Commentary by Captain Paul WatsonOn Board the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin
These are questions based on letters and messages received by Sea Shepherd and Captain Paul Watson. Captain Watson has taken some time while heading south to the coast of Antarctica to answer some of the questions we have received.
Why are you returning to the Southern Oceans for a 2nd time?
Captain Paul Watson: We are returning because we are confident that we can find the Japanese fleet again and that we can force them to suspend their whaling operations for another two to three or possible four weeks. We have already impacted their quota and we need to reduce the number of whales they kill even more so. Every whale saved from their vicious illegal harpoons is a victory.
The Japanese argue that whaling is part of their culture. Do you not think that the Japanese have a right to defend and maintain their cultural traditions?
Captain Paul Watson: Emperor Meiji himself put an end to the culture of the Samurai in the 19th Century arguing that Japan had to join the modern world and leave feudalism behind. Whaling has no place in the modern world, no place in the 21st Century and no place in a world where the global ecology is under such destructive assault. Besides, modern pelagic whaling is not a tradition in Japan. Industrialized whaling was set up by General Douglas MacArthur after the war to provide cheap meat for Japan. The bottom line however is that targeting endangered species in a whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium is illegal. No argument for tradition justifies the violation of international law. Cannibalism in some places is traditional and part of the culture but it is illegal and is not tolerated. Dog fighting, cock fighting and bear baiting are cultural traditions but they have no place in the world today and these activities are rightfully illegal.
Greenpeace has stated that Sea Shepherd actions are obstructing dialogue in Japan and that only the Japanese can decide to end whaling and that Sea Shepherd actions are alienating the Japanese and causing a backlash in favor of whaling. How do you respond?
Captain Paul Watson: This is nonsense in my opinion. What dialogue? Until this year few people in Japan were even aware of the controversy over whaling. It was not covered in the media. It was my strategy to put two volunteers onboard a Japanese whaler specifically to create an international incident and a human drama for the purpose of penetrating the veil of silence imposed by the Japanese media. They could not ignore the fact that an Australian and a British citizen were being held hostage on board a Japanese whaling ship. It was a news story and the story opened up the controversy to the Japanese people. Finally there is a real dialogue and many Japanese are questioning the wisdom of their government supporting such an insignificant industry that gives Japan such a bad reputation around the world.
The Japanese argue that it is hypocritical for Westerners to eat meat and condemn the Japanese for eating whale meat? Do you agree?
Captain Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd ships are vegan ships. We do not serve animal products on board our vessels. We are not hypocritical. However there is a big difference in hunting down endangered species in the wild and the slaughter of domestic animals. In Africa they call the slaughter of gorillas, giraffes and elephants the bushmeat trade. The killing of whales by Japan is no different. Whales are aquatic bushmeat and whaling is illegal. The bottom line is that Sea Shepherd is not protesting what people eat, Sea Shepherd is opposing the illegal slaughter of aquatic wildlife.
Is Sea Shepherd an animal rights organization?
Captain Paul Watson: No, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a marine wildlife conservation organization that focuses on the enforcement of existing international conservation law protecting marine species and habitats.
Then why are your ships vegan?
Captain Paul Watson: My ships are vegan because we are conservationists. There are simply not enough fish in the sea to continue to feed the ever expanding populations of humanity. By 2030 every single commercial fishery on the planet will have been destroyed. We have already seen the destruction of the Northern cod, the bluefin tuna, the orange roughy, the Patagonia toothfish and so many more species. There is a major biological holocaust being waged against life in the oceans. More than 50% of the fish taken from the sea is converted into animal feed making pigs and cows the largest aquatic predators on the planet. Domestic chickens eat more fish than all the world's puffins. Domestic cats eat more tuna than all the world's seals together. We catch 50-70 fish from the sea to raise one farm raised salmon. We are vegans because it is an ecological crime to eat fish; we are vegans because we are marine conservationists and not because we are animal rights activists.
You have been criticized for placing the lives of your crew in danger. How do you justify these actions?
Captain Paul Watson: I send my ships and my crews into harm's way to protect life on the oceans. What we do is dangerous. I have no illusions about that. Despite the fact that I have not had a single crew member injured in three decades since the day we were established, I well recognize the risks involved. These risks are acceptable. We are policing the oceans to uphold international conservation law and policing by definition involves risk. My crewmembers take risks to defend endangered species and that is a far nobler an endeavor than taking risks and killing people to defend oil wells and property.
Your critics, including Greenpeace, call Sea Shepherd an eco-terrorist organization? Are these valid accusations?
Captain Paul Watson: It's nothing more than name calling without any legal framework to back it up. There are no warrants for my arrest. I have never been convicted of a felony. We have never killed or injured anyone nor have we held anyone hostage. I travel freely without hassle. I am not on any no-fly list. Why? Because we do nothing illegal. We uphold the law; we do not break the law. Our targets are criminals - poachers, illegal whalers, outlaw fishing operations. We are partners with the Galapagos National Park and the Ecuadorian National Police in intercepting shark poachers. I have been invited by the President of Senegal to give advice on dealing with illegal fishing operations. We have supplied equipment to the rangers of Costa Rica to control poachers. No we are not the criminals; we are the guys who chase the criminals.
What gives you the right to take the law into your own hands?
Captain Paul Watson: We don't take the law into our own hands. We have the right to intervene in accordance with the United Nations World Charter for Nature that allows for non-governmental organizations to intervene to uphold international conservation law and specifically in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
But why is Greenpeace so hostile to Sea Shepherd?
Captain Paul Watson: A good question and one that I have not been able to find an answer to. I was a founding father of Greenpeace in 1972 and a co-founder of Greenpeace International in 1979. Since the mid-Eighties Greenpeace has been very hostile to Sea Shepherd. I believe it may be because the organization has grown from its grassroots origins to become a major multi-national green corporation. It now sells a commodity instead of defending the planet. That commodity is it makes people feel good by joining Greenpeace so they can believe they are part of the solution and not the problem. They are in effect the world's largest feel good corporation. I don't believe Greenpeace wants Japanese whaling ended. They make tens of millions of dollars every year from taking a few posed pictures of their feeble attempts to protest whaling. The fact is that Greenpeace has not interfered with Japanese whaling in any substantial way but they still raise millions through their ocean posing antics and I believe they are afraid we might shut this Japanese whaling cash cow down.
Are there any organizations that do support Sea Shepherd?
Captain Paul Watson: Yes of course, but not the large ones usually. We tend to be the Ladies of the Night of the conservation movement. Plenty of people agree with us in the evening but don't want to be seen in our company in the daytime. I don't have a problem with that. We fill a necessary niche within the movement. We are the hardliners, the shock troops and the uncompromising untouchables and we like being where we are and doing what we do. I'm not concerned with being popular, I'm concerned with being effective.
Not many people realize that Sea Shepherd was born out of the support of three very large organizations. First I left Greenpeace to form Sea Shepherd and my first ship was purchased for me by Cleveland Amory and the Fund for Animals. Our first campaign was financed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Are you not concerned that Sea Shepherd will become large and bureaucratic also?
Captain Paul Watson: No, we are not structured to become bureaucratic. We remain small and effective. We don't have committees that take months to make a decision. We don't have professional fund raisers dictating to us what we can and cannot do. We have a well oiled chain of command that allows us to do what we need to do when we need to do it.
But why the pirate flag, the black shirts and the aura of radicalism with Sea Shepherd?
Captain Paul Watson: Well, sometimes the good guys wear black and sometimes pirates are heroes. The founder of both the Russian and U.S. Navies - John Paul Jones was a pirate. It was the pirate Sir Henry Morgan that shut down piracy in the Caribbean when the politicians and merchants and British Navy were on the take. Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake were pirates and favorites of the Queen. The pirate Jean Lafitte stood beside General Andrew Jackson in defense of New Orleans. Sometimes you just need pirates to do the dirty work when governments are rendered helpless by bureaucracy and/or corruption. We are pirates of compassion in pursuit of pirates of greed who plunder marine wildlife.
How did you pick your flag?
Captain Paul Watson: Yes, we have our own version of the Jolly Roger. The name originally was the "pretty red" or the "joli rouge." The French pronunciation was anglicized into the "Jolly Roger".
Our flag was designed by myself and drawn by our official ship's artist Geert Jan Vons of the Netherlands. It depicts a crossed shepherd's staff and Neptune's trident. Set into the skull is the yin yang symbol using a Sperm whale and a dolphin. What does it mean? The Shepherd's crook signifies that we are shepherds of the sea and the trident signifies that we fight for life in the sea. The skull represents the enemy of the sea (i.e. mankind) and the yin and yang with the dolphin and the whales means we must learn from the whales and dolphins how to live in harmony with the sea.
Where does your crew come from? What motivates them?
Captain Paul Watson: My crew consists of volunteers who come from all over the world. We always have at least a half a dozen different nationalities involved. Right now on the campaign back to the Southern Oceans we have citizens of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the United States.
My crew are not here for me, they are here for a cause they believe in. They are here to get their hands dirty and to get involved with the actual down and dirty field work of being a marine conservation activist.
They are usually a diverse group. This year we have more than a hundred volunteers participating and since Sea Shepherd was created we have had nearly 4,000 volunteers who have participated. They are here because they care, because they want to participate in the adventure, because they want to make a difference - they have many reasons.
However all of them realize that they are onboard my ship to sail as volunteers into harm's way and to willingly take the risks required of them to save the lives of whales and marine species and to make a real difference.
I don't have room for posers on my ships, nor do we tolerate whiners, cowards, and malcontents. A Sea Shepherd crewmember is onboard to make things happen or they are not welcome onboard at all.
Some of your former crew has complained that they were concerned they were put into unsafe situations. Is that true?
Captain Paul Watson: Of course it's true. We deliberately place ourselves into harm's way. Such complaints originate with a few crewmembers who just did not seem to comprehend the reality of just what it is that we do. It's like joining the army and going into combat - it's hardly safe, the risks are part of the job.
However, having said that, I believe our three decades of operations without a single injury suggest that our ships are very safe indeed. Taking acceptable risks is different than being foolishly careless.
What is on Sea Shepherd's Agenda for 2008?
Captain Paul Watson: January into March has us in the Southern Oceans pursuing illegal Japanese whaling ships with our ship the Steve Irwin. In late March and April, we will oppose the Canadian slaughter of harp seal pups. We will be attending the International Whaling Commission meeting in Santiago, Chile in June. Our ship the Sirenian will be doing patrols in the Galapagos National Park Marine Reserve throughout the year and we will be training a canine unit for the Ecuadorian National Police to detect smuggled shark fins and sea cucumbers at border crossings and airports.
We continue our opposition to the resumption of whaling by the Makah Indians in the United States and we continue our opposition to illegal Norwegian whaling activities. We also continue our campaigns to oppose the killing of dolphins in Japan. Our campaign to seize and confiscate illegal longlines and to deploy net rippers against illegal bottom trawling continues.