Sea Shepherd activists throw objects toward the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru. Photo: Reuters
Paul Watson interviewed by Jason Miller
“Well, as usual, you people have everything all upside down and turned around and back to front.”
–Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon 2
As a species of beings that reflexively and unequivocally identifies itself as “superior,” we human animals have taken self-deception to a level of inimitable brilliance. And we Americans who have self-servingly cast ourselves in the role of moral beacon to the world (while engaging in industrialized wholesale violence against humans, animals, and the Earth on a breath-taking scale) are the living embodiments of the word hypocrisy.
Need proof of the systemic rot eroding the very cores of our souls? Look no further than the meteoric rise of the grossly under-qualified, hyper-ambitious, morally retarded narcissist who still has a realistic chance to be one heart-beat away from ostensibly ruling the most powerful nation in the world. Palinesque tendencies to “drill, drill, drill,” exploit obscene technological advantages to “cull predatory species,” employ our “justice” system to accelerate the extinction of yet another species (to advance the interests of Big Oil no less), and perpetuate the murderous “sport” of hunting with the intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt justifications of “necessity” and “cultural tradition” serve to shred our ridiculously thin façade of humanity and reveal the truly barbarous nature of Western “civilization” and the “American Way of Life.”
While the speciesism and capitalist obsessions with property, growth, and profit that contaminate nearly all aspects of our cultural and social modes of being are not unique to Western industrialized nations or the US, we wield the most power in the world, and hence inflict the most pain on other species. And while our economic and technological advantages endow us with the potential to shift the paradigm and significantly reduce the unnecessary suffering our non-human animal brethren experience as a result of reification, greed, and exploitation, we choose to fight tooth and nail to preserve our “right” to dominate, torture, and slaughter for profit and pleasure, while portraying those who dare to take direct action against our murderous system as ‘eco-terrorists.’
Frightening and dangerous as it may be, let’s get inside the head of a leading member of the radical environmental defense and animal liberation movements, which the FBI continues to target as America’s “number one domestic terror threat.”
Here is the back and forth between Captain Paul Watson (animal defender extraordinaire, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and courageous practitioner of extensional self defense on behalf of marine animals) and Jason Miller (associate editor of Cyrano’s Journal Online and founding editor of Thomas Paine’s Corner):
Jason Miller: You were reportedly expelled from Greanpeace in 1975 for your refusal to embrace their dogmatic adherence to non-violence. What were the events prior to and during your expulsion?
Captain Paul Watson: I was not in fact expelled from Greenpeace. I was voted off the Board of Directors because Patrick Moore had just replaced Robert Hunter as President. The excuse he used was that I had broken the law by grabbing a sealer’s club and throwing it the water thus stealing and destroying his “property”. I then resigned from Greenpeace however the proof that Greenpeace was not opposed to my methods can be found in two pieces of evidence. (1) After I hunted down and rammed the pirate whaler Sierra, Greenpeace published my story as their headline article in the Greenpeace Chronicles. And (2) I was one of the 8 signatories for the formation of Greenpeace International in October 1979. My main reason for leaving Greenpeace was because I was tired of protesting and seeing whales and seals die. I established the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society not as a protest organization but as an interventionist organization to specifically target illegal operations. We remain non-violent. Since I founded Sea Shepherd in 1977, we have never injured a single person, we have never been convicted of a felony crime and we have never been sued. That’s a better record than Greenpeace has.
JM: What is your opinion of the Greenpeace that exists today?
Captain Paul Watson: It is the world’s largest feel-good organization. People join Greenpeace to feel good, to believe they are a part of the solution and not the problem. Greenpeace is where liberals send their money to appease their conscience. It is an organization of posers doing stunts to grab media attention for the purpose of fund-raising. They bring in some $300 million a year. They spend some $75 million on direct mail fund-raising and they have an army of street and door to door solicitors that receive good money to recruit for Greenpeace and that is why I once called them the Avon Ladies of the Environmental Movement. These big organizations are large parasitical bureaucracies that don’t give much bang for the buck unfortunately.
JM: Please tell us a bit about your organization, Sea Shepherd, and its efforts on behalf of marine life.
Captain Paul Watson: Damn, that would take a couple of books, which by the way I’ve already written. The brief answer is that we have successfully shut down hundreds of criminal poaching operations around the world over the last three decades. We operate globally and we have tackled poachers in all the world’s oceans and we continue to do so.
JM: How does one join and/or donate money or time to your organization?
Captain Paul Watson: We don’t solicit support. People come to us because they hear about us and they like what we do. The best way to support Sea Shepherd is to visit the website at www.Seashepherd.org and sign up as a monthly donor to help us get our ships into positions where we can make a difference.
JM: According to your biography, you experienced a powerful epiphany during a 1975 confrontation with Soviet whalers when you looked into the eye of a dying whale. Please give us the particulars on the incident and its profound impact upon your life.
Captain Paul Watson: It was in June 1975 during the first Greenpeace whale campaign. Our strategy was to place ourselves in a small boat between the whales and the whalers using the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence. Robert Hunter and I were the first to place our bodies on the line and we succeeded in blocking the harpooner for about 20 minutes until the captain of the whaler ran down the catwalk and yelled into the harpooner’s ear and then turned to us and smiled and brought his finger across his throat. That’s when I realized that Gandhi was not going to work for us that day. A few minutes later the harpoon cannon thundered and the harpoon flew over our head and slammed into the backside of one of eight magnificent Sperm whales that were fleeing for their lives. It was a female and she screamed and then suddenly the large male struck the water with his tail and tail and disappeared. We thought it would attack us but instead the whale swam underneath of us and erupted from the sea behind us and hurtled himself at the harpooner on the Soviet vessel. But the harpooner was ready for this and had already loaded an unattached harpoon into the gun. He pulled the trigger and hit the whale at point blank range in the head. The large bull screamed and fell back in the water in a spreading pool of its own hot blood. And as the whale struggled in agony on the surface, rolling and thrashing, I caught his eye and he saw me. Suddenly I saw a trail of bloody bubbles coming swiftly towards us and the whale rose up out of the sea at an angle directly beside us and was about to fall upon our small fragile inflatable boat. And I looked up into that eye, an eye the size of my fist and what I saw there changed my life forever – I saw understanding, I saw awareness. That whale knew what we were doing and with a great effort pulled himself back and sank into the sea and I saw his eye disappear below the surface and he died. He could have taken our lives but in his last moments he spared us and thus I am indebted to that whale for my life.
And I saw something else in that eye – it was pity and not for himself but for us – that we could kill so thoughtlessly and so mercilessly and I realized that the reason the Soviets were killing Sperm whales was for spermaceti oil used for lubricating machinery and one of the uses was in the construction on inter-continental ballistic missiles for the purpose of exterminating mass numbers of human beings and that is when it struck me that we, the human species are insane. So from that day on I have chosen to serve whalekind and the species in the sea – they are our clients – not people.
JM: In your opinion, why do so many in the environmental and animal liberation movements reject the use of direct action as a legitimate and necessary tool to confront the violent war commercial interests, corporations, consumerism, and capitalism are waging against the Earth and most of its non-human animal inhabitants?
Captain Paul Watson: We are conditioned to respond is socially acceptable ways i.e. protests, petitions boycotts etc. We also have the problem that nature and other species are an abstraction to us. Humans fight for property, for immediate self defense and for religion. Hominids are a self centered species. When people ask how I can risk human life to protect a whale, I cite the fact that we do not think it is unnatural or unethical to risk our lives and to kill over property like land and oil. And we accept dying and killing for ridiculous religious beliefs. I think fighting for endangered species and threatened habitats to be much nobler.
JM: The United States government has labeled groups like the Animal Liberation Front as “top domestic terrorist threats” and “eco-terrorists.” What do you think of this?
Captain Paul Watson: These groups are indeed a threat to the dominant paradigm. They question the values that our society holds, the same values that are destroying this planet. From their point of view, this is a more fundamental threat than political or religious terrorism which they understand. After all governments themselves practice religious and political terrorism.
JM: Have you been accused of “terrorism?”
Captain Paul Watson: Many times, all the time. Yet for some strange reason I get to continue to fly on airplanes, I have no problems traveling and no warrants out for my arrest. It’s easy to call someone a terrorist. It’s a word used often these days to attack anyone someone disagrees with. Just questioning the war, or the destruction of the planet makes one a terrorist these days. I have never injured anyone. I’ve never been convicted of a crime. I’ve never been sued. I make for a pretty lousy terrorist.
JM: How many ships sail under Sea Shepherd’s flag?
Captain Paul Watson: Three. The Steve Irwin presently in Australia. The Sirenian, presently in the Galapagos and the Farley Mowat, presently in Eastern Canada.
JM: How many whales would you estimate Sea Shepherd (as an organization) has saved?
Captain Paul Watson: That is difficult to say but certainly it is in the thousands. We shut down every pirate whaler in the North Atlantic in 1979 and 1980 and we cut the Japanese quotas in half for the last two years and that represents about a thousand whales alone.
JM: When your ship encounters a whaling vessel, what tactics do you use to prevent them from killing one (or more) of those magnificent creatures?
Captain Paul Watson: The Dalai Lama gave me a small statue back in 1987 called Hayagriva. He told me it represents the compassionate aspect of Buddha’s wrath. In other words you never want to hurt anyone but when they cannot see enlightenment, you scare the hell out of them until they do. We intimidate them. We attack them with stink bombs and guns that shoot pie filling. We keep them running and if they are running they can’t kill whales. I have not seen a whale die since I left Greenpeace back in 1977.
JM: What has been your most harrowing experience in the course of carrying out direct action as a defender of whales and seals? Please give us details.
Captain Paul Watson: There have been many dangerous incidents and close calls from being attacked by a mob of 300 drunken sealers in the Magdalen Islands to being fired upon by the Norwegian Navy to actually being shot by the Japanese whalers. Risks are part of doing what we do but I’m happy to say that in 31 years we have never sustained a serious injury nor have we ever injured anyone.
JM: How often have you been charged, arrested, or prosecuted for your allegedly “illegal” (though obviously quite moral) activities on behalf of our non-human animal brethren?
Captain Paul Watson: I have been arrested many times but I’ve never been convicted of a felony nor have I ever been sued. We intervene against criminal operations and the last place criminals want to go is a courtroom
JM: Intellectual activist and widely published animal liberation philosopher Dr. Steve Best has likened the Animal Liberation Movement to the Abolition of Slavery and has written of the possibility of a full scale war over animal rights. What are your thoughts?
Captain Paul Watson: I don’t see a full scale war but I do see a philosophical debate and I do see more and more awareness of the contradictions and the need to stop consuming meat for three important reasons, ecological, ethical and health. However in the event of an ecological collapse there will be a war for survival.
JM: As a vegan, you have characterized those who continue the practice of eating animal flesh as necrovores (rather than the “carnivores” many proudly claim to be). Please elaborate upon this and tell us what you think it will take to raise humanity’s moral consciousness to the point that a majority of people end their cruel and unnecessary consumption of meat.
Captain Paul Watson: Humans do not eat like carnivores. Carnivores bring down living prey and eat it raw and most predators target the soft organs leaving much of the muscle for scavengers. Humans eat dead flesh and rarely eat the organs, preferring the muscle tissue. Most of the beef that people eat has been dead for months and in many cases for years. The meat is disguised with bleach and dyes in many cases to hide the decay and the fact that the flesh is putrid. We are closer in our eating habits to vultures and jackals than wolves and lions.
JM: As a final question, how optimistic are you that the dominant paradigm of capitalism, a system premised on greed, exploitation, and infinite growth, will collapse before it destroys our all too finite world?
Captain Paul Watson: Any political and economic system that does not operate in accordance with the three basic laws of ecology is doomed to failure. These laws are (1) The law of diversity, (2) the law of interdependence and (3) The law of finite resources. Our present political and economic systems are based on a premise of unlimited growth. This runs counter to the law of finite resources. Human populations are dangerously high and consumption of resources is out of control. Every eco-system on the planet is severely stressed. It will collapse. We are also dependent upon just a small handful of species for survival and if anything happens to them esp. rice, grains, grasses etc, we will have an ecological and human catastrophe.
For more on Paul Watson, click HERE.
For more on the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society AND to make a donation, click HERE.
My special thanks to Paul for granting us this interview.