship. It’s an ice breaker. A few years ago, it was an election promise that they would send a ship down there. They never did. They flew a plane over where we were, but the plane can’t interfere. It can’t do anything apart from taking photos. It is important but they never did anything. Australia is not doing anything, as in the Australian government doesn’t do anything.


When we found the Nisshin Maru on the 15th of January this year, it was the day after Prime Minister Abe of Japan was actually in Australia. A lot of people say that we timed this, I don’t know why they even think that is possible. If I could time finding the whaling fleet, I would time it day one we arrived in the Southern Ocean. The prime minister of Japan and the prime minister of Australia they were slapping each other’s backs and they’re so happy with the good friends they are and the trade agreements they have and how well they can fill each other’s pockets. Yeah, our government basically says, “We’re very disappointed that you’re whaling again in the Southern Ocean,” that’s basically it.


Sam: The Japanese variously call you eco-terrorists and so on.


Wyanda: And pirates.


Sam: Pirates. You play that up yourself. You’re wearing a skull and crossbones.


Wyanda: If you look at our logo, we’ve done it. Paul Watson did that on purpose. Because they said, “You know, you guys are pirates.” If you look up the definition of pirates, it’s a ship at sea that doesn’t belong to a flag state. If we were pirates, we’re not allowed to fly the Dutch flag. We’re not pirates because we are registered in the Netherlands. Most of our ships are registered in the Netherlands. The Brigitte Bardot, I believe, is still registered in Australia.


If you have a good look at our logo, it is a skull, but it has a dolphin and a whale. Our crossbones are actually the trident of Neptune, the god of the sea. It’s not really skull and crossbones. Yeah, it’s a very well known logo. We have been asked to take down our pirate flag of the ship, to take it down in port. I said, “You know, it’s not a pirate flag, so we don’t have to take it down. We are not pirates.” I don’t care if they call us pirates. I don’t care if they call us ecoterrorists. Really honestly, you know, they can call us names whatever they want. It doesn’t hurt me. I think it makes us better anyway because we’re proud of what we stand for.


Sam: I was going to say, from your marketing background, it’s a good thing.


Wyanda: It’s a good thing.  They talk about us. That’s all we want. The most important thing that we can do this campaign we knew that it was really hard to stop the killing of 333 Minke whales. The most important thing for us to do was to show the world that they are whaling again in the Southern Ocean. Because a lot of people thought that Japan had given up, but they haven’t, they still do it. It’s a smaller number, which is great, but it’s still not small enough. It’s got to be zero.


We still know it’s commercial whaling. All we wanted to take away from this campaign is let the world know that they are still doing this. We still need to pressure the governments. There’s still a lot of people out there that never heard of Sea Shepherd and what we stand for. That was the most important thing. That’s what we wanted to show. That’s what we wanted to take away.


Of course, we wanted to keep that number zero. It’s so difficult. We just have two ships. They have the factory ship. They have the three harpoon vessels. Now they also have what they call a krill observation ship, but it’s just another security vessel to find and spot the Sea Shepherd vessels. Because as soon as they know where the Steve Irwin is, one of the harpoon vessels will be on our tail at all times.


We cannot out run them. We’re too slow. We had a harpoon vessel with us for 36 days after we found the Nisshin Maru. For 36 days, this ship has not been able to kill one single whale. Look at the running costs of our ship during campaigns, about $5,000, Australian dollars a day to run one ship. Our crew, the volunteers they don’t get any wages or anything.


The minimum cost to run a harpoon ship is at least $5,000 times 36 days. Then, there’s one harpoon ship continuously looking for the Ocean Warrior. That’s another $5,000 a day going down the drain. That’s two harpoon ships that can’t kill any whales. It’s just such a waste of money. It’s money that’s being paid by the Japanese people. It’s their tax money that’s going there.


Sam: Do you have supporters in Japan?


Wyanda: We do. We even have crew members on the ship from Japan. Yes, we do. There’s another very big campaign on land in Taiji where they capture and kill lots of dolphins that are being brought into the cove. We do have a lot of Japanese there fighting our cause as well. Yes, we do.


Sam: When you’re close to a ship, do you talk to them over the radio in Japanese?


Wyanda: No, we don’t. I tried to talk to them. I tried to communicate to them in English this year. That was when we got the harpoon ship following us. They do not respond on radio. Maritime language is English, it’s not Japanese. We all speak English. Most of us do anyway. I told them  that they were killing illegally in the Southern Ocean sanctuary. That they should stop their actions and go home. I was going to report them, which I did. There’s no reaction. The captains have been told not to talk to us, obviously.


Sam: You’ve got the advantage of a helicopter.


Wyanda: Yes, we do, which is really good. Because that was our means of finding when the whaling season has started. It was Franz, the helicopter pilot that found the Nisshin Maru. He has a cameraman and photographer in the helicopter at all times, when I send them out on a search pattern. They were able to get the photos and the videos that we’ve been able to send out to the world this year. It’s really important because the area now is so big. With a ship like the Steve Irwin being not so fast, we need that.



Sam: Do you need an incident, as well? What do you need to do to capture the imagination?


Wyanda: The most important thing is that, I guess, we can tell the world that Japan needs to stop killing whales in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. If we don’t have anything to support this, we can’t show that this is happening, although everybody knows that it’s happening, but a lot of people would rather close their eyes and not think about it. If it can bring out the images and they’re very graphic, that opens people’s eyes. Does it mean it needs to happen? Yes, we need to capture the moment that we find them hunting or killing whales because that’s what speaks to people’s imaginations. If they can actually see what’s happening, then people get upset and hopefully they will be upset enough to stand up with us and fight the governments on this.


Sam: We’re on the Steve Irwin. Tell me about the Steve Irwin.


Wyanda: The Steve Irwin was built in 1975. She’s actually quite an old lady. She was a fishery inspection vessel from Norway, from protecting the oceans in Europe, she’s now in protecting wildlife all around the world. It’s a very comfortable ship. She’s not new, but over the years, she built up a lot of character. She’s the flagship of the fleet. Paul Watson used to captain this ship quite a lot when he was still out at sea.


For me, being on the Steve Irwin, as captain, it was actually quite an honour. It is not a lot of captains have been here. There’s Paul Watson and Chief Jacob Arte, he’s one of the well known captains within Sea Shepherd. He took her down to the sea, down to the Southern Ocean the last time. Now it’s me. It’s an amazing ship. She’s very comfortable. She’s very stable. She handles the ocean very, very well. This is very important in the Southern Ocean because we all know about the screaming sixties and ferocious fifties. The sea state can change in no time. You really need a ship that can handle the sea quite well, and the Steve Irwin can.


Sam: What’s next for you?


Wyanda: My next step is to go home. We’re leaving on Monday, going back to Melbourne. Then, I go home and take a break. I want to see my dog. Then, I’m going to go see my parents in the Netherlands. It’s been awhile. I’ll take a break, and then, the campaign I did before the Southern Ocean campaign, operation was Operation Jeedara. It was a campaign in Australia to protect the great Australia bight from drilling of big oil companies in the great Australian bight. It was BP that wanted to drill, now BP has pulled out. It’s Chevron that still wants to drill for oil and Statoil. The great Australian bight is one of the few wonders we’ve got left in the world. It’s full of wildlife. The sea states there can be massive. Because there’s nothing between Antarctica and the great Australia bight in Australia.


We did that, we had media on board. We made a documentary that is going to be launched in April, the end of April. I will be there with Jeff Hanson, which is the Sea Shepherd Australia director. Bob Brown our ex Greens leader and one of the aboriginal Mirning Elders that was with us on the campaign. We’re going to launch this documentary. That will be my next, next thing with Sea Shepherd, which is not on ship, but it’s on land.


Then, they’ll just call me and let me know when I may need to step on the ship before. It could be the Steve Irwin. It could be the Brigitte Bardot. It could be the Sam Simon. It doesn’t really matter. We don’t necessarily have the same ship at all times. We have to be flexible. They just tell you, “We need you here.” You can either say yes or no. I’ve come to the stage where I don’t really say no anymore. Because I love what I do. I think our cause is absolutely great. There’s not so many captains that do this kind of thing or that can afford to do this. I can. I think it’s right.


Sam: Is it a juggle, managing a ship and managing a campaign? Or are they the same thing really?


Wyanda: There is a campaign leader on land. It’s Alex Cornelissen. He’s the Sea Shepherd global director in Amsterdam. He’s a campaign leader. We have a whole media team on shore that helps us. Helps us spread the word, once we’ve found the Nisshin Maru. It is a juggle, already to manage a ship in the Southern Ocean with 35 other crew members. The good thing is that we want to be there. We all are so passionate. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Managing a ship is difficult as in you are in the Southern Ocean. You are so far away from the world. If something happens and the weather is so unpredictable and it can be quite dangerous.


The career isn’t really the hardest thing. It’s just doing the campaign and trying to find the Japanese whaling fleet. Communications with the Ocean Warrior, Captain Adam Meyerson, he’s on the ocean where it’s sometimes very difficult because you are in Antarctica and although we do have satellite phones, we do have internet, it doesn’t always work. Our communications to land and to other ships is difficult. Everything together we have the two captains, we have onshore help, the campaign leader. The whole media team behind us obviously. We have a team on board but also media team on the shore. One in Australia, one in the Netherlands. It doesn’t matter what time it is, for us, there’s always somebody available media-wise to help us to get the word out what we need or what we want to get out.


Sam: You have certainly got the attention and emotion perhaps of the community, the huge queues on the wharf yesterday.


Wyanda: Yes, absolutely. I understood that 80 to 90% of New Zealanders are behind what we do. We know in Australia we have the support of over 80% of what we do of the Australian people and still the government is not listening.


Sam: Are the governments opposed or just not engaging?


Wyanda: That’s a difficult question, they’re definitely not engaging. I think for them, it’s just not important enough because it doesn’t matter what you do with animals and in protecting lives. There’s no money in it. We all know the only reason they want to be friends with Japan is because they want to fill their own pockets. This is how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.


Sam: Okay some questions to finish with. Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Wyanda: I think awareness. People get aware of what’s happening in the world is very important. If they don’t know that if we don’t live sustainably then it doesn’t matter what you do. Obviously, I think that the life in the ocean … What Paul Watson says is true. If the oceans die, we die. If the oceans die, we die. If we can’t fish sustainably, the ocean’s going to be empty by 2050 and life on Earth won’t exist as we know it.


Sam: Are you opposed to all fishing?


Wyanda: I’m not opposed to all fishing. I’m not opposed to sustainable fishing. I’m not against Eskimos up in northern Canada that kill seals for a living, but they use every single piece of it. They use the skin. They use skin for boots and everything. They don’t have other means. They can’t go to the supermarket. I’m against the illegal fishing, of course, illegal scientific research. I’m against massive corporations that are being sponsored by crime syndicates. That do have a few legal boats out in the ocean, but they do have some illegal boats. Those illegal boats often they catch onto the legal boats. That’s how it gets mixed up and they get away with it. Because our ice fish campaigns were really … they really broke open that whole … Nobody actually knew about it. It really got so much attention to what was happening. No, I’m not against all kinds of fishing.


Sam: We’re writing a book about these conversations. We’re calling it “Tomorrow’s Heroes” in that we’re asking people to describe their super power. What is it that they’re bringing to the fight for the positive future. What’s your special super power?


Wyanda: Mine or Sea Shepherd’s?


Sam: We’ll get to yours first, then we’ll ask Sea Shepherd.


Wyanda: My super power, I think it’s passion and being able to motivate the crew to keep doing what they’re doing out at sea, so we can help create awareness in the world.


Sam: What’s Sea Shepherd’s?


Wyanda: I think Sea Shepherd’s power is very close to mine. It’s being able to have so many passionate people trying to help reach a goal. Which is defending helpless marine life forever in the world by using the ships as direct action. Direct action is the key for Sea Shepherd. There’s plenty of organisations out there that fight for the same worldwide funds, Greenpeace. Greenpeace went down in the Southern Ocean, the last time they went down was 2008. This is our eleventh campaign. We keep going. Direct action is the key. If you don’t actively defend the animals out there, losses don’t change overnight.


Sam: I think you’ve just answered this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Wyanda: Yes, I do.


Sam: Why?


Wyanda: Well, because I and the rest within Sea Shepherd, we stand up for what is right. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we stand up for the law. Although, like with this campaign, the laws are in place, but there’s nobody to enforce them. We want to make sure that it is being done.


Sam: How far would you push that?


Wyanda: Alex Cornelissen, he is the Sea Shepherd Australia, sorry Sea Shepherd global director. I told him I’ll do whatever is necessary to protect the whales. That’s what Sea Shepherd does.


Sam: Would you risk the life of your … You’re already risking the life … putting people out in little boats in the Southern Ocean. How far can you push that?


Wyanda: As I said before, every crew member when they step onboard a Sea Shepherd ship going to sea, they know they’re going to risk their life, at some stage, protecting the animals. Obviously, especially in the Southern Ocean, this is a very important thing. It can be very likely a few years ago, the Bob Barker during one of the operations in the Southern Ocean got sandwiched between the Nisshin Maru and the Sun Laurel. The Sun Laurel is the re-fueling tanker that they charter for the whole whaling season. The Bob Barker is only half the size of those two ships and they had to throw out a mayday because the Nisshin Maru was pushing so much that it nearly capsized. It’s a big risk we’re taking. Over the years, the Japanese whaling fleet has become more aggressive towards us because they’re not able to meet their quota. They are losing a lot of money.


I told my crew clearly before I left that I am willing to take those risks, if they don’t appreciate that, they are not willing to take it, they are okay to leave the ship, before departure, obviously, but nobody leaves. How do you manage that? Obviously, I need to assess the situation if we do get a confrontation. We did not really have a confrontation this year, so I didn’t have to think about what I was doing. It is something that is on my mind constantly down in the Southern Ocean. How am I going to handle what kind of situation. What I think with all my sea going experience and being an ex-Navy officer, I think we are kind of trained to make decisions on the spot.


Sam: Not get too excited perhaps.


Wyanda: No, and I know a lot of crew … There’s a lot of crew … In the past, a lot of crew wanted to join because of Whale Wars. Because that’s what they wanted, the direct action, the confrontations. Of course, there’s always crew disappointed that we did not have a confrontation this year. That’s not why we go down there. I go down there to protect the whales, not to have a confrontation with Japanese whaling fleet. Which is linked together. If I could stop the Japanese whaling fleet from killing any whales without a confrontation, I would do so. Because it’s still also my responsibility to get a crew home, safely and in one piece.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Wyanda: The animals, the whales, absolutely.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years? Are you going to keep doing this?


Wyanda: I will keep doing this. Honestly, I can’t see myself doing anything else at the moment. I’ve done this since 2013 now. I never thought that I … the same as with the wildlife shelter, I would go there for a week which turns out two weeks, four weeks. I loved it and I stayed for three years. Now, I do this. My passion has always been water and animals. Now I combine these.


I never thought I would be a captain in the Sea Shepherd. Because in the Navy I didn’t have no ambitions, whatsoever. I just wanted to do something that I enjoy and now I’m here. I love it. Yes, I think I’ll be doing this for a while. It’s an organisation that does what I stand for. We have the same, I think we have the same view of life, and that’s being so nice on a ship. Because when I was at the shelter and me being so passionate about saving animals, I never met people who thought the same as me.


Well my boss at the wildlife shelter, Klina, she thought the same. I love animals. Most of the time more than people. I never thought there was so many people out there that thought the same. Then I joined Sea Shepherd and I came onto the ship and the people thought the same. I thought, “Wow, this is amazing.” A whole world opened up.


My challenge would be, for me, I’m ready to go back down next year to the Southern Ocean to defend the whales. As I said, Sea Shepherd can ask me to go to any kind of campaign. If it’s defending whales or sharks or dolphins or sea urchins or whatever, it doesn’t really matter for me. I’m here to do what they want me to do. I will defend turtles or whales with the same passion as I’ve gone to the Southern Ocean or defend kangaroos and koalas.


Sam: Perhaps somewhere warmer and calmer water.


Wyanda: Yeah that would be nice at times. I think we have been very lucky this campaign, we’ve had quite nice weather. Even the transit down and back up here to New Zealand. Of course I look at the weather forecast, but you can’t always outrun the weather. I think we’ve been kind of lucky. We did not have waves higher than five or six metres which is not too bad considering.


Sam: What can you operate in? What can you put the little boats out in?


Wyanda: The small boats, if we pitch too much, we can’t launch small boats, so sea state of a metre and a half I would reckon that’s going to be nearly impossible.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you have happen?


Wyanda: I think there’s two things that I need to do, that I  would like to have happen. First of all, I want to end animal cruelty in the world. I think a lot of that connects with religion. I think if we could get rid of religion, we can get rid of a lot of shit that happens in the world, so to say.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that would make the biggest possible difference towards that?


Wyanda: I think if people would respect each other a little bit more, regardless of religion, or regardless of what you stand for. The smallest thing that could produce change or help us is the smallest donation of whatever kind for Sea Shepherd that is going to help us to try and change the world. I know we won’t change the world overnight. I know Japan is not going to give up whaling next year or the year after, but even a donation of 50 cents towards Sea Shepherd will help us fight our fight and will keep us going in the next years.


Sam: Lastly, you’ve just answered this as well, but I’m going to ask it anyway, because then it’s going to get you a free hit. Do you have any advice for our listeners?


Wyanda: Advice for your listeners, I think, regardless what you believe in, I think it’s good to stand up for what you believe in, within you’ve got to look at the law and what’s allowed obviously. It would be good for people to open their eyes and realise the things that are happening in their own back yard. A lot of people do not know about all the illegal, unreported fishing and over fishing of the oceans. They need to have a look at what they actually put on their plates. Where does it come from? How has it been caught? Have a look at that and then decide again what you eat.


I don’t want everybody to become vegans, although our ships are vegan. Not everybody needs to become vegetarians but have a good look at what is actually happening out there. Not just seafood, but any food that you put on your plate, that can make such a big difference. If you realise that we can’t keep going like this. We can’t have so many billion people in the world and keep eating what we’re eating. It’s impossible.


Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.


Wyanda: You’re very welcome.





You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics. Brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We’re broadcast on Otago radio and podcast on On sustainable, we’re building up a search blog of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future.


In our conversations we try to find what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Captain Wyanda Lublick of the Steve Irwin, from the Sea Shepherd organisation. He’s been chasing the Japanese whaling fleet around the Antarctic. We’re off tomorrow to Melbourne.


Wyanda: Melbourne, yes.


Sam: Then to home.


Wyanda: Then I go home.


Sam: You can follow our links on Sustainable Lens to find us on Facebook. You can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes and various other places for free. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.