Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
It is difficult to express just how difficult Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s task is in organizing our annual campaigns against the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet.
It takes tens of thousands of manpower hours to secure the ships, to prepare the ships, to maintain the ships, to provision and fuel the ships, to prepare the helicopter, to raise the funding to finance the campaigns, to deal with the media, governments, bureaucracies, and every little detail that must be attended to in order to enable us to mount and sustain a campaign.
It is also difficult to express just how potentially dangerous these campaigns are, and it is a testament to our abilities that after six Antarctic campaigns involving a total of twenty-four months at sea with four different ships, we have not suffered a single serious injury, nor have we caused a single injury to those we oppose.
This is remarkable, because we are operating these voyages in the most remote and meteorologically hostile seas in the world. We thread our way through icebergs and ice floes over thousands of miles of barren coastline. There are no hospitals down here, no police. There are no rescue facilities should things go wrong. We are literally two thousand miles from anything that could assist us if disaster should visit us.
And disaster could visit us at any hour of any day. There is the ice that could gouge a hole through our steel plates and sink us. There are horrendous unpredictable weather conditions where we could lose our small boats or our helicopter. And there are the frigid waters where if one of my crew were to fall overboard they would have only minutes to live. And finally there is the violent hostility of the Japanese whalers and the security force sent to defend them. This violence has already this season sunk and destroyed one of our three ships, the Ady Gil.
I have seventy-six other people in these waters with me, seventy-six people from sixteen different nations, on two ships, volunteers whose lives are in my hands. My decisions affect each and every one of them. If I make a mistake, anyone of them—or more than one—could be seriously injured or killed.
This is an awesome responsibility, and I am well aware of the potential risks. And each and every one of my crew are aware of the risks they have chosen to take when they agreed with me to come down here to place ourselves in harm's way to protect endangered whales from being cruelly killed by the Japanese poaching operations assaulting the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
The reality is that what we are doing is a Mission Impossible, and the strangest thing about these campaigns is that we are actually winning. We are achieving our objectives through sheer audacity, strength of will, and our love for the oceans and the incredibly beautiful beings we are championing—the whales.
We have cut the Japanese whaling fleet’s self-determined kill quotas every year for four years and cost the whalers their profits for the last three years. And we have made the entire world aware of the crimes the Japanese whaling fleet is committing in these lonely remote waters. We have saved over 1400 whales and cost the whalers tens of millions of dollars, and we have forced the issue into political debate involving dozens of nations. The campaigns have been more effective than we ever thought they could be.
We did know that these campaigns would be protracted, tough, and challenging. After all, we are a small non-governmental organization taking on one of the most powerful economic super powers on the planet—Japan.
We are opposing a fleet of over half a dozen ships, all faster and more powerful than we are and manned by hundreds of professional crew by a Maritime Union controlled by the Japanese Yakusa.
We are opposing an enemy that has received over US $120 million of government subsidies. It is an enemy with highly paid public relation firms to spin its message, and it has the money and the manpower to strike at us from every level.
This enemy can hire naval "experts" like old admirals and captains to swear that the destruction of the Ady Gil was not the fault of the Japanese. It can churn out ridiculous media releases accusing Sea Shepherd of having lethal weapons, knowing that some outlets will pick up and publish the nonsense.
One of the most insidious and underhanded attacks has been the ability of the Japanese whaling industry to use cyber warfare. We have reason to believe that they have interfered (albeit temporarily) with our website with malicious assaults and infiltrated internet social forums and websites with a well funded campaign of disinformation and strategies designed to undermine our morale and erode our support with a barrage of lies, ad hominem attacks, character assassination, and cyber bullying.
Some of these infiltrators are simply hired or volunteer cyber guns from Japan. Others are unsuspecting but easily manipulated and opinionated trolls who have been converted through psychological manipulation into attacking myself, my crew, and even more despicably, they have cowardly targeted our families and loved ones.
Like an army of mindless zombies, these infiltrators can be unleashed by simply dropping bait into various social network sites like MySpace, Facebook, or internet forums or by motivating these trolls to set up websites and social networking pages dedicated to attacking us personally.
This bait ranges from fabricated accusations of racism and corruption to extremely personal attacks on the appearance, motivation, tactics, and personalities of myself, my crew, and our friends and families.
Regrettably, in additional to well-meaning individuals, the internet social networks are also full of frustrated, self loathing, jealous, and hate spewing people who have come to be called trolls. This originates from the folk story of the troll that lives under the bridge waiting to prey without discrimination on anyone passing by overhead.
The only way to deal with these trolls is to ignore them and to deny their parasitical urge to feed on their victims by inflicting hurt and scandal.
We suspect that Japanese cyber gangs have discovered that they can attack Sea Shepherd using the drifting army of trolls who have nothing better to do than to sit behind their keyboards looking for victims to appease their sense of low self esteem.
When you think about it, the only people who have the time and energy to waste attacking people they don't know on internet forums are people without jobs, a healthy social life, or stability—in other words, people who need to get a life.
What has been really enlightening with the personal attacks on us is that the type of zombies who have been directed towards us actually believe they are defending whales and animals by trying to rip the jugular vein out of our campaigns in an effort to sabotage everything we are trying to do to actually protect the whales.
And they are deceptive. A few months ago, a woman describing herself as a moderator for an online forum invited me to answer some questions from "fans" on the page. She said that there was a need to defend the whales from advocates of whaling. I made the mistake of accepting her invitation only to find that whatever questions I answered were ignored, and I found myself being personally attacked. I learned very quickly that reasonable debate was not possible, and I had just set myself as a target for hateful and spiteful attacks. I also found that this woman was actually a pro-whaler herself and was a self-appointed moderator.
I also made the mistake of having a personal MySpace page, and over a period of a year I had accumulated some 10,000 "friends" who I foolishly just accepted, not realizing at the time that a great many of them were not friends at all. Once the personal attacks began, I had no choice but to remove everyone to address and stop the dissemination of my personal information to every vile forum in cyberspace.
Most of the 10,000 names on MySpace never sent me a message at all, and I had no idea who they were, but amongst them were a number of trolls posing as supporters who began to maliciously spread gossip and disinformation and quotes from me taken out of context. I decided that there was not a positive reason to have these 10,000 names. After all, there is an official Sea Shepherd MySpace page and a Sea Shepherd website that provide all the information anyone needs to know about Sea Shepherd and Sea Shepherd campaigns.
I then found that my innocent girlfriend and I were being targeted by so called "Sea Shepherd supporters" who were angry at being deleted from my MySpace page and who seemed to have the idea that I was their property and had no choice but to keep them as so called "friends."
I began receiving the most bizarre messages from people who threatened to "expose" me for what I truly was, which in their twisted minds included everything from being a KGB-trained assassin to being a covert merchant of whale meat trying to destroy my competition to keep whale prices high. In truth, it never occurred to me just how truly warped and bent people can actually be. It was not a pleasant revelation, and it made me realize that MySpace and Facebook are both simply modern day Pandora’s boxes—once the lid is lifted and one peers in, torrents of vile hate and spite stream out, and your personal information becomes a commodity to be clutched and manipulated by the most foul and perverse minds on the planet, dirty minds given a key to our hearts, minds, and souls by modern technology.
Since I have left on this campaign, people I have never met have unleashed a vicious wave of cyber bullying—vile, obscene, personal character assassinations. The intensity and the viciousness of the attacks are disturbing and unfathomable, because they come from complete strangers who do not know me, my crew, or our loved ones.
But as cowards are want to do, they went for our throats, and they began this pogrom of hate after I had left for sea to defend the whales—and what is so warped about their attacks is that they profess to be "supporters" of Sea Shepherd and/or saving the whales.
So while they lurk like stalkers from behind the mask of their keyboards sending their hate out in waves of self righteous indignation, my crew and I are risking our lives actually defending the whales knowing that these "supporters" are trying to demoralize and sabotage our efforts by launching personal cyber attacks.
The Japanese cyber guns knew exactly what they were doing when they manipulated this program to direct the zombie-like energies of the cyber army of the lost, frustrated, scattered, and just plain weird, towards focusing in on sabotaging our efforts through psychological warfare.
It's easy to hate. It's easy to be critical. It's easy to fabricate lies and it's easy to be a cyber bully. All you need is a computer to provide the door of empowerment.
But let's put this into perspective. There are seven billion people on the planet, and only seventy-seven of us down here in these distant waters actually saving the lives of whales, actually damaging illegal Japanese whaling activities and thus actually making a difference.
There are tens of thousands of people who support the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society financially.
And there are a small handful of cyber trolls trying to demoralize us through lies and hate.
All I can say is that I am glad I'm down here blocking the exploding harpoons of Japanese whalers and that I am not one of those pathetic and deceitful losers.
Thank-you to all of our supporters and loved ones who stand tall and proud in the face of such hatred. Your courage inspires us, and because of you we will save hundreds of whales this season and Operation Waltzing Matilda will be a success.