Saving the whales for future generations

John Ellam is a volunteer with the Sea Shepherds who protect whales from evil Japanese fishing boats.
John Ellam is a volunteer with the Sea Shepherds who protect whales from evil Japanese fishing boats.
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A marine engineer has spent the winter sailing the Antarctic seas battling to save endangered whales from Japanese hunters.

John Ellam has recently returned from a five month mission volunteering with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to save humpback, blue fin, and minke whales.

Mr Ellam, 34, of Darnley Avenue, said: “In 1986 there was an international ban on commercial whaling but they could still be caught for the purposes of scientific research.

“Myself and the Sea Shepherds believe the Japanese whalers use this as a front, when in fact they are catching whales for non-scientific purposes.

“They say they catch them for scientific research but when they get them back to Japan they openly sell the whale meat down at the docks.”

The Japanese whalers operate five different ships in the Antarctic including a factory ship which is used to process the meat before it is sold for human consumption.

The Sea Shepherds have four boats which track the whalers and try to stop them harpooning the mammals by using direct intervention.

Mr Ellam said: “We launch small, inflatable rig boats. They will try circling the harpoon boats making them lose the whale’s trail.

“We also throw a foul smelling acid which is harmless but it deters the whales from going anywhere near the whalers. And we also throw out lines to try and slow the whalers down.”

Over the years the Sea Shepherds have developed imaginative ways of sailing undetected by the whalers including hiding behind giant icebergs.

Life with the Sea Shepherds is dangerous and volunteers survive on only a few hours sleep for months on end as they chase the Japanese boats around the vast Antarctic ocean.

Mr Ellam said: “It gets a bit rough at times. The Japanese boats ram us a lot. And because you’re below deck where there are no windows you don’t know where they’ve hit.

“But you get used to it.”

But life hasn’t always been about adventures on the high seas. For seven years Mr Ellam was the chief projectionist at Cineworld in Wakefield but he always dreamed of travelling the world’s oceans.

In 2008 he went to the UK Sailing Academy where he trained as an engineer. Then he went to work as a yacht engineer in Greece.

But since 2010 he has volunteered as a marine engineer for the Sea Shepherds.