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The History of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Whaling

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been the most aggressive and most successful whale-saving organization in the world.

Saving whales is what we do best and what we are most noted for. Our approach has been simple and straightforward.

In 1977, Sea Shepherd was established as an organization to intervene and uphold international conservation regulations protecting marine wildlife. In other words, we don't protest whaling - we oppose illegal whaling activities.

Our opposition are criminals engaged in illegal behavior.

photo credit Marc Votier

Join us on our 30-plus year journey to save whales around the world. Scroll through our Whale Campaign history timeline (below) which illustrates with words and pictures Sea Shepherd's actions to save whales. The fight goes on...

Timeline 1975 to present...

Note: To see picture captions, please hold your mouse over each image

The history of our efforts to defend the whales goes back to 1975 when Captain Paul Watson was 1st Mate on the first Greenpeace voyage to protect the whales. In June of 1975, Captain Watson and Robert Hunter became the first people ever to risk their lives to protect a whale when they placed themselves in a small inflatable Zodiac to block the deadly harpoons of the Soviet whaling fleet.

Paul Watson examines a whale that was killed by the Russian whalers. He measured the whale and determined that the whale was undersized according to the International Whaling Commission regulations. Paul Watson drives the Zodiac as photographer steadies himself to take a picture of the Russian whalers, 1975

It was there that Paul Watson had his famous encounter with a dying sperm whale, an incident that has inspired and driven him to become one of the most passionate defenders of whales in history. During this confrontation with the Russian whaler, a harpooned and dying sperm whale loomed over Paul's small boat. Paul recognized a flicker of understanding in the dying whale's eye. He felt that the whale knew what they were trying to do. He watched as the magnificent leviathan heaved its body away from his boat, slipped beneath the waves and died. A few seconds of looking into this dying whale's eye changed his life forever. He vowed to become a lifelong defender of the whales and all creatures of the seas.

Paul Watson and Roberta Hunter in Zodiac - Soviet whaler in background, 1976.

Watson participated in the Greenpeace voyage to intercept the Soviet fleet again in 1976 and helped to prepare the Greenpeace ship Ohana Kai to intercept the Soviet whaling fleet in the summer of 1977.

It was in 1977 that Paul Watson left Greenpeace, the organization that he co-founded, to establish a different kind of conservation organization.

That same year, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was established to focus on marine wildlife species and to intervene against illegal activities on the high seas.

The former UK trawler, the Westella, becomes Sea Shepherd's first flagship Captain Paul Watson onboard Sea Shepherd's first flagship. The Fund for Animals name is painted on the smokestack as a tribute to Cleveland Amory and the Fund for their financial assistance in the purchase of the vessel. To prevent the ship from being converted into a whaling vessel, Captain Watson and engineer Peter Woof scuttle the Sea Shepherd in Leixoes harbor.

In 1978, with the assistance of Cleveland Amory and the Fund for Animals, Paul Watson purchased a trawler in England and named it the Sea Shepherd.

The first Sea Shepherd campaign was to bring the first ship into the ice floes of the Gulf of S. Lawrence to oppose the slaughter of baby harp seals.

The second campaign was to target the most notorious pirate whaler of them all - the Sierra.

This Cypriot-registered whaling ship with Norwegian officers and mixed nationality crew was operating in the Eastern Atlantic from Portugal south to Angola.

Paul Watson decided to hunt the Sierra down and put an end to her career. In June of 1979, he departed from Boston, Massachusetts, to do just that.

On July 16th, 1979, the Sea Shepherd found the Sierra and chased it into the port of Leixoes. Captain Watson rammed the Sierra twice in harbor, tearing the hull open to the waterline and forcing the ship into port for repairs. After a million dollars of uninsured repairs, the Sierra was sunk by Sea Shepherd operatives in Lisbon harbor in Portugal on February 6, 1980. Sea Shepherd permanently retired the pirate whaler Sierra and prevented anymore whales from being taken by her.

In April of 1980, Sea Shepherd agent Al "Jet" Johnson posts reward posters all over the waterfront of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Sea Shepherd offers a $25,000 bounty on the outlaw whaler Astrid. The Astrid's owners are unable to trust their own crew and retire the vessel.

That same month, Sea Shepherd operatives sank two Spanish whalers in to the port of Vigo, Spain, (Ibsa I and Ibsa II)after Spain refused to comply with quota regulations on fin whales.

Also in 1980, working in cooperation with the government of South Africa, Sea Shepherd assisted in the seizure of the pirate whalers Susan and Theresa. The ships were taken out to sea and deliberately scuttled by the South African Navy.

Sea Shepherd successfully shut down all pirate whaling operations in the North Atlantic within a year after a dozen years of failure by the International Whaling Commission. The IWC has no enforcement division to insure its laws are upheld.

We had taken six whalers out of operation but lost the Sea Shepherd when it was taken from us by a judge without a hearing or a trial after he took a bribe from the Sierra's owners. To keep the Sea Shepherd from being converted to a whaler, Captain Watson scuttled his own ship in Leixoes harbor on the first day of January, 1980.

whales_SSCS_history_SS_II In November of 1980, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society purchased a 2nd British trawler, and named her the Sea Shepherd II.


whales_SSCS_history_Russian_fur_farm In 1981, the first mission of the Sea Shepherd IIwas to cross the Atlantic from Scotland, down to and through the Panama Canal to the Pacific and up to the Bering Sea. It is here, in July, that Captain Watson led a crew ashore on a Siberian beach near the town of Lorino where they successfully documented illegal whaling activities. Captain Watson returns to the U.S. with the evidence of Soviet violations, which is turned over to Congress.

The Sea Shepherd crew was able to get the documentation back despite a dramatic confrontation with the Soviet Navy.

In 1985, the Sea Shepherd II became the first conservation ship to intervene against the mass slaughter of pilot whales in the Danish Faeroe Islands. Captain Paul Watson and his crew meet with the Prime Minister of the Faeroes and warn them that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will be launching a campaign to oppose the illegal slaughter of pilot whales by the Faeroese.

In July of 1986, the Sea Shepherd II departs for the Danish Faeroe Islands to document and obstruct the Faeroese pilot whale sport hunt. Captain Watson sends in a team of five crewmembers to meet with the government. All five are arrested and held without charges. The Sea Shepherd II refuses to depart from Faeroese waters until the crew is released. The Faeroese respond by attacking with rifle fire and tear gas. Captain Watson has a bullet strike the ship an inch from his head, and immediately he orders the crew of the Sea Shepherd II to defend the ship with water cannons and cannons loaded with chocolate and lemon pie-filling. The Faeroese attackers are humiliatingly slimed with goo and the Sea Shepherd II escapes with documentation of whaling activities and a dramatic confrontation. The incident is filmed and aired in a BBC produced award-winning documentary entitled Black Harvest.

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission's global moratorium on commercial whaling came into law.

Despite the law, Iceland continued to kill whales.

In November of 1986, Sea Shepherd engineers Rod Coronado and David Howitt arrived in Iceland and scuttled two of the four Icelandic whaling ships at dockside. They also destroyed the whale meat processing plant in Iceland.

Iceland vessels scuttled

In January 1988, Captain Paul Watson flew to Iceland to accept responsibility for the sinking of the ships. The Icelandic government refused to lay charges because Iceland knew that a trial would expose their illegal operations.

The Sea Shepherd actions in Iceland permanently retired two of their whaling ships and cost the whaling company more money than they have been able to recover in 19 years. It was an economic defeat for the whale killers.

Before his quick exit, Sea Shepherd agent managed to
snap a picture of the sea-cock he just opened to sink the
illegal vessel in port.

In 1992, Sea Shepherd focused its efforts on opposing illegal commercial whaling by Norway. The day after Christmas, a Sea Shepherd crew led by Captain Paul Watson sank the illegally-operated Norwegian whaler Nybraena in the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway.

In January 1994, a Sea Shepherd crew scuttled the illegal Norwegian whaler Senet in harbor in Southern Norway.

The Sea Shepherd vessel, Whales Forever
photo credit Marc Cleriot

In July of 1994, the Sea Shepherd ship Whales Forever challenged the Norwegian whaling fleet and the Norwegian government directly when Captain Watson took the ship and his crew to the Lofoten Islands to block the whaling ships. He was intercepted by the Norwegian Navy.

The Norwegian Coast Guard destroyer vessel Andenes (which was twice the size of the Sea Shepherd vessel), swiftly cuts through the water to ram the bow of the Whales Forever in an attempt to stop the Sea Shepherd crew from interfering with Norway's illegal whaling activities. Note that in stark contrast to the activity on the Sea Shepherd vessel, the Andenes cleared their deck of all people in preparation to ram.

The Whales Forever was rammed by the Norwegian destroyer Andenes, fired upon, and had two depth charges deployed under the hull. Although suffering significant damage, the Whales Forever prevented the Norwegians from boarding and returned to the Shetland Islands having severely embarrassed the Norwegian authorities. More importantly, international media attention was brought to bear on the illegality of Norwegian whaling.

The Norwegian Coast Guard destroyer vessel Andenes (which was twice the size of the Sea Shepherd vessel), swiftly cuts through the water to ram the bow of the Whales Forever in an attempt to stop the Sea Shepherd crew from interfering with Norway's illegal whaling activities. Note that in stark contrast to the activity on the Sea Shepherd vessel, the Andenes cleared their deck of all people in preparation to ram.

In September 1997, Sea Shepherd Pacific Northwest Director Michael Kundu covertly enters Siberia with a media crew to document the killing of whales by Siberian natives. Although his life is threatened, he returns to report to the International Whaling Commission meeting in Monaco. The film crew brings back evidence of the illegal commercial whale hunt, including footage of butchered whales being processed into feed for fox fur farms. Russia continues to claim the slaughter as a "subsistence" hunt, exempt from the moratorium whaling.

In 1998, the illegal Norwegian whaler Morild, owned by the most notorious whale killer in Norway - Stienar Bastesen - was sunk.

Sea Shepherd became a household name in Norway as a result.

In the fall of 1998, at the urging of the commercial whaling industries of Norway and Japan, with promises of lucrative future trade, the Makah Indian tribe claimed a right to resume whale hunting pursuant to a guarantee in their 1855 treaty with the U.S., but in contravention of subsequent international conservation law. Sea Shepherd sent two ships to Neah Bay, Washington, to protect the gray whales. They were joined on the water by a flotilla of local citizens and other anti-whaling activists. Despite mob violence, arrest, and official harassment, the coalition of activists shields the local whales and succeeds in focusing enough media attention to the hunt to make the Makah stand down without taking a single whale.

Sea Shepherd's two ships and a flotilla of concerned citizens protect gray whales from the Makah whalers, 1998

In July of 2000, the Ocean Warrior sails to the Færoe Islands to intervene against the annual slaughter of pilot whales. Once again, the issue of the hunt is brought to the front pages of the European media. Sea Shepherd brought economic pressure to bear against those companies still purchasing seafood from the Faeroes - representing 90% of their economy - most prominently Dutch-based giant Unilever. Over 20,000 European retail outlets terminated their Færoese fish contracts at Sea Shepherd's request.

In July of 2001, during the same time that the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission was taking place, the Ocean Warrior is in the waters of St. Lucia in the West Indies and filmed a fisherman bringing in a slain pilot whale on the same day the government denies that St. Lucia hunts whales. Sea Shepherd coordinated an international e-mail campaign against the Caribbean nations' voting with Japan at the IWC in exchange for "fisheries aid." St. Lucia received more than 400 cancellations of resort bookings as a result.

In December 2002, the Sea Shepherd set out to hunt down the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters. Our objective was to enforce the global moratorium against commercial whaling and to enforce the protection regulations granted to the whales inside the official Southern Ocean Sanctuary (AKA the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary).

Japan was able to change plans and avoid Sea Shepherd, and we learned a valuable lesson. Without aerial surveillance, the chances of success in tracking the Japanese fleet is small.

In October 2003, a Sea Shepherd crew arrives in Taiji, Japan, to defend dolphins and small whales. Sea Shepherd documentation of the slaughter of is carried worldwide as front page photos in international newspapers and on television.


whales_SSCS_history_060123_aerial_fm_crewIn December of 2005, Sea Shepherd launched our 2nd expedition to the vast and frigid waters of the Antarctic to oppose illegal Japanese whaling. Our flagship Farley Mowat departed from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and stops in Hobart, Tasmania, to pick-up a helicopter to be used for aerial reconnaissance. The whaling fleet is located on December 22nd and flees from Sea Shepherd's chase. On December 25th, the Farley Mowat intercepts the course line of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru and attempts to foul her propellers. The Nisshin Maru begins to run and once again the Farley Mowat pursues.

whales_SSCS_history_060109_Sideswipe1The expedition continued into January of 2006 with the Farley Mowat chasing the Nisshin Maru for three thousand miles along the Antarctic coast. On January 8th, the Farley Mowat once again approaches the Nisshin Maru and deploys prop foulers. The Nisshin Maru stops whaling activities and flees. On January 9th, the Farley Mowat intercepts and rams the whaling fleet supply vessel Oriental Bluebird. The supply ship is ordered out of the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary and complies. The Oriental Bluebird does not return.

The Farley Mowat completed a 50-day voyage covering 8500 miles between Melbourne and their final destination of Cape Town, South Africa. The Japanese fleet was disrupted for 15 days and prevented from achieving their quota.

Our 2006-2007 Antarctic whale defense campaign was named Operation Leviathan was the third and most successful Sea Shepherd expedition to the Southern Oceans to intervene against illegal whaling operations by the Japanese fleet in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. The ambitious campaign involved the utilization of two ships, (the Farley Mowat and the newly-purchased Robert Hunter), a Hughes 300 helicopter (the Kookabura), and 56 crewmembers from 14 different nations.

whales_SSCS_history_2006_Robert_Hunter_approaching_Nisshin_Maruwhales_SSCS_history_2006_aerial_Robert_Hunter_on_Nisshin_Maru_port_side_horizThe Japanese whaling fleet had plans to illegally kill 935 piked (Minke) whales and 50 fin whales. During Operation Leviathan, we were at sea for five weeks and chased the whaling fleet over thousands of square miles constantly interrupting their whaling activities. We intercepted and engaged the fleet on February 9th and 12th, 2007, and their whaling operations were disrupted saving several pods of whales. Click here to learn all the details of this intense expedition and see the exciting photos and video of the action.

In October 2006, after 20 years of compliance, Iceland began to violate the International Whaling Commission's global moratorium on whaling and gave only a one-day notice before killing a whale. Iceland whales_SSCS_history_2006_Op-Rok-Logohad issued themselves a quota of 9 endangered fin whales whales_SSCS_history_2006_Iceland_whalingand 30 piked (Minke) whales to brutally slaughter before August 31, 2007 - in addition to their bogus lethal "scientific research" program which targeted another 39 piked whales. Sea Shepherd responded by sending our ship the Farley Mowat and a crew of volunteers to create an international incident over Iceland's refusal to comply with global protection regulations - our mission was called Operation Ragnarök. In July of 2007, he ship departed for Iceland from the Galapagos Islands but by the time we reached Bermuda, Iceland had announced that they would not issue a new quota for September 1st, 2007. Iceland's fisheries minister stated that he would not issue a new quota until the market conditions for whale meat improve and they secure permission to export whale products to Japan. Sea Shepherd stood down, but remained in Bermuda, ready to re-launch the campaign if the situation changed.

Currently, we are preparing our ship Robert Hunter and crew to return to the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary to protect endangered humpback and fin whales, as well as threatened piked (Minke) whales from the harpoons of the Japanese whalers. Please support us today and make this life-saving mission a reality!


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