The Strategy of Recognizing Our Enemies,
or Why We Enjoy Being the Most Despised and Reviled Conservation Organization in the World.
An Essay by Captain Paul Watson
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will celebrates our 26th year of operation this year.
26 years and we are still here. We are still active and stronger than we have ever been. It has not been easy. We have enemies - scores of them, literally hordes of them.
And it is these enemies that make us strong, that keep us active, that keep us on our toes, and allow us to be the most aggressive, most straight forward, and most successful marine wildlife conservation organization in the world.
When I founded the Sea Shepherd Society in 1977, I wanted to build an organization of dedicated and passionate volunteers and supporters. I did not want some polite, let's recycle, adopt a whale, sign a petition, organize a walk-a-thon, social club. I wanted an interventionist conservation organization and not a conversation club.
I did not create Sea Shepherd to be a protest organization. My objective was intervention. In their face - no nonsense intervention! I wanted to create an organization that would rock the boat, hell sink a few, if need be. I wanted a group that would say things that people did not want to hear, that would be politically incorrect, that would do things people did not like - in short, an organization that would piss quite a few people off.
Why? Because it is people that are at the root of all of our environmental and conservation problems. It is people stealing the carrying capacity of other species, destroying habitat, polluting the oceans, land and air. It is people increasing their numbers to insane levels. Most importantly it is a culture devised by arrogant human beings that places a price tag on everything in nature and chooses to remain willfully ignorant of the damage that is daily inflicted upon the natural world.
Oh, and we have, and we do piss people off. We've become quite expert at it. It's a very simple thing actually. All we have to do is speak the truth. All we have to do is confront the people, corporations, and government responsible for the systematic and greedy exploitation of the environment, of wilderness, and of nature.
It was never our intention to win popularity contests or to receive the Chevron Environmental Award. In fact, I take a great deal of personal satisfaction when I hear people denouncing Sea Shepherd, calling us names and making threats.
Over the last two and a half decades, I myself have been called many things. The capitalists have called me a communist, and the communists and socialists have called me a capitalist imperialist. I have in fact been called a cultural imperialist, an ethnocentric imperialist, an elitist, a fascist, an anarchist, an atheist, an alien, a faggot, and a homophobe. I've been condemned as a pacifist, an eco-terrorist, a pirate, a criminal, a monkey-wrencher, and a luddite. Oh yes, I am also a racist, a bigot, and a sexist. I've been called a murderer although I can't recall ever killing anyone. I've been called a smuggler, a killer of baby seals, an oil polluter, a hypocrite, and of course an asshole, jerk, creep, nutcase, moron, jackass, yada, yada yada.
It's extremely amusing. I may perhaps be some of these things, I don't know, and quite frankly I don't care, but I can't be all of these things, and certainly not at the same time. So I chalk it all up to assorted perceptions of realities of other people - none of whom I know, or care the least little bit about. And thus such things can be easily dismissed.
Carlos Castaneda in his epic tales of Don Juan once wrote of the importance of enemies. As a person's achievements rise, so do the numbers of enemies. Success breeds resentment. Triumph gives birth to opposition. Actions provoke anger and anger is the fuel of hostility.
The plain honest truth is that our enemies remind us that we are on the right track. Our enemies inspire us to more action and they give us the strength to do battle. Their hatred, their animosity, their challenges act upon the engines of our will like high octane fuel. And I do very much savor that rush of energy, that up-swell of inspiration, that every one of these unknowing allies gives us.
Who are our enemies? Where do I start? We are blessed with so many.
I have placed them in three separate categories. The first category are our professional enemies. These are the pirate whalers, sealers, illegal fishermen, poachers, and polluters, and of course their hand-maidens - the politicians and bureaucrats whose skirts they hide behind in defense of their heinous atrocities.
These enemies are international in scope. We have whalers who hate us in Norway, Japan, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Greenland, and in little Neah Bay, Washington. We have some really sore sealers who despise us in Newfoundland, Quebec, Norway, Russia, and South Africa. We have a plethora of enemies among poachers throughout the world's oceans and we are not very popular in the fishing communities of a great many nations like Taiwan, St. Lucia, the Azores, Indonesia, and Ecuador, to name just a few.
A few years a ago, a Canadian reporter asked me what it felt like to be the most hated man in Newfoundland. I answered that I thought Brian Davies of the International Fund for Animal Welfare had that honor, but if it was true, and the torch had indeed been passed to me, then it was a title that I am proud to bear. A guy has to be actually doing something to earn the title of the most hated man in Newfoundland. I earned that title by saving seals as Brian did before me, and if saving the lives of baby seals is a cause to be hated, I can only hope to save more, and be hated all the more for it.
The second category of enemies are those who on the surface would appear to be allies - our esteemed fellow conservationists. Unfortunately, Sea Shepherd is the "Lady of the Night" of the conservation movement. Many of our allies do agree with our objectives in the daytime but they don't want to be associated with our methods at night. Fortunately we believe that the strength of the conservation movement lies in diversity of approaches, and we welcome the approaches of the groups that do not tolerate our methods. The plain fact of the matter is that Sea Shepherd does not exist to appease the concerns of other organizations. We exist to intervene to protect endangered species and habitats. We treat this category of criticism with both amusement and tolerance.
An example of this is back in 1986. We had just sunk half the Icelandic whaling fleet. It was big news and I was doing a talk show in Vancouver, Canada when some nimrod called in a bomb threat to protest my violent tactics. I kid you not, I'm not making this up. Anyway we evacuated the station. A reporter shoves a microphone into my face and asks, "Greenpeace has just condemned you as a terrorist. What's your reaction?"
I responded by saying, "Well, what do you expect from the Avon Ladies of the Environmental Movement?"
Greenpeace has never forgiven me. Yet they had initiated the attack and called us terrorists. I defended Sea Shepherd by accusing them of something that struck close to home, referring to their legion of door-to-door solicitors.
Another example of this is Dian Fossey. This woman single handedly is responsible for the survival of the Mountain Gorilla. She had her real enemies in the government and of course amongst the poachers. She had plenty of critics and the stories attempting to discredit her have been numerous. She was a woman who said what had to be said, and did what needed to be done. Her work brought in the big bucks to two large conservation groups (they know who they are). They pulled in millions on her activism and gave her back thousands to support her work. Yet when she applied a heavy hand towards the poachers, both these groups threatened to cut off her funding completely unless she backed off. In this case she was sabotaged by her allies from attacking the real enemies. A case however could be made that her supposed "allies" were in fact really first category enemies who were exploiting Dian for the sole purpose of extracting money from their membership base and that they had no real concern for the gorillas at all, except as a commodity to be exploited.
The third category of enemies are the ones that dwell in the slime at the bottom of the enemy barrel. These are the social nut-cases who don't have a life other than making it their business to sling mud and toss crap. We have a few of these. They crawl out of the woodwork to attack us in the name of social, cultural, or political correctness. Usually they don't have much to say, certainly not much that is factual or coherent. Amongst this crowd are a few disenchanted former crew-members whose reaction to being dismissed or kicked deservedly off the ship is to retaliate with smears and jeers. These are the looney tunes that spend their money putting up web-sites to attack us. Web-sites with intelligent catchy names like "Killthewhales.com, or the Unofficial Paul Watson web-site that purports to have hard evidence that they allude to, yet never produce, of my crimes ranging from smuggling rare endangered species to baby seal killing.
Since 1977, we have had over 3,000 volunteers and employees with the society. Out of these only a dozen or so have left bitter and disgruntled and have made it their business to attempt to discredit or embarrass Sea Shepherd. From these ranks, we have had accusations that we dump oil into the ocean, that we harpoon dolphins, and that we shoot sea-birds for sport. There is only one tactic to use against this category of crackerjacks and that is to ignore them. Since the invention of the internet, any yo-yo hominid can set up a web-site and spout all the nonsense they want. Responding to them only adds fuel to their fire, and inspires them to create even more outrageous accusations.
So it is important to recognize who are our legitimate enemies are. They fall exclusively into category number one. It is this category of enemies that we direct our energies and attention towards. Category number two is a distraction and can be dealt with by responding only when attacked, and category number three is not worth doing anything about, and can be strategically ignored, unless incorporated into a particular strategy. Thus we can target our real enemies offensively like the pirate whalers, outlaw sealers, and illegal fishing operations and deal with attacks by our "allies" defensively.
The miracle has been that after twenty-five years, I am still alive, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has survived. This despite hundreds of confrontations, despite having been shot at, our ships sabotaged, our vessels rammed, our lives threatened, despite having been depth-charged, beaten by sealers, tear-gassed, and pursued by numerous national navies.
It is difficult to get agitated about slander and libelous remarks on the internet after weathering real-life dramatic show-downs on the high seas. We have survived, and we have left plenty of angry ocean-pillagers in our wake.
When our enemies called us pirates, we responded by designing our own Jolly Roger. I personally thought the accusation was complimentary. Back in the 17th Century, it was not the British and Spanish navies that stopped the buccaneers in the Caribbean. That task was achieved by Henry Morgan - a pirate. Morgan did not become a criminal until he became Governor of Jamaica. In other words if you want to stop piracy, you need pirates to do it, and Sea Shepherd is an organization of good pirates in pursuit of bad pirates.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is an untouchable organization. We can't be bribed and we can't be distracted by political, cultural, philosophical, or social agendas. We say what has to be said. We report what we see. We intervene against illegal activities as defined by international law. And never throughout our 25 years of high seas activism, have we ever caused an injury or a death to any human being.
We are proud of our record, and we are proud of our achievements, and this pride has given us a confidence to act where and when we must, to stop the ruthless illegal destruction of life and habitats throughout the world's oceans.
Our real enemies are out there - on the water, and we will continue to challenge them in seas both calm and rough, on ice floes and in tropical doldrums. We will challenge them in the courts and in the marketplace, and we will target the one thing they truly value - their ill-gotten profits. For when all is said and done, being hated and reviled is not so bad. False accusations, vicious rumors, fabricated facts, distorted lies, character assassination, and deception are all trivialities and can be ignored.
The only thing that matters, that truly matters, is that we keep our focus on stopping the killers and the destroyers. What matters are the lives we save and the species and eco-systems we protect.
Our obligation and responsibility is to the future. What will this world be like in ten years, a hundred years, a thousand years, even a million years from now unless we act.
A conservationist can afford to be attacked and hated. What we cannot afford to do is fail to act. We must never allow fear of slander, fear of others to dissuade us from doing what must be done. And what must be done is anything that contributes to righting the wrongs of humanities crimes against nature.
500 years from now, no one will remember the trivialities of today. No one will care who said what about who. No one will even remember most individual actions or campaigns. People will remember that whales once lived, but are no more. They will remember that there were once rain-forests. Or perhaps there will be rainforests and they will remember the name of Randy Hayes. Or perhaps there will still be Mountain gorillas and they will remember Dian Fossey. And hopefully, there will still be whales in the oceans because of our direct-action conservation efforts.
People reviled today for their activism will be tomorrow's angels, and people respected today for their wealth and power will be tomorrow's demons. History will absolve us and condemn them. One thing can be said with absolute certainty. Saving lives, protecting species and habitats is good. Killing and destroying species and habitats is bad. There is nothing confusing about this agenda. You are either a protector of the Earth, or a destructive parasite on the Earth.
There is nothing that a parasitical Earth exploiting killer has to say, or can say that can deter a person dedicated to protecting life, our eco-systems and our planet. All we need to remember is that when people are calling us names and hurtling threats at us, it is simply an indication that we might actually be doing something worthwhile.
As Oscar Wilde once very wisely said. "The only thing worst than being talked about, is not being talked about."
So to our critics, we shan't talk about them. We simply don't have the time. We are far to busy pissing people off.
Captain Paul Watson
Founder and President
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
National Director - Sierra Club