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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Paul Watson in Friday Harbor

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.


juliana said...

Wow, I didn't realize Sea Shepherd was based in Friday Harbor! I've had mixed feelings about Paul Watson they same way I do about Richard Dawkins. While the violent nature of his campaign sometimes feels a little wrong, you have to admire his charisma, courage, and dedication! I guess it's probably good that someone's out there fighting an "in your face" battle on the issue. Even if it rubs a lot of people the wrong way, the publicity, especially now that he has that show, can't hurt,

So it's nice to hear you liked his talk. I really the point you mentioned about the benefit of a diverse front of activists.

Also, completely unrelated: David Dalton mentioned you and Orca Encounters at the Reed Biology open house for incoming freshman on Thursday as an example of successful Reed biology grads. :)

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Maybe if we saw more peer reviewed scientific papers and less suchhi menus from this 'scientific' whaling the Japanese do then there might not be so much need for Sea Shepherd. When your up against thugs and bullies - which is all they are, with big guns - then you need someone to stand up and be counted, well done to Paul and his TV shows to bring it to the attention of the rest of the world - the Southern Ocean is a big space to hide wrong doing in!
Plenty of European countries want sonme of the financial action that whaling could supply too, so even more important to let the general populace know what really goes on. Wish I could have been there to hear him - wish I had the guts to stand in his shoes!



Monika said...

Juliana - I agree about mixed feelings, for both Watson and Dawkins. While my style is probably more about education, you're totally right that the publicity his type of campaign draws is invaluable when it comes to making a difference. Thanks also for the note about Dalton - it's nice to hear!

Dave - I think it's pretty generally accepted the "scientific" part of their whaling is a crock. The work he does to let the general populace know about what's really going on is amazingly important - he said 5 years ago he doesn't think most Japanese people knew about whaling or the dolphin slaughters that go on there, and that is all beginning to change with Whale Wars and the movie The Cove. It's unfortunate European nations want back in on it as well - the EU seems to be leading the way on so many other environmental fronts!