The tourist who occupied an Icelandic whaling ship
On the right side of the Old Harbour on June 5, Elding’s whale watching ships were returning with a shipment of tourists. On the other side, the Hvalur whaling ships were being cleaned and maintained by the crew, preparing them for their next voyage out to sea. They went about their daily duties, ignoring the man atop Hvalur 8’s mast.
From afar, Arne Feuerhahn’s yellow jacket and beanie could fool someone into thinking he was a part of the crew. He was like a forgotten Ishmael, observing everyone around him from up high, contemplating the situation and wondering what exactly would happen next.
Earlier that day, the media had gathered to watch as he climbed aboard the whaling ship to start his 48-hour protest, but by mid-day his banners–‘Tourist Against Whaling’ and ‘Stop Whaling’–were tucked away.
“I hadn’t realized he was protesting,” said Ómar Freyr, an employee at Bike and Segway Tours who had been watching us from a distance. “His flag isn’t even out. He’s just a man on a pole.”
“Hello!” I shouted to Arne from the dock, turning my attention away from the shaking heads of the crew who had refused to comment or allow me to come on board. Instead, we shouted to one another, shouting to be heard above the sea breeze and the docking of ships. He did not mind; this Ishmael strove for his voice to be heard and remembered by all.
“I Try All Things, I Achieve What I Can”
Arne’s interest in oceans was sparked by his scuba diving when living in Australia. Wanting to do more to protect it, he joined the Seas Shepherd Conservation Society in 2008, kick-starting his career in marine activism. He took part in a number of operations for them, engaging, for instance, with Japanese whaling fleets in Antarctica.
“I’ll never forget sailing in Antarctica,” Arne yelled, having to compete with the sound of a whale watching ship returning to dock. “When scanning the horizon in the vast Southern ocean for illegal poaching fleets, your ship manoeuvres through beautiful icebergs while whales and penguins swim alongside your ship as if they are escorting you.”
Though proud of his time with Sea Shepherd, he left to work on issues closer to his home in Berlin, like campaigning for the closure of a dolphinarium. That in turn prompted him to help create “The Black Fish” in 2010, an organisation focused on exposing and challenging illegal fishing practices around Europe. A year later he left again to work near home, but eventually created Hard To Port in 2014 when he learned about Iceland’s continued whaling.
“Icelandic whaling is an affair of the heart to me. I have actually seen a whale being killed by harpoon in Antarctica. When I argue that whaling is cruel, I know what I’m talking about. No one really has an idea what an animal goes through, how much it suffers when a steel harpoon pierces its skin and explodes inside its body,” he said.
“It’s a horrific practice that happens out of the public’s eye, which is why I think it has survived in Iceland to this day.”
“All Men Live Enveloped In Whale-Lines”
Hard To Port’s first protest was supposed to be a 48-hour occupation of Hvalur 8 at Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, just opposite of the whale watching ships.
“I find it bizarre that on one side of the dock there is whaling, and on the other are tourists going to watch whales,” Arne shouted, his words barely beating out the sound of the wind coming from the bay. “I have never seen something more contradictory in all my travels.”
While the crew left Arne alone, some tourists returning from whale watching who heard us shouting to one another were supportive. They shouted encouragement at him and took pictures of him posing with his banners. Not only were locals supporting him but also people from around the world who commented on his Facebook page. “Everyone needs to know that every year they kill over 100 whales. It’s an unimaginably cruel practice that I’m sure would have more of a public outcry if it were made more visible to people.”
Arne was nowhere to be seen the next day as he wound up coming down later that evening. Although he had everything to brave the night up on the mast – food and water, his jacket and blankets, and his smart phone to update Hard To Port’s Facebook page with the latest developments – Arne felt he was in danger.
I followed up with him over email where he explained that the crew became annoyed with his presence on bard. They shook the cable of the mast, causing heavy movement in the crow’s nest. The lifting ramp also collided with the mast, shaking it violently. He no longer felt safe, so when the deck was clear of workers, who had gone into the ship, he made his way down and left.
“Keep Your Weather Eye Open, And Sing Out Every Time”
Back home in Berlin, Arne wrote through email that he had not been discouraged by Hard To Port’s first protest being cut short. He promised to return to Iceland “with more creative ideas and more compassionate people to actively oppose the killing of Iceland’s gently giants of the sea.”
“In the meantime, I will work to develop Hard To Port as an open community of caring and responsible people who will preserve and defend the natural world against harmful human activities.”
Arne views activism as a collective effort, not only amongst environmental organisations but also locals who are interested in getting involved in their backyards. Already, Icelandic citizens have contacted him through Facebook, asking him how they too can get involved. “Involving and mobilizing more people from Iceland in the efforts against whaling would be a great achievement.”
“There are many ideas circling in my head, especially after the overwhelmingly positive feedback on our occupation of the whaling ship,” he said over email in regards to future protests in Iceland.
“Obviously, I cannot give too much away and allow Mr. Loftsson and other whalers to prepare.”