From whale hunter to whale hugger: the extraordinary life of Kase Van Der Gaag

Helping to protect whales from the threat of whaling.The past couple of months have been a series of ups and downs for me and my colleagues, both within IFAW and at other marine organisations. Undoubtedly, the International Court of Justice’s decision to rule Japan’s Antarctic whaling illegal represented a career high. However that euphoria was short lived, as it seems Japan is intent on returning to the Southern Ocean with a revised “scientific” whaling programme in 2015, meaning whales may still not be safe in the long-term. 

Sad news of a different kind came last week with the news that Kees Van Der Gaag, one of Australia’s last whale hunters who became one of its most effective advocates for whale protection, has died.

Kase, as he was known, was an extraordinary. His journey from whale killer to conservationist personified the sea change in attitudes to whales that swept through the public consciousness in Australia and across the world from the late 1970s onwards.

Kase was master on one of the three whale chaser ships hunting sperm whales out of Albany, WA, Australia’s last whaling station. Killing whales didn’t sit well with Kase and he called time on his career in 1977 soon after protests at the whaling station. He later told journalist, Chris Pash, author of the book, The Last Whale (Freemantle Press, 2008), “I had to defend the thing you can’t defend. Killing whales is not something you can defend.”  

Kase joined IFAW in our “Fight for Fifty” campaign, which we launched to protect the 50 humpback whales Japan was threatening to kill as part of its now disgraced “scientific” whaling programme.

It seems only fitting that as we celebrate the Court’s decision this National Whale Day (7 June), we take inspiration from Kase. We’re launching a new campaign, celebrating the end of 100 years of whaling in the Antarctic by outlining 100 reasons why it should never return. With Japan already promising to go back to the Southern Ocean in 2015 with a new “scientific” whaling programme, we need to show politicians and diplomats why this should never be allowed to happen.

We need you to send us your reason – why do you want to see a permanent end to whaling? Tell us your reason; it can be in a few sentences or an image that reflects your feelings, but we need your input to demonstrate the strength of feeling.

For Kase, his reason was the cruelty – he was someone who witnessed first-hand the suffering caused by industrial whaling but as a result, was someone who could speak out with the upmost authority against it. Kase’s passing has robbed whale conservation of one of its most effective advocates, but his conversion to the whale’s cause is an inspiration for us all.

-- MC

You can find more information on how to submit your reason at

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