Tags: Jane Taylor, LCDR Claude Berube, Sea Shepherd
“The world is a vampire.” So begins every episode of Animal Planet’s top-rated program “Whale Wars,” about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s efforts to stop Japanese whaling in southern waters. One of the crew members featured on Season Two was Jane Taylor, a 2002 Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. During a recent visit to Annapolis, Taylor also took the time to answer some questions for the U.S. Naval Institute Blog. She spoke to a broader audience at USNA sponsored by the Forum for Emerging and Irregular Warfare Studies – that talk was taped by the U.S. Naval Institute and can be found at the end of this post. For additional perspectives on Sea Shepherd, readers are welcomed to read Chris Rawley’s posts at Informationdissemination.net.
USNI: The missions of the Navy and animal rights activists are different. Why did you apply to the Naval Academy?
Jane Taylor: In high school I participated in the Junior ROTC program; it was the Army side and I knew that I wanted to pay my own way through college so I applied for ROTC and the Service academies. I did know it was going to be Navy because I’m a water person and so when I got my appointment I accepted the Naval Academy based on the beautiful catalogue and my father urging me to go there as opposed to a civilian school with ROTC.
USNI: Why did your father urge you to go there?
Taylor: He thought that if I decided to leave the Navy I could get a job more easily.
USNI: After two years at the Naval Academy you could have left without any commitment. What made you stay?
Taylor: I think it was a string of events. I was on the verge of leaving and I really wanted to have a career of physical activity so I was trying for Special Operations. That was my future goal and kept me going at the Naval Academy. Unfortunately I didn’t get it so I changed to Surface Warfare.
USNI: As a vegan, how were you able to manage your dietary needs at the Naval Academy as well as on your two ships?
Taylor: I didn’t eat very well at the Academy but thankfully I think it was my Second Class year they started offering options and what was wonderful was that they would get us together and give us a sampling of a variety of foods and tell us to pick our favorites and in that way they would have it in stock for vegetarians.
USNI: Surface Warfare was not your first choice.
Taylor: I was miserable initially because I was one of the six percent that didn’t get their first choice. I worked so hard, I put all my effort for my last three years of school into going Spec Ops.
USNI: What did you do to prepare yourself for SpecOps?
Taylor: Initially my major was Ocean Engineering and I wasn’t doing very well so I switched to Oceanography which I enjoyed better and my grades went up. I got my grades up and I participated in 18 hour physical training sessions. On my own leave time I would intern at different SpecOps communities.
USNI: What ships did you serve on and when?
Taylor: I served on USS Denver (LPD-9) from 2003 to 2005 where I was the IT Division Officer and Repair Division Officer. Then I served on USS Ford (FFG-54) as the Training Officer.
USNI: Was Sea Shepherd the first thing you did when you left the Navy?
Taylor: When I left the Navy I went on a sailing trip with my dad to an island a thousand miles south of Hawaii. He went with my brother and sister when I was five and he said he’d take me when I was old enough. Twenty-two years later we went.
USNI: It must have helped that you sailed on the Academy 44s.
Taylor: I was a sailor my whole life and a competitive racer in Hawaii.
USNI: Were you on the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team?
Taylor: I was on the dinghy team [of the Intercollegiate Sailing Team.]
USNI: Why did you select the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society versus some other advocacy organization like Greenpeace?
Taylor: There were a couple of reasons. First, their destination of Antarctica was a goal of mine. Second, there aren’t many animal rights groups doing direct action. [Sea Shepherd is] the elite of the direct action organizations. Every animal activist wants to be a part of that.
USNI: You were on the M/Y Steve Irwin. Was there a difference between reporting aboard that ship compared to your Navy ships?
Taylor: I never had to chip paint before so when I reported to the Steve Irwin I had to ask how to do that. On Sea Shepherd we had to create friendships and bonds immediately with strangers because we were leaving for sea so soon. In the Navy I had a longer time to create those friendships. On the Steve Irwin, I arrived and we left port a week and a half later.
USNI: Were other Sea Shepherds wary of you because of your military background?
Taylor: I don’t know but I didn’t get that feeling.
USNI: Were you and Chris Aultman, the helicopter pilot, the only ones with a military background?
Taylor: Yes. Other than that, [Captain] Paul Watson had a maritime background and we had a deckhand who was a police officer from Europe.
USNI: How were volunteers on Steve Irwin assigned to various duties?
Taylor: We would put in for what we wanted and Peter Hammarstedt – the crew coordinator- chose all the crews so he knew ahead of time where he would want them.
USNI: Was the watch schedule similar to that on a Navy ship?
Taylor: Yes. We had four hours on, eight hours off. Between two and four people were on watch at a time on the bridge.
USNI: What would you do during those eight hours?
Taylor: We actually did training during the day. Every three days we had medical training, for example. I was part of the medical response team. We learned how to do stitches. We also ate a lot.
USNI: How was the food?
Taylor: The food was vegan and incredible. It was creative, tasted amazing, fresh. We had salad until the last couple of days. Most of the food was donated. We’d replenish after a month at sea.
USNI: What did you learn as a naval officer that was helpful on the Steve Irwin?
Taylor: I learned through the constant training that the Navy has you do how to react under pressure and it gets imbued in your personality so when there were stressful times I felt calm. The training I was able to offer in the emergency drills came from the Navy. Having checklists to have things go smoother. And competence.
USNI: In one of the episodes, First Mate Peter Brown 1st doesn’t exactly agree with your implementation of a checklist to launch and recover the small boats.
Taylor: In the first season Peter Brown smashed his thumb while tending a small boat by hand. A no no. He left early to get it checked out. Knowing how he handles operations and then having him disagree with me didn’t bother me that much. The crew was very receptive. They wanted to form their own checklists for the boat deck to correlate with what we did on the bridge. The training was brief. There were nine steps to launch the small boat in a few minutes, not 24 steps and two hours like Peter Brown said.
USNI: In Season Two there was a collision between the Steve Irwin and a Japanese whaling ship. What was going on in your mind at the time?
Taylor: Before our biggest collision we had spent five days at sea with the Japanese whaling fleet, interacting and harassing each other. The day of the biggest collision that caused a tear in the [Steve Irwin’s] hull, I was sleeping. I had the most forward bunk and about twenty feet away was where the tear happened. There was no collision alarm even though they were quite aware it was going to happen. I got jostled out of bed and heard the hull tear, nervous that water was going to pour in. There was no time for preparation. I knew that if I opened the door and if there was water on the deck I might not make it out. Thankfully I opened the door and the deck was dry. For the other collisions it was excitement, a bit of fear, but the captain had done previous collisions and made it out alive so there was trust there. One of the things that made me most upset was that no alarm was sounded during the major collision. For those of us below deck and not notified by alarm to brace for the collision we were very upset about our safety. What’s the point of training if you’re not going to do it?
USNI: Were you ever briefed on international law or what would happen to you if arrested?
Taylor: Things happen as you go along. We really don’t prepare. It just develops. We’re out there focused on looking for the whaling fleet and anything outside that we don’t prepare for and we don’t discuss. We don’t have rules of the road discussions. We don’t have ramifications discussions. When we arrived in Australia, the police met us and read a warrant for our arrest. Everyone was surprised.
USNI: What were some of the differences between being on a Navy ship and the Steve Irwin?
Taylor: On the Steve Irwin, in storms we were allowed to go topside in thirty foot swells so long as we were attached to the railing. You can drink on the ship. It was regulated. Captain Watson would open it during certain hours but we made sure we weren’t impaired before watch. It was in real moderation, maybe a drink or two a week. Music on the bridge. A deck log that could have drawings instead of having to be re-written after three mistakes. It was decorated. We had a drawer with a hundred stamps – penguins, specific types of whales. Logged visually as well as written. We had a logbook for the ship and the other to be sold in a beautifully bound book. Those were more precise – how many butyric bottles thrown, who was on the bridge, etc.
USNI: Were there similarities?
Taylor: Anything organic – the helm, radio control, radar. Those would be familiar to a Surface Warfare Officer. Whatever is organic to the ships is the same – nothing else.
LCDR Claude Berube, USNR, teaches at the Naval Academy. He is the co-editor of “Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism, and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century” which includes a chapter about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The views of Ms. Taylor and the interviewer are not those of the Naval Academy or Department of the Navy.