10 Questions for Captain Paul Watson on Japan’s Retreat from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary
1. Do you think Japan has given up on whaling operations in the Southern Ocean for good?
Captain Paul Watson: We are not sure. We are hopeful that they will cease whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, but if they do return, we will be there once again next season to greet them. I believe we will be able to return stronger than we did this year and better equipped to obstruct their illegal whaling operations.
2. Why do you think they quit their whaling operations a month and a half earlier than they planned?
Captain Paul Watson: They had no choice. We had effectively ended their operations. Once we took control of the stern slipway of the factory ship the Nisshin Maru, we took control of their whaling operations. If they can’t load dead whales onto the flensing deck of the factory ship, they can’t kill whales. They therefore had two choices. They could continue having us chase them around burning fuel for nothing or they could return home to Japan.
3. The Japanese fisheries agency said they recalled their ships because of safety concerns for their crews? Do you think this was a legitimate concern?
Captain Paul Watson: No, our tactics have not changed during the seven annual campaigns we have mounted to the Southern Ocean. We have returned stronger and better financed every year and thus more effective at locating and blocking their operations. I believe they officially ended their whaling operations because we had already effectively ended their whaling operations in practice. The Japanese whalers have never had any cause to be afraid of us. We have never seriously injured anyone in our history and we are proud of that unblemished record.
4. The Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) has labeled the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as an eco-terrorist organization. Is that a cause for concern?
Captain Paul Watson: The can call us whatever they wish but it seems to me they should either arrest us for terrorism or shut up. They have been calling us terrorists for years and they have not charged us with any crimes. I don’t think they understand what the word terrorist means. In Japanese, it appears to mean anything that opposes the Japanese status quo.
5. Japan has requested that Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands take action to stop Sea Shepherd from interfering with their whaling operations. Does this concern you?
Captain Paul Watson: Japan has been making this request, in fact demanding it, for six years. I don’t think that these governments will oppose the anti-whaling position of their own citizens to do favors for Japan. They may give lip service and other diplomatic niceties but they know very well that the ballot boxes for the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia are not to be found in Tokyo.
6. What made the difference this year over previous years?
Captain Paul Watson: Every year we come back to the Southern Ocean we are stronger, more experienced, and better equipped than the year before. Every year the whaling fleet comes back weaker than the year before. This year we also had the Gojira as a scout vessel skippered by Captain Locky MacLean, a man less inclined to grandstand and more inclined to do his duty for the cause; he did his job perfectly by locating both the fueling ship and the Nisshin Maru, and obstructing the harpoon vessels. We also had the Bob Barker with its ability to track and dog the whalers no matter where they go with its long-range fuel capacity and ice strength hull. Most importantly we had a great team, 88 passionate volunteers on the three ships, and a strong onshore support team internationally.
7. How many whales were killed this season and how does this compare with last season?
Captain Paul Watson: Last season, of the self-imposed quota of 935 Minke whales, 50 humpbacks, and 50 fin whales, they killed 507 Minkes, and zero humpbacks and fins. This year, according to the ICR, they killed 170 Minke whales and 2 fin whales. They only took 16% of their overall quota. I thought at first they could not have taken more than a hundred whales considering the limited opportunities with only one harpoon boat, but I have since discovered that they had taken the harpooners off the other two hunter killer boats and put them on one to allow them to work around the clock. I also suspect that instead of “sampling” from different pods or groups, they took the opportunity to slaughter entire groups to maximize their take. This conflicts with their so-called scientific justification for whaling, but they were desperate to kill as many whales as possible before we could latch onto their stern, and shut them down for good.
8. Greenpeace did not even mention Sea Shepherd as being responsible for the decision by Japan to withdraw from their whaling operations. Why did they do that?
Captain Paul Watson: The simple answer is they don’t like Sea Shepherd and they don’t like me, despite me being a co-founder of Greenpeace. The fact is that credit for shutting down the whale slaughter was given to Sea Shepherd by the Japanese government and the Japanese whalers. It does not get any clearer than that. I invited Greenpeace to ally with us this year, but they refused. I remain open to working in cooperation with them but they have a policy of refusing to recognize our existence. It’s a pity really because as a co-founder of Greenpeace, I wish I could be proud of what we started back in 1972, and I hope that one day I still may be able to be proud of Greenpeace. I will say they lose credibility and do themselves and their members a great disservice by pretending that Sea Shepherd does not exist. Greenpeace should exercise the second part of their name and make peace with other organizations, especially an organization founded and headed by one of their own co-founders.
9. Do you think that Sea Shepherd accomplished this great success on your own?
Captain Paul Watson: Absolutely not. Without the support of the people and the ports of Australia and New Zealand, we would not have been able to undertake these campaigns. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the ports of Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, New Castle, Brisbane, Fremantle, and Albany in Australia, and the ports of Wellington, Bluff, and Auckland in New Zealand. We are grateful to the people of the Netherlands and to the Dutch Postal Code Lottery for the privilege of flying the Dutch flag and for the much appreciated financial support. We are grateful to the Mohawks of the Kahnawake Reserve for honoring us with the flag of the Five Nations of the Iroquois League, and we are grateful for officially being presented with the Aboriginal flag from Australia and the Maori flag of Aotearoa. We are very appreciative of the incredible support from Mr. Bob Barker for making it possible for us to get a perfect ship to assist the Steve Irwin. Politically, we are thankful to Australian Senators Bob Brown and Rachel Siewert, the Australia Greens Party, Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt and former Mayor Peter Tagliaferri, former Australian Minister of the Environment Senator Ian Campbell, and to the Mayor of Wellington - Celia Wade-Brown.
In fact, there are so many people that have helped and participated, raised funds, and volunteered their time that I am writing up a special thank you to everyone that will be quite lengthy, but most deserving, and we will post it on our website soon. Bottom-line, this was an international collective achievement by many great passionate and dedicated people, all of whom I admire and appreciate.
10. Where does Sea Shepherd go from here?
Captain Paul Watson: We must be prepared to return to the Southern Ocean next season. We do not know if the whalers will resume hunting but we will be prepared to intercept them if they do. We plan to be even more effective, and that means acquiring a fourth vessel; a larger faster ice strength, long-range ship that can outrun the harpoon boats through ice. In the meantime, we have bluefin tuna to save in the Mediterranean, pilot whales to save in the Danish Faroe Islands, and poachers to intercept in the Galapagos. From plankton to the great whales, there are many threats and challenges to marine wildlife and we must address what we can, where we can, and as best we can with the resources we have available to us.