Captain Paul Watson photo: Animal Planet
Who hasn't heard the infamous old-school eco-slogan, "Save the Whales?" But do most of us know who actually charges up the effort? Animal Planet takes an in-depth look at one of the leading whale conservation groups in the premiere of their brand new 7-part series called Whale Wars, starting on November 7. The show follows Captain Paul Watson and his team of dedicated volunteers who put the "save" in "Save the Whales"—braving choppy international seas and coming face-to-face with unforgiving whaling fleets.
Not everyone's a fan of the groups fierce, confrontational ways though. A quick search on TreeHugger about the Captain and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society revealed some differing opinions about the group who many call extremist—not such a surprise considering the Captain planted his green roots as the co-founder of Greenpeace. But whether or not you find his team's tactics a tad too severe, doesn't extreme injustice (i.e. whaling) sometimes call for extreme measures? Check out my interview with the good Captain and ascertain for yourself. TH: You've been crusading to save whales as far back as the '70s. You clearly have affection for the species. What do you love about whales and what makes them so important to planet earth?
Captain Paul Watson: The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is concerned and involved with active conservation efforts to protect and defend all marine wildlife species--from plankton to the great whales. But I will admit that I have a special place in my heart for the whales and the dolphins. A wounded whale spared my life in 1975 and protecting whales is a repayment on the debt. I also happen to regard the killing of a whale as murder. These are the most socially complex and intelligent sentient beings on the planet. They have larger, more complex brains than we do but because they have a non-manipulative intelligence (i.e. intelligence without technology), we as technologically intelligent beings dismiss their sentience.
And there is another reason we do what we do. If we cannot prevent the extinction of such a magnificent and intelligent creature, what chance do we have to protect the other species in the oceans? If these marine species die, the oceans die. If the oceans die, then we also will perish.
TH: Though the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has put a moratorium on whaling, why are several countries continuing the controversial practice?
CPW: One word - greed. When there is money to be made from exploiting nature, that is in and of itself enough of a powerful motivation. Unfortunately there are fortunes to be made in destroying the oceans and no profit to be found in protecting the seas and the threatened life within. Japan, Norway and Iceland are blatantly violating international conservation law in their ruthless slaughter of the whales.
TH: What species in particular are at risk do to whaling? Are these same whales also at risk due to climate change factors or other conditions?
CPW: All the species of whales are endangered. The threats go beyond hunting to depletion of food supplies because of over-fishing, the destruction of plankton due to ocean temperatures rising, increased acidity in the seas and pollution--especially with heavy metals like mercury and ship traffic as a cause for collisions and noise pollution. Whales are killed today to supply the limited demand for whale meat or to be used in pet foods or as fodder for fur-bearing animals used in the fur trade.
TH: Why is it so difficult to put an end to whaling?
CPW: We have all the laws we need to stop the slaughter of whales but we lack the political and economic will on the part of governments to enforce the laws. Sea Shepherd simply upholds the laws that exist but that are not being enforced. Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary could be ended tomorrow if nations like the United States or Australia demanded that the criminal slaughter of whales is ended.
TH: Have you ever been put into life-threatening positions during your plight? If so, describe the scenario(s) and the challenges you were faced with.
CPW: We have experienced numerous life threatening campaigns. We have been rammed, depth charged, shot at and had concussion grenades thrown at us. In our last confrontation with the Japanese whaling fleet, I myself was shot and my life was saved only because I was wearing a Kevlar vest. But that is not important in comparison to the brutal slaughter of the whales with explosive harpoons.
TH: How did the show Whale Wars come into fruition?
CPW: This is a series that many networks will wish they have on their channel. Our reasoning was that if Deadliest Catch could be so popular, Whale Wars should be even more popular. Why? In Deadliest Catch we have men in ships in rough seas catching crabs. With Whale Wars we have men and women from a dozen different nations going out to sea in rough weather to help save the whales. We also have icebergs, whales, penguins and dramatic ship-to-ship confrontations. Animal Planet saw the potential and went with it and I believe it will be a terrific success.
TH: In the show, which of these species will you be defending?
CPW: We will be defending Piked whales, Humpback whales and Fin whales.
TH: What would you hope results from the new series?
CPW: Increased awareness of the fact that endangered whales are being illegally slaughtered in an established whale sanctuary. And increased awareness around the importance of defending our oceans and conserving life in the seas.
TH: Time Magazine named you one of the environmental heroes of the 20th Century in the year 2000. That must feel good! What advice would you give to aspiring eco-heroes?
CPW: Our greatest satisfaction is the knowledge that our interventions save the lives of whales and other species of marine wildlife. My advice to anyone is to simply understand that individuals have the power to make a difference and that it is the passion of individuals that changes the world. Follow your dreams and use your natural born talents and skills to make this a better world for tomorrow.
TH: When you're not waging war against whaling, what do you enjoy doing in your down time?
CPW: Since 1971 I have not had much down time. I enjoy what I am doing. Onboard ship I do engage in scuba diving, fencing and archery.
TH: And finally, what are a few things TreeHugger readers can do to help the cause?
CPW: Become a supporting member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Check us out at www.Seashepherd.org.