Finding the Whalers With the "Help" of Greenpeace

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The whaling area along the coast of Antarctica is a vast region covering thousands of miles. Finding the whalers means a voyage along the coast using a helicopter to search for the elusive fleet.

Once found, the difficulty is to not lose the whalers and this was difficult for the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat. The whalers have a five-knot advantage.

The Greenpeace Foundation has two ships tailing the whalers - the Arctic Sunrise and the Esperanza. The Esperanza is a large ship with the speed to match the Nisshin Maru. Once found, the Nisshin Maru could not shake the Esperanza from her tail.

The primary problem for Sea Shepherd was to continue finding the whalers. The Arctic Sunrise was constantly updated by the Esperanza. The Esperanza would not give information to the Farley Mowat.

In previous years, Greenpeace had posted their position on their website. This year they deliberately refused to post their position in order to keep Sea Shepherd from accessing it.

Although Sea Shepherd had been communicating with Greenpeace for nine months prior to the campaign in an effort to cooperate, Greenpeace refused to do so. This was a tragedy for the whales because many whales could have been saved by cooperating.

There is no doubt that Greenpeace has done an excellent job of documenting and dramatizing the slaughter of whales. Greenpeace was established as a media savvy organization. I should know. I was one of the founding members and directors of Greenpeace way back in 1972.

Unfortunately, the presence of Greenpeace did not prevent the killing of the whales because Greenpeace is limited by their tactics. I was the person who first developed the tactic of placing a small inflatable boat between the harpooner and the whale. Bob Hunter and I worked on this idea in 1974 and in 1975 we were the first individuals to actually block a harpoon shot with our bodies.

The problem is that the tactic had limited effectiveness in 1975. There has been little evolution in tactics since. Greenpeace is still doing essentially what they were doing thirty years ago.

Greenpeace is also limited by their philosophical stance of "bearing witness." This is a primarily religious attitude that atrocity, or injustice, can be challenged by witnessing the crime and reporting to others. It is very much a concept of the American Society of Friends also known as the Quakers.

The Greenpeace Foundation originated from two groups - the Quakers, primarily war resisters from the United States who had moved to Canada, and the British Columbian members of the Sierra Club.

The Sixties-era Sierra Clubbers represented the "Green" and the Quakers represented the "Peace." I myself was a Green. I am still a Sierra Club member and I am currently serving on the National Board of Directors of the Sierra Club in the United States.

What few people realize, however, is that in 1974 there was a split in Greenpeace. This occurred when Dr. Paul Spong came to Greenpeace with his concerns about the whaling industry. It was the first split of many that would follow.

Robert Hunter, Roberta Hunter, Rod Marining, and I were all excited at the idea of saving the whales and embraced Dr. Spong's initiative with enthusiasm.  We immediately approached Captain John Cormack to use his boat the Phyllis Cormack, and began to organize Project Ahab, which was the first Greenpeace campaign to save the whales

The Quaker faction of Greenpeace led by Jim Bolen were angered by this and felt it detracted from what they considered was the priority concern of Greenpeace - ending the Vietnam War and opposing nuclear weapons.

This was primarily an American Canadian split as the Quaker faction were all American, whereas the Hunters, Marining, and I were Canadian. Dr. Paul Spong was a New Zealander.

Jim Bolen and the other Quakers left Greenpeace over this and Greenpeace went on to mount campaigns to save whales and seals and to oppose over-fishing in addition to opposing nuclear power, pollution, and the clear-cutting of forests.

In 1977, I left Greenpeace to form Sea Shepherd Conservation Society because I envisioned a small organization that would intervene against illegal activities that exploited marine wildlife. I continued to work in partnership with Greenpeace.

In fact when I hunted down and rammed the pirate whaler Sierra in 1979 off the coast of Portugal, Greenpeace was very supportive. I wrote an article that was carried on the front cover of the Greenpeace Chronicles describing the campaign.

click to read article

In 1979, when Greenpeace International was founded, I was one of the signatories that established the international body.

Greenpeace International Founding Document

click to read document

Things changed in the early Eighties when there was a power struggle in Greenpeace. Robert Hunter left Greenpeace followed by most of the original activist founders. Greenpeace had purged its founders by the mid-Eighties.

Letter written by Robert Hunter

click to read letter

At this point, looking for an identity, Greenpeace International approached our old friend Jim Bolen and asked him to get involved. Although Bolen had been dormant since 1974, he proceeded to promote himself as "the" founder of Greenpeace and also reintroduced the Quaker idea of bearing witness.

The problem with this religious concept is that it is a form of pacifism that disallows direct and effective physical interference with killing or injustice.

Greenpeace had supported my ramming and sinking of the outlaw whaler Sierra in 1979. Under Bolen's guidance they now condemned it and even tried to rewrite history by stating that I was removed from Greenpeace for advocating violence.

So for twenty years, Greenpeace and I have been separated over this Quaker idea of "bearing witness."

Which brings us to the situation today where the whales are harpooned beside the Greenpeace activists as they helplessly look on. Harpoons are fired over their heads and the whales die. It is true that Greenpeace is harassing the whalers and this does slow them down. But they do not stop the killing. What they practice is a David and Goliath drama where they play the David to the Japanese Goliath.

A shepherd, however, has a duty to protect the flock and to prevent those under his or her charge from being destroyed. That is why I established Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Our objective is effective defense and protection. I have no interest in bearing witness. My objective is saving lives although without causing injury to any sentient being.

In so doing, we have targeted illegal whaling operations and sunk their ships. We have confiscated driftnets and longlines and we have destroyed equipment used to illegally take life. We have never caused a single injury to any person in the process.

What Sea Shepherd practices is non-violence without the ineffective religious restriction of "bearing witness."

The whalers of the world are intimidated by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and they are afraid of us. We want them to be afraid of us.

Which brings us to the present day and the dilemma of working in cooperation with what is now an extremely wealthy organization with fast ships and state of the art equipment. Greenpeace has the means to find and keep up with the whalers, and Sea Shepherd has the means to actually stop them. It could have been an ideal situation.

During the forty days that the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat was in the Southern Oceans, the whalers ran like cowards every time we approached. We never saw a whale killed and they knew if they attempted to kill a whale that we would damage their harpoons and possibly ram their vessels. We had done it before. In fact, we have put eight illegal whaling ships on the bottom since 1979 without causing a single injury.

But getting assistance from Greenpeace was not to be. However, we did get assistance from Greenpeace indirectly because of the network of original Greenpeace people of which I am one. I was able to get the coordinates from the Greenpeace ships from old friends and shipmates from the early days of Greenpeace - people who still passionately believe in protecting whales, people who still have connections to people who had access to the coordinates that they were able to relay to us. This would be people like Rod Marining who sailed on the maiden voyage of the Esperanza ands was arrested for blocking lumber from the Amazon. Rod was my shipmate on the first Greenpeace voyage to Amchitka in 1971 and a fellow co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation in 1972. He had access to the coordinates through his contacts and I had access through him.

And so, with the coordinates in hand, albeit on an irregular basis, we headed towards the whalers on December 21st. They ran from us.  On December 25th, we found them on our own by guessing where they would most likely go. We found them again on January 8th through our contacts in the Greenpeace Alumni and again after that.

Japan believes that Greenpeace is providing this information to us and Greenpeace is defensively denying this like it is a major crime.

During the campaign, I did not allow myself to react to Greenpeace criticisms of our tactics. It was important to have a united front against the whalers. I ignored the Greenpeace accusations that Sea Shepherd is "violent" and they are not. This really boils down to them saying that their approach is spiritually pure and we are the impure infidels.

The reality is that Greenpeace is approaching the issue from a quasi-religious fundamentalist position where the concept of "bearing witness" is paramount and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is approaching the issue from a secular position of enforcement of international conservation law and the saving of lives.

I would not bear witness to a man kicking a kitten or puppy to death or beating a child. I would intervene physically and aggressively to stop the violence.

For the same reason I cannot see watching whales being tortured and dying in abject agony while I "bear witness."

As a man of compassion, I must intervene. If I am called "violent" for doing so, this is irrelevant because I must live with myself and I have never harmed another person or animal during any action in my life. I can live with sinking whaling ships. I can sleep at night knowing that I've destroyed longlines and sealing clubs.

To witness the slaughter of a whale, to hear its screams, to see a mother abort her child size fetus as blood spurts from her torn womb, to witness the slow drowning or electrocution of a whale as the cold sea boils with blood and to know that I could have stopped it and yet did nothing - that would give me nightmares and that I would find unacceptable.

I don't wish to "bear witness." I wish to save lives.

When we return in eleven months, it will be with a faster ship and without a need for cooperation with Greenpeace. We will return to hunt the hunters.

It would, however, have been nice to have reunited with the organization that I helped to establish and to have worked together with Greenpeace to stop the killing of the whales. We, at Sea Shepherd, tried and they refused. The choice was theirs.

My only real regret is the number of whales that died as a result of that refusal.