Jane Taylor at the U.S. Naval Academy

“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.

Posted by LCDR Claude Berube, USNR in Naval Institute, Navy
Tags: , ,

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Great post and interview. Thanks to USNI and Claude Berube for recording Ms. Taylor’s first hand perspective on an interesting topic.

  • Byron

    Miss Taylor, glad to see you off that ship before it gets someone killed. Shame they didn’t realize that they had an Academy trained, sea-going professional in their midst, you probably could have done them some good and maybe keep a few alive.

    Good luck in your ongoing fight to protect the whales. It’s a worthy one and needs good people in the fight.

  • Paul P

    How effective would it be for one of those Sea Shepherd ships to trail a sonar unit broadcasting in whale a distress signal so all the other whales would avoid the area like the plague?

  • Byron

    If the Sea Shepherds don’t learn some serious mariner skills, they’ll be the ones needing an SOS…

  • “[Sea Shepherd is] the elite of the direct action organizations.”

    That’s just… wow. Just wow. The rest of them must be real clowns.

    “[Captain] Paul Watson had a maritime background”

    Actually… well, you can probably guess from the fact that Sea Shepherd’s ships are registered as personal yachts what I’m going to say. Watson is not a bona fide captain. His certifications as a mariner are embarrassingly low for someone who’s had his sea legs for some 40 years.

    “Knowing how [Peter Brown] handles operations and then having him disagree with me didn’t bother me that much.”

    lol, wouldn’t bother me either. Like having a 5 year old angry at me.

  • Laura L

    Paul Watson has more knowledge and experience than anyone Jane has ever worked with. Janes speech is an indication of the poor quality of her training and her character!

    Paul Watson “She criticized Chris’s piloting skills although she is not a pilot. She criticized my ice navigational skills although she was never in ice before. It was for that reason that I did not let her return the next year. In this interview she admits she was sleeping yet states that we planned to ram a Japanese harpoon vessel. In actual fact we did not ram that vessel. There was a collision because we were blocking the slipway but it was not planned. Jane was in the Navy and decided she knew better than the rest of the crew.”
    8 hours ago

    Brandon LaBeet ‎^That’s what I found to be her most contradicting statement. It’s kind of a huge inconsistency in her story. If you knew that and you were sleeping either you’re lying about the whole thing………or you’re dumb.
    8 hours ago

  • Byron

    Claude, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Miss Taylor qualify officer of the deck on a DDG? Wouldn’t that trump having the con of a trumped up yacht? And Laura…Jane was a commissioned officer, a graduate of the Naval Academy, qualified as officer of the deck on a major warship (which means she is in charge of the steering and speed of the ship) and that means that she didn’t muster up to your standards? Seriously? And then you impugn her character by saying she was lying?

  • @Laura L – the attribution of your above comment comes from where?

    If Paul Watson would like to engage is this debate we welcome his comments here.

    If posting two Facebook comments wherein the second accuses the interviewee of lying, I invite your whole conversation to happen here so that the debate can happen open and independently.

  • Claude Berube

    @Byron: you are correct. She was a qualified OOD as she would have to be to be a SWO on two major ships.

    I would also add that during Jane Taylor’s visit, she never said anything but good things about Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson as leader of the organization. During some questions by the midshipmen in my class, she respectfully declined to answer out of loyalty to Sea Shepherd, though she is no longer a member of it.

  • Brian

    One thing drilled into me qualifiying as OOD was a collision at sea is extremely dangerous and easily avoidable. Every responsible mariner gives each other a wide berth. That’s why when I have seen these images on ‘Whale Wars’ where the activists purposefully put their ships close aboard (within feet) seems incredulous. They are not responsible mariners, but dangerous.

    It’s naive and reckless to say your ok with a collision at sea, but that you don’t wan’t anyone to die. Or that ‘of course’ we’ll pick up any survivors. I hope they are also prepared to pick up the dead. It’s not a given that anyone who falls in the water even with other ships around will be rescued.

    Someone help me understand why the participation of Ms Taylor in these actions should be held in any esteem.

  • Jane

    Bryon – Thanks. I’m taking a detour in life, but I can’t wait to get back to saving other species’ lives.

    Paul P – Sending a sonar signal has come up before. Say we were able to communicate danger to whales; a whale has to come up for air, even more so when it is evading/swimming quickly. Once it takes a breath and is spotted it doesn’t have a chance to live. The harpoon vessels are extremely fast, maneuverable and relentless.

    Dave – lol. I’m glad you understood what I was trying to say.

    Laura L –

    I’m not sure where your anger and frustration comes from. I know Sea Shepherd and I weren’t “two peas in a pod”, but this is a bit excessive.

    Was my speech that bad that it indicated poor quality of my training and character? I was nervous and haven’t watched it yet.

    The beginning of Paul’s statement is similar to what he sent me in an email in Sept 2009, saying I was not welcome back. I understand he doesn’t want any opposition or criticism and I find it to be very unfortunate for us both. For me, I felt I gave constructive input to the crew and wanted to be a part of SSCS for future campaigns to come. For him, I would hope that any leader of such an organization would take what input they see fit to help further the progress of the organization – a bit of checks and balances.
    He gathered my criticism from a tv show, but I guess so is everyone else. Some of what I had said was the truth, some of it is a misunderstanding of my intentions and some of it is editing.

    In response to Paul’s comment, “In this interview she admits she was sleeping yet states that we planned to ram a Japanese harpoon vessel,” would be only to point to my actual comments which were, “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 have not claimed the Steve Irwin rammed any vessel, only that we were involved in a collision and my biggest complaint is that there was no ALARM sounded for the collision and the qualified captain agreed. It only takes a few seconds to lean over and push the collision alarm to notify those below deck that they need to brace for impact. I think they were quite aware for a few seconds that a collision was about to happen.

    It is unfortunate that over the past 3 years Sea Shepherd and their supporters have lashed out at me and my character. I don’t agree with everything that goes on during the voyages, but I absolutely support their mission.

    Byron – I qualified as Officer of the Deck on a LPD(17,000 tons) and FFG(4,000 tons), and was chosen to compete against other officers in the annual ship driving skills competition! I think it was 2003 or 2004. I’m proud of that : )

    Claude – Thanks I appreciate your commentary, especially since I talked for hours with you.

  • Claude Berube

    In response to your comment: “Someone help me understand why the participation of Ms Taylor in these actions should be held in any esteem.”

    Ms. Taylor was invited to speak to my class on maritime security challenges which focuses on how some non-state actors and non-governmental organizations behave in the maritime environment – goals, strategies, operations, tactics, leadership, recruiting, PR, etc. Whether it’s USNI which is an independent forum or my class and the Forum for Emerging and Irregular Warfare Studies where students are advised to check preconceptions at the door and look at issues objectively, there is value in learning. Animal rights/whale-killing was not the topic for discussion. It was far more important to understand if there are common themes among maritime NGOs or more dangerous kinetic NSAs (Tamil Sea Tigers, Somali pirates, etc).

    All of us in the Navy or Coast Guard – all of us who have been to sea – would agree with you regarding the dangers of collisions, avoiding them, rules of the road, and safety at sea. I watch “Whale Wars” from the perspective of learning about NSAs and NGOs at sea. But if there was one crew member who seemed on the show to express concern for saftey at sea and knew how to do moboards, it was Ms. Taylor.

    So that’s the reasoning behind the discussion of Sea Shepherd (in my opinion), not whether what they do is right or wrong. Chris Rawley spoke to my class and the forum two days before on the issue as well. We also got a lot from his analysis of the organization.

  • Jane

    Laura L – I watched the speech. When answering about the collision, I talked about using a tactic we had discussed to prevent the transfer. Probably should have kept it simple with the sole tactic of catching up and positioning ourselves between the factory ship and the harpoon ship to prevent the transfer with no other intentions. I can see what I said to be damming to the organization. Apologies to Sea Shepherd.

    Brian – I agree with most of what you have to say.
    Collisions at sea were not our goal. Preventing the killing of whales was. Just like soldiers, we were nervous in times of battle, but the idea of death wasn’t staring at us in the face every second.

    We all asked ourselves what are we willing to endure for an ideal that is bigger and more important than oneself. And some people left the ship after the first leg when they answered that for themselves.

  • Tricia Viles

    Message for the admin:) Sorry Admin, it was not really Laura L at all…but someone posting in Laura’s name. One of the well known trolls who actually took that conversation off a known facebook site where Paul Watson sometimes posts.

  • Brian

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Japanese whaling ships aren’t doing anything illegal.

    When I mentioned someone being killed by a collision, you expressed the feelings of those on the Sea Sheppard. There are two ships in a collision. What about the Japanese sailors?

  • Jane


    Please read the article published in the Villanova Environmental Law Journal.

    It speaks to your comment that “the Japanese whaling ships aren’t doing anything illegal” with a multifaceted answer. 38 pages but a super read.


    2. I don’t know the Japanese feelings.