Paul Watson Vows to Continue Anti-Whaling Crusade

Paul Watson will do just about anything to prevent the killing of whales. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which he founded in 1979, has sunk eight whaling ships, rammed numerous others and seized more than 80 poaching vessels. Watson's "environmental navy" seeks to disrupt whalers from Japan, Norway and Iceland—among the few countries who still allow the practice under a global moratorium on hunts. The Canadian-born Watson, 57, was a cofounder of Greenpeace but left that organization in 1977 in a disagreement over the group's direction. NEWSWEEK correspondent Jimmy Langman caught up with the somewhat controversial Watson in Santiago, Chile, this week at the International Whaling Commission meeting. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What do you hope to achieve this week in Santiago?
Paul Watson:
We are here in part to announce that we are launching our fifth Antarctica campaign, and in that we will take even a much more aggressive stand. I think the key to ending whaling is to keep their losses up over their profits. In the last two years, we have cost them about $70 million, so we just have to keep that up.

Were you successful this year in stopping Japanese whaling in Antarctica?
Last year and this year they only got half their quota. If we can raise some money to get a second ship, we could stop them 100 percent, but right now we are able to effectively stop 50 percent.

How do you respond to criticism of your tactics, such as Sea Shepherd's ramming ships or throwing rancid butter onto the decks of whaling vessels?
I am sure the gangsters criticize the police that go after them, too. But the facts are Japan is targeting endangered species in a whale sanctuary in violation of the moratorium and numerous other international laws. They are the criminals. We have never been convicted of a crime, and never injured anybody. They are shooting at us, throwing concussion grenades and ramming our vessels.

You have argued that your tactics are legal. How so?
We are upholding the U.N. Charter of Nature and operating within the principles of this charter, which allows for non-governmental organizations to intervene to uphold international conservation law. For instance, in 1986 we sunk half of Iceland's whaling fleet, and that might sound like it's illegal, but I did go to Reykjavik to demand that they charge me and they refused to do so. Because they knew that to put me on trial would be to put themselves on trial.

Are you pushing for reforms of the IWC to get them more actively involved in enforcing whale protection laws?
This is pretty much a useless body. They pass rules now and then, but they don't enforce them. If you look back at all of the international environmental conventions and agreements, they are total failures. I mean, what's the point of all these whale sanctuaries? We have the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, but they are killing 1,000 whales there every year. It all looks good on paper, but it doesn't mean anything unless you are going to enforce it. What the IWC has to do is to evolve into an organization that is conserving whales, and if it regulates anything at all, it should be whale-watching. Whaling has no place in the 21st century.

Japan argues its whaling is needed for scientific reasons.
I think the only research being done by Japan is marketing research and product development. There certainly is no scientific research. They have not published a single peer review paper in 20 years. Nobody buys their argument—it's just a loophole to allow them to carry on commercial whaling.

At this week's meeting, the United States and some other governments are proposing a compromise be worked out to prevent Japan from dropping out of the IWC.
If Japan would drop out of the IWC, I think it would be a good thing. It would become a renegade nation, and we will be even more aggressive with them.

What's needed to convince Japan, Norway and Iceland to change their whaling policies?
These countries are going to either voluntarily come to their senses, or else nature will deal a hand for them and the whole thing will collapse. I mean, right now, the Norwegians and Japanese are actually talking about taking massive amounts of plankton out of the Antarctica ecosystem to turn into a protein base for livestock without any research being done on what kind of impact that will have on whales, fish and global warming. When we start exploiting the very foundation of marine ecosystems and pulling it out of the system, we are going to have severe problems. Basically, we are literally eating this planet to death.

You must be concerned about the effects that climate change will have on the oceans.
I was concerned about global warming in 1975, and everybody said we were nuts. Right now, governments are acting incredibly irresponsibly. They have legions of scientists that I call biostitutes that justify all their political excesses. They are raping the world's oceans, and use the scientists to justify what they are doing. We predicted the demise of the cod fisheries in the North Atlantic 20 years before it happened. And up to the very day it collapsed, the scientists for the Canadian government said there is absolutely no danger, it is sustainable and it's the most well-regulated fishery in the world. Then, bang, it collapsed. These people have proven over and over again that they have no idea what they are talking about.