'If the oceans die, we die' Print E-mail
Monday, 29 October 2007 00:00

'If the oceans die, we die'

By Amanda Dale, Royal Gazette, 29 Oct 2007

Environmental crusader Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd and co-founder of Greenpeace, captivated a full house for two talks at BUEI Tuesday evening. Here is stands in front of humpback whale video footage shot by local writer and filmmaker Andrew Stevenson in between is back to back talks at BUEI.
Photo Glenn Tucker

We are in danger of extinction and it is all self-inflicted — that was the stark message from Captain Paul Watson to the people of Bermuda.

Hundreds packed the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute last Tuesday evening for a lecture by the controversial environmental conservationist, whose organisation has sunk ten whaling vessels.

Beautiful footage of the Island's migratory humpback whales by filmmaker Andrew Stevenson opened the lecture, but any images of those gentle creatures were soon splattered by the bloody realities of Captain Watson's experiences.

The founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society spoke of the moment of epiphany when he first discovered his purpose in life.

In 1975, he was in a rubber boat with fellow Greenpeace co-founder Robert Hunter speeding alongside a 150-foot Soviet whaler, trying to save eight sperm whales from slaughter just for lubricant oil.

The whalers hit a female with a grenade harpoon and then struck the male trying to protect her.

Captain Watson, describing the screams of the whales as "like a human", then witnessed what he says is the superior intelligence of these creatures.

"What I saw really changed my life forever," he said. "I saw that the whale really knew what we (him and Bob Hunter) were trying to do. Instead of coming forward and landing on top of us, he fell backwards and I saw him fall back beneath the surface where he died.

"He could have chosen to take our lives with him and he didn't. He looked me in the eye, and it was a look of pity, that we, our species, could claim the lives of others so easily, carelessly and brutally."

Since then, Captain Watson has gone on to forge a reputation as the world's marine wildlife warrior.

Celebrated by some but reviled by others, his organisation the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is relentless in its pursuit of those who defy the international regulations of the United Nations World Charter for Nature.

The 56-year-old Canadian told the BUEI audience on Tuesday of his exploits in destroying whaling vessels around the world, but stressed none were ever sunk at sea.

"The SSCS is a law-upholding organisation, not a law-breaking one. We've never injured anyone and we've never been convicted of a felony anywhere in the world. Our opponents are criminals.

"We oppose poachers and people doing what they should not be doing, people who are no better than cocaine dealers, drugs smugglers and gun runners."

Captain Watson said that by scuppering the vessels in ports, this ultimately forced insurance and security costs higher.

"We've hit the whaling industry pretty hard, costing them tens of millions of dollars," he said, adding that his somewhat fearsome reputation also has its advantages.

"We are battling massive public relations machinery in Japan, but that actually occurs in my favour, as so many of those whalers out there think I am actually a mass murderer so that when we show up, they run."

But he added: "I'm not radical, I'm as conservative as I'm a conservationist. We're trying to conserve the natural world and stop it from being radicalised. We are pirates of compassion in pursuit of pirates of greed."

Today, Captain Watson is on his way to the Southern Ocean to head Operation Migaloo, a campaign to stop the Japanese whaling fleet from slaughtering more than 1,000 whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.

He told The Royal Gazette he was "hopeful" of its success, explaining that whaling is now a political issue in Australia and the Labour party has promised to send in the Navy to assist the SSCS if it wins the general election.

At the BUEI lecture, however, Captain Watson berated governments for not doing more to save the planet's species.

He said: "It's the governments of the world who should be protecting the oceans.

"We have to intervene because for the most part our governments aren't doing anything about it. They should be protecting the earth and the people, but in fact they are protecting the corporations."

Ironically, the SSCS does not receive any government funding but actually assists governments around the world.

In the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador and in Costa Rica it has provided park rangers with equipment and training to help them catch illegal shark finning operators.

Captain Watson said he set up the SSCS "as a business to put us out of business", and that the society does not spend any money on fund raising such as direct mailing campaigns.

"I won't do that, and because of this we can guarantee your contribution will be spent out there doing this", he said. "It keeps us small but it keeps us honest."

Captain Watson, whose ship is currently in Bermuda, added that each individual can play their part, even just by volunteering for a few hours at a conservation or environmental group.

"If everybody was to contribute something, even just a few hours, it would make all the difference in the world," he said.

"We try to set an example and empower people. We have to realise that each and everyone of us has the power to intervene.

"You have to use your skills and abilities, your expertise and your experience into making this a better planet. If everyone focused on this it would make all the difference."

He said the inhabitants of Earth now face stark choices to determine their future survival, telling the BUEI audience that the demise of ocean creatures, combined with overfishing, population growth and global warming is tipping the balance in the world's fragile eco-system.

"The oceans are dying, and if the oceans die, then we die," he said.

Earth is now witnessing the Sixth Extinction of the planet, as described by Richard Leakey.

"We will destroy more species from 1984 to 2040 than we have done in the past 65 million years", said Captain Watson.

"Species are disappearing all over the planet right now."

And due to the law of interdependence, it means we could be next. The biggest challenge now for the human race is to "simplify, simplify, simplify", as in the words of David Thoreau.

"When you take into account the profound impact we have on the planet we have to adjust our behaviour appropriately to save the planet," said Captain Watson.

"I think the most important thing is to keep in mind what kind of impact you are having on your eco-system, such as what you eat. We have to find ways of lowering our ecological footprint and make it shallower."

Ticket sales for Captain Watson's two lectures at BUEI raised $6,000 for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

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