The thing of it is with Robert Taunt, he has this courageous, or crazy, ambition: He wants to confront a Soviet or Japanese whaling fleet in the Pacific: he wants to ride out in a little inflatable boat and position himself between the whales and the whalers - whalers who shoot high-powered, 250-pound harpoons with exploding warheads.
Taunt, 33, realizes this can get him dead - harpooned maybe, or rammed by a ship, "I can honestly tell you this doesn't affect me," he says, "Matter of fact, I took forward to the opportunity. To tell you the truth, we expected trouble." He smiles, as if he relished the prospect of confrontation.
He claims he wants nothing more than to experience what many other members of the Greenpeace Foundation, a conservation group, have undergone during the last two years. In one instance in 1975, two of them in a little rubber boat 50 miles off the California Coast failed to deter a Soviet harpooner, who surveyed his visitors, then went about his work. HE aimed and fired - just over their heads and into a whale.
The shot was perfectly legal: whaling, despite reducing drastically the number of whales, is permitted internationally within certain quota limitations (although, by U.S. law, not for most Americans). But the Greenpeace group based in San Francisco and its Canadian sister organization in Vancouver have reacted on moral grounds. Though the U.S. government recently has imposed a ban on whaling within 200 miles of the American coast and urges a 10-year moratorium on all whaling, a White House official, indicating that Greenpeace sails at its own risk, say, "It strikes me that their position (confrontation) goes well beyong our position (diplomacy)."
Taunt contends the government is well acquainted with Greenpeace's activites. He suspects that the two men who, he says, followed him and another Greenpeace director in a car one night last year were government agents.
"We went out from our office at 11:30 or 12 at night," he says, "and there was this car parked across the street, at a time when no cars are usually around. One person strikes a match, and I said to Gary Zimmerman, 'This is like out of James Bond.'
"They followed us, and you know where we were going? We were going down to San Mateo to get tent stakes. I kid you not, tent stakes to put into the ice and hold down the tents that we used in Newfoundland (during a confrontation last year with Norwegian sealing vessels)."
And then there's some funny business with the Greenpeace phones. Taunt says, "About two weeks before every campaign takes place - and this has happened three years in a row - people call and there's no ring on the inside. We can't dial out. And the phones go dead."
Then, again, Taunt can understand why the government might be keeping tabs on Greenpeace. "We can potentially precipitate an international incident," he says. Though tha may sound like rehetoric to some, confronting other nations' vessels as Greenpeace wants eagerly to do does create the danger of miscalculation.
And this summer the possibilities of tragedy have been heoghtened.
The organization has brought a faster "search" vessel, the Ohana kai (meaning Family fo the Sea), to go with its second ship, the James Bay, a former minsweeper. The new ship also has greater fuel capacity: It can stay out longer and continue the pursuit. It's scheduled to leave Haswaii this weekend and converge with the James Bay, already departed from the West Coast, about 900 miles west of Loas Angeles. That's where Green peace will be looking for whalers.
And where the motorized rubber boats - the so-called "Zodiacs" - would be put into the water from the "search" ship, once it gets close enough to a harpoon boat chasing whales. Taunt, cryptically, won't say how many "Zodiac" are carried on each "search" ship but some simple math produces the maximum capacility: Each search ship has about two dozen persons aboard and each "Zodiac" usually carries two.
Of course, nothing may happen.
"It'd be ironic," says Taunt, "if we spent a couple of hundred thousand dolalrs and didn't confront a Russian of Japanese Whaler. That's my fear." In fact, in 1975 the Greenpeace group was about to give up after almost a two-month search when it sighted the massive Soviet factory ship and its smaller companion vessels.
But Taunt fears something else - that Greenpeace will find the whalers, only to have something go wrong.
"This time," Taunt says, not smiling row, "they won't bebe able to go away from us. We can keep up. What if we're with them four days? I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to ram us, or pretend they're going to ram us: that's a better way fo putting it. I hope to God they don't do anything violent. In regard to human life, I mean. They're already doing something violent."
That's why Taunt says his friiends are out in the Pacific now and why he hopes to join them by helicopter next month, or go out on the next "expedition." A native Californian who gre up iin the Sierras and remembers his environment minded grandfather - "He could go out in a forest for two months and when he left you'd never know he had been there" - Taunt joined the 2,100 member Greenpeace organization last year after belonging to a number of environmental groups.
Though one of his jobs is praisiing consciousness in the East" about Greenpeace activities in the Pacific (he says the San Francisco group received almost $218,000 in donations in the last year), he says he'd rather be on a ship, that he shares his friends' intense feelings about whales. "Greenpeace fecis we must confront the forces" responsible for Whaling, and that it's the Russians and Japanese who take 85 per cent of the whales.
And why is he so anxious to put his body in front of a harpoon?
Besides the cause being so important, he replies, "everything has happened to me, I've been held up at gun-point in New York. I've been mugged in Washington, beaten up by five people. I've had major brain injuries, when he struck his head on a door-jamb while rushing to answer a phone.
But, still, getting in front of a harpoon?
He refers one to the reaction last year by Bob Hunter of Vancouver, the leader of last year's protest mission in a radio message to shore after placing himself between a Soviet vessel and some sperm whaleles. Hunter reported joyfully: "We had a floating picket line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the Russian chaser boat stopped dead in its tracks." So while the number of whallles saved during two years has been small, the Greenpeace group has succeeded in drawing attention to the whaling issue.
Now Taunt call the Japanese "our No. I target." Why? "Because we've never confronted 'em". Now he's sounding sure that both the Soviet and Japanese whalers are where the twoo Greenpeace ships are converging. "That's based on five years research on their patterns? he says. "We'll get 'em."