The Online Citizen gets in touch with Kathleen Loke, a Singaporean who volunteered with the famous Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and hears from her about her seafaring experience during the society’s expedition, “Operation Zero Tolerance”.
I joined SSCS in order to protect sharks. Growing up in an Asian society, it pains and frustrates me to witness the massive amount of senseless shark fin consumption at every other occasion – weddings, birthdays, festivals, etc… Despite the attempts of local like-minded societies like Project Fin, Shark Savers, WWF (Singapore), ACRES, friends and myself to educate people on the barbaric and needless slaughter of the sharks, the change might not come soon enough. There will always be some people who reckon that this “blood-broth” is synonymous to having achieved a certain status in life, or use tradition and culture as an excuse to validate their consumption of a tasteless limb, which is devoid of nutrition. With SSCS, there is hope that we can eliminate illegal shark-finning. And whales, very much like sharks, are essential in balancing our eco-system. We need them for our own survival and existence; saving sharks and whales is all about protecting and preserving our eco-system. To quote Captain Paul Watson, “the oceans are dying… if the oceans die, we die.”
Were there any obstacles from making this big step to volunteer in a fleet that is known to have certain elements of danger to it?
The biggest obstacle for me in joining the whale defence campaign was being away my family and closest friends for an extended period – the people I love, my creature comforts and the rest of my life were back home in Singapore. Being on a campaign, the crew were aware of the dangers they we would inherently face. Antarctica is not only the coldest and windiest continent, the waters are exceptionally treacherous. On top of these conditions, we were going down to the Southern Ocean to stop illegal whaling, but the immense support from my family and friends gave me the courage to do this.
I myself always wondered how to volunteer in the Sea Shepherd, is it hard to get selected and how does someone go about signing up as a crew?
Priority would always be given to skilled persons, like sailors, navigators, doctors/medics, computer specialists, marine engineers, carpenters and welders; people who can add value to the campaign. However, there are positions available to unskilled but passionate individuals as well. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is also looking for volunteers for public outreach and education and to cultivate awareness.
Crew application form can be downloaded online at http://www.seashepherd.org.au. You can sign up to be an on-shore volunteer, crew aboard one of the ships or a direct action crew.
How long was your journey in this expedition and what were your primary roles?
We spent close to 3 months out at sea on Operation Zero Tolerance, and my position is cook.
Was it your first ship faring experience? Were there any difficulties or unique experiences in the course of carrying out of your primary duties?
Yes, Operation Zero Tolerance was my first campaign and anti-whaling campaign with SSCS. I am not a cook by profession, and I had about 2 months to pick it up before we departed for Antarctica. From being an occasional home-cook to preparing vegan meals (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner & dessert) for a crew of 35, was daunting. Not to mention while at sea, besides fighting seasickness and rolls where you have pots filled with boiling water and oil threatening to spill over, you would also have to shield yourself from knives that come flying at you when the ship hits the water in bad conditions.
Were there any close encounters with whales or marine animals? How was the experience meeting them in the wild if you had?
It was my first time working with whales, and also the first time I’ve come into such close contact with marine mammals/animals in their natural element. It was such an indescribable experience to be able to see a creature so magnificent, yet so gentle, swimming in such close proximity by the boat – it was as if the whales knew that we are here for them.
While on our way back to Melbourne after the campaign, we were flanked by a pod of dolphins swimming by the bow of the Bob Barker. Just these alone – to see them swimming free and being alive – are enough for me to know the fight, the sacrifices I’ve made, are worth it.
The whole international branding of the Sea Shepherd seems to be an extreme right and wrong , some say it is fighting for the whales’ right to live while some say it’s being a criminal group. What is your feel on this?
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has banned commercial whaling since 1986. But yet, every year, the illegal whalers go down to the Southern Ocean with a self-imposed quota of killing 1,035 whales under the guise of “research”. Of these 1,035 whales, 935 are protected Minke whales, 50 are endangered fin whales and the other 50 are endangered humpbacks.
Through the years, we have seen the numbers of whales harpooned by the illegal whalers dwindle, which I believe this is a testament to SSCS’s effectiveness. We are a non-violence, direct action group and we never aim to physically injure or hurt any of the illegal poachers. Our goal is to “sink” and “disable” the whalers financially by stationing ourselves behind their slipway, thereby bringing the whaling season to an early end. It is not a question if our methods are controversial or considered criminal, but rather, we are there in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary doing something and trying to put an end to the Japanese’s illegal whaling activities. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has saved over 4,500 whales during the whale defence campaigns, and every life saved is a victory.
So after this long adventurous trip out in the open sea with the Sea Shepherd, are you looking to go back again someday?
Yes, I will be back onboard the M/Y Bob Barker this October. Being on the ship had been an amazing and humbling journey – to work with, learn from, and tap on the experience and expertise of some of the most passionate and intelligent people, with the biggest hearts.
Is there any plans in the long run on educating people on marine life conservation and etc?
I am very likely to continue crewing for SSCS, and possibly start a Sea Shepherd Singapore chapter. There is much to do in Asia, stating with the aquariums and oceanariums, animal shows in the zoo and hotels that allow you to swim with dolphins. These animals and mammals shouldn’t have to live in captivity or be tortured into submission for human’s pleasure.
We thank Kathleen Loke for granting us the interview with her and wish her all the best in her preparations for the next expedition!