But first, some light reading recommendations ….
Captain Paul Watson’s top 5 books if stranded on an iceberg.
- Darwin’s Origin of Species
- anything by E.O. Wilson (originator of the modern understanding of biodiversity)
- anything by Farley Mowat – especially Sea of Slaughter
- anything by Richard Dawkins
- The Poems of Leonard Cohen
“One of the things that Leonard Cohen wrote in one of his poems, that I think sums up our condition, is ‘we are locked into our suffering, and the pleasures are our seal.’ We are so busy entertaining ourselves that we’re destroying ourselves.”
I’ve read a comment from you, saying “I believe that what transformed Greenpeace
from a small local grass roots group in Vancouver Canada to a major international
environmental organization today is that it was the first group to understand the
nature of media in relation to environmentalism. We gave the media what the media
wanted – drama, action, outrageous comments and controversy.”
Was there an element of that in talk of lodging the Farley Mowat on the Nisshin Maru, or was it the desperation of a long moment?
“Well, I’m still a student of Marshall McLuhan so I do understand the power of drama, but we were quite serious about doing that. We were down there to stop them. We don’t say things that we’re not going to do. But I did look at it as a way of motivating a more aggressive response from governments. Environment Minister Chris Carter from New Zealand did give me that assurance that New Zealand would do everything it could to stop Japan from taking humpback and fin whales, and why not give them the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to do that? If they don’t do it we’ll just come back at the end of the year with a more aggressive approach.”
What was the feeling on board while all this was happening and the Australian and New Zealand governments were criticizing your action?
“I’m not too concerned by the statements against us by government officials. Oscar Wilde said, ‘the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about’, and the fact that they’re actually addressing us gives credibility to our action”.
Why do you think the Nisshin Maru refused assistance from the Esperanza and the US Coast Guard ice breaker when they were offered?
“I think that their big concern was that the vessel would be towed into a New Zealand port, which would be the closest port if the US Government or the Polar Steer got a line on it, they would be obligated to take it to New Zealand and that would put them in a situation where the New Zealand government would confiscate the whale meat that was on board”.
Why would they do something about that, when they weren’t prepared to do anything about whaling in their territorial waters off Antarctica?
“Bringing whale meat into a New Zealand port would be a flagrant violation of New Zealand law and they’d have no other choice but to do it. I think that both Australia and New Zealand could intervene against Japanese whaling in Antarctica. I mean, you go down there and catch a Patagonian Tooth Fish and you’re going to go to jail. Australia or New Zealand will pick you up and bring the boat back and put everybody in jail. You can’t catch a fish but you can kill a whale. One of the things the Japanese are talking about is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission. If they do do that, then I think New Zealand and Australia will have no choice but to go down there and enforce the sanctuary because Japan will be a rogue whaling nation. So I’m sort of hoping they do drop out of the IWC.”
Do you think that the Australian and New Zealand governments would have to get physically involved next time if that happens?
“I think that legally they would have no choice if a rogue whaling nation’s going down into a sanctuary to kill endangered species, they would have to do something. Right now I think there are a lot of grey areas in the law.”
What was it like when two of the Sea Shepherd crew went missing – was there a horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach?
“When we lost them we immediately put into a search grid. We’ve got Coast Guard experience. One of the guys that was lost is a professional diver, he knew what to do – he just stayed put. We knew we would find them, I was a hundred per cent confident we would find them. They were also wearing wetsuits under their survival suits, so I knew they weren’t going to suffer from exposure, and they had food and water. What happened is that I had to, was obligated to, put out a marine distress signal, which I did, and the Japanese vessels were obligated to respond to that. That’s just international law.”
Was that a funny moment when your crew were found and the search was called off and you radioed the Japanese to say, ‘right, back to business’?
“Well I don’t know if the Japanese were amused, I know I was amused. I didn’t ask the Japanese for assistance, some people are getting the wrong idea. I noticed the Wall Street Journal had the Japanese not only rescuing our crew, but ‘treating them with great respect’. The fact is that I did not ask Japan for assistance, I had to put out the marine distress signal and they had to respond – it’s as simple as that…And, by the way, when they put out their distress signal, we had to respond to it but we were a thousand miles away by that point. I’m sure if we were there we’d be blamed for it.”
How about those ‘acid attacks’?
“It’s simply butter acid – it’s rotten butter. It’s less acidic than citric acid, and used for tanning leather and photographic processes. It really smells – it was basically a stink bomb. They give the impression that by using ‘acid’ we were tossing sulphuric acid so that it would eat away at the steel or scar people’s faces permanently. It’s just a really obnoxious smelling substance that is completely non-toxic.”
I saw the story about the Ninja attack on the Nisshin Maru. What’s your favourite Sea Shepherd conspiracy theory?
“Oh god, there have been so many of them – you mean this one or overall?”
Take your pick…
“Well, a few years ago I was informed by someone who worked for the Admiral of the Coast Guard in Seattle, she said ‘you know the reason that the Coast Guard is so afraid of Sea Shepherd is your ships are black.’ I said, ‘what’s that got to do with it?’. ‘They think that it’s run by a Satanic cult.’ They were all born again Christians and they thought we were a Satanic cult, so I thought that one was a little strange.”
You’re not only the founder of Sea Shepherd, speaking out for the environment and against corporations, government and media, sinking whaling ships, accused of being a pirate, and a vegan. You’ve also blamed religion for a lot of the problems the planet is facing – do you think that might stop your message getting through to some people, or be too much for them?
“Well, you know, I’m not interested in being politically correct and never have been but I’ve always been interested in being ecologically correct and speaking to the truth of these issues. We live in a world which has been co-opted by anthropocentric philosophies which tend to make everyone think that humans are the centre of the universe. It’s like we’re at that spot now where Galileo and Copernicus were when they said that the Earth is the centre of the universe. We still live with that idea – that we are the centre of the ecosystem we live in – when in fact we are just a part of it, and not even the most important part when you get right down to it. It’s the insects and bacteria that run the world, not mammals, but we have to learn to live in harmony with these other species. We have to learn to live within the confines of the laws of ecology – the Law of Diversity of Species, the Law of Interdependence, the Law of Finite Resources. These are the things I’m trying to address. All human religions – what I call ‘the Monkey-God religions’ – they all worship some giant primate in the sky that tells us that we have to really ignore the rest of the natural world, not even care about it in many cases. I think that the beginning of religion was really the beginning of our disrespect for the natural world which we live in.”
You may have listened to Consolidated, who did some great songs about vegetarianism and the fishery and meat industries. They used to pass the microphone around the audience and argue with the crowd about different issues, and one was that ‘stewardship over the planet’ from the Bible really means caring and compassion, rather than control and ownership. Isn’t that a more positive way to leverage people with religion?
“Well yeah, but if it gets down to Christianity, St. Paul once said he was all things to all people. Religion has been used to condemn slavery, it’s been used to defend slavery. It can be used to defend nature, it can be used to exploit nature. The bottom line is that it still puts humans at the centre of creation. For instance, the god of nature in the Christian religion is Satan. They simply took Pan’s horns and hooves and tail and stuck them on this thing they called Satan. I’ve always found it really interesting that Christianity always claims to be one god but whenever I’ve said, ‘who’s Satan? Sure sounds like a god to me.” Or “who are all these angels? You guys have got more gods than the Hindus,” they all look at me dumbfounded, like “how could I say that?” It’s simply just an elevated form of Paganism and no different to the Greek religions. In fact the Greek Gods simply became the Christian gods. In fact the most interesting of all is Jesus Christ, who was in fact Hercules. Hercules was born to a virgin by his father Zeus, was raised by shepherds to serve mankind, and was bodily ascended to Mt Olympus – exact same story.”
I imagine that at least as much meaning goes into the naming of a ship as most people put into naming their child – what did naming the Robert Hunter mean for you?
“Well Robert Hunter and I were co-founders of the Greenpeace Foundation. Bob died two years ago and I said at that time at his memorial that I would name a ship after him. Our other ship, the Farley Mowat, is named after our international chairman, Farley Mowat, who’s still very much alive. But I do believe in honouring people who have made a contribution to protecting our planet in that way. Farley said it was the greatest honour he’d ever received – moreso than getting the Order of Canada. We’ve had the vessel the Cleveland Amory and also the Edward Abbey, so these are ways of really acknowledging the service that these people have done for the planet.”
Would Robert Hunter have been proud of the way you guys handled yourselves the last couple of months?
“Oh absolutely. His daughter’s on board right now actually and she’s quite proud to be here. Bob has participated on many Sea Shepherd campaigns. He was on board when I rammed the Japanese drift netters in the North Pacific, he’s very supportive.”
Sea Shepherd has an astounding record, if I understand correctly you’ve sunk 10 whaling ships and arrested 65 illegal fishing vessels?
“We have sunk eight whaling ships, we’ve rammed numerous vessels at sea. We’ve actually seized probably over 60 vessels at sea. We have a full time patrol boat in the Galapagos National Park, the Sirenian, and we’re constantly intervening and arresting shark finners. In fact it’s funny, a few years ago we got a small submarine and a spokesman for the Canadian Navy was criticizing us, saying ‘what does Sea Shepherd know about running a submarine?’. And I was actually quoted in the Canadian media, which was embarrassing to the navy, but I said, ‘since World War II, the Sea Shepherd Society has sunk more ships, boarded more ships, rammed more ships, and blockaded more harbours than the Canadian Navy, so they’re not in any position to judge what we can or cannot do with a submarine’.”
I’ve seen and heard you talk about the UN World Charter for Nature as the way that you are able to do what you do, and do it legally. How does that work, and how do you respond to the obligatory accusations that you’re eco terrorists, or pirates?
“We are constantly citing the UN World Charter for Nature, whether they (the media) pick it up or not we don’t have any control over that. But anytime we’ve been in a courtroom situation – like when we chased the Spanish and Cuban drag trawlers off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in ’93 I was arrested and charged with three counts of criminal mischief. My defense at the jury trial was the UN World Charter for Nature. The Canadian Government brought in a law professor to argue that it had no validity in Canadian law. The judge asked the professor, ‘did Canada sign this?’ She said ‘yes’ and then the judge said, ‘well, I’m going to advise the jury to take it into consideration if Canada signed it.’ Her argument to that was, ‘Canada signs a lot of international treaties that we don’t apply.’ The United States was at least honest on that – the US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol and got all this flak. Canada signed it and did nothing. It’s really bogus to say that Canada was in a better position than the US. But, ah, so we use that in court as our defense.
“As far as charges of ecoterrorism, if I was a terrorist I wouldn’t be traveling around. I wouldn’t be in this country, they wouldn’t let me. I’d be under arrest. I’ve never injured anybody, we’ve never been convicted of a felony crime. The PR firms that work for these Japanese whalers and all these other purple operations, they think if they keep repeating the line often enough then people will believe it. As for eco terrorism, the Japanese whaling fleet is an eco terrorist operation – it’s targeting endangered species in a whale sanctuary. That, to me, is the definition of eco terrorism.”
Coming to Australia from Canada and seeing how much the Australian Government is spending on patrolling the Northern waters for refugees while not doing anything to directly stop whaling in Antarctica, how does that make you feel?
“Well I think that Australia and New Zealand have been blatantly hypocritical, in that they go after poor countries like Indonesia and Uruguay. If Uruguayans catch a toothfish down in Antarctica, the Australians and New Zealanders are all over them. They’re arrested, their ships are seized, and yet the Japanese get away with killing whales; the reason being that Japan’s a big economic bully with unlimited resources so it’s almost like these governments are really not in business to represent their people. We all know that. Governments are in business to represent the corporations that give them the money to be in power, and that’s true in the United States, Canada, or Australia. It’s just a myth to believe that governments represent the people.”
Do you have any more specific or recent tales, beyond the charge of corporations and government and media and whalers all working together?
“It happens all the time. For instance, people who are out there illegally fishing have no problems getting flags of registration. If you’re pirating and plundering the oceans you don’t have any problems, so long as you’re making money – there’s a lot of money to be made from destroying marine ecosystems, and of course there’s very little to be made from protecting them. The profit motive really is what’s motivating any action or inaction; that certainly is the case.”
Are you looking to expand your relationships with government, maybe working with larger countries?
“We’re constantly open to working with governments, if they want our assistance. We’re working with Ecuador to protect the Galapagos National Park, we’ve worked with Costa Rica and Colombia in the past within their National Park systems, we’ve worked with Trinidad and Tobago. I’ve had meetings with the president of Senegal about illegal fishing and given advice to him on that. We’re certainly willing to do that.”
What response do you get from developed countries that reject the idea of working with Sea Shepherd?
“Well, we never really ask them if they want to work with us, we’re usually asked by countries that don’t have the resources – like Ecuador for example.”
Are the government relationships you have working well?
“We have a very good relationship with Ecuador. In Costa Rica it fell apart when we started stomping on the wrong toes – like the people who run the illegal fishing operations, especially sharkfinning. Then we started getting on the wrong side of the politicians. But we’ve had a very successful campaign for the last six years and it’s ongoing with the government of Ecuador, working directly with the Galapagos National Park.”
This season, the Japanese whalers fell about 500 short of their target?
“Yes, about 500 – 560. We don’t know the exact number they got, but it was only about 400.”
When it’s so obvious that whaling is not for research and is for whale meat and specialized components in things like makeup, how do whalers keep people fooled into thinking it’s about something else?
“They just constantly pump out the press releases about how it’s research whaling. The other issue that’s of interest this year is that they’re sending a floating factory full of oils and chemicals down there every year, and that presents a real and present threat to the ecosystems down there as this fire has recently illustrated. I think there should be concern on the part of governments that are concerned for the protection of the Antarctic ecosystem about this floating factory. You can’t go down on the shores of Antarctica and set up your own mining company, or refinery, but here we are and the Japanese just float one in right off the shore and begin operations.”
Do you think that this latest operation could be a catalyst for more direct action from different groups?
“Well that’d be nice. I’ve always said that the strength of any movement lies in diversity and we need thousands of small organizations addressing hundreds of thousands of different issues.”
You have written and spoken quite a bit about climate change. Jorgen Randers, who you’ve no doubt read thoroughly a long time ago, has recently said that we will do too little too late because the populations who will be most effected are small and remote from power – like Bangladesh and Siberia. For you it’s even worse because the populations you’re working for are not only out of sight, they’re not even people. What have been the strongest changes you’ve seen in 35 years at sea?
“Well, a steady diminishment of wildlife species. Almost every fishery in the world is in a state of collapse because of overfishing. There’s simply not enough fish in the ocean left to feed ever expanding human populations. There’s some very serious biodiversity issues that are happening. You know, we get called ‘Doom & Gloom Cassandras’, because we’re always preaching about doom and gloom, and never have anything positive to say. The only thing I can say in response to that is that Cassandra was in fact a preacher or prophetess of doom and gloom but the thing these people are forgetting is in fact that she was right, everything she predicted came true. We were talking about global warming and the impacts of global warming 25 years ago but nobody was listening. 15 years ago they said we were full of it, 10 years ago we were all a bunch of commies who were trying to stop world corporations from making money. Nobody really listened and all of a sudden everybody’s like, ‘my god! What’s happening here!? Why didn’t somebody tell us about this!?’”
Even now, with An Inconvenient Truth finally bringing millions of people in developed countries to the realization that climate change is happening and is horrific, the solutions being offered are things like hybrid cars, efficient light bulbs, and turning television sets off. How do you feel about that?
“Right – well, y’know we’re an ecologically stupid species and we’re also ecologically impotent. We don’t know how to deal with anything outside of the so-called free market system or even without economics. I remember seeing Al Gore speak at the ’92 (Earth Summit) conference in Brazil, the United Nations conference, and I remember one of the most absurd statements I’ve ever heard from anybody. He says, ‘we will save our environment the same way we defeated the Soviet Union – through Christianity and the free market system!’ And I just thought, ‘what does that mean?’”
No way! He actually said that!?
“He actually said that. What Al Gore’s doing now, I have no use for. He had eight years as Vice President and he didn’t do anything, he didn’t even sign the Kyoto Protocol. The guy lives in a 15 000 square foot mansion and he tells us all to have an ecologically shallower foot step. Last week he was at the Grammy Awards and while he was saying he was glad all the ecological leaders of the world were at the Grammy Awards, I don’t know why that was important, about a million pieces of confetti were falling all around him. I don’t know, it just seems to me he’s being an opportunist as far as I can see.”
As I understand it, you’ve had over 3000 volunteers go to sea with Sea Shepherd since you began? That’s astounding.
“Well, we’ve been doing it for thirty years.”
Of all those people, what have been some of the more amazing stories you’ve heard of life transformation, or where they’ve gone after Sea Shepherd, compared to what they were doing beforehand?
“Well, one of my crew members who was 19 years old at the time, in 1979, was Alex Pacheco. A year later he founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. So, PETA, which is the largest animal rights group in the world, actually came from one of our crew members. Many people have gone on from working for the organization, some of them have been championing zone issues – protecting coral reefs, one guy’s working to protect turtles in Hawaii – I think it’s really changed people’s lives and they’ve been hands on people ever since. A lot of the time you don’t hear about what they’re doing because they’re working on community issues, but all that is of course cumulative and contributes to the overall success of the conservation movement.”
Sea Shepherd seems to have successfully juggled being a widespread international outfit with being flexible, vibrant and still true to the same cause you started on thirty years ago. What do you think is the secret to that?
“I think that having the same person at the helm helps (laughingly). I’ve always been very resistant to approaches from direct mail organizations and people who come with all these promises about how, ‘we’re going to make you into The Mega-Organization, and you’ll be having a hundred million dollars a year coming in, because we like what you’re doing and we can market this, and we’ll get the direct mail things out.’ I said, ‘look, you know, I was with Greenpeace, I don’t want to be spending seventy five million a year sending out a hundred million pieces of mail for a 1.2 per cent return.’ That’s where the money would be going, to perpetuate ourselves. Sierra Club brings in eighty five million a year – I know that for sure because I was a director for three years – and Sea Shepherd with 1.5 million a year does more in-the-field actions than the Sierra Club. The money all gets eaten up by bureaucrats, and administrators, and lawyers – that’s where the money goes. The big organizations, I call them ‘feel good organizations’ – people join them to feel good. They say, ‘hey, I’m an environmentalist, I’m a member of the Sierra Club,’ or ‘I’m a member of Greenpeace’. They say ‘don’t criticize me. I’m doing my part, I’m a Greenpeacer’, and this is what they’re really selling – a clear conscience.”
You co-founded Greenpeace. What’s your response to their latest online advertising where a Greenpeace activist sits down with a Japanese grandmother to eat whale meat and says it’s delicious? Do you appreciate what they’re doing but disagree with the way they’re doing it, or have they really lost the purpose of what they’re about?
“Well, I think they’re trying to be politically correct and they’re forgetting that Greenpeace was set up to be an ecological organization. I try to be ecologically correct, and I think the interests of the environment – that is protecting ecosystems, the interests of species – must take precedent over human concern, because we need a strong foundation in biodiversity and self-supporting ecosystems for human life to even exist; that must be our priority. I’m not into, ‘well we should make exceptions because these people are Hispanic,’ or ‘these people are Inuit,’ or whatever. We have to have equality in these approaches, equality under international conservation law. So Sea Shepherd only opposes illegal issues, we don’t protest anything. We protested this whaling by the Makau Indian tribe in Washington – didn’t really protest it, we opposed it, we fought against it, we intervened against it – because it was illegal under the laws of the International Whaling Commission, but we did not oppose Inuit whaling because they did have permission from the International Whaling Commission. Philosophically we opposed it, but we didn’t physically oppose it – we have to have some sort of basis for intervention and that basis is really international conservation law.”
When you intervene in or oppose First Nations’ whaling, how do you oppose the charges of cultural elitism that other Westerners are going to level at you and, secondly, how do you communicate to those people that there is a global crisis which they need to pay more heed than they do for what their father or grandfather or great grandfather did?
“Well, tradition is no excuse for breaking the law. Norway is in violation if international conservation law. They’re killing whales in spite of the global moratorium on commercial whaling. The Macau were also in violation of that law. The Japanese can claim all the tradition they want, but whaling really started in 1946 when General MacArthur outfitted their whaling fleet, so it’s actually an American invention for Japan, not a Japanese invention. To me, the interests of the species we’re protecting must come first. My clients are not people, they’re whales. After we sank half of Iceland’s whaling fleet in 1986 I had a former colleague from Greenpeace come up and he says, ‘I think that what you did in Iceland was reprehensible and unforgivable.’ I said, ‘so? We didn’t sink ‘em for you, didn’t sink ‘em for Greenpeace. We sank ‘em for the whales, John. Name me one whale that disagrees with what we did that day and I promise you we won’t do it again.’ We’re not here to make people happy. We’re here to protect the interests of our clients, and our clients our those species which are being exploited and destroyed by human interest – whether that be culturally motivated or economically motivated.”
How does the resurgence in the face of the ‘terrorism’/complete surveillance paradigm that we’re in now – how does the resurgence in activism happen?
“I don’t think it’s going to because I’ve always looked on protest as submissive –you’re coming from a submissive position. It’s always like, ‘please, please, please don’t do that,’ y’know, we disagree with it. I believe in what I call an aggressive approach, aggressive non-violence. A few years ago, a Tibetan monk came and he gave us this little statue that he said he’d been told to give to us. We put it up in our mast – I didn’t see any harm in it, but I didn’t know what it was. A few years later I had tea with the Dalai Lama and I asked what it was – he had sent it apparently – well he said ‘it’s Hayagriva.’ I said, ‘what is that?’ He said, ‘well, it’s the compassionate aspect of Buddha’s wrath.’ I said, ‘well, what does that mean?’ He said, ‘well you never want to hurt anybody, but sometimes when they cannot see enlightenment you scare the hell out of them until they do.’ So the Dalai Lama understands what our approach was – we’re not out here to hurt anybody, we’re out here to make people aware and sometimes we have to scare the hell out of them in order to do it. As a result, Sea Shepherd is probably the most feared environmental organization in the world but if people who are out there exploiting the oceans – when we show up, they run – but we’ve never had to kill anybody. In fact, their propaganda works in our favour; every time they call us pirates, every time they call us ecoterrorists, any time they come up with these stories about how we’re threatening life and property – that works in our favour because it creates this image that just scares the bejesus out of our opposition.
Anything we haven’t talked about which you think Sydney would like to know about?
“One thing we’re doing is we have a website called whalesafebeer.com, people might want to check it out. We got support form the Blue Tongue Breweries – they gave us about a quarter of a million dollars towards this campaign and set up this whalesafebeer site. Australians like beer and a lot of these Australian beer companies are owned by the Japanese so we’re saying patronize beer companies that are 100 per cent Australian owned and not like Tooheys and Black Swan which are Japanese owned. We’ve got a very controversial ad running on there and the Japanese are getting all upset about it, but as far as I’m concerned the more upset they get about what we do, the better it is for us.”
there is a further 20 minutes to be transcribed and added here at a not too later date….