Thursday, August 29, 2013
Onboard a Whaling Ship Off Iceland
By Jonny Zwick (@jonnyzwick) It was mid-afternoon when I received an email I had been waiting for all summer. Gouholt Konradsson, son of long time minke whaler, Konrad Eggertsson, informed me that I was welcome to board their whaling vessel, the Halldor Sigurdsson, if I could make it to Isafjordur in time for the next hunt. I promptly rented a car and took off on a seven-hour journey to Iceland’s famously beautiful Westfjords area, astonished that these men had just granted me access to film the killing of a minke whale. I boarded the ship two days later, after some bad weather postponed the hunt. It wasn’t the rain or haziness that deterred the whalers, but the choppiness of the wind-blown ocean that held them back. The Eggertsson duo hunts whales independently, so they don’t feel the pressure of going out on a difficult day. They hunt when they want to and sell their meat to Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, head of the Minke Whaling Association and owner of Hrefna HF, the leading distributor of minke whale meat in Iceland. Before the engine started Goudholt looked me straight in the eyes with a very austere look on his face. He said, “If anything goes wrong when we shoot the minke whale, I am going to tell you to turn off the camera. You must do it. It only happens one out of 100 times, but it could happen.” I agreed, nodding my head, while conjuring ways of capturing the moment things “go wrong” without the whalers noticing. Immediately switch the memory cards? Set up my GoPro in a hidden location? I was distressed enough with the thought of witnessing the brutal act of things going right, so the idea of a mishap really put me on edge. “Things going wrong” entails the explosive harpoon entering the wrong area of the whale, leading to a slow and miserable death. As we slowly drifted out of the harbor the two men scrambled to prepare the harpoon. They attached a rope to the end of the red-tipped explosive metal rod and ran it along the length of the boat. The rope wrapped around a circular beam at the end of the vessel that acted as a crane to drag the minke whale onto the back platform once it had been shot. After setting up the rope, Konrad ran inside the cabin to grab something. I followed him in and sat in the corner, filming him as he rummaged through a box. After he had found what he was looking for he walked back toward his son who was still fiddling with the deadly weapon at the front of the ship. All of a sudden Konrad turned on his heel, looked directly at me, and lifted a red object in the air before saying, “this is bomb” with a large, animated smile on his face. Shivers ran up my spine as the reality of the situation set in.