By Barbara Polan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Northborough residents who watch Animal Planet's “Whale Wars” and find something familiar about First Officer Peter Hammarstedt – now on the ship Bob Barker and, in former seasons, the first mate of the Steve Irwin – have a good reason: Peter lived in town from 1990 to 1995. Just before he was to enter fourth grade at Peaslee Elementary School, he and his family – mother Kerstin, father Lars and sister Anna – moved to a suburb of Philadelphia. The family later returned to its native Sweden in 2002.
Upon graduating from high school, having seen a disturbing photo of a whale being dragged ashore, Peter was attracted to working to protect the creatures.
“Like most people, I believed that whaling had ended in the 1980s, so it both shocked and disgusted me [to see that they were still being hunted],” he said.
To work against whaling, Peter joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an organization based in Washington state dedicated to protecting marine species, with a special focus on whales.
“I joined Sea Shepherd because it's the only organization actively stopping whaling on the high seas,” he added. “Since we already have the law and public opinion on our side, I knew that there was nowhere else that I’d rather be than on the front lines – actively blocking, harassing and shutting down whaling.”
According to its website, www.seasheperd.com, the organization's mission is: “to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.”
“Whale Wars” is a documentary-like reality television show that follows Sea Shepherd ships. The show documents the activities of the ships and crews using unconventional, and often illegal, methods to fight whaling: confronting and sometimes boarding vessels, interfering with whaling procedures, and other actions that reduce the whalers” slaughter of the animals.
Although the group's primary targets are vessels that are hunting illegally – in violation of the worldwide Moratorium on Commercial Whaling edict that was passed in 1986, it sometimes focuses on ships ignoring international law in favor of their own country's. One example is the Japanese fleet that, until recently, killed whales because Japan refused to agree to the ban, a practice needed, according to the Japanese government, for the nation's scientific research.
After the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan earlier this year, the Japanese government – in acknowledgement of the international outpouring of aid – finally made the concession of banning its own practice of whaling in international waters. In fact, in its statement about banning the practice, Japanese officials acknowledged the pressure applied to its fleet by anti-whaling factions like Sea Shepherd.
Now, the same Japanese fleet has turned toward whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, off of Antarctica, so, next month, the Bob Barker will head there – for Operation Divine Wind.
According to Peter, Sea Shepherd's campaigns are critical to the survival of marine mammals because no one else is trying to save them.
“If we don's stop them [the Japanese whaling fleet], who will?” he asked.
In addition to the dangerous on-the-job training that comes from being aboard the ships, Sea Shepherd crews learn by attending other training sessions. Over the past summer, Peter said, he participated in two such sessions: “Firefighting” and “Survival.” While the former addressed the issue of fighting an on-board fire, the latter consisted of a lifeboat – with crew and limited supplies – abandoned far from shore.
For more information about Sea Shepherd (including updated information about its current activities), or to make a donation, buy Sea Shepherd merchandise or volunteer to help the cause, visit the website at www.seashepherd.org or www.seashepherd.com. The group is also on Facebook.