Operation Sea Shepherd

Capt Paul Watson and Peter Hammarstedt 1
Captain Paul Watson and Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Oct. 7, 2018 at Beelman’s in Downtown L.A. Photo by Renaissance Man.

I finally meet Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd. Even Peter Hammarstedt shows. I missed Watson in San Diego so we drive through trash strewn Skid Row and walk through the drugged out homeless of downtown L.A. Hanging out on a Sunday night isn’t usually my thing, but I can’t miss Captain Watson again!

On our way to Beelman’s, we find a familiar face talking to some guy on a bike waiting at the crosswalk. Renaissance Man says, “That was Andy Serkis,” then beats himself up for not stopping to say hi throughout the evening and the next day.

Renaissance Man keeps asking if a lot of people will be at the gathering. I keep saying, “No. Out of all the people I tell about Sea Shepherd only one knew.”

Here’s what I tell everybody when they tell me they haven’t heard of Captain Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd. Captain Paul is a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation. In 1977, Paul left Greenpeace and founded Sea Shepherd, a conservation group defending the sea. Watson is best known as an anti-whaler fighting the Japanese whalers in the best reality TV show EVER called Whale Wars on Animal Planet.

The show is no longer on, and Sea Shepherd no longer goes to Antarctica since they can’t justify spending charitable money for 333 minke whales. But it would be great if the show returned following other ships in the organization.

Through the patio at Beelman’s, we enter the yellow-booth, vegan restaurant, bar to the left. The Los Angeles Sea Shepherd Chapter has a small table of merchandise set up. The captain’s not there yet. We settle on a booth, and enjoy vegan pub food. The Dodgers are playing and some at the bar are cheering. I go over to get Renaissance Man a Sea Shepherd T-shirt when Captain Paul walks in. I start clapping. A few begin to clap. Captain stops and is a bit stunned by the enthusiasm. The Dodger fans continue watching their team while I cheer for Team Sea Shepherd.

“Is Peter here?” Watson asks one of the Sea Shepherd volunteers.

Watson makes his way to the bar with the people he knows. He drinks something in a faux coconut with an umbrella. Then Peter Hammarstedt walks in. One of the girls tries to get her boyfriend’s attention at the bar as she points at Peter.

Peter’s no longer that nineteen year old young man when he started out with Sea Shepherd. He’s filled out and he’s not wearing glasses anymore-the look I’m accustomed to from watching Whale Wars.

Eventually, the small crowd makes their way to the duo to get a photo with them. I wait patiently. No one is talking to them so I go up to both Watson and Hammarstedt.

“I wrote a book inspired by Whale Wars. You’re the captain.” I look up at Peter. “And you’re the first mate.”

“He’s my cabin boy.” From the chair, Captain Paul points at Peter standing to his side and laughs.

“You’ve been demoted,” I say. Turning back to Paul, “May I give you my book?”

“Sure.”

I know he’s an avid reader, which I tell him as I give him my book later in the evening. I don’t want him to have to carry my book Superfreak around. He looks at the cover. Flips the book over. A lady says from behind, “He’s going to sign books.” I believe he is walking to a table as someone had bought a book of his and wants it signed. He is an author himself and a good one. He wrote the book Earthforce! The book explains how governments never follow through to strategies for earth warriors to some of his beliefs. His knowledge of Spaceship Earth, as he calls it, is astounding and will blow your mind. (Man, now I’m really kicking myself for not asking him questions, but I was only thinking I’ve got to meet him.) Then Captains Paul and Peter speak to the crowd.

Paul talks about the world’s most endangered marine mammal—the vaquita porpoise. Earlier this year, M/V Farley Mowat and two other Sea Shepherd vessels returned to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro IV to help support the Mexican Navy protect the vaquita refuge. Local fishermen use illegal gillnets to kill endangered totoaba sea bass. Gillnets indiscriminately catch any species of fish, and drown marine mammals and birds.

Sea Shepherd volunteers removed 385 pieces of illegal deadly fishing gear and saved 854 animals—their most successful campaign for the vaquita to date.

Peter talks about seeing his first whale harpooned when he was fourteen years old. It was that whale that made him want to protect the whales and the seas. Peter is truly a kind soul. As soon as he could he joined Sea Shepherd at nineteen. He used to be the first mate on the M/V Bob Barker. He talks about his recent endeavor as captain on the M/V Bob Barker working with the government of Gabon on the west coast of Central Africa. He says a blacklisted vessel that was killing over a half million sharks a year was arrested. He personally tells me he had been patrolling off East Africa. So he put a lot of hours on the engine chasing illegal fishing boats. He reminds the crowd that our global ocean fisheries will be completely exploited by 2048. Each year, 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed as by-catch, 50 million sharks are caught as by-catch, and more than 100,000 sea turtles, seals, and other marine mammals are killed.

Paul asks if we have any questions. You know that part in the story where the author intrudes and says, she didn’t think to ask questions. At that moment, I don’t remember that I do have questions for him.

We are having a great evening sharing our booth with vegans and animal activists. They are supportive of my book and want to buy it. I give them my bookmarks. If I had brought more books, I would have given them away. It’s an eclectic bunch of compassionate people. And I’m hanging with two of the greatest defenders of the sea—Paul and Peter—truly the nicest people.

To donate to Sea Shepherd go to the donation page. In the comments, you can say Author Melissa Crismon told you about Sea Shepherd. Or shop Sea Shepherd for Christmas. One of the volunteers says the donations are well utilized by Sea Shepherd.

M/V Farley Mowat

MVFarleyMowatOfficerMarian

Officer Marian on the M/V Farley Mowat. Photo by M.C.

Touring one of the Sea Shepherd ships is a rarity, one of the Los Angeles Chapter members says. The Marine Vessel Farley Mowat is docked in the San Diego Harbor for the Fourth of July weekend. Then the crew is off to Baja Mexico to have the small ship repaired. Marian, our tour guide and officer, said the ship isn’t expensive to buy, it’s the upkeep. Once the ship is repaired, they are back on the Sea of Cortez to help the vaquita porpoise and the totoaba bass.

The fishing villages lay gill nets in murky water, making it difficult for the vaquita to see. The Sea of Cortez is their only home. The totoaba bass gill nets end up with vaquita by-catch. The swim bladder is taken out of the bass, who are then thrown back into the sea. The bladder has purported medicinal and male virility enhancement value and is used in soup.

The Farley Mowat houses thirteen to eighteen crew members. Three of the crew left while three new members board. In the mess, Marian hugs one of the guys leaving. Comradery abounds from the volunteers on land to the crew. We get a private tour along with Kimberly, one of the new crew members. As an engineer is in the mess, I ask Marian about romance aboard ship. Passion is the first question of any good romance writer. Marian passes the question to the engineer who says, “Oh #@$%!” I take it as things haven’t always ended his way but then he says, “We’re a bunch of hippies.” I ask if the men and women sleep in separate areas. There is no privacy. The bunking is coed. Marian says, “We all know what each other looks like.” Ha!

We’re shown awesome footage of their 2016 Campaign Milagro in the Sea of Cortez. On the video the captain says, “Jacques Cousteau once called Mexico’s Sea of Cortez ‘the world’s aquarium.’” The stingrays leap out of the ocean. There are bass, humpback whales, sea turtles and dolphin. Then illegal nets are pulled out with some of these dead creatures. A female crew member on the video expresses that the marine mammals have been dead for days in the net, and it smells like nothing she’s smell before.

Up and down narrow ladders, we meander through the living quarters to the bridge to the stern where the panga boat is kept. Processed nets are in a bag. When on campaign they find the nets sometimes at night I believe then bring them in from the bow. They eventually cut the nets and bag them near the stern. Adidas make shoes out of the nets!

Sea Shepherd relies on generous donations from vegan food to money. The local San Diego and Los Angeles chapters are selling Sea Shepherd merchandise on the quay. There are books by Capt. Paul Watson, T-shirts, hats, stickers and more that will go to help with things like gas for the Farley Mowat and Sea Shepherd in general.

This is the warmest, most passionate group of people. One story the L.A. Chapter lady told me really stuck with me. She said the Sea Shepherd organization is all over the world. It’s not just about the whales. In Washington State, sea lions are being branded then shot the third time they are caught with salmon. This is legal for the fishermen to shoot the sea lions if caught. They catch the sea lions, cage them, brand them then eventually shoot them. (A reminder to not eat fish.)

Sea Shepherd is wherever they can be actively stopping the killing of marine life. If you’d like to donate to Operation Milagro, follow this link to Sea Shepherd or go visit the M/V Farley Mowat in the San Diego Harbor near the Star of India ship from 9 to 5 through Tuesday, July 4, 2017. Parking on the pier is $20 for all day, which will give you time to eat nearby, tour the U.S.S. Midway and walk Seaport Village or the Gaslamp District. Your donation is worth the entertaining tour. Happy Fourth of July!

Copyright 2017 Melissa Crismon