Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace - An Unfortunate Conflict

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
On Board the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin

The Japanese whaling season is almost half over. Both the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin and the Greenpeace ship Esperanza have been forced to leave the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary due to lack of fuel. This should merely be a logistical retreat - it should not be a declaration of surrender.

The Steve Irwin intends to return to Melbourne, refuel, re-provision, do some repairs on the main engine, take on some replacement crew, and return. This is a difficult decision simply because the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society does not have the resources to return but then again we normally operate with a debt and we would rather go deeper into debt than surrender. And with the Japanese fleet on the ropes, now is not the time to surrender. The chase must be resumed and the whalers must be hounded and further deterred from their illegal slaughter.

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza will not be returning. We would like them to return. We need as much opposition to the whalers as possible. There is strength in diversity of tactics and of strategy. Greenpeace has stated that their campaign for this year is over. In other words they have enough footage, photos and a storyline to fuel another multi-million dollar fund-raising drive for the rest of the year.

Now I know I may be sounding cynical here and perhaps I am but as a co-founder of Greenpeace I have to say that I am personally disgusted at this corporate, emotionless, exploitive annual ocean posing event that Greenpeace stages every year.

My message to them is simple. If you collect the money to save the whales then you should spend the money on saving the whales.  And they do collect the money! That is an area that Greenpeace excels in. Tens of millions of pieces of direct mail appeals each year. Door to door and telephone solicitations. Online advertising, television ads, radio ads, magazine ads.

Greenpeace spends more on soliciting funds to save the whales than they spend on actually sending a ship to sea to save the whales. For example Greenpeace has booked the online advertising space for major Australian and New Zealand newspapers and for news outlets like Google for three solid months to coincide with their annual whale-a-thon marketing event.

And they only oppose whaling operations based on the popular appeal of the operation. You won't see Greenpeace on the beaches in Taiji protecting dolphins or on the shores of the Faeroe Islands protecting pilot whales or in Neah Bay, Washington trying to stop the illegal killing of Grey whales by Makah Indians. Sea Shepherd covers all these places without ever once seeing a Greenpeacer in the area. The reason is simple, the market potential of these regional atrocities is small compared to taking on the Japanese whalers.

Sea Shepherd may not be popular for tackling American Indians for illegally killing whales and we may not be popular in Japan for exposing the brutality of the killing of 20,000 dolphins every year by Japanese fishermen and we upset a lot of Scandinavians by intervening against Norwegian and Danish whaling but one thing Sea Shepherd does not do is discriminate.

Sea Shepherd actions are directed against the unlawful slaughter of marine species by anyone, anywhere, for any reason, popular or unpopular. This is one of the reasons that Greenpeace does not like Sea Shepherd. By our actions we call into question their motivations.

Greenpeace says that it disapproves of Sea Shepherd because we are a violent organization despite the fact that in our thirty year history, Sea Shepherd has never injured a single person, has never had a single person injured and has never been guilty of a felony crime.

Greenpeace states that damaging property is violent and we agree except when the property is used to illegally destroy life. Sea Shepherd does not protest, we intervene and we have no qualms about destroying the harpoon or the rifle of a poacher.

A few years ago after Sea Shepherd had scuttled half the Icelandic whaling fleet I was doing a radio talk show program in Vancouver when someone called in a bomb threat to the station to "protest his violence." That was weird enough but with the radio station staff and myself on the sidewalk as the police searched for the "pacifist bomb," a reporter thrust a microphone into my face and said, "Greenpeace has just denounced you as an eco-terrorist. What's your response?"

The only thing that came to mind was to try and laugh it off and to say, "Oh what do you expect from the Avon Ladies of the environmental movement?"

Well they've never forgiven me for that although my reference to their door-to-door solicitors was more accurate than their accusation of me of being a terrorist.

Greenpeace brings in over two hundred million dollars every year. They have tens of millions in bank accounts around the world. They build multi-million dollar office buildings and they employ hundreds of staff. They market themselves as the generic name in positive environmental imaging. In short, they are the world's largest "feel good" organization.

People join Greenpeace to feel good, to feel like they are part of the solution and not a part of the problem. It's okay to eat fish, jet around in airplanes, smoke, and work in the chemical industry just so long as you have that Greenpeace membership card to demonstrate that you're a bona fide environmentalist.

It's sort of like the difference between Canada and the United States on the issue of global warming. Canada has a great reputation for fighting global warming because Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol and the United States did not. The problem is that per capita greenhouse gas emissions are higher in Canada than the U.S. and Canadian emissions have increased rather than decreased but they are perceived as being ecologically superior to the United States by the simple act of signing a document.

Greenpeace dispenses ecological dispensation the way Pope Rodrigo Borgia once gave dispensation to sinners to enter heaven in return for gold. For the price of a Greenpeace supporting membership, you can be absolved of your ecological sins.

The commodity that Greenpeace sells is a clear conscience and there is a huge market for that. And it is a simple market to tap by orchestrating media stunts and staging photo-ops with follow up mass mailing appeals.

I am the person that developed the Greenpeace tactic of taking small inflatable boats and running them between harpoon ships and fleeing whales. I did that way back in 1975 and it was a tactic that worked only for as long as there were men and women with the courage to hold the line, - that is to actually place their lives on the line rather than to pretend to place their lives on the line and then duck out at the last moment. When the first Greenpeacer to move out of the way of a harpoon did so, the tactic was rendered obsolete because any true eco-warrior would now be taking an unacceptable risk if the harpooner assumed the boat would get out of the way. Non-violent tactics work only if the activist is sincere and does not back down - no matter what.

Now every year we see Greenpeacers battling water cannons fired from the whaling boats. It all looks very dramatic but is it real? Sea Shepherd boats never get hit with the water cannons for the simple reason that they are so easy to avoid. Sea Shepherd boats run alongside the whalers to try and foul their props or to toss stink bombs on the deck and never get hit. What Greenpeace does is run their boats directly into the water columns but they make sure the cameras are running first.

As Patrick Moore once said when he was President of Greenpeace Canada, "It does not matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true."

It's called ocean posing. This year Greenpeace said they attempted to put a small boat between the supply vessel Oriental Bluebird and the factory ship Nisshin Maru but the tactic failed when the Zodiac inflatable pulled away to avoid being crushed. A sensible move of course but it undermines the effectiveness of the tactic. If the opposition knows that the move is a bluff then they will proceed knowing that the boat will get out of the way.

Greenpeace said the boat got out of the way because it was dangerous. Of course it was dangerous. What is the point of putting your life on the line for a cause if you are only putting your life on the line in a kind of, sort of way, that is until it becomes dangerous? The Freedom Riders did not back down to the lynch mobs of Mississippi. Gandhi's people did not back down to the clubs and bullets of the British army, and in the early days of Greenpeace we did not back down from blocking sealing ships even when the ice was breaking up under our feet.

This year Greenpeace failed to track the Japanese fleet from Japan. They failed to stop the refueling. They claim they chased the whaling fleet for two weeks when the reality of the situation was that the whalers were looking over their shoulders and over the heads of the Greenpeacers because they knew Sea Shepherd was coming over the horizon and Sea Shepherd was intent on screwing up their ships and equipment. Even the whalers admitted to this when a Japanese spokesperson Glen Inwood said that the Greenpeace claims were a farce because the whalers were running from Sea Shepherd.

The Japanese whalers had never run from Greenpeace in previous years so there was no reason they would have been running from them this year except for one little difference, Sea Shepherd was chasing the fleet. Yet when Sea Shepherd brought the fleet to a stand-still by having two of our crew board the Yushin Maru No. 2, Sara Holden of Greenpeace described the tactic as a "distraction."

Jonah Fisher reporting from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza said that while Greenpeace was chasing the factory ship, Sea Shepherd crew were sipping tea on the harpoon vessel. Yes they were indeed, and they were toasting the fact that the harpoon vessel could not do any harpooning with two Sea Shepherd hostages onboard. In fact the most satisfying moment for the two men held on the Japanese boat was when they looked out the porthole and saw a whale swimming alongside unmolested by the whalers.

It is interesting that the Nisshin Maru led the Esperanza on a wild chase away from the catcher boats to allow the catcher boats to refuel from the Oriental Bluebird. When the Steve Irwin disrupted that refueling operation, the Nisshin Maru abruptly turned completely around and headed back to the fleet. The entire fleet then ran far to the East and then turned and ran far to the West again. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza tagged along for the ride but the whalers were not running from the Esperanza.

Some people may be surprised to learn that Greenpeace does not oppose all whaling. John Frizell of Greenpeace has said that "Greenpeace does not condone nor condemn whaling in principle." The whale slaughter in the Faeroes, coastal whaling in Japan, the Canadian seal hunt, the polar bear sport hunt in Alaska and the dolphin slaughter in Japan have all been described by Greenpeace as "sustainable."

When we were once chasing the Nisshin Maru we saw the Japanese whalers hang a banner from the stern saying "Greenpeace is a sham."

I thought to myself, well at least there is one thing the Japanese whalers and I agree on. Although where we disagree is that the Japanese whalers have little use for Greenpeace and I believe that Greenpeace can still serve the planet in many useful ways. In short I am not anti-Greenpeace, just anti-the bureaucracy that Greenpeace has become. Toss out the bureaucrats, the ridiculous, tedious committee meetings, the posturing and the lack of consistency and Greenpeace could become the once dynamic organization it once was instead of just being the generic feel good corporation it has become.

I do not wish to see the destruction of Greenpeace. I am after all - a founding father of the Greenpeace movement. My lifetime Greenpeace membership is 007 and I would really love to see Greenpeace return to the Southern Oceans this year when we return.

Strength lies in diversity and interdependence, two of the basic laws of ecology.  We could use as much diversity of tactics and strategies as we can get down off the coast of Antarctica and I would work hand in hand with the Vatican or the Republican Party if they joined us in condemning whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We are certainly willing to work in cooperation with Greenpeace and the fact that we cannot do so is entirely the decision by the Greenpeace bureaucracy to not cooperate with Sea Shepherd.

That in itself is excusable. What is not excusable is Greenpeace's decision to not return to the Southern Ocean and to surrender the whales to the cruel harpoons of the Japanese whalers. They collected the money to defend the whales and that is what that money should be spent upon. If nothing else Greenpeace should open their books to reveal just how much money their whale campaigns have brought in and how much money they actually have spent in the field.

The killing of the whales will resume in a few days and the pity of it is that a cooperative strategy between Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace could have prevented the resumption of the slaughter.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin will be returning to the Southern Oceans as soon as possible to rout the Japanese fleet again - this time we will be down there alone but nonetheless we will shut them down again no matter what the risks required.

This battle is far from over and a retreat from the killing fields in the midst of this slaughter when resources are fully available is simply disgraceful.

Greenpeace will be patting themselves on the back for the rest of the year proclaiming that they "saved" a hundred whales.

I suppose Patrick Moore's philosophy is still prevalent in Greenpeace today.

"It does not matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true."