Sunday, 13 June 2010

Chapter Two - Scene 5

Amsterdam                                                                                              Monday 8th March, 6.38 p.m.

‘THE UGLY specter of whaling again.’ Mark Stafford, hands behind his head, tie loosened and top collar button undone, leant back in the chair. After all these years, Greenpeace thought this area of conservation was finally under control? But today’s report had changed that. ‘Why? Damn it. Why now?’

He put his feet on an open drawer of his desk and gazed out his office window at the final sunlight vanishing into dusk at the end of the autumn day.

His thoughts reviewed the past as the only possible indicator of the present. When the major whaling nations came together in 1946 they negotiated a convention to regulate whaling. From this, the International Whaling Commission emerged. It held its first meeting in 1949. But it didn’t have any authority or power to control. So little happened to save the whales. In fact, competition between the whaling countries to take as many of the big mammals as possible led to the early years of IWC control being dubbed the Whaling Olympics.

He poured himself a mineral water and took a sip. The tide didn’t begin to turn for the whales for another twenty-three years. The United Nations Human Environment conference in Stockholm in 1972 called for an immediate ten year moratorium on commercial whaling. Mark smiled to himself. He remembered that. It made front cover of Time, which he had read on his first overseas flight to England. Funny how some things stick in your mind.

Anyway, for the next decade, the IWC resisted the pressure, and finally agreed to a moratorium in 1982. It was not put it in place until 1985. ‘Jesus, that’s thirty-six years. A third of a century!’

Thank God for Greenpeace. David McTaggart had based a good part of Greenpeace’s original mission on the saving of whales. However, Greenpeace maintains that two serious loopholes created at the original whaling convention meeting in 1946 are still unplugged. The first, the ‘Objection’ clause, allows any member state to formally object to a decision and, therefore, not be bound by it. The second was an article allowing any member state to kill whales for ‘scientific’ purposes regardless of any protective measures that might be in place.’

‘Now what had Petra told him? Yes, that’s right, using these two loopholes, the whaling countries had killed nearly fourteen thousand whales in the first five years of the moratorium. And more than ninety per cent of these had been the little minke whales.’

Darkness had entered the room like a shroud covering the remains of a dying species. Mark continued his reverie, brought on by his natural instinct of abhorrence of the ‘justified’ slaughter of these magnificent mammals. ‘Japan, Norway and the Soviet Union exercised their rights to object and continued whaling after the moratorium came into effect.’

‘At the same time, Iceland and Korea, who did not object, began long term scientific whaling programs. Both their programs ceased in 1989, for which Greenpeace could claim considerable credit.’ He smiled to himself. We are good, dammed good. Our efforts forced Norway and USSR to quit full-scale commercial operations in 1987 and Japan abandoned large-scale whaling the next year.’

‘But it may have been too late. IWC estimate that there are somewhere between two hundred and eleven hundred individuals left of the largest animal that ever lived--the blue whale. Before the advent of industrial whaling it was estimated that there were two hundred and fifty thousand of this giant mammal in the world’s oceans. And of the sperm whale, which once numbered in 1964 about three hundred and thirty thousand in the southern oceans, somewhere between two hundred thousand and two hundred and ninety five thousand remain.’

He paused. A shiver of disgust and dismay ran through his body. ‘Such appalling carnage in the guise of commercial progress!’ He finished his Perrier. ‘The position with whaling was always tenuous at the best. At the 1990 IWC conference it was agreed to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the effects of the moratorium. However, with the scientists unable to agree among themselves about the relative health of the whale populations, other conservation groups back up Greenpeace’s fear that there could be a return to full commercial whaling. God forbid that Japan has started now!’

His mind reeled with the enormity of the possible consequences. Suddenly he recalled David McTaggart’s words, written almost thirty years ago. “Few men had the opportunity that I now have to set a precedent in international law, which could apply at least one brake against the otherwise apparently unstoppable gallop towards some kind of nuclear holocaust.”’

‘Perhaps this is my opportunity to apply a brake against the extermination of whales.’ Mark felt the surge of pride and the glow of anticipation. ‘Yes, we’ll get the bastards this time.’ He smiled in expectation. ‘Greenpeace has won through in the past and we will win again.’

He looked at his desk clock, its numbers luminous green in the darkness. ‘I’d better give David a call. I want to know how good this fellow Daroux is, and whether he’s available.’

Chapter Two - Scene 4

Southern Ocean                                                                                                                 Early March

LOOKING up, the whale could see the darkness fading away, being replaced by a vast umbrella of intensifying brightness. The shimmering underside of the surface was a short memory as he broke through for his first exhalation. A thunderous blast heard over a kilometer radius. His spout, a powerful column of water broken up into extremely fine particles, like the mist from an atomizer, squirted forward, signaling his surfacing.

He had ascended to a point close to where he dived. Unlike a human diver he did not suffer from gas embolism, commonly know as the “bends”. His blubber re-routed the nitrogen in his blood before it reached the nerve fibers, so it was released gradually as he surfaced. Additionally, nitrogen was trapped in the large number of his nasal sacs and sinuses. Lined with an oil-mucus emulsion, the nitrogen and other inert gases were dissolved easily.

He drew in his first breath. Panting, he began to blow quickly every twelve seconds in an effort to catch his breath. ‘What was that sound? Danger? Suddenly the throb of some strange unnatural being. Enemy?? It is very close!’ Without waiting to fully recover, he dived. Throwing his mighty flukes high into the air, showing off his black tail with the variably pigmented underside, he slid back into the security of the depths.

Unknown to him, the spotter in the crow’s nest carefully reported the sounding while the crew on the bridge of the whale chaser checked the echolocation sonar. They knew it was only a shallow dive and the vessel changed direction to intercept him.

Surfacing after a short time, he heard the dreaded throb again. ‘Escape!!’ after only three blows he sounded. ‘Must escape’

In an effort to throw off his pursuers, he dived seven times in succession. But now he was slowing. Desperate to escape, he was becoming powerless and too exhausted to do so. The high frequency pulses emitted by the whalechaser’s sonar, and the scattered sounds of the human shouts, vigorous and excited from the hunt, devastated his sense of security as he slowed down.

Panting, he had to rest on the surface. Unprotected. The sound--so close--must escape!

Startled by the deafening explosive blast as the harpoon fired from the gun, he arched his back. The shocking, sickening thump of the harpoon penetrating his blubber had no immediate effect on his massive forty thousand kilogram body. Somewhere in his body the head of the harpoon sliced its way through the blubber. Suddenly the claws opened as the string came on the whale line. Resistance acted on the trailing edge to open the flanges, gripping onto the underlying muscles in his body. The barbed tips spread outward in different directions ripping into his flesh and lodging the grenade deep inside him.

Looking on from above, the chaser’s crew waited expectantly. Knowing.

Then, by delayed action fuse, the penthrite grenade exploded, completing the awful violation of his body by spraying shrapnel through his vital organs. The explosion caused massive internal injury, and for a moment the force of the blast suspended his final dive.

‘Dive! Dive!’

By instinct he completed the dive, desperately seeking to escape the destruction of his body. Racked by pain, drinking his own blood, his nerves shattered, and losing his ability to swim, he sounded, taking two hundred and seventy five meters of line with him. But the shattering effects of the strike restricted his movements. Not able to sound properly, he surfaced, fighting against the pull of the manila whale line.

Above and behind him, Sasaki checked his watch. Twelve minutes of the battle had passed and the whale, tired and exhausted lay on the surface, his speed reduced so that he barely made any way. Suddenly the stricken animal let out a last bloody gasp. In the flurry, a final agonized outcry. The giant’s spout rained blood over his body and the surrounding sea. His death throes had ended. He lay motionless on the surface of the battlefield, rolling and twisting in the sea washed by his own blood.

Chapter Two - Scene 3

Amsterdam                                                                                                 Monday 8th March, 5.03 p.m.

“MARK, sorry for the interruption, but I must talk with you immediately.” Petra Von de Roer had knocked on the open door as she had walked in, her lips tight, on her attractive face.

“I understand Petra. If it’s short you won’t mind if Jill stays?” Mark Stafford replied, looking up from his discussions about the executive committee meeting with Jill Evans, secretary.

“No, please don’t go Jill.” Petra’s face was firm. “It’s about this sperm whale business. I thought you would like an up-date.”

“Fine. Shoot”

“I’ve checked with Carrie and she is flying out Wednesday and will be in Auckland on Thursday. I’ve alerted the Auckland office and they are expecting her. It’s our lucky day as the Albatross is still in New Zealand. It’s leaving tomorrow to check drift-net fishing in the Tasman Sea. Jacques is prepared to let us use it for five days. NASA is going to send us a satellite report pin-pointing the position of the Japanese whaling fleet. All going well, Albatross should be able to intercept them around Campbell Island about three hundred nautical miles south-west of New Zealand.” Petra paused for breath, as she regained composure from her excitement.

“That sounds good Petra.” Mark took the opportunity to have his say. “Now, about the investigation team. You’re sending down Carrie Ardley as the whale expert. I haven’t met her. What’s her background?”

“Ja, I thought you’d ask. Here, I’ve got a printout for you.” Petra handed over the two-page computer printout.

Mark quickly read it through. “I see,” he murmured to himself, loud enough for the others to hear. “She’s twenty-eight, unmarried, doctorate in zoology, had a stint with the Peace Corps in South America, been to Europe with Project Jonah on a year’s assignment and with us for just on two years. Yes definitely the expert.”

Looking up at Petra, he said, “I still want some experience in the team. I think she needs a male counterpart, older than she is, and experienced in the outdoors, in the use of water equipment. You know, diving, rafting, canoeing. Fit, intelligent, preferably some negotiating skills, he can leave immediately, and of course, must be fluent in Japanese. Who have we got for this position?”

“Petra’s eyes opened in astonishment. “What do you want? Superman? I don’t know of anyone in the organization who meets those requirements. Do you?”

“No I don’t. But you should check through the computer just in case and . . .”

“Mark,” Jill Evan’s voice cut through his comments. “I think I may have your man.”

“Great Jill, lets hear it.”

“Well, when I was working with David McTaggart before you took over, Mark, we made a trip to Montreal. David and I had lunch with a good friend of his, Guy Chiriaeff. Guy is the dean of one of the business faculties at McGill University. At lunch we met one of his lecturers. He would have been in his late thirties then, tall, a big man. He looked fit and I think he mentioned canoeing as one of his interests. But the most interesting thing was that we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant and he ordered for all of us. He spoke fluent Japanese. I was most impressed.”

“Fantastic Jill. What a marvelous memory you have for young and interesting men.” Mark’s eyes were twinkling as he smiled his appreciation. “There you are Petra, give David a call in Rome. Keep it personal. Don’t use the network. Check him out. He may be our man. By the way Jill, what is his name?”

“Oh, I remember that,” Jill replied, a look of approval on her face. “His name is John, John Daroux.”