Whale of a time for Byron cook
A BYRON Bay conservationist was one of the lucky crew members on the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin to have a rare encounter with a blue whale mother and her calf.
The ship is currently engaged in Operation Icefish and encountered the pair while on the search for illegal activity on the high seas.
Blue whales are the world's largest animals, growing up to 30m in length.
Chief cook aboard the Steve Irwin, Byron Bay's Priya Cooper, said it was a "thrilling" experience.
"The reaction to seeing the blue whales was one of extreme elation. Seeing any marine wildlife - let alone the largest animals on Earth - during campaign is always a tangible reminder for the crew as to why they have sacrificed their time and energy to be on the ships," she said.
"Very few crew aboard had before seen blue whales.
"After pluralistic campaigns and months spent at sea, it was a first for me and an experience I am so thrilled to have had."
The captain of the Steve Irwin, Sid Chakravarty, said the encounter with the blue whales was "watching nature and beauty in motion".
He said the blue whale population had suffered as a result of commercial whaling.
"Although there are uncertainties over present abundance, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that the total population has been depleted by at least 70%, and possibly as much as 90%, over the last three generations," he said.
"While commercial whaling of this species is no longer practised, this decline has led to the IUCN declaring the blue whale to be endangered and possibly critically endangered, and the Antarctic blue whale subspecies as critically endangered."
Ms Cooper said she had lived and worked on Sea Shepherd ships for the past three years after becoming involved with the Byron Bay Onshore chapter.
"The more I became informed about the increasingly despondent state of the oceans, the more I wanted to get involved which ultimately lead to my crewing on the Steve Irwin," she said.
She grew up in Byron Bay and was involved with Australian Seabird Rescue.
"Growing up in Byron Bay provided the impetus for my interest in my conservation," Ms Cooper said.
The Sea Shepherd's footage of the blue whales can be seen on Youtube.