In the whale wars, the good guys wear black and fly the skull and crossbones
"In the whale wars, Sea Shepherd crew are passionate pirates of compassion in pursuit of greedy pirates of ecological destruction doing what governments have not got the political, economic or moral will to do - upholding the law." says Captain Paul Watson, from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In this article he speaks on piracy, whaling, rotten butter bombs, being shot, and the true heroism of his crew in challenging the whalers in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary while Governments continue to refuse to uphold the international conservation regulations that they are signatory to.
A sailor in the United States Navy in the Pacific during World War Two once described his war experience as long days of tedious boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
On board the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin it's also long days of routine interspersed with moments of high excitement and anxiety.
The vastness of these waters is daunting. Chasing after the Japanese fleet involves days of running, trying to catch up to where our helicopter last spotted them. It involves dodging icebergs and more difficult and more dangerous, it involves navigating through unpredictable patches of floe ice. There are large chunks of ice bobbing at the surface called growlers that are difficult to see, especially in fog. These growlers are like mines and to strike one at the wrong angle at the wrong time going at a fast rate of speed could be disastrous. Already this year one of the tourists ships cruising in Antarctic waters was holed by a growler and the passengers had to be rescued.
And if the ship sinks, rescue is days away and even with full immersion suits, the frigid waters of this region would suck the life out of you like a dry sponge sucking up water.
This is a dangerous place. We have no illusions about that. When politicians like Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett make statements about how dangerous these waters are, he is implying that we should do nothing because of the possibility of disaster.
The difference between us and Mr. Garrett is that danger is just a word to him. It is an unknown reality that he rarely comes into contact with in Canberra. He wants us to save the whales without doing anything dangerous, without taking risks and without controversy.
Down here in these remote waters, we see things from a far different perspective. Danger, that is real danger, is all around us. We are well aware of the fragility of the hull of our ship relevant to the harsh hardness of ice and the savage ferocity of polar storms. We are also well aware of the fragility of our own bodies should we be forced to abandon ship into that frigid inky blackness from which survival rests on miracles alone.
We are also well aware that we deal with a ruthless and cruel enemy whose very reason for being here is to inflict agonizing suffering and to deliver cruel death to gentle, sensitive, intelligent and socially complex sentient beings. This is an enemy that retaliates with bullets and concussion grenades. An enemy that churns out a steady stream of rhetoric, condemning those who protect life as "terrorists" while defending their murderous activities under the guise of "research".
What Mr. Garrett does not understand nor appreciate is that there are some things worth taking risks for, some things worth risking all for, and even dying for.
I believe that upholding international conservation law protecting endangered species is worth putting my ship, my crew and myself into harm's way. We are not down here fighting for oil wells or real estate, for religion or for money. We are down here defending the future heritage of humanity from the forces of greed and corruption.
Try as they might to dress us in the cloak of villains and criminals, the world is not fooled. They see dedicated men and women from a dozen nations, volunteering to risk the elements, to risk all to protect and save the lives of whales. To place oneself in harm's way to protect another is the definition of heroism and to do so for another species is to add selflessness to that virtue and the men and women who serve on this ship under my command are all here for one very common reason and that is compassion. They are all true heroes.
Our opposition on the other hand is down here because they are paid to be here. They are hired mercenary thugs who travel here with one purpose and that is to deliver a cruel death to some one thousand defenceless whales each year.
They cry foul when we throw stinking rotten butter onto their decks and accuse us of terrorism for blocking their ships yet they spill thousands of steaming gallons of the hottest blood on earth into the cold dark waters of the Southern Ocean.
In five years of confrontations we have never injured a single whaler in these waters and in over three decades of campaigns around the world we have never caused a single injury to a single person we have opposed. We are so dedicated to non-violence that not one animal has suffered or died to feed the Sea Shepherd crew on the Steve Irwin.
Yet in the bizarre world of public relations where black can be marketed as white for the right price, the propaganda spin literally makes the public dizzy with confusion. Our rotten butter bombs become "acid" giving the impression that we are throwing sulphuric acid into the face of the whalers. The reality of course is that many of the things we eat are technically acid and butter is butyric acid as orange juice is citric acid. What is lost in the "acid throwing" spin is the fact that beer is more acidic that rotten butter.
Our attacks on the whalers employ foul smelling, slippery substances that are all non-toxic, non-allergic, organic and biodegradable.
The other charge the whalers are constantly making is that Sea Shepherd crew are criminals. This is the most absurd charge of all. What we have is a whaling fleet targeting endangered whales in an established international whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling and in contempt of an Australian Federal Court ruling specifically prohibiting whaling in Australian territorial waters.
They are in violation of the regulations of the International Whaling Commission, (IWC) the Antarctic Treaty, and the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). And they are in violation of Australian law for violating a court order.
They have not been able to cite one law that Sea Shepherd has violated other than their continued rhetorical allegations that we are criminals. If in fact we have committed a criminal act then the logical question is; why have we not been charged with a crime during the five years we have been opposing their illegal activities?
The reason the whalers have not been charged is simply because they have the money and the power to circumvent the law and to bully other countries into not opposing them.
So for eight years and five campaigns Sea Shepherd has disrupted illegal Japanese whaling activities in the Southern Ocean and during that entire time we have not caused a single injury nor have we been charged with a crime.
The facts speak for themselves and our record in undeniable.
In response to my being shot last year, the Japanese deny that there were any shots fired despite the fact that it was reported by Reuters that Japan had informed Australia that shots were fired. They accused me of fabricating the shooting and they accused Animal Planet of scripting it.
If it was fabricated then it was a feat of magic worthy of David Copperfield because the bullet hole in my suit was not there and then it was. I never left the bridge and was interviewed just prior to the shooting with my badge, my vest, my mustang suit and sweater intact. And then without ever going off camera, a bullet is removed from my Kevlar vest and the doctor examines my chest to witness the bruising. We have no such gun onboard the ship as Australian Customs is well aware. And the problem was that there was no law enforcement agency, in Australia or otherwise willing to do a forensic examination of the bullet, badge and vest. Such an examination would have helped to clear up the mystery but science was rejected in favour of political posturing and unsubstantiated allegations.
To underscore the refusal by the authorities to properly investigate the shooting, I jokingly presented the bullet and the badge to William Peterson who plays a forensics investigator on CSI. He said it looked like a bullet to him and the imprint of the badge was clearly visible in the lead of the bullet. Of course William Peterson is not a real forensics detective but it was the best we could get and what I mean by this is that if the Japanese or anyone else has reason to deny the shooting then they should examine the evidence instead of offering their politically biased opinions.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is down in the Southern Ocean because governments refuse to uphold the international conservation regulations that they are signatory to. We act as citizens when our governments fail to uphold their responsibilities.
Over two decades of diplomacy to end illegal Japanese whaling has failed. Diplomacy is a tool that the Japanese government uses to buy time while they kill whales. They have not conceded an inch, they have not lowered their quotas by a single whale and they continue to spit in the face of citizens around the world who want to see the whales protected, especially in an internationally established whale sanctuary.
What is it about the word sanctuary that governments do not understand? You don't kill whales in a whale sanctuary. You don't kill whales to sell their meat when there is an international moratorium on commercial whaling. And you don't debase science by prostituting the name for profits.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is fighting this battle on many fronts, in the field at sea, in the forum of public opinion and if need be, in the courts.
Although we deploy stink bombs to disrupt the whalers, our primary weapon is in fact the most powerful weapon on the planet - the camera.
Instead of cannons, we go to sea with cameras and whereas a frigate of the 18th Century would have had 64 mounted cannons, we have some 64 cameras capturing every movement and every action from different angles using different lenses and capturing sound.
I have been fighting this war to save the whales since 1974. For thirty-five years I have been taking ships to sea to disrupt whaling activities. I've taken on whalers in the North Pacific, the Southern Oceans, in the Bering Sea, the North Sea, the North Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. I've rammed whalers, sunk whalers, boarded whalers, harassed and pursued whalers for three and a half decades and my greatest pleasure in life is depriving whalers of their profits and knowing that whales are swimming free in the ocean that would otherwise be dead without our intervention.
In all that time, I have never been convicted of a felony nor have I been sued and the reason for this is that despite the propaganda of the public relations firms representing the whaling industries - we have been dealing with criminals, and the law for the most part has been on our side and when it isn't we are most careful to walk in the shadow of the law to achieve justice.
In the whale wars, the good guys wear black and fly the skull and crossbones and the reason why we do is because of a lesson learned from history.
It was not the British government or the British Navy that ended piracy in the Caribbean. There were too many British merchants dependent upon the illicit profits of piracy and a great deal of bribery and corruption swaying the politicians and the military of the day. Not much different than today really. Piracy in the Caribbean was ended by Captain Henry Morgan - a pirate.
In the whale wars, Sea Shepherd crew are passionate pirates of compassion in pursuit of greedy pirates of ecological destruction doing what governments have not got the political, economic or moral will to do - upholding the law.
Photo by Takver from - Sea Shepherd Steve Irwin arrives in Melbourne (Feb 2008)
Captain Paul Watson is President and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. For more than 30 years he has championed whale and marine conservation around the world, first in Greenpeace then with Sea Shepherd.
Takver is an independent photojournalist and reporter who has been contributing to the Indymedia Network for eight years, primarily with Melbourne and Sydney Indymedia sites. You can read many of his articles on the whaling issue posted to the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center
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