They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.
-- D.H. Lawrence (Whales Weep Not)
As Animal Planet's highly rated show Whale Wars nears the end of its second season in the US and Canada, it has proven to have been a controversial action drama provoking emotions ranging from joyous support to enraged opposition.
Set at the bottom of the world in the remote and bitterly cold waters off the coast of Antarctica, Whale Wars documents the increasingly escalating confrontations between the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Japanese whaling fleet.
This Animal Planet show has stirred up controversy internationally with audiences taking sides either with whale defenders or whale killers. There is an additional controversy amongst those who side with the whales but condemn the tactics of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
What is important is that love us or hate us, people are watching the show and becoming aware of the issues and the annual drama in the great Southern Ocean.
Negative accusations range from the Sea Shepherd crew being incompetent to outright condemnation as criminals and eco-terrorists. There is no doubt that the show provokes emotions and more importantly it stimulates discussion and thought. These elements added to life threatening drama on board a ship set amongst icebergs, storms, whales, and penguins makes for a compelling and successful television show.
There are four major points of criticisms leveled against Sea Shepherd. First that the Sea Shepherd crew are not competent; second that Japanese whaling is legal and Sea Shepherd has no right to oppose it; third that the Sea Shepherd crew are "eco-terrorists;" and fourth that Sea Shepherd has not accomplished anything significant with its campaigns.
It is true that many of the Sea Shepherd crewmembers are inexperienced, but the fact is that these volunteers bring a passion to the project that cannot be found in a hired crew. The officers however are indeed experienced. The best evidence for competence is that after five voyages to Antarctic waters, Sea Shepherd has not suffered any loss of life, any serious injuries and we have not had any mishaps like fire, oil spills, groundings, or ice damage. The whalers have suffered three deaths, two by accident and one by suicide, a catastrophic fire that was the cause of one death, oil spills, and numerous serious injuries as a result of their whaling operation. The Steve Irwin may not be an ice class vessel, but none of the whaling vessels are either, and this last season the Yushin Maru No. 2 suffered significant ice damage whereas the Steve Irwin was not damaged at all.
The test of competence is in experience. In this hostile sea where Sir Ernest Shackleton lost his ship and Sir Robert Scott perished with his crew, the Sea Shepherd crew have proven themselves competent.
With regard to the law, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society operates in accordance to the principles established in the United Nations World Charter for Nature that allows for non-governmental organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation laws and treaties.
Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is not endorsed by the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. Japan is targeting endangered whales in an internationally established whale sanctuary in violation of the terms of an international moratorium on commercial whaling. The Japanese fleet is violating the Antarctic Treaty by conducting commercial activity and refueling their ships south of sixty degrees. The Australian Federal Court has ruled that Japan is in contempt of an Australian Federal Court order prohibiting Japanese whaling activities inside the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society intervenes against Japanese whaling operations because we are an anti-poaching organization and the only difference between whale poachers in the Southern Ocean and elephant poachers in East Africa is that the African poachers are black and poor. In Africa, the rangers shoot poachers. We merely toss rotten butter at them.
The Sea Shepherd crew is doing what governments should be doing, but refuse to do themselves, because of the threats of trade retaliation from Japan.
After five voyages to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, not one member of the Sea Shepherd crew has been charged for any crime in relation to Sea Shepherd activities. There has not been a single whaler injured by our activities. There has not been a single arrest warrant issued and Sea Shepherd crew are free to travel internationally. In fact, during more than thirty years of operations not one Sea Shepherd crewmember has been convicted of a felony and not a single person has ever been injured.
Of course, these days it does not matter if a person is defending whales or running for President of the United States, the accusatory word of choice is "terrorist." The word has become practically meaningless a result, with even the Dalai Lama officially classified as a terrorist by China.
If "terrorist" I be, then it is a strange sort of terrorist that I am. I've received a Presidential award from George H. Bush, the Amazon Peace Prize presented by the President of Ecuador, honorary citizenships from Key West, Florida and towns in Australia, France and Canada. I was cited as an "Environmental Hero of the 20th Century" by Time magazine in 2000, and I have been invited to meet with dignitaries like Prince Albert of Monaco, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Vice-President Dr. Alfred Palacio of Ecuador, and I was invited to address Ministers of the Government of Brazil. In addition Sea Shepherd's Advisory Board includes former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell and former British Columbian Environment Minister Rafe Mair, two men of a conservative nature, not inclined to endorse "terrorism."
The objective of the Sea Shepherd campaign is to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically. For the last four years we have cut the quotas and negated the profits of the industry. Up until Sea Shepherd interventions, the Japanese succeeded in killing their entire quota. Our intervention in 2005/2006 saw the quota fall short for the first time by 83 whales. Operation Leviathan in 2006/2007 and Operation Migaloo in 2007/2008 saw the quota cut in half at 500 whales and 484 whales respectively. Operation Musashi in 2008/2009 cut the quota by 305 and forced the whalers to extend their season by two weeks at great cost.
The financial statements for the Institute for Cetacean Research show liabilities of 2.1 billion yen ($23 million). The industry survives on government subsidies. The whalers admit they need to take 750 whales to break even. We have prevented that. Plans to construct a replacement factory ship have been put on hold for lack of capital to invest in upgrading the fleet.
We have the Japanese whaling fleet on the ropes financially and we intend to keep the pressure on until we shut this illegal industry down once and for all.
Some people may not agree with our methods but our clients are not people. We represent the interests of the great whales and as long as we are not causing injury to humans and as long as we are not in violation of the law, then our actions are justified.
If I were a "terrorist" or even a criminal, I would be in jail. It's as simple as that.
There are more than 1,500 whales swimming freely in the waters off Antarctica that would now be dead if not for our intervention. These are results that we are proud of that make all the risks worthwhile.
Follow Captain Paul Watson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/captpaulwatson