I had the pleasure of chatting to Peter mid December 2009 just before he and his crew headed to Perth, Western Australia, to muster with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ships
Steve Irwin and Bob Barker, before heading into Antarctic waters to disrupt the Japanese whaling.
ince that interview which contained high hopes for a successful campaign things have changed dramatically.
Dave Moran (DM):
Peter how long have you been interested in environmental issues?
Peter Bethune (PB):
When I was young I was a hunter gatherer, hunting pigs, deer, goats, possums as well as fishing and spearfishing. I first became interested in environmental issues while working as an oil exploration engineer through the Middle East and North Sea.
There was unease about our dependence on fossil fuels. I became increasingly interested in renewable fuels. In those days it was nothing to do with the environment it was more about the very finite resource on which we’re all dependant.
For about five years through Earthrace I’ve been promoting bio-diesel. During this time I met all these really green eco-minded people and they brought along their own ideas and philosophies about the environment, the world and our place in it. They made me more aware of how we trash this planet. I’ve done 150,000 miles (241,350 km) aboard Earthrace while travelling through virtually all the planet’s oceans. I’ve stayed at remote atolls and reefs and dived and fished these places and much of it is trashed. The Pacific remains the best ocean on earth and it is now getting raped and pillaged in its international waters and there’s no one to police it.
I despair when I see what’s happening out there. I had to do something!
Via an interview with an Australian journalist in which I commented, I might go and hassle the Japanese whalers, I was contacted by Sea Shepherd.
I started talking to Paul Watson at Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd’s projects are:
1. Japanese whalers.
2. Shark finning.
3. Blue fin tuna
4. Hector’s and Maui dolphins in New Zealand.
These dolphins are the two most endangered dolphins in the world. A report about a year ago showed that out of 135 countries New Zealand ranked last in its treatment of endangered species.
: How have you prepared the Ady Gil* (Earthrace) for the Southern Ocean?
: We’ve added about a half a tonne of Kevlar to toughen the hull. It wont make us ice-proof but Kevlar is very good at localizing damage so that when you hit an iceberg it’s not going to sink you. You might end up with a metre or two scar but it’s not going to peel the whole boat open.
The black paint on the vessel has got carbon flecks through it which deflects radar signals so the boat will be extremely hard for the whalers to see from a distance.
Planet Seadoo sponsored us a 260 hp jetski. The gruntiest jetski ever made. We’re mounting a rack on the back so we can launch it in 30-seconds.
: Your thoughts on taking your boat into Antarctica’s waters?
: The good thing in Antarctica is there are so few boats, minimal traffic! There’s plenty of other hazards to worry about though, the icebergs and the cold: Simple things like the cold can freeze the water in your toilet, which can crack it.
You cannot go scuttling back to Australia in a day and get repairs done. To keep the boat running for three and a half months is a big ask.
: What does Ady Gil bring to Paul Watson’s operations re trying to disrupt the Japanese whales?
: It gives Paul another tactical option which is faster and more manoeuvrable than the Steve Irwin. We can’t ram vessels, we’d smash ourselves to
bits. But we can get in front of those harpoons and make it more difficult for them to harpoon whales.
So we’ve got the ability to hassle them all the way back to the processing ship and then try to disrupt the transfer of the whale.
It is estimated that last year the revenues from whaling were approaching half a billion Kiwi dollars. A single whale is worth between $100,000 and $400,000. Making money is all they’re doing. If we can disrupt them for several months it affects their revenue. They’ve got six vessels, a tanker with millions of litres of fuel. It’s a costly operation. We’re going to hurt them financially and hopefully they lose enough money that they start to think it’s just not worth it.
: Do you know or does the Sea Shepherd know what’s on the Japanese hunting list?
: The official numbers are 950 minke whales and 50 fin whales. There’s rumours that they want to target humpbacks this year but whether they do or not I don’t know. Officially they’re taking 1,000 whales.
: Peter do you think the New Zealand and Australian governments have any firm commitment in persuading the Japanese to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary?
: New Zealand and Australian governments are both anti-whaling. New Zealand is an exporting country and Japan is an important market. That’s the trouble; the Japanese are economically quite powerful.
I think the way to stop it is if the Japanese to start losing money. Businesses are involved because they make money. Once they start losing pots of money they will stop.
I understand there’s going to be a documentary made about this – Whale Wars?
: Yes, it’s already a massive television series in Northern America. It’s the highest ever rating Animal Planet show. It’s on Sky in New Zealand.
: Your family must worry and miss you when you head out on these dangerous projects.
: Yes it’s been pretty tough on my wife and my two wee girls to have dad away for such a long time. They are 13 and 14 which are key ages for girls. It’s tough!
: What does the future hold?
: I’m a good motivator and I’ve got good ideas but most of the other stuff I’m useless at. On Earthrace it was amazing how people got involved and provided skills that I don’t have. But the key skills that I do have are quite valuable and I’ve got a role to play and I’m dedicating a fair chunk of my life to conservation issues and hopefully the end result is that I made a valuable contribution for sustainability of the environment.
It’s funny mate, I’ve visited many places on this wonderful planet that we’ve been blessed with and we trash it. We just trash it. People on boats get to see the best of it and the worst of it.
Foot note: As we go to press Peter is aboard the Bob Barker on the hunt for the whalers.
* The name Ady Gil: Ady Gil is an Israeli/American multimillionaire who bought Earthrace from Pete and donated it to Sea Shepherd.
To read the full interview visit
Visit Utube for a dramatic video of the ramming.
Visit Utube for a dramatic video of the ramming.