by Deborah Bassett
I first met Captain Paul Watson back in 1998 when he was a guest speaker at my university in Montreal, Quebec. As one of the original founding members of Greenpeace, I was interested in learning about what he had to say about the current state of the environmental movement. At the time I was very active in student activism and the buzz around campus was that this guy was the “real mccoy.” I remember his talk both fondly and vividly. At the time Sea Shepherd was up against the reinstatement of bogus “traditional” whaling by the Makah tribe off the coast of Northwest United States, which he and his crew successfully shut down. What struck me to the core that day is when a student asked, “what will you do if they resume whaling?” to which, fellow Canadian, Paul Watson responded, “My crew and I will be there to stop them again and again.”
As a young activist concerned specifically with endangered species from very early on in life, I was inspired by Paul Watson’s depth of resilience and conviction and the direct action approach that he and his crew have embraced from the very start of Sea Shepherd. Paul left Greenpeace, in 1977, an organization he once referred to as the “Avon ladies of the environmental movement,” in order to form an organization that was less about fundraising and making friends. One that was more about taking direct action on the high seas to defend wildlife and uphold maritime conservation laws and treaties. Sadly, this is an obligation that the governments of the world fail to uphold time and time again.
Several years would pass before I found myself in California as the Director of Channel G, a media based nonprofit organization, which created short format documentaries for nonprofit organizations to use for promotional purposes. Low and behold, Sea Shepherd was one of our projects and we assisted in documenting their Canadian Seal Hunt and Antarctic Whale Defense campaigns. Upon reviewing the footage over an over I became deeply impassioned by the work being carried out by Captain Paul Watson and his crew. I knew intuitively that there was a deeper calling to become involved.
After attending the Sea Shepherd’s 30th anniversary in Santa Monica in 2007, I learned of the Taiji dolphin slaughter that brutally claims over 25,000 lives annually off the coastal waters of Japan. During that time a pro surfer by the name of David Rastovish was planning a covert mission to what is now known as the infamous “Cove” in Taiji, Japan. David and his group, Surfers for Cetaceans, were assembling a hi-profile team of celebrities, pro-surfers and media crew to partake in a daring paddle out into the bloody waters of the cove to bring an international spotlight on the horrendous atrocities that take place there every year. As an avid surfer, freelance journalist and overall ocean lover, based in Hawaii at the time, I knew that I needed to be on board – both literally and figuratively speaking. Within a matter of one week, I found myself on a plane bound for Japan along with actresses, Hayden Panitiere and Isabel Lucas to take part in the surfing ceremony demonstration. Our actions in Taiji were highly successful at raising awareness about the dolphin slaughters and would later become a scene in the Academy Award winning film, The Cove.
Upon returning to the U.S., I met with Captain Paul Watson and quickly became his executive assistant. I traveled with him around the globe and learned about the current state and critical despair of the world’s oceans. During this time the TV series Whale Wars, which documents the annual Sea Shepherd campaign to the southern ocean whale sanctuary to defend our largest clients of the sea against illegal whaling by the Japanese government, was taking off in the U.S. and abroad. Every year, Japan illegally hunts 1,000 whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary under the false guise of scientific research as allowed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Sea Shepherd continues to defend the sanctuary year after year and 2013 will mark the 10th consecutive voyage to the dangerous southern oceans. As documented in five successful seasons of Whale Wars, each year the Japanese whaling fleet has become increasing more aggressive towards us. In 2010 they effectively rammed and sliced our vessel, The Ady Gil, in half – severely endangering the lives of several of our crew members. In our 35-year plus history, we remain proud of our record of never injuring a single human life. Respect for ALL life lies at the core of the Sea Shepherd mission and in fact it is what motivates us to keep up the ‘good fight’ even when the going gets tough, which it often does.
Aside from tirelessly defending whales in Antarctica, Sea Shepherd has been actively engaged throughout the years in campaigns to shut down the Canadian and Namibian seal hunts, Faroese pilot whale slaughter, Blue Fin Tuna poaching in The Mediterranean, dolphin slaughters in Japan, shark finning worldwide and most recently, wildlife trafficking for the global aquarium trade. We rely heavily upon our international network of passionate and dedicated volunteers to carry out our initiatives. The majority of our funds go directly to these direct action campaigns, earning us Charity Navigator recognition and prestigious environmental awards year after year. In short, we put our money where our mouth is and remain one of the sole interventionists organizations in the world.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to serve as Quartermaster on board our flagship vessel the Steve Irwin. After a 35-day voyage from western Australia to southern France for our annual Blue Fin Tuna campaign, Operation Blue Rage, I had the opportunity to take part in the Faroe Island Pilot Whale Defense Campaign. Located between Scotland and Iceland, The Faroe Islands – a protectorate of Denmark, is one of the last remaining whaling nations on the planet, joined only by Norway, Japan and Iceland. In a gruesome “traditional ceremony,” referred to as “The Grind” The Faroese barbarically bludgeon as many pilot whales as they deem fit by corralling entire pods of these highly intelligent and socially complex beings into shallow local bays in order to annihilate every last member of the family by gashing their spinal chords with traditional knives and tools.
While the Faroese claim that the methods by which they kill the pilot whales is humane and takes less than 2 minutes, our evidence indicates that this is a brutal bloodbath that often takes well over 30 minutes for the whales to die a painful death. In 2009, Captain Peter Hammarstedt, a long time Sea team of fin-sniffing patrol dogs, and legal support for prosecution. Operation Requiem proved that similar conservation efforts can effectively be carried out in the South Pacific.
With crew members from 10 different nations: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Fiji, Germany, India, South Africa, Spain, US and UK, we visited five nations – Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Kiribati and achieved several major successes along the way.
Throughout these island nations, our team led educational visits to remote villages in order to speak to school children and local leaders about the need to protect the oceans and sharks populations, rallied local NGO and governmental support for shark sanctuaries, built collaborative relationships with educators and government officials, and conducted maritime law enforcement by patrolling the waters of one of the South Pacific’s largest marine reserves with our high speed interceptor vessel, The Brigitte Bardot. The campaign also included a monumental partnership with The Pacific Voyagers Foundation through an innovative cultural exchange that allowed for crew members from Fiji and Vanuatu to participate in the multi-faceted campaign. The campaign reached thousands of local citizens in remote areas with the hard facts about the current crisis facing shark populations and the critical need for conservation efforts in their regions. Shepherd veteran crew member, captured undercover footage of a gruesome grind that claimed more than 200 lives over the course of several grueling hours. While on patrol in the Faroe Island with our vessels, The Steve Irwin and Brigitte Bardot, named after long time supporter and animal right activist, we successfully ensured that no pilot whales were killed on our watch that summer. The campaign, Operation Ferocious Isles, was documented in a 5 part series for Animal Planet titled, Whale Wars: Viking Shores.
During the summer of 2012, Sea Shepherd embarked upon its maiden campaign to protect sharks throughout the South Pacific: Operation Requiem. Approximately 90% of the world’s shark populations have already decimated globally and the shark finning industry claims close to 100 million sharks annually for the insatiable demand for shark fin soup, which is primarily served in Asian countries as a delicacy and status symbol. Sea Shepherd has worked with many governments around the world to protect global shark populations. Such as the long history of successful collaboration with the government of Ecuador in the Galapagos Islands, in which Sea Shepherd has contributed more than one million Euros towards the acquisition of a patrol boat, the installation of vessel identification systems, training, enforcement, a In 2012 Captain Paul Watson was arrested while transiting through Germany on a warrant issued over a decade prior by the Costa Rican government, which called for his extradition to Costa Rica.
Influenced by the Japanese Government, the politically motivated arrest was based on allegations of violating “ships’ traffic” after a clash in 2002 between the fishermen who were illegally poaching sharks in a marine sanctuary and the Sea Shepherd’s ship Ocean Warrior. Watson received permission from the Guatemalan government before apprehending the illegal shark-finning vessel off the coast of Guatemala as thoroughly documented in the award-winning 2007 film Sharkwater.
The film brought worldwide media attention to the heinous reality of the corrupt and brutal shark finning industry.
The film brought worldwide media attention to the heinous reality of the corrupt and brutal shark finning industry and clearly indicates that Captain Watson was acting in accordance with maritime conservation law. In the event that Captain Watson was extradited to Costa Rica, he would inevitably not have received fair trial, nor would his safety have been guaranteed. Between the illegal activities of the Japanese whaling industry and the notorious shark finning mafia in Costa Rica, Captain Watson has made several dangerous enemies throughout his career as a marine time captain and founder of a direct action marine conservation group. His enemies seek to stop his highly successful efforts to uphold global conservation laws and defend marine life.
Due to the heightened political pressure from the Japanese government including a listing on the Interpol Red List, Paul Watson recently resigned as President of The Sea Shepherd Conservation society and currently remains at sea. In a recent ruling, the Ninth Circuit were called Sea Shepherd “pirates,” but it is indeed the whaling poachers who are the real pirates.
At a press conference at the National Press Club in 2013, Environmental Attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. echoed that sentiment about Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) — a government-subsidized front for commercial whaling. He stated,
“The Institute of Cetacean Research, which is an arm of the Japanese government, is really a pirate organization masquerading as a scientific research group. If you are violating international law on the high seas, you are a pirate.” Added Kennedy, “And we have in our country a long and proud history of battling piracy on the high seas, beginning in 1805 when Thomas Jefferson sent the marines to Tripoli to subdue the Barbary Pirates. And we ought to be, not trying to impede Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd, but we should be issuing him letters of marquee in order to support and recognize the important value of his activities to our country and to the world community in battling a pirate organization that is in violation of international laws. He is performing a profound public service for all of us and instead of recognizing him, the U.S. government, various agencies of the U.S. government, have attempted to impede him.”
While Watson’s impressive track record at shutting down ocean plundering eco-terrorists has indeed made him unpopular amongst said thugs and thieves, it has also gained him the support of numerous influential individuals including Hollywood icons and political elite such as Martin Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Pierce Brosnan, Bob Barker, Sean Penn, Kelly Slater, Anthony Kiedis, Sean Connery, Steven Tyler, Richard Dean Andersen, Alicia Silverstone, Alyssa Milano, Isabel Lucas, Sam Simon, John Paul Dejoria, Doug Tompkins, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Kennedy Jr. and even his holiness, The Dalai Lama – to name just a few. Now more than ever Sea Shepherd needs international support from concerned citizens. To learn more about the organization and receive current news and updates, please visit: www.seashepherd.org.