Last night I went to a lecture by Paul Watson here in Friday Harbor. For those of you who aren't familiar with Watson, he is the president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an activist group sometimes characterized as eco-terrorists. Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd are the focus of the Animal Planet TV series Whale Wars, where they go to the Southern Oceans to attempt to stop Japanese whaling. The conflicts have escalated over the years, including the ramming and sinking of ships, the boarding of vessels, and crew members being taken prisoner.
I'm anti-whaling myself, but after studying the issue in depth in an anthropology course in college I know how politically, culturally, and economically complex of an issue it really is. Having watched a few episodes of Whale Wars where inexperienced crew members flip a zodiac into the frigid Antarctic waters and having seen their larger vessel which doesn't have an ice grade hull be at risk of collapsing when striking an iceberg, I wondered about the intelligence of this particular campaign. After reading more about their strategies that include ship collisions and boarding other vessels I also question their tactics.
Sea Shepherd is based here in Friday Harbor but they generally keep a low profile, so I was very interested to see Paul Watson talk. I wasn't the only one, as the standing room only crowd of well over 100 packed the Grange Hall last night.
Overall I'd have to say I have a lot more respect for Paul Watson than I did before. He is a charismatic speaker and called on sound scientific facts to back up his strongly biocentric world view. Among other things, he spoke of the economic forces that are driving our world fisheries to collapse, how Sea Shepherd is an advocate for other species and doesn't hold much regard for human opinion, and how their activities are not illegal under the UN World Charter for Nature which gives any organization or individual the right to enforce international conservation law. He shed new light onto the issue of whaling (pointing out, for instance, that Japan threatens to revoke trading rights to those nations that try to stop them) that left you wondering, if Sea Shepherd weren't doing what they were doing in Antarctic waters, would anyone else really be spearheading the campaign to stop whaling?
Watson also realized that "ramming whale ships wasn't for everyone" and encouraged individuals to make use of their own talents in the fight for conservation and protection of all species on our planet. He said we need a diverse front made up of activists of all sorts to have real success. He also advised supporting smaller, local activist organizations rather than the larger eco-corporations which end up tied up in larger political and financial problems and are less able to take true action. Sea Shepherd, for instance, runs no fundraising campaigns, instead letting members come to them, which results in a more loyal membership base.
While I still personally disagree with some of Sea Shepherd's anti-whaling tactics and think we need to give more consideration to humans than Watson does, you cannot fault his principles and I found I agree with most of his ideals. In the end, though, he doesn't really care what I or anyone else thinks, and will continue to fight his fight on behalf of whales, fishes, sharks, and all the creatures in our world oceans.