Worthy Goal, Troubling Tactics

Worthy Goal, Troubling Tactics

The Sea Shepherds were founded in 1977 by Captain Paul Watson, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace. They are an international non-profit organization dedicated to marine wildlife conservation. Their mission is "to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species." The Sea Shepherds are popularly associated with dramatic interventions on the behalf of whales, but the Sea Shepherds are also interested in protecting dolphins, seals, sharks, and their habitats. They often attempt to protect marine life and habitats with extreme methods, like ramming boats, throwing "stink bombs" to disrupt the whaling crews, or pelting the whalers with butyric acid, which recently resulted in the injury of four Japanese crew members.

Even more seriously, The Sea Shepherd Society is accused of disrupting search and rescue attempts when a Japanese sailor fell overboard. Captain Watson and others from the Sea Shepherd Society denied this, but those involved with the rescue attempts contradict that denial vehemently.

A recent article in the Huffington Post denounces the controversial tactics employed by the Sea Shepherd Society as eco-terrorism. "The Sea Shepherds fly the Jolly Roger flag of piracy. I think that they should be more accurately described as eco-terrorists." The Huff-Po article makes a good point, in that, in many cases the Sea Shepherds are deliberately vandalizing legal harvesting of Minke whales—which are not endangered—and other legal commercial fishing operations.

Meanwhile, Animal Planet is airing the second season of Whale Wars, the reality-TV series chronicling the voyages and aggressive anti-whaling tactics employed by founder, Captain Paul Watson and the crew of the Steve Irwin. The dramatic reality TV series is drawing criticism for exploiting and glorifying the highly questionable and sometimes illegal tactics of the Sea Shepherds, for the sake of ratings. Indeed, while it perhaps seems terribly romantic to resort to vigilante violence for what seems to be a righteous cause, it's too often an excuse to impose one's own personal morality on others. If, as a civilized society, we denounce illegal vandalism and violence in the name of activism—like the ongoing harassment arson, and other vandalism targeted against abortion clinics—then as a civilized society with an investment in the rule of law, we must logically denounce the illegal actions of the Sea Shepherd Society, as well. There's a strong argument to be made that, by acting outside the law and endorsing the use of violence, in the long term they're doing more harm than good.

The organization's tactics have been called into question by well-respected animal-advocate organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, which points out that something like 90% of premature whale deaths are due to collisions with ships. Just recently an oil tanker bound collided with a humpback whale and dragged the carcass into the harbor on the ship's bow. In another recent and well-publicized incident, a dead whale was found wedged onto the bow of a northwest-region cruise ship, apparently another collision victim. Developing better systems for detecting or even warning whales in the paths of large vessels would perhaps be energy better spent. Better systems, working within the law, like the recently-announced new rules for Navy sonar to protect whales off the Northwest coast, ultimately do much more long-term good than throwing acid at Japanese crewmen.

The video below was taken by a passenger on one of the Sea Shepherd's whale watches.