The new season of Whale Wars has just started on Animal Planet (new episode this Friday...), so what better time to highlight a quick video interview Andy Revkin from Dot Earth just did with Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson. While Watson hits many of his usual marks regarding what his organization and its many volunteers do to protect whales, direct intervention, he was particularly on point in one statement:
You don't walk down the street and see a woman being raped and do nothing. You don't walk down the street and see a puppy or a kitten being stomped on and do nothing. And you don't stand there and watch whales die and do nothing but hang banners and take pictures.The last part is a quite open jab at Greenpeace, from which he split off many years ago.
Sea Shepherd's methods split opinion within the environmental community like those of few other organizations. Despite repeated statements that their goal is not to harm any people, only stop whaling--and it must be said by their results that is true on both counts--a good number of people who find the killing of whales hard to stomach equally find firing flares at ships, throwing rotten butter "bombs" (the term used loosely), and trying to entangle the propellers of whaling ships hard beyond what they consider acceptable action.
I've commented on this before when I've written about Watson, including in my own interview with him from about this time last year, and my opinion hasn't changed greatly. But since Revkin has proffered his, it's worth stating my again.
The Institute of Cetacean Research, the mouthpiece of Japan's whaling operation, has posted video from the whalers' vantage point showing some activities that seem to me to cross the line from harassment to assault. Firing flares onto the deck of a ship cannot be seen as anything else, to my mind. ...
My sense, in this case, is that efforts by environmental and animal-welfare campaigners to track and document this whale hunt in international waters have provided a vital public service. Governments don't have the capacity to patrol those waters and journalists certainly don't, either.
The decision by Watson and his crew to take things further, intervening directly, is justifiable to me (I wouldn't do it personally) only as long as he sticks to his pledge (in the video and elsewhere) not to hurt people or break laws. That's a fine line and open to lots of varied interpretation, particularly on the high seas.
If you accept the the actions of Sea Shepherd are akin to Watson's example of stopping a crime in progress, and accept that there are crimes in the world that are not yet recognized by jurisprudence but should be, keeping in mind that there is compelling body of biological evidence that shows cetaceans have a high level of intelligence and basic culture, and even have what amount to different dialects of language, then you shouldn't have a problem with their actions of firing flares onto the deck of ships.
In terms of proportionality in regards to self-defense, well recognized as a factor in judging whether an act of violence is genuine self-defense, then Sea Shepherd's flares, rotten butter, and propeller entanglement are well within the boundaries of what I would define as proportional response. They are up against ships armed with explosive powered harpoons and which are of much greater size than the small ships Sea Shepherd employs. And they are engaging in the moment of violence to prevent it, not at some later date.
While I disagree that Sea Shepherd's methods are non-violent in the strictest interpretation of that, their aggressive actions seem to me to be an acceptable violation of ahimsa in that they are defending a proportionately defenseless creature, a defenseless community even, against direct attacks with the intent to kill.
That law does not yet recognize the rights of non-human species, nor that Japan claims that it is within its rights to hunt whales under loopholes in international treaty, still does not make the action of Japanese whaling fleet ethical.
While ideally law and ethics align, it is not always the case. In the majority of those cases where ethics contradicts law, and that contradiction is severe enough it should be said (a small contradiction is not enough), then it is ethics that should guide action, not strictly law.
This is one of those cases.