Captain Paul Watson of Whale Wars

TreeHugger: Do you eat fish or condone eating fish of any kind?

Watson: I don't. Our organization runs its ships as an entirely vegan vessels. We do that not for animal rights reasons but for environmental reasons, so we're trying to set an example there. I was raised in a fish-eating village in Eastern Canada on a diet of seafood, primarily. And if I can give it up, then I think anybody can give it up. The fact is there's simply not enough fish in the oceans to continue to feed the ever-expanding populations of human beings.

The other thing is that a third of the fish that we take out of the ocean is fed to livestock, and that's the other reason we don't eat meat. The pig has now become one of the largest aquatic predators on the planet. Chickens on factory farms in Europe are eating more fish than all of the puffins and albatrosses in the worlds combined. And domestic house cats are eating more tuna than all of the world's seals combined. This kind of strip mining of life from the oceans to raise livestock and feed house cats is also contributing to the demise of the oceans.

TreeHugger: Tell me about your crew. What kind of people are on board the Steve Irwin, and where they come from? Do they get paid?

Watson: My crew are men and women from all different nationalities—anywhere from 10 to 14 different nationalities—and they're all volunteers. I couldn't pay people to do what these volunteers do. They risk their lives, they're out there, they're passionate. People complain the Sea Shepherd's crew is amateurish, they're not professionals. I couldn't go down there with professionals—professionals wouldn't do what my crew does. I want people who are ready to stand up and risk their lives.

TreeHugger: So these are not necessarily maritime experts or animal experts, they're just passionate citizens?

Watson: They're people from all walks of life. But I should say we do have people like, for instance, Mel Holland who is a certificated Captain. I certainly have many years of experience. We have our Second Mate coming up this year, she's a physicist with NASA and certainly quite a capable mathematician and navigator.

We have electronics experts, we have people who are very, very skilled in different areas. So we're not going down there without the proper skills. Then about a third of them are amateurs who have no experience, but you've got to start somewhere, you've got to learn somewhere.

TreeHugger: Are you able to say what your effect has been? How many whales you've saved, or how many dollars you've taken out of the whaling industry?

Watson: Absolutely, the Japanese have been very forthcoming in giving us the credit for that. This year they had to extend their season by two weeks and still they were 305 whales short of their quota. That meant that they had to get 750 whales just to break even, and they got 650. But they're out of a quota of almost 1000.

The year before it was 500 whales, so we've been able to halve their quotas every year, and we've cost them in the neighborhood of about 50 to 60 million dollars a year. They're now in debt to the Japanese government in subsidies to about 80 million dollars, so they're hurting real bad. Our objective is to bankrupt them, and I think we're on the road to doing that.

TreeHugger: Why whales? Is this a personal connection for you?

Watson: Well it's not just whales. We've got a full-time presence in the Galapagos Islands with a patrol boat, a surveillance vessel, a K-9 unit, and a network. We're working in partnership there with the National Park Rangers and the Ecuadorian Federal Police to stop poaching operations. We've seized tens of thousands of illegal shark fins and we've arrested dozens and dozens of poachers. I think we seized about 65 boats so far.

We're working there exclusively to protect sharks, lobsters, and sea cucumbers. We're also trying to stop illegal fishing in the Mediterranean; we're taking fishing companies to court in Brazil; we just won a couple of lawsuits there. We're trying to stop the dolphin slaughter in Iki Island, Japan, the pilot whale slaughter in the Farrow Islands in the North Atlantic, the seal hunt in Canada and in Southern Africa. We're operating worldwide focusing on a wide range of marine species ranging all the way from plankton to the great whales.

In fact, last year we shut down Planktos, which is an operation that wanted to dump a hundred tons of iron filings near the Galapagos to stimulate a plankton bloom, without having any environmental impact studies as to what the effect would be. We were able to shut them down. So it's not just whales.

TreeHugger: What do you say to people who call you and you're guys pirates?

Watson: Oh, I don't really care. They can call us anything they like. But when people started calling us pirates I said, oh well that sounds OK, let's adopt the Jolly Roger, which now has turned out to be our most popular merchandise item. Kids love it.

But if you go back to the 17th Century, it wasn't the British Navy that shut down piracy in the Caribbean. Too many politicians and military people were on the take, and piracy flourished. Piracy was shut down by one man: Henry Morgan. So if you want to stop pirates, you need pirates to do it.

And there have been some pretty notable pirates throughout history. The founder of the United States Navy, John Paul Jones, was a pirate. Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh. Pirates have not always been bad; pirates have the freedom to do what governments can't do because their hands are tied politically.

TreeHugger: So it sounds like you do have a certain amount of respect for the role of the pirate or the vigilante, even if you aren't quite ready to adopt the moniker.

Watson: Well, we actually do…people call can call us pirates, we don't really care. They can call us eco-terrorists, I don't care what they call us. The fact is that we've never been convicted of a felony crime, we've never injured anybody.

A few years ago, the Dali Lama gave me a little statue called Hayagriva, and when I asked him what it was, he said it's a symbol for the compassionate aspect of Buddha's wrath. And I said, 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 we understood that that was the approach we were taking, the tactic that we are using.

We're an extremely non-violent organization—33 years without causing a single injury, without sustaining any injuries, without being convicted of a crime. We're not terrorists, we're not criminals. Those are just labels. In fact, it doesn't matter whether you're saving whales or running for President of the United States these days, if people don't like you they're going to call you a terrorist. It's become the most favored catch phrase of all time.

Tags: Activism | Dolphins | Farming | Fish | Fishing | Planet Green | TreeHugger Radio


treehugger slideshows