In this latest article in The Guide, DPG chats with Sea Shepherd’s Bia Figueiredo, as she gives us insight into how she got involved with the organization, her role as a crew member, and some of her biggest frustrations with issues facing our oceans.
In front of the M/V Sam Simon one week before our departure to the Southern Ocean for the 10th Antarctic Whale Defense Campaign, “Operation Relentless”
DPG: As the public, we see the press conferences, news coverage, and South Park episodes, but what is a day in the life of a Sea Shepherdess really like?
Bia Figueiredo: As a crewmember on one of the ships, I belong to a specific department, which is the deck. The ships return to port after campaigns in quite bad shape, from traveling through the pack ice and collisions during confrontations, which keeps the deck department pretty busy.
We have a daily routine of breakfast, a meeting, eight hours work and then free time. The ship spends most of the time in Melbourne, Victoria. The galley (ship’s kitchen) is responsible for cooking three vegan meals a day to feed the crew. The food, I have to confess, is amazing.
Making sure there’s no bare metal exposed, because rust builds up quickly on a ship
DPG: How many tours have you been on? How long is a tour? Where have you gone?
BF: I’ve been on the ship for 15 months now, most of the time in port getting the ship ready for campaigns. I was in one Southern Ocean Whale Defense Campaign from December 2013 to March 2014, then back to port until this coming December. At the moment, I’m getting ready for another Southern Ocean Campaign, this time to stop Patagonian toothfish poaching in Antarctic waters.
DPG: How did you get involved with Sea Shepherd?
BF: In 2009, two really good friends of mine from Brazil introduced me to Sea Shepherd’s work back there, and I got involved slowly. In Australia, I started as an Onshore Volunteer, helping out at the stalls in markets, festivals and other events, talking in schools and spreading the word. I joined the M/V Sam Simon Sea Shepherd Ship on June 1, 2013.
M/V Sam Simon travels through the ice pack somewhere in the Southern Ocean
DPG: What is your background?
BF: I was born and lived in Brazil for most of my life. I grew up quite far from the ocean, but was around the coast whenever I could. I studied biological science at university and moved to an island right after, working in the scuba diving industry for a few years—and also as a science teacher. I’ve been in Australia for two and a half years now.
DPG: What’s the photo and video coverage like? I assume you have to document your actions both for proof and for defense. Do you have a designated media crew? I’m also picturing a massive photo/video equipment room…
BF: Every year, we bring a media team on board—a producer, a soundman, cameramen and an editor. We’ve got a media room on the ship. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson likes to say that cameras are the most powerful weapons you could possibly have. It’s really important to document all the actions we take, so the public understands what we go through to defend, protect and conserve our oceans, as well as life on board and the interactions between people from all over the world.
Bia and bosun’s-mate Susan Larsen during one of the many fire drills carried out during a campaign
DPG: During confrontations, what is your role? What goes through your mind?
BF: I’m a deck hand, which is the department responsible for all the repairs, maintenance, cleaning, wood and steel work, fire fighting, damage control, and all the actions during confrontations. We train a lot, so I feel ready when there’s an action about to happen. Adrenaline helps you to make quick decisions and act accordingly.
DPG: Most memorable encounter?
BF: The first iceberg, penguin and pod of orcas were memorable encounters, that’s for sure. Watching these majestic whales in the wild is always an event. It just makes me fight even harder to put an end to dolphins and whales in captivity. There’s no room for marine parks and dolphinariums in the 21st century.
Humpback whale spouting at 4am around the Balleny Islands
Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) on an ice pack—this particular one stuck around for a while next to the ship
DPG: Biggest frustration?
BF: Hearing that the Japanese whaling fleet is looking forward to heading down south again in 2015/2016 to keep up their illegal activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary—even after the highest court of justice in the Hague ruled that they’re not whaling for scientific purposes, but to sell the meat in fish markets in Japan. Commercial whaling was banned in 1986, which makes their activities a crime.
DPG: What’s your weapon of choice? Is the pen mightier than the sword, as they say? And/or do you think that the tactics used are effective?
BF: We are known for being a direct-action marine conservation organization, but that doesn’t mean we are violent. We have never got any of the whaling fleet crew members injured or killed. We stop their illegal activities by getting in their way and blocking their operations. We know our tactics are effective from the number of whales saved every year, which keeps on increasing.
The Japanese whaling fleet has an annual quota of 1,035 whales per season, comprising 850 minke whales, 50 humpback whales and 135 endangered fin whales. To make a profit, they have to return to Japan with at least 600 slaughtered whales, which hasn’t been happening for many years now, thanks to Sea Shepherd’s interventions. During “Operation Relentless” (2013–2014), 784 whales were saved.
Small boat team ready for action
The whaling fleet security vessel, Shonan Maru No. 2, which followed the Sea Shepherd ship for several days. The Shonan was responsible for ramming the Sea Shepherd patrol vessel, M/V Ady Gil, during “Operation Waltzing Matilda” (2009/2010). The M/V Ady Gil had six crew members on board, who were rescued by another Sea Shepherd vessel, and unfortunately ended up sinking in the Southern Ocean
DPG: Any long-term plans? How many more tours are you up for?
BF: I believe that I’ll be involved as long as I’m needed there. Sea Shepherd is no longer just an organization. It has become a movement, with more and more people getting involved every year. If I'm not participating in campaigns on ships, I'll be involved in other ways.
DPG: Final thoughts?
BF: I grew up looking for people to admire. When I was little, it was all about heroes. As a teenager, all about idols. Today, I can give you the names of real people that could easily be both—Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, Margaret Mead, Alice Walker, Paul Watson. It is their words and deeds that inspire future generations to fight for life.
“Operation Relentless” deck team (L–R): Giacomo Giorgi, Jessica Guertin, Ele Depends, Chris Holden, Bia Figueiredo, Kylie Maguire, Susan Larsen, and Nick Allan
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