A few days ago DSN received a letter from one of our fans,
To whom it may concern,
After reviewing your comments concerning the Sea Shepard, it is quite apparent that you do not appose the killing of whales by the Japanese!! It is also apparent that you support such actions by these savages!! The efforts that the crew of the Sea Shepard have put into such a mission, I’m sure is more then any of you have accomplished in a lifetime. It’s to bad there are poeple like you who only bring negativity through the media. Their couragous fight will continue!!!!
With Much regret,
D.L. [full name removed]
Animal and Marine Advocate
We always appreciate our readers emailing us and expressing their opinions. Ad hominem attacks not so much. There is no doubt that our Sea Shepherd post has energized a certain contingent. What continues to bother me is that people believe certain that topics or institutions are above critical examination. You cannot critique religion or church, United States government, conservation organizations, nonprofits, and many others. To do such is to be labeled antireligious, unamerican, a commie pinko bastard or, as purported by D.L., a person supporting whaling by the Japanese. But a firm commitment to any cause, including conservation, is a consistent reexamination to ensure that goals are being met. T0 proceed in an ineffective manner that wastes time and funds, or is even detrimental to the cause, does a disservice to stakeholders, donors, and those dedicated to the particular mission at hand.
To not regularly reexamine an organization’s actions means you deteriorate the very cause you are working for. Sea Shepherd consistently dodges criticisms and point to anecdotes that favor its positions without providing evidence that can be corroborated by an uninvolved party. Currently, there is more support for whale conservation than ever among the public. You would be hard pressed to find someone who says “Let’s kill the whales!” A thoughtful and strategic plan that capitalizes on this growing public support is likely to make great advancements. Yet Sea Shepherd has adopted an ecoterrorism approach instead of environmentalism, polarizing the public much the same way PETA and the Animal Liberation Front do. A peer-reviewed, academic paper written by experts on global terrorism trends and Sea Shepherd found it difficult to classify the organization
“… we also note that on the one hand, it may be possible to argue that in some respects the Sea Shepherds may constitute either a “blind spot” in the literature on terrorism and political violence, because its actions could in some circumstances be considered activism, militant direct action, piracy, vigilantism, terrorism, or eco-defense, which makes it very difficult to classify. On the other hand, that both the Sea Shepherds and the whalers may both engage in illegal activities, but are not prosecuted, may indicate that states and the international community may have neither the will nor the means to enforce laws against them. Therefore, they may be turning a blind eye to their actions.”
The authors concluded that
“Despite the ambiguity surrounding their legal status and academic interpretations of their actions, the results of nearly three decades of the organization’s activities, including its 2007 campaign to disrupt Japanese Antarctic Whaling, suggest that the Sea Shepherds may be best categorized as a vigilante group, because they claim they are seeking to enforce a legal status quo because of states’ and the international community’s inabilities or unwillingness to do so.”
If we look at the United Nations Convention on the High Seas (Article 101) and the Convention on the Law of the Sea the definition of piracy is
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of the ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft.
Sea Shepherd are pirates (and characterize themselves as such), and many countries (Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Belize, United States) now have revoked registry for the group. Sea Shepherd cannot fly several countries’ flags in disregard of maritime law.
Paul Watson became active with Greenpeace in 1971 as a member of our second expedition against nuclear weapons testing in Amchitka, and went on to participate in actions against whaling and the killing of harp seals. He was an influential early member but not, as he sometimes claims, a founder. He was expelled from the leadership of Greenpeace in 1977 by a vote of 11 to one (only Watson himself voted against it). Bob Hunter (one of Greenpeace’s early leaders, after whom a Sea Shepherd vessel was named) described the event in his book, the Greenpeace Chronicles:
‘No one doubted his [Watson's] courage for a moment. He was a great warrior brother. Yet in terms of the Greenpeace gestalt, he seemed possessed by too powerful a drive, too unrelenting a desire to push himself front and center, shouldering everyone else aside… He had consistently gone around to other offices, acting out the role of mutineer. Everywhere he went, he created divisiveness… We all felt we’d got trapped in a web no one wanted to see develop, yet now that it had, there was nothing to do but bring down the axe, even if it meant bringing it down on the neck of our brother.”
Watson founded his own group, Sea Shepherd, in 1977.
- in 1986, Sea Shepherd carried out an action against the Icelandic whaling station in Hvalfjoerdur and sank two Icelandic whaling vessels in Reykjavik harbor by opening their sea valves;
- in December 1992, Sea Shepherd sank the vessel Nybroena in port;
- Sea Shepherd claimed to have sank the Taiwanese drift net ship Jiang Hai in port in Taiwan and to have rammed and disabled four other Asian drift net ships;
- a Canadian court ordered Watson and his former ship, the Cleveland Armory, to pay a total of $35,000 for ramming a Cuban fishing vessel off the coast of Newfoundland in June 1993;
- in January 1994 the group severely damaged the whaling ship Senet in the Norwegian port of Gressvik.
Each of the whaling ships noted above was refloated and refitted for continued whaling…Although Paul Watson is a vehement anti-whaling activist, he regularly lends his support to attacks on Greenpeace — some of them organized by the whalers themselves. …We passionately want to stop whaling, and will do so peacefully. That’s why we won’t help Sea Shepherd. Greenpeace is committed to non-violence and we’ll never, ever, change that; not for anything. If we helped Sea Shepherd to find the whaling fleet we’d be responsible for anything they did having got that information, and history shows that they’ve used violence in the past, in the most dangerous seas on Earth. For us, non-violence is a non-negotiable, precious principle. Greenpeace will continue to act to defend the whales, but will never attack or endanger the whalers.We differ with Paul Watson on what constitutes violence. He states that nobody has ever been harmed by a Sea Shepherd action. But the test of non-violence is the nature of your action, not whether harm results or not. There are many acts of violence — for example, holding a gun to someone’s head — which result in no harm. That doesn’t change their nature. We believe that throwing butryic acid at the whalers, dropping cables to foul their props, and threatening to ram them in the freezing waters of the Antarctic constitutes violence because of the potential consequences. The fact that the consequences have not been realized is irrelevant. In addition to being morally wrong, we believe the use of violence in protection of whales to be a tactical error. If there’s one way to harden Japanese public opinion and ensure whaling continues, it’s to use violent tactics against their fleet. It’s wrong because it puts human lives at risk, and it’s wrong because it makes the whalers stronger in Japan…Disabling a ship at sea in the Antarctic, regardless of how much one may object to its activities, is not only a callous act of disregard for human life — it’s courting an environmental disaster in one of the most fragile environments in the world. (see article at GreenPeace for information on footnotes, especially )
From a New York Times article
In “Earthforce!,” Watson advises readers to make up facts and figures when they need to, and to deliver them to reporters confidently, “as Ronald Reagan did.” Several years after ramming the Sierra, Watson gave himself the title of captain, though he does not have a captain’s license. “He loves to dress up in uniform, as ‘Captain Paul Watson,’ and suddenly there’s enough gold braid on his shoulders to skipper the Queen Mary,” David Sellers, an old friend and former Sea Shepherd crew member, told me. In the eighties, Sellers and Watson fought so bitterly over the seaworthiness of Watson’s ship that they did not speak for fifteen years. (Sellers, a licensed captain, had insisted that it was not safe for ocean travel.) Many of Watson’s colleagues from the seventies and eighties no longer work with him; they have grown tired either of the campaigns or of Watson’s style of leadership—“anarchy run by God,” a longtime volunteer called it. “He doesn’t like people who disagree with him.”
Watson’s brand of truthiness is often criticized by other conservation organizations and conservationists. Even among organizations who have similar end goals, they are deemed as destructive to the overall cause of conservation. Yet those opposing Watson’s acts, people often very committed to the ultimate cause, are demonized by the organization’s supporters. The general public is often turned off by the extremism. Reducing your support, dividing your base, making enemies of your compatriots, and relying on blind faith is not effective conservation.
Whether we here at DSN have accomplished anything for marine conservation through our writings, research, volunteering, support of effective organizations like MCBI, Oceana, or CORAL, is for our readers to decide. We may not be experts in how to accomplish conservation, but we are certainly knowledgeable enough to understand how to not achieve said goals.
Nagtzaam, G., & Lentini, P. (2008). Vigilantes on the High Seas?: The Sea Shepherds and Political Violence Terrorism and Political Violence, 20 (1), 110-133 DOI: 10.1080/09546550701723658
-Signed Dr. M and Kevin Z