This is a response to the recently published editorial titled: “Paul Watson: Shining Activist Hero or Psychopathic Terrorist?.”
Don Freeman of the International Whale Protection Organization writes the following, and we thank him for his contribution to the ongoing discussions and articles here on The Costa Rica Star.
Some truly unique individuals have shaped the course of the environmental movement. Paul Watson is one of them. Controversial as he has been over the years one thing is certain: Watson’s critics often exaggerate his deeds to imply malicious intent against the public and make broad assumptions about his state of mind. In fact, one of the most common misrepresentations made by critics of environmentalists is that of emotional instability — as if there are no valid reasons for protest or direct action in the name of conservation or animal rights. Dr. Black has stumbled into a hole of factual inconsistencies and omission of important details in his assault on the character of Paul Watson.
Let’s begin with the whales and Greenpeace. In 1975, an organization known for anti-nuclear protest took a small boat out into the North Pacific in order to physically confront whalers from the Soviet Union. Most people don’t know that the Soviets had been killing thousands of whales above their allotted quotas for years without revealing the true catch totals to the International Whaling Commission. In fact, most of the world’s whale species had been decimated by commercial whaling industries due to over-exploitation and regulatory violations — many remain endangered today as a result.
In 1975, Paul Watson and Robert Hunter of the original Greenpeace Foundation out of Canada made history as the first people to use themselves as human shields by driving small boats between the harpoon gunners and the whales. The gunners fired over the heads of the activists with no regard for their lives. For a Greenpeace organization that is still best known for anti-whaling activism I’d say this makes Watson more than just an influential former member. However, the world’s whaling industries were still out of control and driving whale species to the brink of extinction.
Watson did move on to form his own more aggressive organization (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) and he immediately targeted the Sierra. Most people don’t know that the Sierra was a notorious ‘pirate whaler’ that operated outside of IWC regulations and illegally killed whales — including undersized animals, mother and calf pairs, and endangered species. Sierra would smuggle the meat from these illegal hunts to Japan. An activist named Nick Carter received accolades from the UNEP for his tireless investigations into pirate whaling (and more).
Paul Watson directly confronted this pirate whaling ship that had changed flags of convenience and broken laws in several countries prior to the ‘ramming’. As for Sierra’s ultimate demise — unknown saboteurs finally blew a hole in her side, in port, and ended her criminal career. Nobody was hurt and despite Watson’s past claims there is no solid evidence linking him personally to the incident.
The whaling ships IBSA I and II operated with support from the Spanish government but Spain was not a member of the IWC and its ships were therefore also operating outside of international whaling regulations. Due to the pirate whaling scandals, Japan banned the import of whale meat from IWC non-members in 1979 and then Spain joined the organization. The two IBSA ships met a similar fate to Sierra when explosives damaged the hulls of both vessels. Again, nobody was hurt and Watson could not be directly linked to the incident despite any claims.
In 1986, Iceland’s whaling ships were known for killing undersized endangered Sei whales and endangered Fin whales to export meat to Japan and Iceland planned to continue killing whales through a bogus ‘research’ program despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling. Sea Shepherd activists sank two of the four whaling ships in port by simply opening valves and letting the water slowly in. Once again, nobody was hurt as the activists took care to ensure the ships were not occupied at the time.
Of course, Watson’s direct action campaigns have never been limited to whales or simply enforcing particular international conventions. He confronted illegal long lining ships. He has several times confronted the Canadian seal hunt on the grounds that the industry is inherently cruel and unnecessary. The Faroe Islands pilot whale slaughter was directly opposed on similar grounds.
However, Sea Shepherd has not always taken action at odds with law enforcement. The organization has specifically helped improve the capabilities of those charged with the protection of the Galapagos and Cocos Islands from poaching. Watson’s organization donated a ship, radio equipment, police dogs (for suspected smuggling), and even weapons to law enforcement officers to enable them to deal with illegal fishing.
The Varadero was participating in exactly the type of fishing operation Sea Shepherd seeks to end. The Costa Rican flagged ship was filmed finning sharks illegally in Guatemalan waters. When the Varadero refused to return to port, Watson turned water canons on the fishermen and was involved in a ship collision. Again, Nobody was hurt. The activists later filmed illegally gotten shark fins being dried on rooftops in Costa Rica which criminals quickly attempted to hide once they spotted the cameras. The incident can be seen in the documentary film “Sharkwater“.
The reader will benefit from having a more complete picture of these incidents than Dr. Black is willing to present in his rather one-sided assault on Paul Watson’s character. Black even reaches back to ‘tree spikes’ of all things. Well, the thing about tree spikes is that the environmentalists who used them told the logging companies that the trees were spiked. They never intended to injure loggers — merely to make it more difficult to cut down large swaths of old growth forests.
To my knowledge there is only one man who was ever injured by a tree spike and it wasn’t Watson’s doing. In fact, the FBI’s main suspect in the incident was a survivalist — not a protester — who was angry that the logging company was illegally taking trees off of his property so he spiked his own trees. He also failed a lie-detector question about whether he spiked trees outside of his property too. Of course, that didn’t stop the logging industry from parading the injured worker around the country and demonizing all environmentalists on television.
James Marshall Black has written an article of familiar deception. He selectively omits important details on Watson’s actions, as well as the effective results, while implying malicious intent to injure or murder for emotional (or pathological) reasons. He also makes factually incorrect statements by implying Sea Shepherd actions resulted in deaths (they have not).
So here is a fact that Dr. Black and the reading audience should be aware of: I can not find a single example of any environmental activist ever murdering anyone for an environmental cause. However, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of non-violent activists being brutally attacked and murdered by industry thugs, criminals, and even corrupt military and police officers.
In recent years, an international celebrity by the name of Gordon Ramsay even had his life threatened by shark fin dealing criminals in Costa Rica. He was lucky to escape with his life. Many activists were not so lucky.
Jane Tipson protested against the use of live dolphins in captivity for marine entertainment parks. She was shot at close range and killed in St. Lucia.
Jenny May also protested against dolphin captivity. She was strangled to death with her own belt.
Dian Fossey disabled the traps of gorilla poachers and reported their activities to police. She was hacked to death with a machete.
Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto protested against a mining operation. She was shot to death when she was 8 months pregnant and carrying her two year old child who was also wounded in the attack.
Fernando Pereira was killed when the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was sunk with explosives set by French government agents — many of the crew were on board and narrowly escaped. The act was undertaken to prevent protest of nuclear bomb testing.
These are just a few examples among hundreds that have gone ignored by critics like Dr. Black who insists that environmentalists are somehow ‘violent’ or ‘psychopathic’ in their ‘emotional’ defense of nature.
In over 30 years of activism Paul Watson has never killed anyone (and never attempted to). Unfortunately, the real and measurable violence done against activists and ordinary people remains all but forgotten. Meanwhile criminals continue to engage in destructive and illegal practices with tacit approval from Watson’s opposition.