THE SHIP THAT STARTED IT ALL...
...AND THE CAMPAIGN SHE WON --
AT THE COST OF HER LIFE.

The Sierra Campaign

Between 1968 and 1979 a whale hunter-killer ship roamed the Atlantic Ocean. She changed name and ownership several times in a continuing attempt to evade the conservation and fishing regulations of dozens of nations.

fleet_sea_shepherd_02By 1979, the ship was operating under the name Sierra. Her crew included four employees of the Taiyo Fishing Company of Japan, of which an investigation of shipping manifests by the Observer newspaper showed was the primary purchaser of the outlaw whaler's catch. (The Japan Whaling Commission claimed ignorance of the ship's activities. To this day, Japan is the principal market for whale meat.) Her captain was Arvid Nordengen, a Norwegian.

The Sierra's operations were shockingly "efficient." Only the prime tail meat was taken, and the remaining 80% of the whale was thrown away. It was estimated that she had killed over 25,000 individual whales. Andrew Maurice Behr, director of the Sierra Fishing Company in South Africa, was quoted in the Argus, a Cape Town newspaper, as saying that whales were "endangered anyway. The world will soon be rid of them, so why not make a profit from them before they disappear?"

Having been sensitized to the slaughter of whales by a close encounter four years before, Paul Watson had vowed to himself that he would hunt down the Sierra and end her career.

With a grant from the Fund for Animals Captain Watson purchased a 19-year old North Sea cod trawler and renamed her the Sea Shepherd. Additional funds for preparation and fuel came from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Using information from a variety of sources, over time Captain Watson narrowed down the Sierra's location to somewhere in the eastern Atlantic between Spain and Morocco and headed there in the Sea Shepherd. Twelve days out of Boston, on July 15, 1979, the Sierra was spotted. She turned and ran at full speed toward Portugal.

Unfortunately, the seas were too rough for a controlled ramming, so the Sea Shepherd ran along side as both ships headed toward the Portuguese port of Leixoes.

The next day, slipping out of port before the authorities noticed, the Sea Shepherd surprised the Sierra drifting just outside. By radio, Captain Watson warned Captain Nordengen of what he was going to do and accelerated to full speed.

The reinforced bow of the 779-ton Sea Shepherd connected with the bow of the 650-ton Sierra and kept on going. Captain Watson circled around and hit the Sierra again on the port side, tearing open a 7- by 10-foot (2- by 3-meter) hole. The Sea Shepherd then slammed sideways into the smaller Sierra, staving in a long section of the Sierra's port-side hull.

fleet_sea_shepherd_01Listing badly, the Sierra ran for protection toward some Portuguese naval ships. The Sea Shepherd headed for Spanish waters, but a navy ship overtook the Sea Shepherd and convinced Captain Watson to return to Leixoes.

In early November, 1979, without a hearing or trial, a Portuguese judge awarded the Sea Shepherd as damages to the owners of the Sierra. (Some inquiries suggested that the judge had been bribed by a representative for Andrew Behr). Afraid that the Sea Shepherd would be converted to whaling operations, Captain Watson and his crew scuttled the Sea Shepherd on the evening of December 31, 1979, by opening the sea valve in the engine room, and even though it pained them very much, sent her to the bottom.

The Sierra had been towed to Lisbon for repairs, though the Portuguese authorities lied to the American consul and told him that the ship had left the country. Taking advantage of the Sierra's immobility, a team of underwater demolition experts made preparations to finish the career of the whaler.

On February 6, 1980, after undergoing US$ one million in repairs, the Sierra was sunk at dockside by a single limpet mine that blew a small hole in the hull. The ship took on water and slowly sank until it struck the bottom. Nobody was injured.

The sordid career of the Sierra was finally brought to an end.

Later that year more limpet mines sank half of the Spanish whaling fleet. A reward offered by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for the sinking of whaling ships caused owners to mistrust their underpaid crews and shut down their own whaling operations. Sea Shepherd and her allies had achieved in one year what 10 years of rhetoric and national posturing had failed to do.

return to The Fleet

Sea Shepherd
Operation Jairo 2015 Sea Turtle Defense Campaign
Operation Jairo 2015 Sea Turtle Defense Campaign
Sea Shepherd launches Operation Jairo, second-annual sea turtle anti-poaching campaign in Costa Rica, Honduras and Florida. Credits and special thanks: Film by BlueMedia.no Music by Kai-Anders Ryan kaiandersryan.no Photos by Mélanie Chamorel melaniechamorel.com "Turtle in trouble" photo by Jordi C...
Sea Shepherd Captures Rare Footage of Elusive Vaquita During First Sighting since 2013
Sea Shepherd Captures Rare Footage of Elusive Vaquita During First Sighting since 2013
On April 18, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society captured rare footage of the elusive and endangered vaquita porpoise in the waters of Mexico’s Gulf of California, the small cetacean’s only home on Earth. The sighting marks the first time since 2013 the shy creature has been spotted and filmed in ...
Strong Hearts, Iron Will – Sam Simon Crew Pays Tribute to the Late Sam Simon
Strong Hearts, Iron Will – Sam Simon Crew Pays Tribute to the Late Sam Simon
The Crew of Sea Shepherd's M/V Sam Simon pays tribute to the late activist, philanthropist, great humanitarian and TV Executive Sam Simon, thanking him for the wonderful ship he provided for them to save marine life in Antarctica and around the world. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is pro...
Sea Shepherd Does What Others Can't or Won't
Sea Shepherd Does What Others Can't or Won't
Sea Shepherd. Who are we? What do we do? Sea Shepherd is not just an organization. It’s a global movement. Volunteer crews boldly go where others can’t or won’t. Here’s a look at some highlights of some of our recent campaigns to defend, conserve and protect marine wildlife and habitats wo...
Sea Shepherd's Operation Infinite Patience: The Cove Guardians expose Taiji
Sea Shepherd's Operation Infinite Patience: The Cove Guardians expose Taiji
Melissa Sehgal and her Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian team highlight the daily atrocities that occur against much beloved, intelligent and social dolphins in Taiji, Japan for six months of each year.
Sea Shepherd Science – Biologist Jack Grove on Sea Shepherd and Preserving Galapagos Islands
Sea Shepherd Science – Biologist Jack Grove on Sea Shepherd and Preserving Galapagos Islands
Biologist Jack Grove has seen firsthand the devastation to the species living on Galapagos Islands. Natural resources are being depleted at alarming rates. Sea Shepherd aims to change that.
Operation Grindstop 2014: 14 Crew Arrested During Grind
Operation Grindstop 2014: 14 Crew Arrested During Grind
During Operation Grindstop, Sea Shepherd was on constant patrol protecting Pilot Whales from brutal slaughter in the Faroe Islands. Only one grind was carried out during Sea Shepherd’s campaign, and our volunteers stood fast to the bitter end. Maggy Gschnitzer is one of 14 of our crewmembers arres...
Thank You Steve Wynn
Thank You Steve Wynn
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society would like to personally say thank you to Steve Wynn for allowing us to present our photo exhibit "Taiji Dolphins: The Truth Behind The Tarps" on September 19-21, 2014 at the Encore at Wynn Las Vegas.
Martin Sheen Unveils Sea Shepherd’s Newest Vessel, R/V Martin Sheen, Named in his Honor
Martin Sheen Unveils Sea Shepherd’s Newest Vessel, R/V Martin Sheen, Named in his Honor
October 18, 2014 - Sea Shepherd unveils the new R/V Martin Sheen named for the award-winning actor, activist and Sea Shepherd supporter. Martin Sheen was on hand to help unveil and christen the vessel at a press conference in Marina del Rey, Calif. on Oct. 18, 2014 where the media and public got the...
Shannen Doherty reacts to dolphin slaughter in Taiji
Shannen Doherty reacts to dolphin slaughter in Taiji
September 20, 2014 - Taiji, Japan - Actress Shannen Doherty joins Sea Shepherd's Cove Guardians at Taiji, Japan's infamous cove to bear witness to their brutal annual dolphin drive hunts. In this clip, she describes her reaction to seeing a dolphin drive and slaughter.
Operation GrindStop 2014: Sea Shepherd Helps Pilot Whales Back Out to Sea
Operation GrindStop 2014: Sea Shepherd Helps Pilot Whales Back Out to Sea
On Wednesday, July 30th, Sea Shepherd spotted and escorted a pod of pilot whales away from the Faroe Island shores. To help with Operation GrindStop 2014: https://my.seashepherd.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=860 To learn more visit: http://www.seashepherd.org/grindstop/ Music: 'The Complex' b...
Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Campaign Update
Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 Campaign Update
Nearing the End, Operation Toxic Gulf campaign is 3/4 of the way through. Learn how the crew has been keeping busy and the exciting discoveries made thus far. To help support Operation Toxic Gulf: https://my.seashepherd.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=859 To learn more: http://www.seashepherd.or...
Operation Grindstop 2014: Introducing the On-Shore Crew
Operation Grindstop 2014: Introducing the On-Shore Crew
On-shore volunteers Ellen and Maxime describe the roles of the Operation Grindstop on-shore team. Patrolling the beaches and looking out from the hills, our crew is vigilant and determined to ensure no pilot whales fall victim to a grind. To help with Operation GrindStop 2014: https://my.seashephe...
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Announces Operation GrindStop 2014
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Announces Operation GrindStop 2014
June 17, 2014 - Operation GrindStop 2014 Campaign Launch Press Conference in the Faroe Islands: Sea Shepherd Global's Director of Ship Operations Captain Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd USA's Campaign Director Scott West, and Sea Shepherd France's President Lamya Essemlali officially launch Operatio...
Operation Toxic Gulf 2014
Operation Toxic Gulf 2014
Sea Shepherd & Ocean Alliance Set Sail on "Operation Toxic Gulf 2014"
Operation GrindStop 2014
Operation GrindStop 2014
Operation GrindStop 2014 is underway! Join us for the largest land- and sea-based campaign in Sea Shepherd history! To help with Operation GrindStop 2014: https://my.seashepherd.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=860 To learn more visit: http://www.seashepherd.org/grindstop/
From the Cove to Captivity Contest Winner - AnaGirlEmpath
From the Cove to Captivity Contest Winner - AnaGirlEmpath
http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/2014/03/18/sea-shepherd-announces-winners-of-from-the-cove-to-captivity-video-contest-1564
From the Cove to Captivity Contest Runner Up - RenaudK
From the Cove to Captivity Contest Runner Up - RenaudK
http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/2014/03/18/sea-shepherd-announces-winners-of-from-the-cove-to-captivity-video-contest-1564
From the Cove to Captivity Contest - Megan Rose Taylor
From the Cove to Captivity Contest - Megan Rose Taylor
I am currently studying Animal Management at college and have always been passionate about animal welfare. When I learnt what was happening in Taiji I was devastated and for a while felt ashamed to belong to the human race. That is until I discovered Sea Shepherd and the Cove Guardians who made me f...
Guang Zhou Market
Guang Zhou Market
With global shark populations being driven towards extinction, this is not just a China issue, but a global issue and we are all responsible.
Real Men Don't Whale
Real Men Don't Whale
Clive Standen, star of History Channel's "Vikings", speaks out against the continued barbaric slaughter of pilot whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands
Dr. Godfrey Merlen on Scientific Whaling Versus Cultural Whaling
Dr. Godfrey Merlen on Scientific Whaling Versus Cultural Whaling
English Biologist Godfrey Merlen Weighs in on the differences between "Cultural" and "Scientific" Whaling
I am a Cove Guardian
I am a Cove Guardian
Taiji (太地町) Japan - Join the Cove Guardians from whereever you are. Take action to help stop the slaughter of innocent dolphins and whales. 日本語字幕 click [CC]
The Importance of Passion Over Experience
The Importance of Passion Over Experience
Captain Watson explains what he looks for in a Sea Shepherd volunteer