TFT Exclusive Interview: “Whale Wars” Capt. Paul Watson on ICR Injunction
The Institute for Cetacean Research’s call for a preliminary injunction against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been denied. Now Whale Wars’ Captain Paul Watson, Founder and President of SSCS, has taken some time to speak out regarding the legal proceedings and his activism with the crew aboard the Steve Irwin.
A district court in Seattle, Washington has denied the Institute for Cetacean Research the preliminary injunction they requested against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The SSCS, founded by Captain Paul Watson of Whale Wars fame, has been locked in a relentless battle for years with the Institute for Cetacean Research, a Japanese-based whaling organization. The injunction was just another strategic maneuver on the ICR’s part to halt the Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling intervention in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. But it is clear that Watson and his crew will not yield to their ploys.
According to court transcripts from the February 16th court hearing, the ICR asked for an 800-meter barrier to be legally placed between them and Captain Watson and his crew. In doing so, according to the plaintiff’s legal representation John Neupert, the anti-whalers would still be able to protest in accordance with the First Amendment, but the crew of ICR ships would not be harassed and could carry on with their activities. Neupert repeatedly claimed SSCS was “put[ting] seaman at risk of serious injury” when intervening with ICR.
Neupert insisted for the legality of whaling not to be considered in the ruling. “This case is not about economic interests, this case is not about whaling interests, this case is about one thing and one thing only, and that is the safety at sea,” he stated. Judge Richard Jones, however, differed in his opinion:
The plaintiffs insist that I am not supposed to consider the legality or illegality of whaling activities. In my assessment, I believe it would be inappropriate for me to consider the balance of hardships or the public interest without considering the environmental consequences in this case.
Now, it is clear to me that a substantial portion of the world believes it is very much not in the public interest to continue killing whales in the southern ocean. It is also clear to me that the environmental harms like the killing of hundreds of whales are relevant in the balance of hardships. So please understand in this context I must consider this aspect of the facts.
Regardless of the ICR’s portrayal of Sea Shepherd, Judge Jones denied that it was a violent organization. “It is apparent to me the Sea Shepherd would prefer that people not get hurt. There is no evidence that they have ever done anything with the intention of hurting anyone.”
According to Captain Watson, the ICR, on the other hand, is masquerading as a research organization with every intention on causing harm.
The ICR’s practices are not entirely articulated on their website; the answers provided to questions are vague at best. What it is that they actually do as opposed to their claims?
They kill whales and sell the whale meat in Japan but there’s no research, they haven’t published an international peer-review scientific paper in 25 years. Their so-called research has been condemned by scientists around the world. The International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee has condemned their research and has constantly advised them to stop doing this, but they claim they have a loophole to continue whaling. But the fact is, they’re targeting endangered and protected whales in an established international whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling.
To put it in perspective, between 1951-1987 when the moratorium came in the total number of whales killed worldwide for so-called research was 991. Since 1987, it’s been nearly 12,000, so it’s just for commercial activity. But they’re not making any money on it anymore because we’ve cut their quotas so drastically over the last few years through interventions that they’ve gone heavily into debt. We thought we had them out of here last year—they only took 17% of their quota—but they’re coming back out as a matter of pride. They allocated $30 million from the tsunami/earthquake relief fund to provide security for their police this year. I don’t think people had any idea when they were donating to this relief fund that they would be supporting the killing of whales in the southern ocean. Their justification is that there are people from whaling towns that need this, I suppose.
According to the court transcripts from February 16, it was apparent that Mr. Neupert could not have used the phrase “human life and safety” enough. It seemed to be the ICR’s way of disguising their actual motive when they brought you to court, which is clearly to bring a halt to your organization’s activities in general, wouldn’t you say?
We’ve been down here for 8 seasons, we’ve never injured anybody, we’ve never been charged with a crime, and we’ve never been reprimanded by our flagged nations. Japan continually calls us terrorists; we say, “What are the charges?” When people call me that, I just say, “Well you either need to arrest me or shut up.” We’ve been around for 35 years and we haven’t gotten a single conviction on a felony ever.
The ICR has shied away from identifying this as a business opportunity, but is that in fact what they are concerned with?
It’s definitely a business. I think they have one scientist in the entire fleet and that scientist measures ear balms to see the age of the whale. If there’s any research, it’s for product development, and they’re just trying to keep the industry alive until they think they can overturn the moratorium.
The ICR has made it seem as though you care more about the whales and not at all about their crew or even your crew for that matter. In fact, it seems as though they’re claiming your intervention activities are purely meant to put humans in danger. How would you answer that claim?
We take every precaution to ensure nobody’s injured and nobody has been injured. We have to go about doing what we’re doing to try to make sure we don’t hurt them; they’re trying to kill us out here. They’ve thrown concussion grenades, they’ve cut one of our ships in half, sunk it, and destroyed it—they kept spraying the crew with water cannons even after they cut the boat in half. They’ve injured four of my crew this year—just slight injuries, but still. So when they throw things at us, they’re trying to kill us.
During the court proceedings, there was a comparison made by Mr. Neupert between you and Somali pirates. Have you been met with these “terrorist” accusations before?
Yes because we’re not a protest organization, we’re an anti-poaching organization and we oppose illegal activities. Everybody we oppose, of course, latches onto this whole thing. The word “terrorist” just simply means: “we don’t agree with you.” They don’t even know what a real terrorist is anymore because they get so confused with all the name-calling and the rhetoric that goes about.
For those who are not familiar with the show Whale Wars, would you mind describing how you go about intervening?
I call it aggressive nonviolence. We’re aggressive but we don’t injure anybody and we don’t hesitate to destroy equipment that is being used to kill. I believe destroying a harpoon or a rifle is an act of nonviolence, not violence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “You cannot commit an act of violence against a non-sentient object.”
The Dalai Lama once gave me a statue called “Hayagriva” and put it on the mast of my ship. When I asked him what it was, he said it was a symbol for the compassionate aspect of Buddhist wrath. I asked him what that meant and he said, “You know you never want to hurt anybody but sometimes they cannot see the light, you have to scare the hell out of them.” He understood that’s what we we’re trying to do. We have an unblemished record of not injuring anybody, we don’t ever intend to. We throw stink bombs and paint balls at them and they retaliate with stun grenades, bullets, nuts, bolts, and spears.
One of the things they constantly do is accuse us of throwing acid at them. The type of acid is butyric acid, which is found in butter. It’s like milk is lactic acid and orange juice is citric acid. They’ve tried to claim that one person’s face was burned with the acid we had thrown on board, suggesting that it’s sulfuric (and they never produced any pictures). But butyric acid is less acidic than Coca Cola and is organic, biodegradable and nontoxic.
So, your team is rather undeserving of the lawsuit in general. What is your hope in the outcome of this case?
Well, they have this $30 million from the tsunami/earthquake relief fund and have been hiring PR agents to present their case, they’ve been providing security and they’re using it to file this lawsuit against us. The interesting thing is, and the judge caught onto this right away, the Humane Society International filed suit against them in Australia and they won the case. However, the ICR continued to kill whales in Australian waters which means they’re in contempt of Federal Australian Court. Their ships can’t even come into an Australian port. So Judge Jones said, “Well wait a minute, you can’t take this to court in Australia because you’re in contempt of a federal court rule so you try to get around it by filing suit in the United States.”
The most important thing is that we would actually like it to go to trial now because Judge Jones said the legality of whaling is a legitimate argument in this and they’re trying to keep it out of it. But we would love nothing better than to go to court now and tell them there are whaling activities in the US Court, and that opens a bunch of counter suits. I think it was a big mistake when they waged this suit against us; it’s going to backfire on them.
How long have you been actively intervening?
This is our 8th year intervening in the whale hunt in the southern ocean. But I’ve been doing this for 35 years and prior to that I was a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation, so I was in it for another 7 years beyond that. And in that entire time we’ve never injured anybody.
What first sparked your interest in oceanic environmental activism?
I was raised in eastern Canada right on the Maine border, so I’m very connected to the ocean life. I started my activism when I was eleven by rescuing beavers from leg-hold traps and destroying the traps, so I’ve been doing this for about 51 years.
The work of lifelong activists trying to save the whales from the predatory activities of a sovereign nation continues to garner support at all judicial levels, from Australia to the United States. It should be instructive that the values of the majority of mankind, as expressed in public opinion and in the courts, should trump the mores and values of the Japanese whaling industry.
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