Environmental Legend and the Whales Best Friend

It is commonplace for humanities greatest visionaries to be maligned by their contemporaries. Indeed it makes perfect sense that those who see primarily in the present, misunderstand the views of the visionary who sees clearly into the future. Leonardo Da Vinci, Gallileo, Einstien, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. would all be testimony to this fact. Throughout history great spirits have endured accusations assaulting their character and visions. So it is with a grain of salt that we must assess all charges brought against others. History also shows us a recurring theme in dealing with those who strive to enlighten the rest of us. We simply kill them. Example, Jesus Christ.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." Matthew 5:7


When mercy is given, banishment or imprisonment is often employed. Today we still employ all these methods, but the risk of creating a martyr is even more real today then the days of old. When visionaries do indeed become martyrs, those martyrs sometimes become presidents. Example, Nelson Mandela. The preferred method of dealing with visionaries in the modern era is the use of defamation of character. So even when the worst of charges is brought, often times it bears no resemblance to the truth. Case in point, Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ( S.S.C.S. ). Captain Watson is the father of marine conservation through direct action and has saved more marine life than anyone. In a January 1999 interview with Watson I asked him about the Sea Shepherds mission;

"I set up the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to be a marine wildlife conservation organization only, and not really a protest organization. An organization that would uphold international regulations and treaties protecting wildlife, because I saw that there were treaties and there were laws but nobody was enforcing them."

Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherds have an unprecedented record. A complete list of accomplishments would require the entire editorial content of this magazine for at least a year or more, but here are some of the highlights. Between 1979 and 1980 the SSCS was responsible for the sinking of six pirate whalers. Firstly, the most infamous pirate whaler of all, the Sierra was rammed and sunk in 1979. In 1980 the South African government acted on SSCS tips by confiscating and sinking the pirate whalers Susen and Theresa. In the same year a reward was posted by SSCS for the sinking of the pirate whaler the Astrid. No longer able to trust their crew the owners sold the ship and got out of the whaling business. Again in 1980 SSCS agents sank two more ships in Vigo, Spain. This represented half of the Spanish fleet. During that period pirate whaling was virtually shut down throughout the Atlantic. 1981 saw the end to the Dolphin slaughter on Iki Island in Japan as the Japanese agreed to stop the killing under promises of direct action from SSCS. Between two and three hundred thousand virgin white baby Harp Seals were saved from their brutal clubbing in 1983. This was accomplished by blockading the sealers and their vessels in St. John Harbor in Newfoundland, Canada. The Harp Seal slaughter was not conducted at all from 1984 to 1994. In 1985 and 1986 SSCS blockaded the bays of the Dutch Faeroe Islands where the mass slaughter of Pilot Whales is conducted. The result was the only direct action campaign ever in the Faeroes, and the least recorded kills of Pilot Whales there in history. Later in 1986 half of the Icelandic pirate whaling fleet was sunk, including two more ships, and their whale processing plant was also destroyed. These actions effectively shut down the fleet. In 1991, the Sea Shepherd II rammed a Mexican tuna boat that was fishing illegally in Guatemalan waters. The Guatemalan government later thanked the Sea Shepherds. Over the years SSCS has rammed and disabled four illegal driftnetters and confiscated over one hundred miles of nets. In 1992 the driftnetter Jiang Hai was sunk in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. In 1992 Norway was the target and the pirate whaler the Nybraena was sunk and in 1994 heavy damage from sabotage was incurred on the Senet. Late in 1998 SSCS effectively stopped the first illegally attempted whale hunt in US territorial waters in which up to five California Gray Whales were to be killed. In the spring of 1999 they will return to stop the next attempt.

All this being true you would think that Watson would be unanimously praised throughout the environmental community. You would be wrong. Instead he has been maligned and accused of many things, among them, that of being a terrorist! Defamation of character in action. We shall explore that accusation later. In reality Watson is referred to as a legend by many environmental legends themselves, including Farley Mowat, Dave Foreman, Bob Hunter, and the late Cleveland Amory, his critics within the environmental community however, are many. When asked about the criticism?

"Well for the criticism to have any impact you have to have respect for the people doing the criticizing so it doesn't bother me at all."

The criticism (and jealousy) it seems, stem from the fact that all the negotiation, and all the laws cant accomplish what one person with the power of his conviction can.

"Never underestimate the ability of an individual to change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

Certainly the world is changing, and Watson is initiating his share of it. He is quick to point out however that "all victories are temporary, and all defeats are permanent."

Characterizing the permanence of these defeats was an excerpt written by Watson for his Sea Shepherd Log. He makes reference to a story he found on page A39 of the Orange County edition of the L.A. Times.

Study Finds Serious Extinction Risk
One fourth of the world's species of mammals are threatened with extinction, and about half of those may be gone in as little as a decade, according to the most complete global analysis of endangered species ever compiled. The report was released by the IUCN World Conservation Union.
Los Angeles Times
October 4th, 1996

"That was it. ONE-FOURTH of the WORLD'S SPECIES of MAMMALS are THREATENED with EXTINCTION. And HALF of that number may be GONE in a decade. This is a mind-boggling biological holocaust. In our media culture, where news is the entertainment industry and the entertainment industry is the news, a warning that a quarter of the world's species of mammals may be exterminated is considered, well, unimportant."

The inner strength of Watson is evident immediately upon meeting him, and his commitment to the cause is undeniable. When asked if there was any one moment that he felt set his course forever?

"Well, there are many things, but what really had the most effect on committing my course of action was in June of 1975, when we first blockaded the Russian whaling fleet off the coast of California and we came up with this idea of putting ourselves in small rubber inflatable boats between the harpoons and the whales, gambling that people wouldn't risk taking a human life in order to kill a whale. Of course we really were quite naive in believing that. Bob Hunter ( cofounder of Greenpeace ) and I were in front of the 150-foot steel harpoon vessel that was bearing down on us at the speed of about 20 knots and fleeing for their lives were eight magnificent sperm whales, and every time the whales moved we would follow them to keep the harpoons from getting their target, and we were successful for about 20 minutes. That was clearly frustrating the harpooners and the captain of the boat came down the catwalk and screamed into the harpooner's ear and then looked at us, ran his finger across his throat and smiled, and then we knew we were in trouble. And a few minutes later there was this horrendous explosion as a harpoon flew over our heads and slammed into the backside of one of the whales in the pod, and that whale screamed horrendously. Suddenly the largest whale in the pod, the escort bull, rose up and dove and we saw his tail slap the water as he went beneath the surface. We had been told by all the experts that that whale would attack us so we waited there with a great deal of anxiety for that whale to come up underneath the boat, when suddenly the ocean erupted behind us and I saw the whale catapult himself from the water straight at the harpooner. They were ready for him with another harpoon however, and the harpooner nonchalantly pulled the trigger, and the harpoon, at pointblank range, slammed into the head of that whale and that whale screamed as he fell back thrashing the boat with blood everywhere now. I then made eye contact with the whale as it was thrashing about, then it dove and I could see a trail of bloody bubbles coming straight towards us. Then the whale came up at an angle over and above us, so close that the water was pouring down on us. I could have literally reached up and grabbed one of his six inch teeth, and I looked up into this eye the size of a grapefruit, and looking down at me was this whale. Looking into his eye I read understanding, that the whale understood what we were trying to do The easiest thing that the whale could have done at that point was to come forward and crush us, but instead of doing that he very slowly and deliberately slid back into the sea, eye-to-eye contact all the way beneath the surface, and he died. So I felt that that whale could have taken my life but chose not to do so, so ever since then I've felt compelled to protect as many whales as possible."

1979 saw the worlds most infamous pirate whaler the Sierra become Watson's target. The Sierra had been reflagged, changed names, and hidden its ownership almost as many times as the number of whales it killed,... over 25,000!, illegally. This ship and its crew killed every whale it came across. Pregnant and nursing mothers, Blue Whales, Humpbacks, Orca's, you name it, the Sierra killed it. All this at the height of the "Save the Whales" campaigns that made untold millions for organizations like Greenpeace. It became Watson's obsession to sink it.

"The Sierra was the most notorious pilot whaler. Operating at the time with Norwegian officers in Cape Verde it took whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted. They simply sold the meat to Japanese vessels and nobody was doing anything to stop it, so we decided in 1979 to go and hunt it down. I've felt very, very good about that achievement ever since."

With his reputation already established he solicited a donor who would fund the purchase of the ship and supplies necessary to hunt the Sierra down. A legend in his own right, Cleveland Amory answered the call, and a ship and crew was made ready. The Sierra was a ghost ship however and it was with a great amount of luck that she was ultimately found off the coast of Portugal. On that fateful day Watson rammed the ship twice, once across the bow, once amidships. The Sierra limped into port taking on water and listing heavily. A short time later, saboteurs for the Sea Shepherds placed a limpet mine on the Sierra's hull and the ship was sunk while in the harbor. The Sierra never whaled again. The first mate of the Sierra was asked by a journalist how he felt about his livelihood being stolen from him, "When I saw how strongly these people felt about the whales, I began to question what I was doing", "It was the only way that we could have been stopped" and "I'll never kill a whale again."

One of Watson's accomplishments includes his co-founding of Greenpeace, which he now considers to be sort of his part in creating the environmental equivalent of Frankenstein. Notably not one of Greenpeace's founding fathers is actively leading the organization now. Probably the most notorious of his actions is his willingness to sink pirate whaling ships that are used to kill whales illegally (10 ships to date, and counting). He also has the tendency to ram ships, primarily driftnetters. In ramming these ships he takes out the power blocks which are used to pull in the up to fifty mile long nets, thus rendering the ships useless and forcing them home for expensive repairs. During all these activities not one person on either side has been hurt or killed. Furthermore not once has Watson denied responsibility for the Sea Shepherds actions. In fact he boldly pronounces responsibility and invites prosecution. To date, this has never happened. His targets know full well that their activities are much better unknown, and they wisely choose not to press charges. Keep in mind that Watson's targets are owned by people who generally have little or no regard for life other than their own. These people profit from the raping of the oceans and the ultimate extermination of species. Speak to these people about conservation and international law and you are exercising a ridiculous act of futility. Yet many conservationists do just that, meanwhile Watson and his agents simply sink the ships and the "business" is shut down. Sinking ships however makes for very angry enemies. When asked about whether organized crime plays any role?

"Oh organized crime is very much involved, a lot of the Colombian tuna boats are filled with a double bottoms to smuggle cocaine. In fact the word in South America and Central America for cocaine is "blanca", the white tuna, and that's because of the association between the cocaine trade and the tuna industry. Japanese and Russian Mafia are also heavily involved."

Having said that, and considering the fact that Watson has sunk ships and rammed ships and targeted people with organized crime elements, while great environmental leaders like Chico Mendez and Diane Fossey have been murdered, I asked if he had concerns for his safety?

"You can't really be concerned about that, we all die eventually anyway."

So you aren't really all that concerned with your safety?


On the charge of terrorism. Defined as, "the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion." Is Watson's intent to simply terrorize and coerce? If so he has strangely attracted the endorsements of many celebrities including Martin Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Bridget Bardot, Steven Seagal, Jane Seymour, Rutger Hauer, Linda Blair, Mick Jagger an Prince Albert of Monaco to name but a few. Most notably was this letter of support;

"The natural environment sustains the life of all beings in the world. However, nearly everywhere these days it is undergoing extensive degeneration. Therefore, it is more important than ever that each of us makes whatever effort we can according to our capacity to ensure the protection, restoration and replenishment of our environment and its inhabitants. When the environment becomes damaged and polluted, there are many negative consequences. Oceans and lakes lose their cool and soothing qualities and the creatures depending on them are disturbed. The decline of vegetation and forest cover causes great harm not only around its immediate surroundings but even in far away and unrelated areas. Rain no longer falls when required, the soil dries and erodes, forest fires rage and unprecedented storms and floods arise. We all suffer the consequences.

I am happy to lend my support to those who, like the volunteers of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, seek to protect our oceans and our fellow creatures like the whales who live in them. And it is my hope that through understanding the interdependence of the world and all the beings that live in it, people will adapt their behavior in such ways that the potential of our bounteous natural realm will be nurtured and preserved."
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, September 29th, 1998.

Recently a Russian warship fired on a driftnetter which was violating the United Nations ban on this activity. The driftnetter received serious damage and two crewmembers were killed, yet there is a curious absence of people willing to accuse Russia of being a terrorist state. The captain of the warship did apologize however, and also claimed that it was an accident. Seems he only intended to shoot across the bow but accidentally destroyed the bridge of the vessel. Somehow it seems unlikely that such an apology from Watson would be sufficient. So the accusation of terrorist holds no real merit, but the stigma attached to the accusation does. In this way many would be supporters are naively led away from an organization that has a perfect record of nonviolence. As Watson points out, even a model of nonviolence like Martin Luther King Jr. said that violence can only be committed against living beings. It seems the weapons and machinery of death will always be considered legitimate targets by those who value life over death.

The real objective of the Sea Shepherds however is to act as an enforcer of international conservation laws. You might ask, who gives Paul Watson the right to take the law into his own hands? The answer is, the United Nations. Under the mandate of the United Nations World Charter for Nature, section 21, subparagraphs c, d and e.

States and, to the extent that they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and organizations shall:
c) Implement the applicable international legal provisions for the conservation of nature and the protection of the environment.
d) Ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the natural systems located within other States or in the areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
e) Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The effectiveness of the Sea Shepherds is undeniable, it is the tactics with which people voice their disapproval. The question than becomes, at what point do you take action to prevent the annihilation of even more species? When do we start enforcing the laws which supposedly protect the earth's biodiversity? Furthermore, why aren't these laws being enforced in the first place? The answer is quite simple. Theres no money in it!!! Yet another question. Who is willing to leave their current life behind, live on a ship, do some of the dirtiest work imaginable six or seven days a week, live a life of poverty and receive no pay? What's your reward? You get to enforce international laws which the governments of the world put into place, but almost never enforce. If this sounds good, than the life of a Sea Shepherd crewmember is for you. Not even Paul Watson is paid. Money is not the issue to these people. Even those who disagree with the organizations tactics find it difficult not to respect the dedication of the individuals involved. Especially when compared to nonprofit organizations like Greenpeace or the United Way or countless others which have embarrassments for executives who take home six figure salaries all in the name of charity.

Another common accusation is the belief that Watson and others in this movement care more about animals than they do people.

"I believe first and foremost in the laws of ecology, the laws of biodiversity, the law of interdependence, the law of finite resources, and what these laws state is that we are dependent upon the biodiversity in order to survive. The human species is not going to survive by itself, so when you destroy another species you weaken the ability of the human species to survive overall. But most other species, whether it be plants or animals, live in accordance to the laws of the ecology. Any species that does not live in accordance with the laws of the ecology is buying time and we're really not going to survive unless we do so. These are just basic, physical, ecological laws that have to be respected. To not do so is the equivalent of shuffling the deck chairs around on the Titanic, you're not going to survive anyway. You might be able to solve a human rights problems here or deal with this issue there, but what's the point of doing that if you've eroded your entire foundation of support beneath you, and you've developed an ecosystem that can't support any life, our human life, included."

I then asked him what the average working Joe who cares can do?

"The average working Joe doesn't really care about these issues but for the average working Joe who does care about these issues, start getting involved and I think that would certainly help. But unfortunately the majority of people don't give a damn about what's going to happen tomorrow they'd rather watch TV or simply spend money. Most people are quite content living in a fantasy world. They believe everything from angels to flying saucers to whatever. Basically these are all circuses humans have fabricated in order to keep people in line for the last 2000 years. Circuses always change, but as along as you keep people entertained, you keep them from noticing what's really going on in the world."

When asked what he wants to see from people?

"Stop being so goddamn arrogant and start realizing you are a citizen of this planet. We've got to learn to live in harmony, otherwise we are going to doom ourselves to extinction, it's as simple as that."

Watson clearly lacks any noticeable concern about public opinion. If he has an ulterior motive it remains undetectable. His honesty and candor is abrupt, but refreshing. If whales and dolphins and all the life of the seas could talk however, there can be zero doubt that they would praise Watson as the legend of all legends. If they could cheer for him, buildings would topple from their thunderous noise. If they could vote, Watson would be their president. This all doesn't seem to matter to him though. What does matter is results, and it seems that unless Watson is killed, which is a distinct possibility, he will continue to save more marine life than anyone else ever has. For divers who derive as much joy from our experiences in the oceans as anybody, we owe Watson a debt of gratitude for his results. For those who cannot agree with his tactics and therefore do not appreciate the results, rest assured that your grandchildren, and the children born from them will. The reality is that Watson speaks more to the future generations than he does to us. He is a true visionary whose actions in life are determined by the realities of the future. The gauntlet in which all visionaries inevitably walk awaits him, but as Watson says himself;

"We may be a real pain in the rear to the establishment today, but we make great ancestors."

Photos and Captions

Damaged ship photo
"The infamous pirate whaler the Sierra in 1979 after being rammed twice by Captain Paul Watson. The ship was later sunk in port by Sea Shepherd saboteurs."

Whales butchered in bloody bay photos
"The horrendous "tradition" of Pilot Whale slaughter in the Dutch Faeroe Islands. In 1985 and 1986 the Sea Shepherds blockaded the bays where the slaughter takes place and virtually stopped the killing."

Men in front of ship photo
"Paul Watson and Bob Hunter stand between in front of the ship that would spell doom to tens of thousands of baby Harp Seals. Although the killing stopped between 1984 and 1994, in 1998 over two hundred thousand seals were killed."

US Whaling 1999 | Tribute to Paul Watson | Little Known History of Hawaii | The Future | Back | Home

© 2001 - #1 Scuba Diving Hawaii Scuba Diving Tours Dive Travel