Sea Shepherd: how we sank the Japanese whaling fleet

Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd
Paul Watson, captain of the Sea Shepherd. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd
In an exclusive interview, founder of Sea Shepherd, Captain Paul Watson, talks to Deborah Bassett about the end of Japanese whaling, seal hunting, the politics of extinction, and the 11th hour crisis facing the world's oceans

Deborah Bassett: You and your crew recently returned from your 7th anti-whaling campaign to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary - Operation No Compromise. This year you successfully drove the Japanese whaling fleet to abandon their hunting season over a month early and over 800 whales short of their annual quota. Does this defeat represent the end of Japanese whaling in he Southern Ocean? 
Captain Paul Watson: When the Japanese fleet ended their operation a month and a half early this year I felt that there was a 75 per cent chance they would not be returning. They know we can find them and they know that once we find them we can shut down their operations. They quit the field because they could not kill any whales and they could not shake us off their tail. Now in light of the Earthquake I am 99 per cent certain they will not return. Japan has other problems to deal with an subsidising an unpopular industry that annually incurs a large debt is certainly no longer a priority. However if they do return we will be ready to intercept them once again. Our commitment is to a whaling free Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

DB: Has there been one primary strategy that you have implemented over the past seven years?
CPW: Our strategy from the beginning was to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically, to bankrupt them. I think we have accomplished that.
DB: You were the youngest founding member of Greenpeace and have persevered in the direct action environmental movement for well over four decades. Is there one campaign or success story of which you are most proud?
CPW: There have been so many campaigns, so many voyages that I have lost count. And so many that were successful. I would have to say however that the hunting down and destruction of the pirate whaler Sierra in 1979 was my proudest moment. It was my first major confrontation that resulted in a total victory and I learned the experience of seeing a strategy fully implemented and carried out successfully.
DB: Some of your critics say that you are too radical and many have even use the word 'eco-terrorist'.  Japan even had you placed on the Interpol Blue List in 2010. What is your response to these types of accusations? 
CPW: They can either arrest me or shut the hell up. This charge of 'eco-terrorist' is nothing more than public relations rhetoric. I have never injured a single person nor have I ever been convicted of a felony nor have we ever been sued in civil court. Why? Because we target poachers. We intervene against criminal operations and we do so in accordance with the principles established by the United Nations World Charter for Nature.  
DB: That being said, you have taken on some of the world's strongest navies, braved some of the most treacherous oceans and weather conditions in the world, your vessels have been fired upon in international waters and you have put yourself directly in harms way to protect and defend marine life. Are there any personal philosophies or strategies that have helped you to remain so seemingly cool, calm and collected throughout it all?
CPW: I have an unexplainable belief that I will never cause harm or be harmed while at sea. Because of this I feel secure at sea, I feel secure in the ice, I feel secure in the storms and I feel secure in confrontations. The only thing to fear is fear itself. What will be, will be, outside of the careful preparation of strategies and tactics.
DB: As a Canadian and long time opponent of the annual seal hunt, what are your thoughts on the Canadian government's recent decision to open up trade with China for seal products? Is this a legitimate deal or just a desperate attempt to keep a dying industry alive?
CPW: I think it's desperation. The numbers being killed are far below the quota being set because the market has collapsed and despite the boasting by Canada that China is the new market, the sales remain stagnant. We have achieved what we set out to do and that was to knock out the market in Europe. I have chosen to withdraw so as to not let our continued opposition motivate the sealers to kill just to spite us. I believe the sealing industry is dying fast in Canada and there is no future in it. Now we need to focus our attention on that horror show of a seal hunt in Namibia.
DB: Last summer you tackled the Bluefin Tuna crisis during your Mediterranean campaign, Operation Blue Rage. Can you please explain your theory on the 'politics of extinction' in relation to this particular issue?

CPW: The only responsible fishing is conducted by traditional artisanal fishermen. Corporations on average simply look on it as short term investment for short term gain. Mitsubishi for example is stockpiling flash frozen tuna in huge refrigerated warehouses. They are building up supplies. If they can get a ten to fifteen year supply of Bluefin into their warehouse they will have an investment. The more Bluefin they can catch the more they will diminish the populations and diminishment translates into higher prices for the frozen commodity in the warehouses. If driven to extinction the stockpile becomes hugely valuable. This is already a $75,000 fish. It could become a million dollar fish once they are extinct and the only source will be the frozen carcasses in the warehouses. This is the best example of what I call the politics of extinction.   
DB: Studies show that over 90 per cent of sharks have already been removed from the world's oceans, primarily for shark fin soup. How important is the role of the shark in the overall health of the marine eco-system? Does Sea Shepherd have any campaigns in place to tackle this particular issue?
CPW: The shark is the apex predator in the sea. Sharks have molded evolution for 450 million years. All fish species that are prey to the sharks have had their behavior, their speed, their camouflage, their defense mechanisms molded by the shark. The shark is an essential predator in marine eco-systems. If removed the eco-systems will be greatly diminished. 

We need to take aggressive and decisive action now and that means moratoriums and no fishing zones and heavy penalties against poachers including the confiscation and destruction of their ships and boats. Shark finning must be outlawed globally and restaurants fined or shut down if they serve it. Drastic?  Not as drastic as a dead ocean.
Sea Shepherd is working in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Marine Reserve rangers and the Ecuadorian Federal Police to intercept and shut down poaching operations in the Galapagos. We are in partnership with the Republic of Palau to do the same thing. We are providing ships, volunteers and resources and this is a program we intend to expand. 

DB: You have often been quoted as stating, 'If the Oceans Die, We Die.' How critical is the current situation facing the world's oceans? What can the average person do to combat their impact to help ensure a healthy living ocean for future generations?
CPW: We need to stop fishing. The Polynesians used to have a system where they proclaimed a fishing area as 'taboo.' If any fisherman was caught fishing in a taboo area they would be killed. The Polynesians understand that the fish had to be given a chance to recover. The Mediterranean, the Grand Banks, the Southern Ocean, Georges Banks, Dogger Banks etc should be declared taboo for fifty years. All areas should be shut down for decades to allow recovery. The greatest fishery in the world was the Newfoundland cod fishery. It was destroyed by greed from Canadian and foreign fishing fleets and now they blame the seals.
A fish is more valuable swimming in the sea maintaining the integrity of oceanic eco-systems than it is on anyone's plate. If the fish are diminished, the sea is diminished. If the fish die, the oceans die and if the ocean die - humanity dies!
DB: Do you feel that your number one hit tv series on Animal Planet, Whale Wars, has positively effected your mission in the mainstream?
CPW: We live in a media culture. Media defines reality. We have no choice but to strive to make media work for this cause. The exposure gives us credibility and credibility gives us the power to intervene.
DB: What is your hope for the future?

CPW: I want to work in partnerships with governments in island nations to protect their territorial waters from being plundered by poachers. I want to see whaling and sealing abolished. I want to see humanity live within the boundaries of the laws of ecology and I would love to see humanity adapt a biocentric worldview that recognises the value and absolute importance of diversity, interdependence and finite growth.

Season four of Whale Wars begins in June on Animal Planet. For more information, please visit:


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