Saturday, 29 May 2010

Chapter Two - Scene 2

Southern Ocean                                                                                                          Early March

“STEADY as she goes.”

On the bridge of his whale chaser, Shishi Maru Four, Captain Nisso Sasaki gave his final order to the helmsman. He had timed his vessel’s arrival to coincide with the surfacing of the bull sperm whale. Knowing that the animal frequently surfaced within a few hundred feet of the point where it began its dive, he checked the sonar dial again. The green dot indicated the whale was now rising from the sea floor.

Reaching with his left hand for the radio telephone, staring past the helmsman, he called “Taiji Maru, Taiji Maru, do you read me?” The bridge was silent, the noises of the sea and boat but a background murmur to the scene of expectancy.

“Number four, Number four, we read you, over,” broke the stillness of the three waiting men. The vessel’s first officer had joined Sasaki and the helmsman as preparations began for the start of the end of the chase.

“Taiji Maru, I wish to speak with Captain Dan, over,” replied Sasaki, emotionless in front of his crew, his request formal, detached and objective.

“Captain Dan, Captain Dan,” repeated the voice, “will do, over.” The radio crackle ceased abruptly. Tense silence returned.

Gazing out at the long gray swells Sasaki’s mind filled with memories of the traditional rivalry between whalers from Ayukawa, his homeport, and those from Taiji. Yasuguro Dan was from Taiji. A fishing town on the southeast coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, it lay one hundred and fifty kilometers due south of Osaka. His own hometown, Ayukawa, was nine hundred kilometers further north in a northeast bay on the same island. Both areas had whaling histories, extending back hundreds of years. Musing further, he marveled at how the whale catching methods had developed over that period. Shore based fleets now replaced by whale chasers hunting in packs, roving the feeding grounds of the oceans. The old style cumbersome netting of these leviathans, replaced by modern cannons firing harpoons with exploding heads. The shore based processing factories now superseded by the efficient whaling fleets consisting of a whaling factory ship, a refrigeration vessel, an oil tanker, catcher boats, scouting boats and meat carriers. The factory ships, twenty five thousand tons of floating abattoir, were designed to process sixty thousand kilogram mammals—cutting, gutting, slicing, stripping, rendering them down to oil, bone powder and meat. Their industry was efficient, more efficient than the Soviets and right up there with the Norwegians.

Sasaki allowed a smug smile to form, rivalry forgotten for the moment. Japanese whaling was the best in the world. And, he Nisso Sasaki from Ayukawa was the best whale catcher in the fleet. Eighteen years difference in age—Yasuguro Dan is an old man. Why should I be waiting for an answer from the master of the factory ship? The old man from Taiji. When I get back to Yokohama, I’ll report this delay. He’s too old for this. It’s time he was replaced with a younger, more able skipper--one from Ayukawa.’ His smile broadened in anticipation . . .

“Number four, this is Captain Dan. Do you read me.” The brisk clipped voice that broke the silence brought Sasaki back to the present.

Sasaki’s quick reply matched that of the inquirer. “Makko kujira ETA for surfacing sixteen minutes from now. Estimated length fifteen meters, weight forty thousand kilograms.” Reading from the dials, he continued, “Wind north-north-east eighteen knots and rising, sea moderate, eighteen meters between swells and regular, barometer steady at one thousand and twelve millibars. All stations ready. Message ends, over.” Sasaki released the button on the handset.

There was a brief pause before Yasuguro Dan replied. “Message received. Our ETA your co-ordinates in thirty-five minutes. Carry on. Good luck. Over.”

Replacing the handset, Sasaki reached for his jacket and lifted it over his head. Protected from water and the cold, he felt warm in his waterproof jacket, trousers and rubber sea boots. Picking up earphones, he fitted them over his head and clicked the cord into the radio receiver strapped to his chest. The throat microphone allowed him to communicate directly with the helmsman and first officer on the bridge. Adjusting the jacket hood, he turned to the others. “You know what to do. Let’s make this a good one,” he said. Tone flat. A command not a statement.

Opening the bridge door, he stepped out on to the sloping catwalk linking the bridge to the bow. Gripping the rails tightly with his hands, he walked to the harpoon firing position, carefully matching his steps to the ship’s roll. The wind pulled at his hood and cuffs.

Arriving at the firing platform atop the high, flared bows of Shishi Maru Four, he looked down the eight meters to the water below. Behind him, between the platform and the bridge, was the forward mast. Positioned twenty-two meters above sea level in the crow’s nest a sharp-eyed crewmember was already in place, scanning the sea with binoculars. Like Sasaki, he communicated with the bridge by radio.

Attaching the safety harness to his waist, Sasaki took up his position, feet astride behind the cannon. He swiveled it around on its bases so that its ninety millimeter barrel faced towards him. Carefully, he checked that the seventy kilogram, one-point-eight meter long, steel harpoon was correctly loaded, noting the wire loop through the shaft connected to one hundred and thirty meters of nylon forerunner. Attached to a two hundred meter length of manila, it[what?] ran down under the firing platform then rose high to a sheave under the crow’s nest. Then down around a drum winch into the hold between the mast and deckhouse. His hands fondled the four ten centimeter barbed flukes tied in against the shaft. They would pivot on hinges and fly out after the harpoon was embedded in the whale. He smiled in anticipation.

Finally, he checked the grenade containing one hundred and seventy grams of explosive powder. This was screwed into the tip of the harpoon. It had a fuse set to detonate the grenade three seconds after the harpoon had entered the whale’s body. Swinging the gun back into its firing position, he took hold of the pistol-like grip, finger on the trigger. As he locked his body in with the movement of the boat, he spoke into the throat microphone, “Gun ready. Time before it blows?”

“Two minutes to first surfacing.” The first officer’s voice, loud with tension, filled his ears.

“Tell look-out I want its size and position within its first three breaths. And he is to count aloud the breaths after each surfacing. Over.” Sasaki’s command was brief, compelling and controlled.

“Start the count-down to surfacing now.” The first officer relayed the instruction to the lookout.

“Fifty-four, fifty-three, fifty-two,” the first officer’s voice intoned through his headphones.

Alone on the platform, like an actor on the stage, Sasaki mentally ran through the procedure that would evolve as the hunt went through its various stages. It was critical that they assessed the whale’s length accurately. The rule of thumb was that for every third of a meter of a sperm whale’s length, it would spout once at the surface and spend one minute submerged during the subsequent dive. At fifteen meters this bull would remain on the surface for less than ten minutes. This had to be extended by chasing him to exhaustion.

He reflected that the manila rope could not stand the strain of being stretched between the wounded and dying whale fighting its last fight, and the whale catcher bouncing over the waves. The whale had to be played as a rainbow trout is played on the finest tackle. The line had to be let out or taken in, as the pull on it varied. To prevent sudden tugs from snapping it, the line ran through a sheave that was attached to a rope. The rope ran to the masthead, and then down through a series of accumulation springs in the hold. As tension in the whale-line increased, the sheave was pulled down, the springs stretched, and the strain on the whale-line decreased. The movements of whale and the catcher would be continually moderated by the play in the accumulated springs.

“Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen.” The first officer’s voice stabbed through Sasaki’s thoughts as he made his last minute check. Everything was in order.

“Four, three, two, one, BLOOOWS,” came as a high pitched shout.

“Sixty meters straight ahead—makko kujira fifteen meters,” the first officer relayed, now calm.

“Makko kujira where are you?” Sasaki whispered to himself. Lifted by the swell, the range of his view opened to reveal the tell tale sign of the sperm whale. The fine mist of its spout rising seven meters to the left at fourty five degrees, indicated that the whale catcher was coming up fast behind the leviathan. “Now I’ve got you,” Sasaki said to himself. The engine noise would frighten the whale into a series of shallow and short dives until, exhausted, it would lie panting on the surface, unable to escape.

“Tsukamaeru zo!” Sasaki shouted to himself as the frightened whale dived early before full recovery, “I’ll get you soon!”

Eight minutes passed before the catcher began to slow down and maneuver into the final killing position. Sasaki, waving with his left hand, directed the chaser’s course.

“Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven,” the counting of the breaths continued, in his ear, as he sighted along the rod above the gun barrel.

“Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four,” the voice over the microphone continued, like a death chant. The whale’s back began to hump out of the water. Sasaki felt his mouth become dry as his concentration increased with the approach to the ideal position. The area behind the head became exposed. He tightened his finger on the trigger.

“Now! Now!”

A cloud of smoke signaled the WHOOMP of the explosion as the harpoon fired out at fifty kilometers per hour into its prey.

Chapter Two - Secene 1

Amsterdam                                                                                                 Monday 8th March, 12.42 p.m.

“AN urgent report has been received that requires this committee’s immediate attention. I would like to raise it now. Any objections?” Mark Stafford’s quiet voice made the question a command at the resumption of the executive committee. He paused briefly, “That being the case, I will ask Petra to carry on. Petra?”

“Thank you Mr Chairman.” There was excitement in her voice.

Graham Williams felt the level of interest of the other eight members’ rise in expectation. ‘What can this special report be about?’ he wondered as Margrethe Rasmussen, International Campaign co-ordinator, nuclear, sitting on his right, leant forward.

“We have received a special report from the Whale Division of our Research Center in San Francisco,” Petra announced, her manner intense and determined. “Briefly, it explains that this month’s regular STROW, which you’ll recall is an abbreviation of Satellite Transmission Report on Whales, reveals the grave possibility that some.nine or more bull sperm whales have been slaughtered.”

“Mon dieu!” Jacques Phillippe’s exclamation exploded across the room, “NINE bull sperm whales. NINE. How can that be?”

Graham felt the tension of pent-up anticipation become anger as the committee members expressed their shock at the announcement. Before it could develop into a general outcry, Mark Stafford intervened.

“I realize this is a great blow to you all, especially since the killing of sperm whales was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1976. However, please hear Petra out.”

“Most of you will recall that over the past six months our Whale Division has carried out a test identification program on two hundred bull sperm whales. Each of them has been fitted with their own small transmitter-receiver identification monitor. Fired in behind its head under the blubber, each dart contains a microchip that has a unique number for each whale by which we can identify it. The transmitter-receiver can be tracked by GPS, sector by sector or all at once, right around the world. The individual numbers are received back at our Research Center where they are plotted on charts.” Pausing to catch her breath, Petra continued, her gaze passing from member to member.

“There are two major uses of this system. One is to register the various contacts between the bull whales and the other cows and calves in the pods. This procedure is carried out at mating and allows us to assess the total population when they are all together. The other use is to track bull whales as they journey to and from their feeding grounds in the Arctic and Antarctic. This later check is carried out monthly and we refer to it as STROW.”

The anger of the committee, first aroused by the announcement, had turned into steely professional interest as she continued. “The February STROW showed that in the southern sector two bull whales did not report. This is within the allowable deviation. However, the March report completed yesterday showed a further seven bulls did not report. This decrease in numbers is greater than what we expect from natural causes.”

“HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?” shouted Jacques, his eyes blazing in concern.

“Well,” continued Petra, her voice lowered with intensity, “there are three possible causes. First lack of food. We have ruled that out. Second, an oil spill of substantial magnitude that suffocates the whales. As no such spill has been reported, we have ruled that out also. The third alternative is that they were hunted and killed.”

“Hunted? Killed?” Jacques in his excitement reached over the table and thumped it with his closed fist.

Petra paused.

Graham could see she had control of herself. Her concern showed but she was objective and dispassionate. An admirable foil to the excitable Frenchman. She looked down at her notes, glanced up at the chairman and took a deep breath.

“The Japanese whaling fleet is in that sector for its annual catch of minke whales for their scientific research.” She let out her breath, bracing herself for the response.

“Japs, the bloody self-indulgent Japs! I should have guessed!” Jacques exploded, throwing himself back into his chair, clenched hands in the air.

“Hold on a minute Jacques.” The calming voice of Mark Stafford broke through the histrionics. Graham could only admire the extent of Mark’s control in restraining Jacques.

“We are surmising at this moment aren’t we Petra? Have we any evidence that the Japanese are actually involved?” Mark asked.

“No, Mr Chairman. At this moment we are not sure.”

“Well then Petra.” The situation had been diffused so Mark continued. “What are your recommendations?”

“This issue needs to be investigated immediately. The Japanese whaling fleet is now probably on its way back home and if we want to catch them with the evidence, we have to act now.” Petra’s voice was firm with resolve.

“Who, Petra?”

“I’ve contacted the author of the report, Carrie Ardley. She heads up the Whale Division of our Research Center in San Francisco. It was her attention to detail and prompt reporting that is allowing us to act now. I suggest she goes to our branch nearest the area concerned, which is Auckland, New Zealand.”

“Fair enough, I agree we need an immediate investigation.” Then with a small frown, Mark asked, “Do you think she has sufficient experience?”

Petra did not reply immediately and Graham, looking on at this interchange, felt the tingle of excitement as the adrenaline pumped through his body. ‘So this is how Greenpeace acts. Decisive and controlled.’ He waited for Petra’s reply.

“Carrie has been with us for several years, most of which have been spent in the assembling and assessing of reports. While her field experience is limited, she is the most knowledgeable person we have on whales.”

“Thank you Petra.” Mark gave a slight smile as he addressed the committee. “In my opinion a mix of enthusiasm, specialized knowledge, youth and experience are best. Normally, they are not all present in one person. I think we need someone else to be there as well. But,” he paused, “before we go any further I would like to put Petra’s recommendation forward as a motion. Do I take it you have seconded it Jacques?”

Graham looked across to see Jacques nodding his head rapidly, glad to be brought back into the limelight.

“Right, are there any comments before we put the motion?”

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Chapter One - Scene 7

Southern Ocean Early March

DRIVING headfirst straight down into the inky blackness, the whale continued his dive to the bottom. Torpedo shaped with an enormous box-like head, his fifty tons of locomotive power relentlessly aimed for the sea floor. At six hundred meters he felt his body crinkle under the immense pressure.

In twenty minutes he was almost at the sea floor. Slowing his rate of descent, he settled into a hovering position just above the seabed. Drawing in seawater through his blowhole, the temperature of the spermaceti oil in his enormous head began to reduce. As it congealed it occupied less volume, making him less buoyant. A position of suspension had been attained.

Automatically, his hunting strategy took over. Using his complex sonar system, he emitted bursts of rapid clicks from his head. The returning sounds pieced together a sonic landscape of the surrounding rocks, cavities, ridges of the seabed, shells and prey.

Motionless. Soundless. A submarine waiting in ambush, he watched the advance of his quarry. The giant squid architeuthis. This colossal invertebrate, measuring over fourteen meters, would be no pushover for him. Apart from its daunting size, it wielded huge tentacles bristling with suckers as big as saucepans, powerful beak-like jaws, poisonous saliva, an ink sac to create camouflage, and above all a highly developed brain.

Watching, sensing, visualizing, two tentative tentacle tips explored towards him. No movement. Deathly still. Spring coiled. Tension controlled.

Attack. Sudden. Swift. Calculated.

On the tremendous up-sweep of his powerful tail he surged forward. Lower jaw dropped, teeth bared. A deadly scoop. Timed to perfection at the precise instant, two enormous tentacles reached out. Feeling. Exploring. Extending tentatively.

Open jaws seized. Encompassed mouth and head of the squid. Lock tight. Crippling pressure. Intense pressure. Building on the attack, he gave a tremendous sweep of his flukes. Tail lifted upwards. Body arched through ninety degrees to a vertical position. The lid of a trap door opening ready to crash shut. Twisting violently, he wrenched free two further tentacles from the seabed. Body groaned as they lock themselves around him. Another violent flick of his tail brutally screwed his body to rip the remaining tentacles free.

Rolling. Twisting. Moving. Always moving. He is locked in deadly conflict.

Enlacing his body, the squid’s interminable tentacles strained to hold him in his mouth. Beak-like jaws began their deadly work. Encircled by the writhing arms his huge jaws tighten. Sixty lance-like ivory teeth set in a narrow lower jaw clamp the slippery writhing squid firmly in place. Huge teeth apply immense pressure, crushing and grinding. Vital organs at the squid’s narrow neck where its head is attached to its body are cut and severed. Unable to escape, its strength rapidly diminishes. The grip of its suckers began to wane. Tentacles relaxed. Beak-like jaws cease chewing. Severed head parts from its body.


The conflict ceased. The seabed resumed its placid calm. The fight was over. He shook himself free.

Conqueror triumphant, he consumed his victory meal.

Chapter One - Scene 6

Amsterdam                                                              Monday 8th March, 12.18 p.m.

MARK Stafford, his dark hair slightly thinning, a round jovial face settled on a plump body, looked carefully around the boardroom. Seeing Graham Williams standing alone, he excused himself and with croissant and mineral water in hand walked over to him.

“Well Graham, how are you finding the morning so far?” Mark’s question was open and objective behind his smile.

“Most impressive, thanks Mark.” A thoughtful expression on his face, Graham continued. “Bruce Harrison’s report on membership and fund-raising was revealing. I’d no idea that Greenpeace’s membership now exceeded five and half million. Obviously increasing the number of branches to thirty one by opening of five new ones in South America brought a great influx of new members!”

“Yes, you’re right Graham, the growth of our membership is mainly due to the strength of our branches.”

“What then would you say are the basics for the success of the organization now?”

“Hmm.” Mark paused for a moment, taking a bite of his croissant while he assembled his thoughts. “Well there are probably four ingredients. First, I would say it’s the quality of our research. We are always well prepared with good solid research before we tackle any problem. Then . . .” His shoulders straightened as his pride in the organization’s achievements showed through in his voice. “. . . I would say our next strength is in our lobbying power. At political, corporate and especially national levels in most places in the world we have the power to lobby effectively.” Now warmed to his subject, he continued. “Then we have a great ability in finding the weakest link in our adversaries and going for that. You’d remember how we went for Bayer about polluting the North Sea. Maintaining their squeaky clean image made them very sensitive to bad publicity. And we won,” he added with a chuckle. “Finally, I think we have tremendous strength in our flexibility. We are able to initiate, quickly, international pressure through demonstrations, protests, lobbying and direct contact with groups everywhere in the world. Our excellent communications and electronic mail network connecting all our branches and vessels has been one pillar of our success. Of course you know that already.” Mark paused and took a sip of water. “Well there you have it. A strong, growing, effective organization with a mission to save the world from killing itself.” There was a slight pause, “Hey, and it’s fun too!” He smiled at Graham. “You’ll really enjoy it here. We all work hard but we play hard. It’s a marvelous sense of achievement. I could carry on and on . . . but you know what I mean.”

“Yes I know what you mean. Thanks Mark. Now I understand the saying I’ve been hearing around Headquarters since I’ve been here.”

“What’s that? “ interrupted Mark.

“Oh, probably a play on Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’ They call the mission the ‘Four Pillars of Pressure’. Seems to sum up what you’ve just said.”

“Yes you’re right,” chuckled Mark. “Don’t know where the saying came from. Probably from our esteemed Chairman David McTaggart. He likes creating sayings and events that have great PR value. For example, look at this photograph on the wall.” He smiled as he motioned Graham to turn around.

“This was taken from Warrior, the vessel we had in 1981 off the British coast when we were trying to stop nuclear waste being dumped in the Atlantic. Our crews had just developed the tactic of racing in on inflatables alongside ships, under bows, sterns and hoists to impede the dumping of barrels overboard. As you can see, it didn’t stop them and some containers fell onto the inflatables, capsizing them and sending them flying . . .”

“Mark, I’m sorry to interrupt but I have an urgent e-mail message from San Francisco Branch which I need to discuss with you immediately.” Mark looked around to the speaker Petra van de Roer.

“Right. Please excuse me Graham. I enjoyed our discussion but I’d better see what Petra wants. I’ll catch up with you later.” Mark’s manner was brisk and alert as he and Petra hurried into his office off the boardroom.

“Well, what do we have Petra?” Mark asked as he closed his office door.

“Let me show you Mark,” said Petra as she reached over his desk and switched on the computer terminal. She punched in the code that brought the report onto the screen. “There, read that,” she demanded.

Mark, now settled in his chair, quickly scanned the one page report, then read it through again carefully. “Well,” he said, “what do you make of it?”

“I think the conclusions are correct. They have gone too far. We must investigate immediately.” Hands on the desk, her body leaning forward, eyes blazing, Petra demanded Mark’s consent.

“Yes it looks that way,” he replied noncommittally, looking up at her. “Let’s discuss it, first thing after lunch. I’ll tell Jill to amend the agenda. By the way, who should carry out the investigation?” he queried.

“Well not me. I’m too busy with the drift-net matter off the South American coast. I’d like Carrie Ardley, who prepared the report, to work with our nearest branch. This is her specialist subject and while she has not had much field experience it would be good for her to follow this through, don’t you think?”

“Yes I agree. Why don’t you check it out with her now and make an oral report to the meeting. We’ll be starting in five or six minutes and I’ll think about whom else should go. OK?” Mark’s voice was calm.

Petra heard the quiet order and accepted the compromise. “Ja. I will see to it immediately,” she replied as she walked out of the room.

Chapter 1 - Scene 5

Southern Ocean                                                                                                                Early March

CAPTAIN Nisso Sasaki lifted his head slowly from the sonar screen. Giving his eyes time to adjust, he squinted out through the thick plate glass at the gray,-heaving swell. Turning his head without seeing, but knowing the helmsman’s place, he grunted, “Nothing there.”

Still holding onto the sonar cover, he reached into the pocket of his trousers for his cigarettes. He stood up, swaying to maintain his balance, and exchanged the cigarette packet for a lighter. Inhaling deeply, he thought to himself. ‘Damn, after three days it’s always nothing there.’

Stepping carefully behind the helmsman and adjusting his walk to match the moving bridge floor, he crossed to the chart table on the port side. Glancing down at the chart, Sasaki traced the track of his vessel, the whale catcher Shishi Maru Four. They had left the Antarctic whaling grounds three days previously on their journey back to Yokohama. Breathing out a fine stream of smoke, he contemplated the enormous whaling grounds, the feeding area for the baleen whales. In his mind he pictured their dramatic feeding frenzies. Skimmers and gulpers, they propelled themselves powerfully through the ocean, spreading their jaws, catching phenomenal amounts of water, krill and small fish in their dilatable mouths. Then they shut their jaws, lifting their enormous tongues to push the water out through the baleen plates to trap scores of wriggling organisms ready to be swallowed.

Looking down again, he pinpointed the position of the factory ship twenty miles to the southwest and astern. With his right index finger, he traced their proposed course along the edge of the Southern Pacific-Antarctic Ridge on the 1,200-meter depth line. The track of the mighty bull sperm whales. He checked the dial of the depth meter. ‘Still no change. We must be too far west,’ he thought to himself.

“Starboard five degrees,” he ordered tight-lipped.

“Starboard five degrees,” repeated the helmsman turning the wheel slightly. He recognized his captain’s frustration.

After a few minutes spent checking the various read-outs of the instruments at the control panel, Sasaki stalked back to the sonar. Gripping the light shield around the dial, he placed his head on the edge of the cover to view the screen. Waiting for his eyes to re-adjust to the darkness, he concentrated on the black background with the green shapes. The signal from the short burst of sonic energy showed clearly a bottom level of one thousand, two hundred and eighty meters. In between were only scattered groups of color indicating schools of fish close to the surface. Squinting, he peered closer. He was looking for a single light ascending or descending slowly over a ten to fifteen minute period. The unique signature of the deep dive of the large male sperm whale. ‘What was that . . .’ A speck of light moving down. He blinked his eyes and strained again, his instincts tightening his gut in anticipation. It was still there . . . ‘Yes . . .’ At the outer limit of the sonar’s range. ‘Yes, it is still there, descending at a regular rate’.

“Makko kujira,” he breathed to himself, as if not believing what he saw. “Makko kujira, MAKKO KUJIRA,” he shouted, drawing out the last word as he slapped the sonar case in delight. “Makko kujira at seven thousand meters,” he crowed, lifting his head from the screen. Turning to the helmsman, his face contorted by the grin of success, he shouted, “New course bearing oh-five-oh.”

“Oh-five-oh,” repeated the helmsman, smiling as he turned the wheel. “What’ll be our ETA?”

Sasaki’s excitement subsided, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. He resented the helmsman questioning him. Not answering, he turned back and peered into the sonar screen again. Eyes adjusting again to the darkened screen, he held his breath expectantly. ‘Would the small dot appear. Yes there it was, slightly larger and further down. It must be making a deep dive,’ he thought. At this depth the bull whale could be down for say an hour. ‘It’s probably over fifteen meters in length, a real monster. Maybe the biggest of the season.’ His mind raced in speculation. Realism returned as he calculated. ‘Ten minutes minimum on the surface—more than enough time for a kill.’ He smiled confidently to himself. ‘We’ll be there on time!’

He checked the screen again. The dot was almost at the bottom. Mentally he allowed fifteen minutes for the dive, half an hour for the feeding and ten minutes to surface. Estimated time of arrival fifty-five minutes. Standing up, he reached for the hand microphone.

“Taiji Maru! Taiji Maru! Taiji Maru! This is Shishi Maru Four. Do you read me? Over.”

Impatient for the acknowledgment, Sasaki wondered to himself if the Taiji crew had slackened off now the main whaling season was over. ‘Probably on automatic pilot with no one on the bridge or monitoring the radio. Lazy Taiji crew . . .’

“Shishi Maru Four, Shishi Maru Four, we read you loud and clear, over.”

‘Sounds like Yasuguro Dan, the old Taiji bastard,’ Sasaki said to himself. ‘I almost caught you out.

“Taiji Maru this is Shishi Maru Four, makko kujira, makko kujira diving oh-five-oh, depth twelve hundred, say again, twelve hundred meters. ETA fifty-five minutes, sixteen-oh-five. Preparing for kill! Over.”