Captain Paul Watson is a modern day pirate. He and his crew are at the forefront of stopping whaling and preserving our sea life. Musician Dallas Frasca, a fierce Sea Shephard advocate had a chat with Paul about his life and what it means to be on the front line.
Dallas Frasca: What drew you to activism?
Captain Paul Watson: I began by rescuing beavers from leg hold traps in my native Canadian province of New Brunswick. I would free the animals and destroy the traps. When I was 18 I became the youngest founding member of Greenpeace in 1969 and I left Greenpeace in 1977 to establish the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
DF: What does the Sea Shepherd stand for?
CPW: I set up the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to intervene against illegal activities exploiting marine wildlife. We are not a protest organization. We are an anti-poaching organization. We physically intervene to shut down illegal activities by utilizing what I call aggressive non-violence meaning we do not harm people but we will destroy—if need be— property that is used to kill marine animals. Since we were established in 1977 we have not caused a single injury to any person. The name Sea Shepherd implies that we are protectors of life in the sea.
DF: How did the Sea Shepherd begin?
CPW: After leaving Greenpeace in 1977, I spent 6 months working with East African rangers to stop elephant poaching. I decided after that to focus on poaching and because of my nautical background I decided to focus on marine issues. Sea Shepherd began by securing our first ship in 1978 thanks to the financial support of the U.S.-based Fund for Animals and the U.K.-based Royal Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
DF: When the first Sea Shepherd was purchased in 1978, was the vision still the same as it is today?
CPW: Our mission today is the same as it was in 1978 and that is to intervene against illegal activities exploiting marine wildlife.
DF: What are some of Sea Shepherd’s achievements?
CPW: Since 1987 we have conducted hundreds of voyages to defend whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, turtles, fish, sea-birds, plankton even sea cucumbers. We have sunk whaling ships and shut down illegal whaling operations and illegal sealing and dolphin killing operations, we have obstructed illegal fishing operations, rescued animals from oil spills in Alaska, Brazil, France, Germany, and the Galapagos. We have forged a partnership with the Galapagos Park rangers and we have shut down a good percentage of the whaling operations by Japan in the Southern Ocean.
DF: Can you tell us about the current campaign?
CPW: Operation Divine Wind is our 8th campaign to the Southern Ocean to defend the endangered and protected whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary being targeted by the Japanese whalers in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling.
DF: What sort of research does the Japanese claim they hunt whales for?
CPW: They have been very vague. They have not published any international peer-reviewed scientific papers in two decades. Personally I think they are doing marketing and product development research.
DF: What do you think the real reason is that the Japanese hunt for?
CPW: It was for profit but we have negated their profits for the last four years. Now it is heavily subsidized and it is almost like they continue to kill whales because they don’t want Australia or anyone else dictating to them what they should do.
DF: The Gillard government has maintained its hardline public opposition to Japanese whaling, what is the Australian government doing about this issue?
CPW: Essentially nothing. They made promises to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean but all they have done is to file a suit in the World Court which will take years. They did not seek an injunction and they have refused to monitor Japanese activities. They have also been quite hostile to Sea Shepherd’s activities. Senator Bob Brown however has been the most outspoken advocates for the whales. Unfortunately the Greens are not in power.
DF: Diplomacy seems to have failed, what will be some of your tactics on intervention with the Japanese whalers in the Southern Oceans?
CPW: The easiest thing to do to stop them is to block the stern slipway of the factory ship. If they can’t load dead whales they can’t kill whales. We also pursue them for thousands of miles, keeping them on the run. Last year they only took 17% of their kill quota.
DF: Why do you think some countries don’t recognize their duty to protect the oceans?
CPW: There is a lack of economic and political motivation to defend life in the oceans. The profit is made by companies exploiting the oceans and they have the money to buy the politicians who make the laws.
DF: Are we running out of time?
CPW: My position is this. If we can’t protect sanctuaries, if we can’t save the whales, the sharks, the fish, our oceans will die. And if our oceans die, we die. We cannot live on this planet with a dead ocean. It is as simple as that.
DF: You have some incredible supporters around the world from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Rick Rubin. I recently played a show with Andrew DF: Stockdale (Wolfmother) in Byron Bay in Australia to raise money for the SS. What do you think the connection is between music and activism?
CPW: Musicians have the power to influence people and along with movie makers, they can reach and influence more people than any group of people, more than scientists and certainly more than politicians. We live in a media culture and whoever controls and influences and uses media the best has the power for change. It’s funny but when young people say to me “what can I study to be a force for change, should I study law or biology or business?” My answer is music, drama, journalism, communications. Be a voice for the future and a voice for the planet. Musicians have made incredible contributions to the conservation and environmental movement and continue to do so, more than ever.
DF: Will the Sea Shepherd legacy be here forever?
CPW: I can’t say and it is unimportant. What is important is that we cultivate the idea that change comes through the passion, the imagination, the courage, the dedication and the compassion of individuals each applying their skills and talents, experience and ideas towards the goal of making this a better world for all the citizens of the Earth, human and non-human.
DF: What is your ideal scenario for fishing to have a sustainable future?
CPW: There is no sustainable future for fisheries as long as human populations continue to increase. Forty percent of all the fish caught is fed to domestic animals – pigs, chickens, mink, fox, and salmon. We are literally eating the oceans alive and there are simply not enough fish to continue to feed an ever expanding population of humanity.
DF: Are there signs of marine comeback due to the Sea Shepherd’s efforts?
CPW: I would like to say yes but the reality is no. It’s one step forward and two steps backward. But I have hope and we are buying time and space for as long as we can with the resources available to us to do what we can. I have hope that humanity will be cured of our collective ecological insanity and that we adapt to living within the boundaries of the laws of ecology.
DF: How can we help as individuals?
CPW: Captain Paul Watson: People can contact us at www.Seashepherd.org There are three ways to help. People can volunteer to crew the ships or they can be volunteer shore crew. And people can be supporting members. We are only as strong as the support we receive.
DF: Future plans?
CPW: We may have to return for a 9th year to the Southern Ocean. If so we will bring a fourth vessel with us. We need a 2nd scout vessel. I am confident that if we secure another scout vessel we will be able to shut them down 100% if they return next year. We also have plans for a campaign this summer in the Southern Ocean to defend sharks from poachers.
All Images Courtesy and Copyright Barbara Veiga
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