The Australian Whaling Ship Captain Who Didn't Want To Kill Whales Has Died Aged 83

Kase Van Der Gaag in 2009. Photo by Chris Pash

Cees Van Der Gaag, who was the master of the Cheynes II harpoon ship operating out of Australia’s last Whaling station, has died aged 83.

Kase, as he was known, was born in Rotterdam on October 17, 1930. He died in Albany, Western Australia.

He joined the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company in 1973 and rose to be the master on one of the three whale chaser ships hunting sperm whales out of Albany.

He left in 1977 soon after protests at the whaling station by Australians and by Greenpeace founder Canadian Bob Hunter who led the environmental group’s first international direct action at Albany, Western Australia.

Killing whales didn’t sit well with Kase. He said later: “They died hard.”

In 2007, 30 years after he left whaling, he met for the first time Jonny Lewis, the Australian coordinator of the 1977 protests.

He told Jonny: “I am sorry for the whales I killed.”

Jonny Lewis said today: “So incredibly sad. We were enemies who went full circle and became friends. He was an honourable man.”

He also met with Bobbi Hunter, the first treasurer of Greenpeace and the wife of Bob Hunter, who also was in Albany for 1977 protests.

One the first day of the 1977 protests, Kase led the Greenpeace protesters on a wild chase across the South Ocean, leading an activist inflatable zodiac boat with Jonny Lewis and Frenchman Jean-Paul Fortim-Gouin on board away from the other harpoon ships so they could hunt sperm whales.

After that first clash, he sought out the activists and had a beer with them in the local hotel.

He was respected and liked by both whalers and by anti-whaling activists.

In retirement Kase would rise early to watch migrating humpback whales swim past Albany.

Australia took its last whale in November 1978.

(Chris Pash covered the 1977 protests as a young reporter for The Albany Advertiser. His wrote about the whalers and the activists in the book The Last Whale published by Fremantle Press in 2008.)

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