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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
In November of 1980, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society purchased a 2nd British trawler, and named her the Sea Shepherd II.1981
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
The 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.
The 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 had issued themselves a quota of 9 endangered fin whales and 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.