A new sign went up along Pacific Coast Highway several weeks ago to visually announce the arrival of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) to Malibu.
After two years stationed at the remote San Juan Islands in Washington to save the gray whales from Makah Indian whale hunts, the organization moved its headquarters to Malibu five months ago.
A direct offshoot of Greenpeace, the SSCS is on a quest to save marine life “by any means imaginable.”
Founder Paul Watson was also one of the principal founding members of Greenpeace. However, Watson split with Greenpeace after the board of directors accused him of acting violently when he grabbed a club out of the hands of a sealer before it could be used to take the life of a baby seal. The move, they reasoned, had violated the pacifist principles of the organization.
Watson then developed the more radical Sea Shepherd Society to take over where Greenpeace left off.
His methods have been regarded as extreme by some-allegedly ramming whaling ships from Portugal to Japan, even sinking two Icelandic whaling vessels in 1986, and most recently, in the mid-nineties, he was arrested by Canadian police and charged with three counts of “mischief on the high seas.” He was acquitted of two, according to the Environment News Service, but convicted of aiding and abetting an act of mischief, relating to Watson’s action of placing his ship, the Cleveland Amory, in a position for a crew member to toss a stink bomb onto a Cuban dragger.
And, as reported in the L.A. Times, he even looked into purchasing attack submarines from the English Royal Navy and the Russians.
The L.A. Times also reported that Jim Bohland, a Greenpeace founder, said in a 1987 interview that he considered Watson “absolutely insane … out of his mind … an egomaniac, pure and simple.”
However, Watson’s methods have accomplished a lot of what he set out to do. Since its inception in 1977, SSCS has saved more than a 1,000 baby seals by spraying their white pelts with indelible organic dye, scuttled a number of pirate whaling ships and illegal driftnet vessels forcing them out of business, documented the killing of dolphins by U.S. tuna seiners (net draggers) leading to the creation of the “dolphin-safe” tuna label law and prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of marine animals.
The society is a nonprofit non-governmental organization that investigates and documents violations of international laws, regulations and treaties protecting marine wildlife species. Especially where there is no enforcement by national governments.
Watson was one of the first conservationists to put himself between whale harpooners and their quarry, living up to the “by any means imaginable” declaration.
“We were proud traitors to our species with the innocence to believe that somehow, someway we could reach our fellow man with a message to end the whale wars and to silence the harpoon cannons,” Watson recorded in 1975 after his most significant stand against whalers.
After nearly an hour navigating an inflatable zodiac boat between the steel plow of a 160-foot Russian hunter ship and eight whales, the small crew witnessed and filmed the heart-breaking kill.
“The harpoon bomb struck with an explosion of reddish foam into the soft backside of one of the frightened whales,” Watson wrote.
Today the SSCS is fulfilling a 5-year agreement with the Ecuadorian National Park Service and Navy to help patrol a 50,000-acre marine reserve from their vessel, the Serenian. In San Francisco, its other ship, the Ocean Warrior, is preparing to challenge Japanese whalers.
“The Japanese are out there having their way with the oceans against the wishes of the International Whaling Commission, against the wishes of a good percentage of the population of the earth and no one is there to stop them,” said Frank Beaty, former SSCS office manager. “We were hoping to be in the Antarctic at the end of the year, but it appears as if our ship is not going to be up to snuff as far as the technology needed to stop these guys.”
According to Beaty, the Japanese employ the fastest and best equipment that money can buy and are currently able to outrun SSCS ships three times over.
Since the society depends entirely on contributions, the success of the costly campaign against Asian whalers depends entirely on the amount of donations they can generate.
“[After the terrorist assault on Sept. 11], public philanthropy is understandably all going toward relief and welfare resources for the victims of the attack,” said Andrew Christie, information director for SSCS. “It hasn’t caused us to change our policies, we’re continuing to do the job we started doing but we have to carefully watch our funds.”
A major source of funding for the society comes from repeated option payments from movie studios for Watson’s life story.
Besides donations, SSCS is always looking for volunteers either to help spread the word by manning booths at environmental awareness events or distributing literature or on the ships themselves.