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April/May 2007
Who’re You Calling Pirate?
The Satya Interview with Captain Paul Watson


Captain Paul Watson.
Courtesy of

While he used to write jokes for Reader’s Digest and is known to belt out Broadway musical tunes, Captain Paul Watson is dead serious about stopping the exploitation of the ocean’s wildlife and ecosystems and regularly puts his life on the line to protect them. Captain Watson’s healthy sense of humor and inventive tactics have helped expose some of the most serious animal abusers, including illegal Japanese whalers and Canadian baby seal hunters. Yet, as a founding member of Greenpeace, Watson’s methods were considered controversial by some, and in 1977 he established the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Just before this past Christmas, two Sea Shepherd ships, the Farley Mowat and the speedy new Robert Hunter, left Australia in pursuit of a fleet of illegal Japanese whalers. The whalers were intending to kill nearly 1,000 whales for “research” purposes in the waters of the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary, where baleen whales spend the summer months feeding. On February 9th, after weeks of searching the Antarctic waters, the Sea Shepherd ships located the whalers. For several days activists utilized tactics to prevent the whalers from killing any more whales, including harassing the Nisshin Maru, the 8,000-ton processing ship, what Watson calls the “cetacean death star,” by dumping non-toxic, foul-smelling butyric acid on its flensing decks and nailing metal plates over its drainage pipes to disrupt the whale processing.

Days after the Sea Shepherd ships departed, a fire broke out on the Nisshin Maru, killing one crew member and bringing their illegal whaling activities to an abrupt halt. Catherine Clyne caught up with Captain Paul Watson via e-mail to ask him about his efforts to protect marine life on the high seas.

As of today (February 16), roughly how many whales have the Japanese whalers killed so far?
They have taken about 400 of the 960 minkes and ten fin whales targeted. They will not take any more whales this season due to the fire, which has devastated the Japanese factory ship, Nisshin Maru.

Most people believe whaling was banned in the '70s. What happened?
It never ended. Despite the global moratorium on commercial whaling established in 1986, some 18,000 whales have been killed illegally by Japan and another 6,000 by Norway.

Why are the Japanese killing whales and how are they allowed to do it?
Although they claim the killing is done for research, they sell the meat on the market in Japan. There is a lack of political will to enforce the laws against an economic superpower like Japan.

Aren’t the whalers operating in a sanctuary in Australian waters? Isn’t Japan violating international or Australian laws?
Yes, endangered whales are being slaughtered in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary and in the Australian Antarctic Territory. Australia seizes toothfish poaching vessels from the same waters they tolerate whaling in. The message they are sending is that poor Third World nations will be prohibited from illegal fishing, but a wealthy nation like Japan can do whatever it wants.

What’s the deal with the de-registration of Sea Shepherd ships by different countries?
Japan has been requesting countries where we have been registered to remove our flags. Canada took away our registration on the Farley Mowat, citing the word none as the reason for de-registration. We registered in Belize on December 19, 2006 and Belize struck the ship from the registry on a Japanese request ten days later. Great Britain said that the Robert Hunter would be struck because of a Japanese request. Our opposition is the Japanese government and they have unlimited resources and political and diplomatic power.

Without registration, Sea Shepherd boats are vulnerable. What would you do if the whalers tried to board your ship?
We would have repelled them with our pie filling cannons. Chocolate, lemon and cream pie filling. Most likely it is vegan—it is USDA surplus and is primarily chemical. I would certainly not eat the stuff.

You position Sea Shepherd as law enforcement for the ocean’s animals. Can you tell us about that?
We are not a protest group. I set Sea Shepherd up to intervene against illegal activities that exploit wildlife and ecosystems. We are empowered to intervene by the implementation clauses of the UN World Charter for Nature that allows nongovernmental organizations to uphold international conservation law.

Sea Shepherd offers cash rewards for information on certain ocean animal abusers. What’s that about?
As an organization that upholds international conservation law we utilize rewards as a means of shutting down illegal activities. Informants can be the key to stopping illegal operations.

How is it that you are portrayed as the pirates?
The media loves terms like pirates and eco-terrorists. In reality we are neither.

The Canadian court just handed down a fine to you for being “too close” to the seal hunt. What’s up with that?
Under the Orwellian Canadian seal protection regulations, it is a crime in Canada to witness or document the killing of a seal without permission from the Minister of Fisheries.

Like whaling, most people believe the baby seal hunt was outlawed years ago. What happened?
It never ended. The kill quota was reduced to 60,000 a year between 1984 and 1994 but has escalated dramatically over the last 12 years. It was never outlawed. The European market was ended in 1984 [with the ban of products], but Canada has developed new markets in Asia.

Can you tell us about the vegan ethic aboard the Sea Shepherd ships?
The Sea Shepherd ships are run as vegan vessels. We believe in setting a good example, and veganism is good for the environment. Last year when our crew visited the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, in Cape Town they were shocked to see Greenpeacers serving platters of fish during their campaign to reduce fishing off the coast of Africa.

It is difficult for people to see the connections between what they consume and the destruction of the environment. People choose to see what they want to see. We do not restrict our meals to vegan dishes because of animal rights, we do so because we are conservationists and environmentalists.

What gives you hope when the fate of the oceans seems so dire?
We do what we do with the resources available to us. I do not have hope nor have I given up hope. I do what I can and do not allow myself to be depressed by hominid arrogance and ignorance. We concentrate on saving lives where, when and how we can.

To learn more about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and support their work, visit


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