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I am a warrior, and it is the way of the warrior to fight superior odds.

― Paul Watson

In the battle not only for whales, but for the hearts and minds of the public, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is in a class by itself. With the possible exception of PETA, no other animal-rights nonprofit has attracted so much mainstream media attention ― positive or negative ― while shining a spotlight on a single injustice. For Paul Watson and the rest of Sea Shepherd in the Antarctic right now, guarding the whales from Japanese poachers is a matter of life and death.

This is Sea Shepherd’s sixth campaign to defend endangered whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, and both sides have raised the stakes with high-tech equipment and more vessels navigating the often hazardous waters. While whaling apologists accuse Sea Shepherd of relying on violent tactics and call them “eco terrorists,” it’s the Japanese whalers who have no qualms about using violence. Not only are they killing protected animals, but they’ve deliberately destroyed a Sea Shepherd vessel, injuring a crew member in the process.

Of course, we knew from the beginning that the current anti-whaling campaign, named Operation Waltzing Matilda, would be unlike anything we’ve seen before. Last year, with their whaling hunt still months away, the Japanese revealed that in addition to their factory ship, Nisshin Maru, and its catcher boats, this year’s whaling fleet would include at least two government “security vessels.” Their ships are equipped with such cutting-edge weaponry as photonic disruptors and sonic blasters, along with some good old-fashioned water cannons, and they do love to use them on the protesters.

Sea Shepherd vessels, meanwhile, are also armed with photonic disruptors (lasers that temporarily blind the target), which they have used, and sonic blasters (long-range acoustic devices), which they haven’t. They have most famously lobbed stink bombs (bottles of butyric acid) onto the decks of Japanese ships, while the whalers have retaliated with flash grenades and apparently a bullet that struck Captain Watson in 2008. But it was Sea Shepherd’s futuristic vessel Ady Gil that captured everyone’s attention when it was unveiled late last year. It was sleek, it was fast and it heralded a new age in the fight against whaling. Perhaps that’s why the Japanese rammed and sank it on January 6. “This was close to murder,” declared Captain Watson, demanding an investigation. “It was such an extreme act that if no one takes action now, we may have an even more serious incident in [the] future.”

Photo by JoAnne McArthur/Sea Shepherd

This is clearly the most volatile campaign Watson has waged against the Japanese whalers. Just last Saturday, the harpoon ship Yushin Maru 3 rammed another Sea Shepherd ship, the Bob Barker. The Bob Barker was blocking the slipway of the Nisshin Maru, making it impossible for the Japanese to offload and “process” dead whales. The whaler tore a gash three feet long above the waterline in the Bob Barker’s hull; no one was injured this time.

Watson, who flies the Jolly Roger and keeps his ships vegan, saysOperation Waltzing Matilda is turning out to be a tough, protracted effort, but I am confident we will once again impact their kill quotas despite the new obstacles thrown at us this year by the whalers.” It’s often these new obstacles that get media attention for Sea Shepherd, which then gains more members and volunteers eager to join the fight. The organization is buoyed by international support for the whales, and it’s in no small part due to the efforts of Sea Shepherd that most Americans are now aware of and opposed to the whale hunt.

This season, according to a rep for the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), a front group for the commercial whalers, the whaling fleet is targeting 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales. Though most observers recognize that Japan’s hunting of whales has nothing to do with scientific knowledge (the nation’s foreign minister has confirmed the hunts are motivated by an appetite for whale flesh), they’re still keeping up with the research charade. And what exactly has Japan learned after all its “research”? Last year they discovered that — wait for it — whales eat krill. Apparently, no one in Japan has access to marine reference books, Wikipedia or old Jacques Cousteau documentaries. And after killing hundreds of whales in 2008, ICR announced that injecting whale sperm into a cow does not produce a whale-cow hybrid creature.

Directly challenging the notion that you must kill an animal in order to study her, 18 scientists from Australia, France and New Zealand are currently taking part in a 6-week program to research whales, their food and their interaction with the environment. Their non-lethal research techniques include biopsy sampling using retrievable darts, satellite tag tracking, photography, acoustic surveys and whale feces recovery. The Japanese should just scrub that ridiculous “RESEARCH” label from its whaling ships right now.

Despite the hazards of the annual campaigns against the whalers, Captain Watson remains resolute. “Will we win this year?,” he asks. “Perhaps we won’t, but if not we will be back again next year and the year after that if possible. For the Japanese whalers we intend to make this a never-ending trip to the dentist. … Our objective is to sink the Japanese whaling fleet, economically, to bankrupt them and to humiliate them.”

Today’s Montreal Gazette features an interesting profile of how the media views animal activism. “Do Small Victories Affect Big Picture in Animal Rights Debate?,” by Richard Foot, is clearly inspired by the European Union’s recent vote to ban Canadian seal products, a victory due in no small part to the decades-long battle animal activists have been waging on behalf of seals.

In addition to the annual seal massacre, Foot addresses the Ottawa Animal Defense League’s campaign to rid the city’s restaurants of foie gras (the fact that Foot refers to foie gras as a “culinary treat” may provide some clue about his feelings on the issue), animal testing in the United States, fox hunting in England and the anti-whaling efforts headed by Sea Shepherd.

Though these might seem to represent a good cross-section of animal activism, from Foot’s perspective, it’s all bad news. Fur will still be sold in China and Russia, foie gras is available in supermarkets, animals continue to suffer in labs, British politicians are thinking of overturning the fox-hunting ban and whalers from Japan and Norway each still kill about 1,000 whales a year (though even Foot admits this is a far cry from the 20,000 whales killed every year during the 1970s).

Moreover, Foot focuses on extremist activities, such as the recent fire-bombings in California, and of course he has to mention that the FBI has labeled animal activists one of the country’s “most serious domestic terrorist threats.”

The reality is, we have seen a number of victories for animals in recent years, including the passing of Prop 2 in California, which will ban confinement systems for egg-laying hens, sows used for breeding and male calves used for veal. Meanwhile, Russia has banned its own seal slaughter, penalties for animal abuse are getting tougher every year, we are gaining traction against the exploitation of animals for vivisection, egg producers throughout the world are eliminating battery cages and much more.

Yes, it’s easy to spin just about any success and focus on the negatives. Prop 2 won’t go into effect until 2015 and will not eliminate all animal suffering. Animal abuse is not a felony in every US state. Cage-free does not mean cruelty-free. But the media often overlooks the positive and zeroes in on the sensational, treating every arrested animal activist as if he or she were a murderous desperado ― twenty-first century versions of Bonnie and Clyde.

If you wonder how effective animal advocacy is, one of the best barometers is animal agribusiness, which gets downright apoplectic when asked about animal activism. Big Ag’s attitude may be best summed up by Al Pope, former president of United Egg Producers, an industry trade group. Referring to the campaigns of animal activists, Pope declared: “WE ARE AT WAR.”

Animal activism is a long struggle, no question. We have our successes, and we have our failures. Sometimes our victories seem small to us, but I’m betting they don’t to the animals they affect. As Foot quotes Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson as saying, “We do what we can with the resources that are available to us. We don’t focus on whether we’re going to win or we’re going to lose. We do what we think is right, because it’s the right thing to do. If we don’t succeed, well, then it’s going to affect all of humanity.”

Can I get an “Amen”?

steveirwin_hobartOn Friday, February 20, as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, Australian Federal Police served a search warrant and seized records and videos shot for the Animal Planet series Whale Wars. According to a statement on the Sea Shepherd site, the warrant authorized the seizing of “all edited and raw video footage, all edited and raw audio recordings, all still photographs, producer’s notes, interview transcripts, production meeting minutes, post production meeting minutes as well as the ship’s log books, global positioning system records, automatic radar plotting aid, purchase records, receipts, financial transaction records, voyage information and navigational plotted charts.”

 

The statement adds: “The Animal Planet series Whale Wars was very embarrassing to the Japanese government and the Japanese whaling industry in 2008. Japan does not wish to see the airing of the second season of Whale Wars and is putting as much diplomatic pressure on Australia as they possibly can to prevent further exposure of their illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean.”

 

An Australian federal agent said the raid resulted from a formal referral from Japanese authorities and that police were undertaking preliminary inquiries into this summer’s Southern Ocean confrontation. Sea Shepherd says two crew members were injured when Japanese whalers used water cannon, concussion grenades, acoustic weapons and threw brass and lead balls at Sea Shepherd boats. Japanese whalers claim the Steve Irwin rammed them.

 

The seized videos, which reportedly depict the clashes between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd activists, may be turned over to the Japanese government. According to Don Rothwell, an Australian National University law professor quoted in the media, legal obligations mean evidence of alleged maritime offenses could be forwarded to Japan.

 

The Japanese government-owned fleet’s president, Kazuo Yamamura, is calling on Australian authorities to impose international agreements. “These maritime laws are not options,” Yamamura said. “If they are not applied, they are of little value.” This is highly ironic coming from a group that openly flouts the international ban on whale hunting in the Southern Ocean. Japan circumvents the ban by using an International Whaling Commission loophole that permits research of the whales.

 

Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd said the Steve Irwin had never been searched before, but he welcomes any charges that led to the crew facing a court. “My position is that if they want to put me on trial for anything connected with this, then I am happy to do it,” he said. “We are not there protesting; we are down there to stop a blatantly criminal activity, to stop whaling in a whale sanctuary. These actions have to go to court somewhere, so let’s start it here.”

Sea Shepherd is reporting today that three Japanese whaling ships moved in on the anti-whaling vessel the Steve Irwin in the Ross Sea off of Antarctica. “At 0500 Hours Sydney, Australia, time on February 4th, the three harpoon vessels of the Japanese whaling fleet literally attacked the Steve Irwin,” a statement reads.

 

Sea Shepherd accused the Japanese whalers of them of cutting dangerously close to the bow of the Steve Irwin in rough waters and fog. “If their intention was to intimidate us, it did not work,” said Captain Paul Watson. “When it comes to playing chicken on the high seas, we have much more experience than the whalers.”

 

Captain Watson also accused the whalers of throwing hunks of metal and golf balls at Sea Shepherd activists, slightly injuring two Steve Irwin crew members.

 

The Yushin Maru 2 has now rejoined the fleet after leaving the area on December 20th with propeller damage. The three harpoon ships converged to flank the Steve Irwin as the Sea Shepherd ship pursued the Nisshin Maru. “As long as we’re chasing them they’re not going to kill whales,” Captain Watson said. “Every day we can keep them from whaling and on the run is a victory for us.” He estimates the fleet has killed about 300 fin and minke whales this season, compared with almost 600 last season. “I know that they’re not going to get their quota again this year; they’re one vessel short.”

 

The Sea Shepherd statement adds: “The whaling fleet is crisscrossing the Ross Sea erratically. The whalers appear to becoming increasingly frustrated and angry that Sea Shepherd has shut down their whaling operations.”

Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru fires its water cannons as the Steve Irwin chases in Antarctica's Ross Sea. A harpoon whaling vessel sails nearby in the background. Photo by Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru fires its water cannons as the Steve Irwin chases in Antarctica's Ross Sea. A harpoon whaling vessel sails nearby in the background. Photo by Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

A coalition of Sea Shepherd and Jakarta Animal Aid is ratcheting the pressure on Japanese whalers.

    Fleeing the Sea Shepherd ship the Steve Irwin on December 20, the harpoon vessel Yushin Maru 2 suffered heavy damage from ice floes in the Southern Ocean and was forced to limp north to Surabaya, Indonesia, for repairs (amid much cheering from the Sea Shepherd activists, I’m guessing).

    “They only had two choices,” says Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd. “They could have gone south with the Steve Irwin into the lighter ice or they could have gone north to avoid the Steve Irwin into the thicker ice floes. They chose the more dangerous route and it looks like they suffered damage for that decision.”

    The whalers had to retreat to Indonesia because their illegal whaling activities have gotten them barred from the much-closer Australian and New Zealand ports. But the Japanese crews’ woes haven’t ended. The Jakarta Animal Aid organization has been demonstrating in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, protesting the presence of the Yushin Maru 2. Jakarta Animal Aid activists are also organizing another protest at the Japanese embassy.

    The Yushin Maru 2 is expected to leave Suryabaya on January 16, the day the Steve Irwin will likely arrive in Hobart, Tasmania, for refueling. Once refueled, the Steve Irwin will be able to return to the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean before the Yushin Maru 2. Other vessels in the fleet include the Kaiko Maru, the Nisshin Maru and the Yushin Maru 3.

    The crews of the whaling vessels have gone to considerable trouble and expense to outfit their ships with anti-boarding measures, including spikes and nets around the ships. “It really is quite amazing,” says Captain Watson. “The effort and expense that has gone into preventing us from boarding is ambitious. The ships can literally cover themselves with a net that can be deployed like a shower curtain around the vessel. Large fenders and sharp spikes protrude from the sides of the ship. It looks very formidable and very expensive.”

    The Japanese also recently tried to have Australian authorities ban Sea Shepherd from the country’s ports for refueling the Steve Irwin. Australia rebuffed the request, and now Sea Shepherd is working to get the Japanese fleet banned from ports in Indonesia because of their illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

    “We have demonstrated that the whalers can be physically stopped,” says Captain Watson. “If we had just one more ship down here, we could stop them by 90 percent, and we could bankrupt them totally. Shutting down illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is a very doable task. We are doing the best we can with the resources available to us. With more support we could win this war to save the whales.”

    Sea Shepherd is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone able to non-violently prevent the Yushin Maru 2 from departing the harbor for the duration of this year’s whaling season.

    You can bet all this high-seas drama will make for a winning season of Whale Wars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saying they are prepared for their most violent confrontation yet with the Japanese whaling fleet, campaigners from the animal-rights group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have set off from Brisbane, Australia, heading toward the Southern Ocean. “We believe the Japanese will be more aggressive and more violent than last year because they are getting desperate, but we feel we have to take these risks to keep the pressure on,” said Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd.

 

The organization’s four-month campaign will be carried out in the Antarctic waters. Japan uses a loophole in a 1986 global agreement that allows lethal research on whales (which is why you see Japan’s whaling ships labeled “Research”).

 

paulwatson_darrylhannahJoining the anti-whaling crew this year is US actress Daryl Hannah, who said the killing of whales would come to an end if governments enforced the anti-whaling laws and Greenpeace worked in unison with the Sea Shepherd. “They are hunting endangered species in a marine protected area,” she said. “It is surprising and shocking to me that governments are not doing this work ― that it is up to individuals and non-government organizations to uphold international law and protect endangered species. If Greenpeace would join forces with Sea Shepherd they would shutdown the whaling industry right away. If they were really serious and held their convictions they could accomplish this.”

 

Captain Watson said there was a need for a second fast ship, which he said would help more than halve the quote of kills and sink the whalers economically. “How much longer can [the Japanese whalers] keep losing profits?” he asked. “Last year they made a $70 million loss. For three years they have been making losses.”

 

Last year’s hunting season saw the Japanese return home with 551 minke whales — almost 300 less than their planned quota, thanks to activists.

 

This year, Sea Shepherd’s campaign has been named “Operation Musashi” in reference to the legendary Japanese strategist Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), known as a great samurai warrior, strategist and tactician and a role model and hero to Captain Watson.

 

Musashi’s Book of Five Rings includes the approach of the Twofold Way of Pen and Sword. Sea Shepherd has thus adopted a campaign logo of the crossed feather pen and katana (sword) under the skull with the imbedded sperm whale and dolphin yin-yang symbol with a Banzai flag background, which gives reference to the ecological imperialism that the Japanese whalers are committing against the whales of the Southern Ocean.

 

The Japanese fleet, run by the so-called Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, set sail from the port of Innoshima, near Hiroshima, last week. The whalers plan to catch up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales but no humpbacks, Japanese fisheries officials said.

 

Rest assured that all the drama of this year’s high-seas animal activism will be played out on the new television series Whale Wars.

Captain Paul Watson and his fellow Sea Shepherd activists are preparing to depart Australia at the end of this month to obstruct Japanese whaling activities in the Antarctic Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary. Last summer, Japan sent coast guard officers down on its whaling ships. This year, Greenpeace believes the Japanese will be sending a coast guard ship to protect its whaling fleet.

 

“It was reported in a Japan fisheries magazine some weeks ago that the equivalent of $8 million has been allocated to the Japanese coast guard to protect the fleet,” said Steve Shallhorn, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia-Pacific. “So, we made the assumption that that amount of money will be used to send a vessel down there.”

 

That realization has apparently scared Greenpeace into cancelling previously announced plans to send a ship to oppose Japanese whaling efforts. This means that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will be alone in its high-seas opposition to illegal Japanese whaling operations when the whaling season opens in a month.

 

“They can send the entire Japanese Navy down to the Southern Ocean if they like, but Sea paulwatson1Shepherd and the crew of the Steve Irwin will not be intimidated by this kind of brutal military thuggery,” said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson. “When we say we put our lives on the line to defend the whales, we mean it. It’s not just a slogan for us. I have not seen a whale die since I left Greenpeace in 1977 and I have no intention of seeing a whale die this year. They don’t kill whales when we show up and they won’t kill whales when we arrive again this year. They will have to sink us first.”

 

Of Greenpeace’s announcement that it has changed its mind about participating, Captain Watson was equally blunt. “As a Greenpeace co-founder, I am deeply offended that Greenpeace has been raising millions of dollars in the name of defending whales all year and now two weeks before the Japanese whaling fleet is scheduled to depart, they announce they will not be going,” he said. “In my opinion they collected funds under false pretenses and now they have abandoned the whales. Shame on them.”

 

Captain Watson added that he intends to sink the Japanese fleet economically. “Our strategy is to … force the Japanese whalers to spend money on fuel without killing whales. We have been the cause of the Japanese whaling fleet losing profits for three years in a row. We intend to make it a fourth year.”

seashepherdSea Shepherd activists have rammed Japanese whaling ships, thrown butyric acid onto their decks and even climbed on board. Then last summer, someone aboard a Japanese whaling ship fired a shot at Captain Watson, hitting his bulletproof vest. The incident is highlighted on the new Animal Planet series Whale Wars.


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