JAPANESE PIRATE WHALERS
Humpback whales are among the most intelligent of creatures, hunted illegally by certain countries to near extinction, they inspired Jameson Hunter to pen his story about one whale and an adventurer that were bound together on a course with destiny. The mid Pacific Ocean is the location for chapter 16 (order may be subject to editorial revision).
Chapter 16 - WHALING CHASE 240 N, 1410 E Mid Pacific Ocean
distant rumble in the sea about a mile ahead and to their right alerted
Kulo and Kana to the presence of another of those large man-made metallic
floating objects in their path moving toward them and the Northern
Marianas. Along with the low grumble was a whir of bearings and thrashing
of blades from a triple cupped bronze propeller as it cleaved the water.
More importantly there was a regular ping becoming stronger, from which
whales instinctively know an object is moving towards them. Cetacean echo
location is detailed enough to differentiate between krill and killer
whales, this signal was mechanically crude by comparison. Kulo and Kana
were enjoying themselves in the warmer water so didn’t pay particular
attention. There were many such objects, most considerably larger,
relentlessly thumping their way noisily and laboriously across the oceans.
There was another giant metallic leviathan to their left, considerably
longer and louder and several nautical miles away moving away from them.
This vessel was not producing a pinging sound.
was dusk, a calm soothing night; the full moon shining brighter than usual
seemed to fill the sky. The lunar light sparkled as it danced on the
waves. A light breeze wafting across the decks of the Suzy Wong, gave
temporary relief from the invasive stench of whale oil. On nights like
this the crew often forgot the purpose of their voyage, all except their
ever watchful captain: Shiu
Razor. Then, a blip of light on the
fish-finder console caught Shui’s attention. He scratched his stubbly
chin, and reached for a cold cup of green tea laced with sake from a
gimballed holder. The blip became a confused splurge off to their left.
Shui altered course south, south east until the signal was dead ahead, to
intercept whatever was in the water. He had a hunch.
for the tannoy, he said: “All hands, time. Stow the cards away.”
crew grumbled, and increased the speed of play, then finally, reluctantly,
threw their hands in. Two were still in their bunks and the chef was busy
making his specialty soup, in a large pan.
blip divided into two clear signals as they closed in, one very much
larger than the other. Shui pushed the throttle forward another notch in
anticipation. He picked up the tannoy again speaking with increased vigour.
for a big whale, a huge mother and a little baby. Harpooners, load up.
Grappling hooks ready.”
was all action now above and below deck. The chef bolted a lid to the soup
pan, and turned off the heat. The bunks were empty as every man donned his
protective oilskins and rushed for the deck. Whaling is a fraught affair
at the best of times involving heavy manual toil hauling blubber and meat
after the kill, usually accompanied by stinging cold sea spray. Not this
night, it was calm and clear with a blazing full moon. Two whales would
set them up nicely; easy targets separated from the school; no doubt
stragglers. The blips on the fish-finder were now steady 1,200 metres
ahead as the ‘Suzy Wong’ closed in on the playful mammals that
appeared oblivious to the presence of the pirates as their two blips
on-screen criss-crossed. Rather than attack from the rear, Shui changed
course for a better aim, swinging to starboard, then to port in a wide arc
homing in on the smaller blip as a deliberate tactic.
lookout sighted the whales and shouted up to Shui. “Captain,
two whales off the port bow one thousand metres.”
returned: “Take the small one first, that’ll draw in the big one.”
strained to locate their prey, and then spotted the targets now visible at
regular intervals, letting out an involuntary shout of excitement.
noted the changes in course and realised she and Kana were the subject of
attention as they rhythmically dived down in sinusoidal fashion. The noisy
metallic object was now 1,000 metres away coming at them from the side.
Kana was not paying attention, continuing playfully to tease Kulo with her
zig-zag random patterns, ignoring signals from her large friend to take
urgent evasive action. The pirate whaler closed on Kana at full speed
until they were less than 600 metres away. Kulo had veered to one side
hoping Kana would take her lead, when both whales surfaced for air some
distance between them to see the Suzy Wong closing the gap to 350 metres.
Kulo saw the humans on deck scurrying about as the vessel closed to 200
metres. Two men were on the bow aiming a tube at Kana, which suddenly spat
out a barbed metal spear with a hiss, trailing a rope behind it. The
harpoon caught Kana a fatal blow to the head striking deep, the explosive
force sending her into unconsciousness instantly. She died almost
immediately after from shock, her body convulsed involuntarily, emitting
heart rending moans as her lungs emptied for the last time.
did all she could to warn her friend and now tried to help her. She swam
up to Kana tasting her blood in the water. Kana fell silent and
motionless, rising and falling with the waves. Kulo desperately tried to
revive her friend refusing to believe it was all over, while the whalers
grappled to secure the carcass. She shoved at Kana, swam underneath and
lifted her head, screaming a deep sorrowful trumpet which rippled through
the water. Shui knew the death of the soft target would bring the larger
whale in close. His strategy was working perfectly.
great risk to herself Kulo continued to try and revive Kana, even ramming
her from behind trying to break her free, but more ropes were dug into
Kana’s hide with every minute which emotionally tore into Kulo, enraging
her as she felt for her lifeless friend. Now the whalers fired a harpoon
at Kulo, who instinctively went to flee at first but was caught a glancing
blow on her back behind her blowhole, slicing through her blubber setting
salt to flesh causing massive stinging pain and a rush of adrenaline the
like of which most animals never experience. She dived deep then surface
broached performing a figure of eight on re-entry submerged, when her
attacker overshot and slowed to turn for a second attempt.
a momentary loss of reason and no longer caring for her own safety, Kulo
rounded on the pirate vessel, propelling herself with all her might
against the boats seam welded steel plated hull forward of the helm and
aft of the harpoon mounting. She broached magnificently climbing high the
sides and rolling the boat back using all her 60 tons causing the rusty
plates to part at the fatigued seams, slightly releasing her build up of
frustration. The harpoon gunners stared in shock as the chiselled blue-grey
and white giant glared at them signaling her displeasure – a monster
from the deep, her scalloped ventral features sending a shiver down the
spines of the hardiest fisherman onboard.
snorted hard from her blowhole showering the deck with hot spray like a
fire breathing dragon – or so it seemed, then took a voluminous breath
and cast off arcing backwards and away into the sea diving deep amid a
turquoise and white foam wash. Not yet done Kulo rounded on the Suzy Wong
from 300 metres out, the damaged boat now virtually stationary in the
water, a sitting duck. The humpback whale stayed submerged on the return
run, invisible to the men on deck aiming for the same spot on the hull
knowing she’d weakened it. The crew recovered from the shock attack were
now straining to see where the whale had gone, some daring to venture
close to the buckled railings. Kulo accelerated underwater to her maximum
velocity in a Herculean power surge coming out of the water at thirty
degrees, slamming directly onto the parted seam in a three-quarters body
pirate ship again rolled back from the collision followed by a loud
rupture of splintered metal, as the fracture increased lower down the
water line to reveal a seventeen hundred millimetre gash. As the vessel
again rolled upright recovering equilibrium the fracture submerged.
Seawater poured into the bilges at an alarming rate. The crew reeled back
from the collapsed railings. Shui shouted to the crew from the helm for
all hands to check the damage and report, and for the gunners to get off
another harpoon at the whale. Kulo bounced back into the water momentarily
winded from the clash. As Shui waited impatiently, he fired a flare to
help his gunners track their game. Fortunately for Kulo this had the
opposite effect. The gun aimer suddenly saw the ocean light up masking her
wake. She breathed deep for a few seconds to recover from the exertion.
Then a harpoon whisked past her into the black waters ahead too close for
at a fair pace Kulo headed south. Shui pushed forward on the throttles and
spun the Suzy Wong to give chase. Kulo felt the engines come to life and
swam faster. She need not have worried; the Suzy Wong was going down by
the head. The crew knew the vessel was doomed, but Shui insisted they try
to shore up the damage and pump the bilges. By now the water in the engine
room was rising over the bulkhead door step. Shui watched as Kulo
distanced herself, every now and again spouting from her blowhole six
metres into the air, from full-breath exhalations. She was now some 500
metres distant. Though angry at himself for being caught off guard Shui
was in awe of the spirit of the angry whale that had not only hurled
itself at his ship, but come back for a second charge to tear the hull
open. Nobody would believe it possible.
bows of the Suzy Wong slid into the sea followed by the weapon that had so
easily taken Kana’s life. Reluctantly, Shui commanded that the lifeboats
in two white canisters be launched. He then radioed his position to their
base in Nagasaki to give them urgent advice and then he switched to the
international distress frequency, hoping for rapid rescue.
Mayday, this is the motor fishing vessel Suzy Wong. We’ve been attacked
by a giant humpback whale close to the Northern Marianas. We’re sinking
fast. We’ve launched two inflatable life rafts. It’s a bright moonlit
night so you won’t spot our beacons. We’ll fire flares to assist.
Please send assistance urgently. Mayday. Mayday.”
crew hurried about grabbing all they could for what might be a long wait
until rescue. Some men clambered into the lowered yellow inflatable, while
others passed emergency supplies, flares and portable navigation
equipment. Shui looked at the horizon just in time to see Kulo give
another deep blast from 1,000 metres out. The waves lapped at the helm as
the boat’s attitude changed to a steeper forty-five degree angle. Shui
rushed to the second inflatable now level with the railings midpoint on
the hull. He clambered aboard deftly, a skilled mariner and they cast off
rowing quickly so as not to get caught in the vortex as the boat hurtled
to the ocean floor.
Suzy Wong’s helm submerged and the hull came upright almost vertically.
She bobbed about for ten long seconds then slipped beneath the waves
gracefully amid a plume of escaping air, with rather less fuss than all
the years of service commanded - or so thought the crew. Gone,
Shui thought, never to be steered out of harbour again, taking with her
the carcass of the small whale whose death had so enraged the giant
humpback. Shui contemplated the loss for a while and looked south
straining to catch sight of Kulo again but she was also nowhere to be
seen. Suddenly he felt quite alone, a speck on the vast ocean; helpless.
The crew looked to him for inspiration and orders, but it was he who
needed the motivation. Silently he vowed to himself to avenge the loss of
his trusty vessel on this almost surreal, bright lunar night. The
syndicate would not be pleased about the sinking. He doubted that they
would believe his account? It would be a fisherman's tale; an exaggeration.
Except that all of the crew would tell the same tale. Shui was suddenly
cold and shivered. He was also broke with no catch share-out to look
Fifteen hundred metres south Kulo slowed and turned back to glance at the spot where she’d lost her best friend. The pirate ship that had taken Kana from her was nowhere to be seen. She’d heard the bubbling and commotion aboard and saw the flare go out. She knew she’d caused the Suzy Wong to founder, but that was scant compensation for the loss of her friend and now she felt guilty for causing the loss. At least the ship could not give chase or harm any more of her clan. Kulo turned south again heading to who knows what, but it had to be better than this nights events; a fresh start. Her back was throbbing terribly. In spite of her temper she’d not killed any of the humans in the encounter and for that she was thankful. That was an unwritten rule that cetaceans unconsciously obeyed, save for Orcas, their killer whale cousins. Unbeknown to Kulo another pirate whaling ship was in the vicinity, the Jonah, captained by Stang Lee.
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- MEKONG - MISSISSIPPI - NIGER - NILE - PARANA - PASIG - SARNO - THAMES
- YANGTZE - YAMUNA - YELLOW
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