The discussion on the merits of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was incredibly heated and many good points were raised on both sides. Unfortunately, as often happens when comment threads approach 100+ comments, many of the strongest arguments get diluted in a sea of verbiage. I decided to invite one of our frequent commenters, Craig Nazor, to write a guest post on his views of Sea Shepherd. Enjoy!
~Southern Fried Scientist
The debate is whether the tactics of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) are helping or hurting the cause of shark conservation. A disclaimer: this is NOT an official response from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). Although I am a supporter of that organization, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
Any debate that is not going to polarize the ranks of the good guys (that’s us, the conservationists) must be based on facts, and not on false assumptions and not just on emotional reactions. One common but illogical tactic often used to try to win a debate is to repeat a falsehood over and over, hoping to win for a lie the mantle of truth. A lot of time can be wasted refuting lies (or, more diplomatically, opinions disguised as facts). Another related tactic is to use words with unclear definitions but high emotional connotations. In its most simple form, this is what I would label “name calling,” as in recent uses on this blog of the terms “violent,” “criminal,” and “eco-terrorist.” Unfortunately, some of this response is going to have to be focused on addressing such unproductive tactics.
There is a long-running debate about whether it is possible to commit a violent act upon an inanimate object. Is pounding in a nail violent? Is blowing up a condemned structure violent? The Dalai Llama, someone who has spent far more time than most thinking about the difference between violence and non-violence, does not believe it is possible to commit a violent act on an inanimate object. There are few of us who would claim, however, that shark finning or longlining are not violent acts.
Technically, a criminal is someone who has been found guilty of committing an illegal act. But there is also the connotation of the word criminal: “What Paul Watson did was criminal,” in no way declares that Paul Watson has been legally judged a criminal. It simply states that the writer feels that Paul Watson behaves like a criminal. It’s hard to argue with such a statement. But to declare that he IS a criminal is a debatable point.
To make things more difficult, in human history, countless thousands of good people have been legally convicted of crimes that they did not commit, and countless thousands more have committed heinous acts and have never legally been convicted of anything. In 1997, Paul Watson was convicted in absentia in Norway for “attempting” to sink a whaling vessel. He was being held at the time by authorities in the Netherlands, but they refused to turn him over to Norwegian authorities because they did not believe the charges were substantiated.
In the episode filmed in Sharkwater, Paul Watson and the SSCS had been asked by the President of Costa Rica to come help them stop illegal shark fishing. On his way there, Watson reported to the Costa Rican authorities that he had come upon a Costa Rican vessel longlining for sharks illegally. The Costa Rican authorities told Watson to “bring them in.” The fishermen resisted arrest by attempting to flee, which is when Watson used the water cannon to flood their engines, and in the ensuing mêlée the ships collided. (How many times do police cars collide with fleeing suspects? It is a standard of reality television.) Upon arrival in Costa Rica, Watson was charged with “attempted murder” for the collision. When the prosecutor saw the film footage of the incident, he had the charges dismissed, because the collision clearly appeared to be accidental in light of the situation. Somehow, a different prosecutor was then appointed, and this new prosecutor said Watson “should be held in jail pending prosecution.” Watson left Costa Rica before he was re-arrested, and no charges have ever been filed.
Technically, it is hard to support the charge that Paul Watson is a criminal, to the best information that I can find. I believe, however, that this is not really that relevant to the original question.
Paul Watson has said that in the Galapagos, where the SSCS is enforcing the fishing laws in a world heritage site at the request of the Ecuadorian Government, they are usually not allowed to go after the Ecuadorian ships (the poor, indigenous fishermen?), just the foreign ships. It is his opinion that the international market for shark fins is a corrupt business, in many cases run by companies associated with organized crime organizations from around the world, sometimes involving large bribes. In any case, the evidence points strongly to the fact that shark finning IS NOT something done by poor, subsistence fishermen trying to eek out a living. Commercial longlining and the finning of sharks is simply too wasteful a method of fishing, both in time and energy, for someone in a condition of hunger. It is only done to sell the fins at a high price.
But this idea of illegal shark fishing as subsistence survival for fisherman is exactly what these large, corrupt fishing enterprises would want conservation-minded people to believe, so that conservationists WILL NOT support organizations that would enforce the law. (If illegal shark fishing is indeed largely due to subsistence fishing, then I might advise that we would all be far more productive at the Stop Overpopulation Now blog discussing the daunting task of mounting a direct action against the Catholic Church.) In defense of wanting to do something “constructive,” if some people end up believing the subsistence overfishing argument, they might miss the best opportunity to stop the real criminals, that is, the ones who are ACTUALLY BREAKING conservation laws every day.
Regardless of the perpetrator, if we refuse to support the enforcement of laws we have fought so hard to establish, who will enforce the laws? Are poor people exempt from prosecution for robbing their wealthier compatriots because they are poor? Then what about robbing from ones own (and the world’s) children’s future? When respect for any conservation law is lost, then ALL conservation laws suffer. These are a few of the very negative results of refusing to support the enforcement of conservation laws.
Upon research, I find the term “eco-terrorism” to be so poorly and controversially defined as to be useless as anything but an emotional trigger. So in my (emotional) opinion, the largest “eco-terrorist” associations in existence today are the richest companies that have ever existed in the known universe, namely the big oil companies, who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to spread lies about global climate change, which risks acidifying the oceans and destroying most of the world’s coral reefs, among other catastrophes. These corporations, added to the corporate loggers, fishermen, coltan miners, palm oil growers, strip miners, polluters, etc., etc., make the most powerful environmental organizations in the world look about as effective as the hairs on a manatee. In this context, calling Paul Watson an “eco-terrorist” is laughable.
Is the SSCS helping the cause of shark conservation? Well, has ANY other topic on this blog drawn as much discussion? Merely by taking a part in this conversation, I am sure that many have substantially increased their knowledge about the politics of shark conservation. My own curiosity about Paul Watson’s passion and lifetime of knowledge of the politics and economics of this issue has certainly increased my awareness of the magnitude of the problem. So for me, I would have to say his methods have worked. And to those of you who don’t like him or his methods, are you any less passionate about this issue because of the SSCS? Can anyone name one person who, after hearing about the SSCS, has suddenly decided they will NOT support shark conservation?
But there is a very important fundamental MORAL issue that Paul Watson raises by his uncompromising and confrontational tactics: are the lives of humans more important than the rest of the life on this planet? The “American” lifestyle is the envy of the world. But for the “first world” to maintain this lifestyle, everyone else needs to aspire to it so that we can continue to make massive profits selling the things that are “essential” for that lifestyle. Is this sustainable? Science tells us quite plainly that it is not. It is a pyramid scheme, pure and simple. If you or I tried this as a business plan, we would be convicted as criminals.
But the greedy people whose most important goal is to hoard resources (get rich and gather power) want – no, NEED – us to believe something very different. These people need us to believe that humans are more important than all the other life on earth, so that we can exploit it for the transient and flawed human concepts called money and power. They need us to believe that the only way to succeed is to follow their rules, and then we can get rich, too! They need us to believe that economic growth is limitless, that energy resources are infinite, and that God designed it that way – that we don’t need to pay attention to science, and that respecting all life just because it intrinsically deserves it (releasing a shark from a longline that is being confiscating anyway, for instance) is a waste of time or worse, a sign of altruistic weakness. These greedy people need us to believe that if the law is not allowing us to get rich, then it is OK to bend it, redefine it, break it, or ignore it, not so we can live, but so we can dominate the world.
Science tells us otherwise. Our deepest, most intimate moral center of conscience, if we will listen, tells us otherwise, also. It tells us to think deeply about “it” before you kill “it,” because “it” wants to live just as badly as you do. Life is a divine blessing to ALL life. We do not own living things – they own themselves. And if we see something truly and wantonly violent, we need to do something about it. So what do I say to these ignorant people, far, far more powerful than I, who, in their blind greed, are destroying everything that I passionately love? I want so badly to get in their face and yell STOP! YOU IGNORANT, SELFISH FOOLS! YOU ARE CAUSING GREAT SUFFERING! YOU ARE DESTROYING OUR ONLY WORLD, AND OUR CHILDREN”S FUTURE! STOP!!
Well, guess what? That’s exactly what Paul Watson is doing – he is flagrantly IN THE FACE of those who recognized no authority, and saying WE WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO DO THIS WITHOUT RESISTANCE. And doing that non-violently is a great challenge and requires taking great risk, because these are very powerful people who have no compunction against violence – just look at the millions of dead sharks, whales, dolphins, seals, etc., etc., and ad nauseum etc. By taking such risks, Paul Watson is saying that the survival of sharks is equal to the lives of humans. This addresses the scientific problem of anthropocentricism and ecosystems. With science, we can win that argument. But without deep passion and moral conviction, which I strongly believe Paul Watson possesses in abundance, we will not win the war against those who refuse to believe science. It simply must be a part of the mix. I am sure I will never agree with everything Paul Watson has said or done, but I am convinced that Paul Watson is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing, and, after thoroughly researching it and thinking deeply about it, this is why I support the SSCS.
~Dr. Craig Nazor
Craig Nazor grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie, where, at an early age, he witnessed first hand the massive destruction that humans can visit upon aquatic ecosystems. In college, his choice of careers was between biology and music, and Craig chose music, although he has never lost a very keen interest in the natural world. Upon graduation from Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Institute of Music with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, he moved to New York City and spent the next seven years living in the “Big Apple” and touring the United States and Europe with various performing arts companies, always taking time to visit the closest natural wonders. In 1982, Craig moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana and received a Master of Music degree from Northwestern State University, where he taught for five years. From there he moved to Austin, Texas and received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently teaching music theory, piano, and composition at Austin Community College, and continues to compose.
Throughout his life, Craig has maintained an active interest in biology. As an aquarist, he has bred many species of freshwater fish, and enjoys both snorkeling and scuba diving. He has been a member of the board of the Friends of the Alexandria Zoo as well as president of the Natchitoches Audubon Society. In 2000, he was hired by the Hartman Foundation to design and install the plantings for the Hartman Prehistoric Garden at Zilker Botanical Gardens. He is a current member of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society and the Austin Herpetological Society. He supports many ecological groups, from NRDC to Oceana to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He is also the Vice President and Membership Director of the Cycad Society, an international society promoting the cultivation and conservation of cycads, which are a group of ancient plants that have survived from the time of the dinosaurs.
This defense of Sea Shepard misses the critically important heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is two linked questions: 1. Does Sea Shepard advance or hinder the cause of ocean conservation. 2. Are the actions of Sea Shepard morally OK?
As an ocean conservationist, I think Sea Shepard hinders my cause. They alienate many people who are otherwise supportive. And the actions are not morally OK because they rely on a basis of preceived moral superiority over Sea Shepard’s opponents.
Sea Shepard exemplifies a certain type of activity that feels good but lacks substance. That type of activity is allowing oneself to feel morally superior to one’s opponent in an argument, and then using that feeling of superiority to justify almost anything. How many arguments are really so simple and black and white that it’s ok to feel morally superior to one’s opponent. Precious few.
But Sea Shepard is attractive because it’s always rewarding to shout and scream and rage and act up about whatever one believes. It’s rewarding and reinforces feelings of superiority. It feels good, and masquerades as action.
Meanwhile, in the real world of making change, Sea Shepard’s actions have created polarization and made actual conservation progress more difficult. Actual conservation progress involves hard work. It involves finding shared values and workable solutions to a dilema. Few people who are harming ocean ecosystems actually want to cause harm. They usually have reasons for doing what they’re doing, and they’re not simply bad reasons like greed.
Sea Shepard perpetuates a cowboy movie view of the world, find the black hat bad guys and take matters into your own hands to “take care” of the bad guys. That’s a comforting view of the world, but it’s way too simplistic to be viable.
I think Dr. Nazor made some very good points.
(For the record, I am not particularly educated on marine science or ocean conservation, though I am well educated on conservation in general, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt)
1) I think he actually did address Mark’s first point. Dr. Nazor stated his opinion that by nature of this conversation we are having, SSCS is advancing ocean conservation. I think this is a very important point, and one with which I half agree. It’s clear that we are having a great debate. I have certainly learned alot from these discussions (though I was already a supporter of shark conservation). That being said, i can name several people off-hand (though I won’t) who have been directly turned off of conservation by SSCS and other “direct action” groups’ tactics (but not only by theirs). These people – typically uneducated – now see the whole conservation movement as a bunch of crazy hippies. And these people are largely beyond reach now, as they have closed their minds to it.
2) As far as Mark’s second point, unfortunately I think the entire “morality” debate is a boondoggle. Many scientists like me don’t even believe in absolute morality. That is, there is no inherent right or wrong. Sure, I have my own personal morals – but their is no absolute basis to them, and they may differ vastly from others in my own culture, not even mentioning other cultures. The answer to the question: “are SSCS’s actions moral?” doesn’t really exist. There is no answer. Most individuals will have their own answer to this, but that has no bearing on others morals. Some say yes, some say no – and both answers are based on the individuals’ personal moral codes.
Overall, as an educator I am still of the opinion that these types of direct actions, aren’t effective in the long run and are counteractive to rational scientific education efforts.
But I freely admit that Dr. Nazor makes some good arguments, and I may very well be wrong.
Urp, I mean Sea Shepherd, with an “e” I never could spel very good.
As always, you have a thoughtful and well-written argument. As usual, I disagree.
I will provide what I hope to be a more insightful comment than this later, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to contribute this to Southern Fried Science.
I must say that was well written sir, but ultimately debatable both in terms of hard facts and actual conservation dollars in for conservation success claimed or credited.
You are a passionate and well written advocate for wildlife. As I tell a blog friend of mine, love your blog, hate your SSCS politics.
We need more voices like yours in conservation, love your passion for the world, hate your SSCS politics;)
I did a lot of research for that article. I did a google search on Paul Watson and found many interesting links. I am very familiar with the SSCS web site. Wikipedia was specially interesting, particularly the dispute blog linked to the article on Paul Watson. I even called the SSCS headquarters in Friday Harbor, and had an interesting discussion. If anyone has some links to information that contradicts what I have written, please post them, because I would be interested in perusing the articles.
The moral issue I believe is a significant one. Many people in the world will not listen to science, but everyone has a moral point of view through which they might be reached. I don’t think that sharks will be saved without a moral component to the communication process. I might send $50 to an organization that distibutes a well-written article about how the ocean needs its top predators, and shows numbers about how sharks are being systematically exterminated. But if you show me a video with still-breathing, finless sharks laying helplessly on the bottom of the ocean as they slowly bleed to death, my donation just tripled. That is about my personal morals, and I know I am not the only one who feels this way.
Mark’s comment about “moral superiority” has me a bit mystified. I hear many moral comments every day that I completely disagree with, but that’s human nature (and the internet!). Of course Paul Watson thinks he’s right – why would he lead the life he has led if he didn’t? He is always willing to debate (I have good reason to believe that he posted that comment himself on the initial blog). I do not feel threatened by that. I am eager to “upgrade” my morals at any time if I am convinced the upgrade would be an improvement, which is why I enjoy an intelligent debate.
Thanks everyone for your interesting comments!
Moral, if anyone has noticed, is a completely subjective term.
If someone were to kil 80 million humans per year I doubt anyone would blink an eye if I took a gun and blew him to kingdom come. but because it is an animal, which can neither speak our language nor fight back effectively, it’s somehow okay to allow what in humans we would call mass slaughter and genocide.
Somehow humans have been decided in the minds of some to be more than animals. I guess the fact we ARE animals escapes some.
If you are claiming that killing a human and killing a fish are morally equivalent, I respectfully request that you stay the heck away from me and my family.
I would stay away from your family at any rate, I tend to avoid bloviators with idiotic senses of righteousness in any case. But hey, a guy who views sharks as just a “fish” will likely do something so dumb eventually no one will have to worry about him for very much longer anyway. Make sure someone frames your Really Intelligent Comments here for posterity.
To be fair, it’s a bit strange not to put your own species first: Wolves don’t lament the deer they kill. Cows don’t lament the grass they kill. Really, it’s quite normal, if not “right” in some sense of the word, to think that your species is more important than others. I don’t think that gives validation to ravage and destroy the ecosystem, but it’s silly to say that your own species isn’t worth more to you – they’re your potential mates, kin, etc.
Sharks are just fish – they’re members of the class Chondrichthyes – albeit ones with cartilaginous skeletons who tend to be atop the food chain. Humans are just primates – I don’t really see your point. There’s nothing dumb about that statement. Saying sharks are fish is taxonomically accurate – saying they’re anything else is ‘dumb’.
For that matter, what makes sharks more important than other fish? Are you implying that fish are somehow less worthy of conservation than sharks for some reason? I would disagree – you really can’t conserve any species unless you start lower down on the food chain. We kill all the bait fish and the sharks won’t have anything to eat, and conserving them is a moot point.
And are you insinuating that whysharksmatter doesn’t think sharks matter? If you think that, you haven’t read this blog much. I disagree with him on a variety of viewpoints of morality or ethics – but we both believe strongly that sharks are important and should be conserved. That’s not even a question in our minds. Sharks are key to the function of the ocean ecosystem.
And why do you say he’s some imbecile who is likely to off himself in a darwin-award worthy fashion? He’s not an idiot – he’s a rational, intelligent person with degrees from well-respected universities. You may disagree with him, but hoping or presuming he’ll disappear is a bit harsh, don’t you think?
My grandfather always says a person who has no good arguments resorts to insults and volume. Clearly, in person, you’d be talking very loudly.
Yawn Christie. That was a lovely, long post in defense of absolutely nothing.
The argument is about whether humans should be allowed to fight back when other humans kill other species in giant numbers. Not whether you think WSM is nifty keen.
If we end the debate at your animal urges level idea that no one should care whether we kill or feel sorry for other species if they kick the bucket because a wolf doesn’t feel sorry for a deer, I guess we can all pack it up and go home. Including WSM, who you stare at with shining eyes with tachycardia.
Luckily neither we nor other animals are the barely conscious mobile poop factories you portray. Empathy and the desire to not allow mass slaughter exists in more than just humans. Do some looking around at bioanthropology and the studies of interspecies altruism sometime when you aren’t busy.
Anyway, to dignify a bit of that huge post with attention – if we are to imagine that people trying to drive people away and insult people is a bad trait, well, then I guess WSM in the prior conversation is shreiking at the top of his lungs by your own analogy. That’s one reason I commented, because he was behaving like such a whopping bully in the prior conversation. He is neither the smartest man in his field, nor the most moral, and watching him try to bestow the Nobel Prize on himself got tedious and made me a bit nauseous.
Guess what, the rest of us have degrees too, and morals of our own! Don’t like it? Well I am sure you both can obfuscate and bloviate some more. I am finishing my third degree this year and my fourth next, I am used to academic hot air.
In opening his mouth, the troll reveals his true intentions. You’re more than welcome to take your trolling hate-lust somewhere else.
To the people actually contributing to this discussion, please don’t feed the trolls.
I’m sorry, did you *read* my post? It was hard to tell, since you completely ignored what I actually said.
I never said that people’s “animal urges” were an excuse to slaughter hordes of any animal. Where you get that from, I don’t know. I said that it’s not abnormal or strange to believe that killing a person is worse than killing a fish on a moral level, because, as a human, we might value humans more – something you seemed to think was ridiculous to believe. For that matter, I doubt WSM thinks that just being human means we should go around driving species to extinction. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.
As for ‘the argument’ being whether we have a right “to fight back when other humans kill other species in giant numbers”, I guess it would have been helpful if you’d actually answered that question instead of tangentially insulting someone’s intelligence. But, to answer that point, I would say it definitely depends on your definition of “fight back” – which you seem to define as killing by your earlier analogy. Can I kill off all of the entire population of Japan because they like to slaughter a lot of whales and sharks? I would say no. Can the Hindus kill off everyone in America who eats hamburgers because we slaughter thousands of cows a year? I would say no. So how many people can you kill off to protect other species? One hundred? Fifty? Ten? Where exactly do you draw the line?
Of course, killing off people is not what the SSCS does, so I don’t know why you bring it up. The real question is whether they are a ‘friend’ or ‘foe’ of conservation. Clearly, you think they are stupendous. I don’t entirely disagree – though I do think, occasionally, they cross the line and for no good reason other than to make headlines, and often those acts that do turn people off of their methods as a whole. Stopping fishermen at the request of other governments? Not bad in my books. I wish they would do less stunts and more just protection, personally – and I think that educating and working with the people who do the shark finning/etc is equally important. I also think that cutting long lines is like trying to plug a gunshot wound with a needle. We can do better than that. But I’m not against SSCS as a whole.
Shocking, that I might actually disagree with someone so perfect and super-sexy as WSM, since clearly I’m just a love struck puppy dog barely able to keep my clothes on around him. I just hope his girlfriend doesn’t find out about those pictures I took of him in the shower – she might come after me.
And I never said he wasn’t arrogant. Personally, I don’t hold that against people – just meet my family, and you’d know why. But how does bullying a bully make you better than him, exactly? How does it make you obfuscate, bloviate, self-congratulate any less than he does? Especially when your only arguments against his point were that you think he’s somehow going to remove himself from the planet due to stupidity? Clearly your elevated intellect prevents you from a similar fate, but pointing it out makes you just as much of a blowhard as you say he is.
Maybe you should consider a valid argument against one person’s points or another if you want to be taken seriously.
On second thought, perhaps you should just stick to the sarcasm and insults. Clearly, they make you unique, humble, and 100% right in every aspect of everything you ever say.
(ps what “degrees” can you finish one a year? I need to get me a few of those).
I’m going to ignore the immature insults hurled my way and instead focus on some of the interesting points that Craig raised.
“Commercial longlining and the finning of sharks is simply too wasteful a method of fishing, both in time and energy, for someone in a condition of hunger. It is only done to sell the fins at a high price.”
The people I referenced are not subsistence fisherman and they are not eating the fins they catch- they are indeed selling them. This doesn’t change the fact that there aren’t lots of other jobs available in their country and if they weren’t doing this they would have serious trouble making ends meet. Even if the people in question aren’t desperately poor, it seems like they are- which makes GREAT propaganda for the other side when Western zealots like Watson appear to be attacking them. Appearances matter and this is a PR war as much as a scientific one.
“Are poor people exempt from prosecution for robbing their wealthier compatriots because they are poor?”
I don’t believe that being poor excuses people from crimes committed against people- stealing, murder, etc. However, it seems like there is at least some moral gray area in telling someone who can’t afford to eat that they aren’t allowed to earn a living when a potential living is available. There is a difference between fishing for a threatened species and stealing from a person.
Also, I don’t necessarily think these people be “exempt from prosecution”. Sea Shepherd is not a government. Sea Shepherd is not the police. Government and police have training, and rules they have to follow. Sea Shepherd is an independent organization.
“Is the SSCS helping the cause of shark conservation? Well, has ANY other topic on this blog drawn as much discussion? ”
This is an interesting point- our discussion on the tactics of Sea Shepherd has likely educated some people (at the very least, it was read by hundreds of people, according to our blog stats). However, Sea Shepherd’s media-grabbing antics reach millions of people, and many of them are turned off from the cause of conservation because of them- the net bad of turning off so many people outweighs the good of educating a few.
Also, though many Sea Shepherd supporters such as yourself make educated, thoughtful arguments, I would ask you to read what “Smart Chat” wrote and tell me that the discussion that came from this person educates and advances the cause of conservation.
“the survival of sharks is equal to the lives of humans.”
Though SmartChat might be more interested in insulting me than recognizing this, I am a passionate advocate for shark conservation. However, I believe that if you try to tell people that sharks have as much right to live as humans do, you will turn people away because they will think you are crazy. Sharks are important and there are many scientific and economic reasons why humans are better off with them around. Let’s use those arguments and not “humans are so greedy for thinking we have more of a right to exist than fish do”. You’ll reach more people that way.
Also, I intentionally did not use the word “eco-terrorist” simply because it is so poorly defined. Others did.
Again, Craig, thanks for your thoughtful words.
The first issue is a problem of scale. If one person has a right to eat, do all people have a right to eat? If all people having a right to eat, but there is not enough food, that “right” is pretty meaningless. Unfortunately, we must also scale this in time and place. If I have a right to eat now, will that mean that some less fortunate bloke will have to forfeit his right to eat later on? If I have a right to eat here, how will that affect someone in a different place?
Because of the ever-increasing human population, advances in technology, and the interconnectedness of global ecosystems, the times and places are getting closer together. We are reaching the point where one person’s right to eat can greatly affect another person’s right to eat at very different times and places. I do not believe that the answer to “what is right” concerning the right to eat is as simple as you make it out to be.
There is also the matter of distribution. If all the world’s resources were equally distributed, the current world population would have enough to eat – this is a scientific fact. One of the reasons this distribution is so unequal is because the hoarders (in this case, the shark-finners and their clientele) are causing it to be that way. So to say that a poor worker’s right to eat gives him the right to fin sharks for someone who is hoarding resources, whose hoarding, in turn, is causing said poor worker to not have enough resources to eat in the first place is quite illogical. We no longer have the time to convince all the world’s hoarders of the error of their ways. They simply must be stopped soon, or the sharks will be gone. And once the fisheries are gone, the poor man will be in even worse shape, and the hoarders will still have food. Something must be done NOW.
I would contend that fishing for a threatened species is, indeed, stealing from another person. You are stealing from all other people who are relying on the same resource, a situation that is becoming more and more common as human populations swell and resources shrink.
The SSCS plainly states that it is an enforcement organization, and that it is given that right by the UN Charter for Nature, which has clear stipulations that NGO’s may function in this capacity. Many international law experts agree with this interpretation, which is why no government has yet dared to take the SSCS to World Court. In the case of the incident in Costa Rica, a country that has no standing army, the SSCS was invited to take the enforcement role by the President of Costa Rica himself.
The jury is out on whether the SSCS “turns off” more people than it “turns on,” because I can find no hard statistics that would support either of our viewpoints over the other. But that might not be that relevant a point. One could easily dislike the SSCS but still strongly support shark conservation. I knew of the SSCS for years, but it was only relatively recently, as I began to understand more about how much pressure is being placed on the ocean ecosystems, that I realized that their simply is no more time left to waste, and I became a strong supporter.
Here is a quote from the mediation page on Wikipedia about the disputes with the Paul Watson entry:
“I’ve read over everyone’s statements. Give me a couple days to familiarize myself with the subject in question. I have never heard of Paul Watson until this time yesterday, and it is going to take me quite a bit of reading to get up to speed. Thank you all for your patience. Trusilver 04:37, 14 February 2009 (UTC)”
That’s getting the word out.
Then there is the Discovery Channel. The story I have heard is that for years, Steve Irwin was a big supporter of the SSCS, and had wanted to ship on board and do a direct action with them as a part of his Animal Planet program, but the Discovery Channel discouraged him from this because they thought it was too controversial. After Steve’s death, something happened (was it his wife, Teri?), and Discovery Channel did the first season of “Whale Wars.” Now, the SSCS is turning out to be their biggest star. That’s really getting the word out – to millions.
Let me expand on the last quote: Paul Watson is saying that the survival of sharks from extinction as a group of species is worth the lives of a few humans. (And those lives are the lives of Paul Watson and his crew, because I have found absolutely no evidence that he has ever injured anyone during any of his SSCS actions.) I must say that I agree with this point of view – each person gets to value his or her own life. I would even say that being able to do so is the path to true sanity. And frankly, although I am not offended by it, I have learned not to pay much attention to how my mental state is perceived by other people. To worry about that would be way too limiting. I am much more concerned about getting my intellectual point across in as clear a way as possible. It is up to others to decide what weight they would like to give my opinions. I do enjoy expressing them, however, so thanks for the opportunity!
Wow, “Smarmy Chat” you really know how to influence people with that toxic keyboard of yours. Nice to see that higher education is really working for you in the old, get-to-know-people arena.
I am sure Christie and others here can hold their own here, but may I chime in that I find your tact or extreme lack of it distasteful and counter productive to polite conversation.
One mans opinion, replies not needed.
I think, on both sides of the discussion, that it’s very easy to point fingers at “who is saving sharks wrong”. I really do not understand why anyone proclaiming to support sharks and who have the desire to preserve them would rail so strongly against the Sea Shepherd’s actions.
There is a breakdown of logic operating at this point from some of the discussion. When the same person who says “A poor fisherman has the right to earn a living any way he can” also proclaims that the Sea Shepherd does no good in saving individual sharks from torment, torture, and slow death, it seems a little hypocritical. One man’s suffering is valid, but the suffering of the animals he systematically tortures and slaughters isn’t? Enforcing laws already passed (though not as an official entity in some cases) is criticized in favor of poachers?
I’m having trouble understanding this from an intellectual perspective.
I’d like to respond to one of your comments, because its the one I’m most comfortable with in regards to my own knowledge.
“I really do not understand why anyone proclaiming to support sharks and who have the desire to preserve them would rail so strongly against the Sea Shepherd’s actions.”
This is actually quite simple – the side opposed to SS’s actions believe that they are not only “saving sharks wrong,” but harming the cause as a whole. We tend to believe, based on our own experiences (mine primarily as an educator) that while SS might be saving individual sharks, they are not fixing the root of the problem – and are actually making it worse by leading many people to associate concern for sharks (or any creatures) with insanity.
I’m not saying it is necessarily insane. I’m saying many perceive it that way.
The mere idea that shark suffering is even remotely comparable to the suffering of a poverty-stricken human is seen by huge swaths of the population as crazy. You and others may have certain morals that give parity to the suffering of sharks and humans (despite the scientifically questionable idea that sharks can even experience suffering in anyway comparable to humans). However, most people do not share those morals. However, these are the people we have to reach to actually save sharks in the long run.
I for one was heartened to see a logical, straightforward article by Craig. Have any of you guys who appear to like taking pot shots at SS and Paul Watson ever actually had a conversation with him, or really listed to him speak. Not just listen to rubbish printed by bigots with their own axe to grind. I have. Was three standing ovations from the public really so off the mark? I don’t think so. You can sit and write your blogs till kingdom come but who’s out there walking the talk? Who’s bringing the oceans’ plight to the fore? I would never have heard of Southern Fried Scientists, or have become so educated on topics marine if it hadn’t been for Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd. As for species vs species – humans are arrogant. We need all life on this planet – it doesn’t need us – and i worked that out at age 12 and without a degree. Write all you like – Paul Watson’s support is growing, and why – because he’s the only person actually DOING anything and people are starting to finally realise that he’s right. Love him or hate him – he’s keeping what out of most people’s sight firmly to the fore – and I doubt you would hear any criticism from any other species on this planet in his regard. I don’t understand why – in the face of all that’s wrong in this world that people try to pull one man fighting the good fight down. If you really care, if you have an ounce of the passion he has for what you believe in – stop talking and GO FIGHT FOT IT.
It’s pretty pathetic that most responses to me are “YOU’RE A BIG MEANY JERK TROLL” instead of focusing on the issue at hand. But hey, the bloviating moralist cannot actually defend his stance that the only backup for thinking humans are the most important thing on earth is emotion, not fact.
Just wanted to point out that Nel is incredibly correct. Action speaks louder than words. And action is the only thing that gets things done. Really Important Books, and the TV show WSM clearly hopes to have one day may get a few people to write a couple letters and maybe send a donation or two somewhere, but really what people are hoping for is someone to stand up and take action and do the job, not sit in an office and write a book. Certainly many people want the issue to quietly resolve itself in a way that causes them the least amount of hardship. Whoever said that makes something RIGHT?
Oh and once again – if you want to talk about morals do a bit of research before you make statements. Saying broad things like “Most of the world thinks you are a whack job, Eyes, because you find an animal as important as a human” is ridiculous unless you have done quite a bit of ethnographies and studies.
Oh and for Christie, darling, I never said I would take only a year to get a degree. I said I would complete another next year. My degrees are in Biology and Kinesiology, this year I complete my Anthropology degree, and next year my Bachelors in Nursing. Wow. Look, mostly stuff based on humans. And even I don’t ride a high horse around telling everyone how moral it is to place humans first.
Well I don’t know much about the issue at hand but through reading many of the comments I have come to conclude that Sea Shepherd seems to be ruthless in their attempts to ‘educate’ people on saving the sharks. Ramming fishermen’s boats seems a bit harsh. I do agree that actions do receive reactions from the public but it seems that the SS is getting many negative reactions from their tactics. Also I didn’t know that there are people out there who will actually go to the extreme in saying that people are less important than animals. Good for them in trying to reach out to the public and make us aware that sharks are important, but I definitely don’t agree with them. The lady hanging herself by the hooks, seems a bit radical for me. I don’t think I got much out of seeing her, just that I thought she was crazy.
PS have you all seen this?
You have pointed out a well-written article that does not shirk the controversy. Please also check out these articles:
By the way, in the process of moving this excellent website to the new URL, the link from the home page to this debate may have gotten misdirected.
When I go to the “Ethical Debates” page, and I click down through the topics, I get:
1 goes to (-) 1
2 – 2
3 – 3
4 – 5
5 – 6
6 – 7
7 – 8
8 – 9
9 – 9
Is this just me, or is there a misalignment of links?
I agree that it is completely unnecessary for the Sea Shepherd to use such extreme force on fishing vessels. The Sea Shepherd’s need to focus their attention on more constructive methods of protecting sharks, such as raising money to prevent the extinction of certain marine wildlife. Threatening other people’s lives is completely un-excusable and should not be tolerated by any means. The Sea Shepherd’s need to understand that many people fish in order to support themselves and their families, and it is extremely wrong to try to hurt people just to prove a point about saving sharks. I understand that the Sea Shepherd’s are trying to do a good thing by trying to save sharks, but I think that they are taking it entirely to far by destroying boats and risking people’s lives. In conclusion, I feel as if the Sea Shepherds should focus their efforts at different and more constructive methods of saving sharks.
GO ANIMALS! GO STEVE IRWIN PROTECT WHALES
BY THAT I MEAN THE SHIP steve irwin is dead sadly ):
Someone once said: “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”
I think Paul Watson is an outstandingly brave hero who would never stand by in crowd watching some thug beating or raping someone else.
From what I read here, there aren’t many Watson-detractors who would be brave enough to do the same. They’d wait until later and find some logical philosophical excuse for inaction.
It’s not a question of motive, though, but effect. Even if we allow that “Paul Watson is an outstandingly brave hero who would never stand by in crowd watching some thug beating or raping someone else”, his methods just aren’t effective. In direct response to Sea Shepherd, Japan opened it’s coastal waters to whaling last year. Direct action is a failed conservation philosophy precisely because it vilifies the people who’s actions we need to change.
On another note, we’d love to review “When the Devilfish come out to play.” We’re huge cephalopod fans out here.
Despite the threats, Japan has whaled in its costal waters continually for many years. They kill a number of species of whales and dolphins (insisting they aren’t “whales”), although the recent and surprising success of the movie “The Cove” (which has a segment about Paul Watson, and which is about direct action) has finally reach the Japanese public, and so far has had quite a positive effect.
The SSCS has opposed whaling in the International Whale Sanctuary in the southern Pacific because it is an International Whale Sanctuary (unlike the waters around Japan) and because Japan is killing CITES Appendix 1 species there. This is all in violation of international law and international treaties, which Japan has signed. This enables the SSCS to make the strong legal argument that Japan’s actions are in fact illegal.
Despite and including Japan’s threats of whaling close to home, the final death count shows that the SSCS has prevented hundreds of whales from being slaughtered in the past few years. If the actual lives of whales mean anything to you, this is a gain. I would suggest that your statement “his methods just aren’t effective” is inaccurate.
Sometime one needs to just call a spade, a spade. Some things are just plain illegal to the spirit of the law and immoral to basic common sense, which is what I believe Cal was saying. Sometimes the villains need to be vilified so the world will become outraged enough to take action to stop them. The worst criminals in history have always threatened to do far worse, and have raged when they were thwarted.
You might consider posting the video footage from the new “Whale Wars” episode that shows the long, slow, and very graphic process of the Japanese slaughtering a great whale. The response could prove enlightening.
Yeah, I think we’re going to run around each other in circle until the end of whaling on this one. The heart of the matter is when will whaling end? I say it’ll take longer thanks to Sea Shepherd, you say they’ll end it sooner.
All I know is that organizations like STRP have made real, lasting and effective changes by working with the people that Sea Shepherd would vilify. The world is already outraged and Japan does nothing.
As far as calling a spade a spade, I think Paul Watson is more concerned with showboating and glorywhoring than effecting real change.
“The Cove” is absolutely NOT about direct action, Craig. They didn’t try to destroy equipment or threaten people or physically stop the dolphin harvest in any way. They were simply trying to document what was happening to show the world. The ultimate goal was stopping the harvest, but the methods were VERY different.
“Direct action is politically motivated activity undertaken by individuals, groups, or governments to achieve political goals outside of normal social/political channels. Direct action can include nonviolent and violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the direct action participant.”
If, by STRP, you mean the Sea Turtle Restoration Society (which I find to be an excellent organization), how do they protect whales? I would also point out that, despite the laudable actions of the STRP, the number of sea turtles is still in decline worldwide. There have been many groups like the STRP that have written letters, raised money, lobbied the IWC, etc., etc. to protect whales – I have been a part of it all since the early 1970’s. I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that these types of groups will not, of themselves, cure the problem, or they already would have done so. When other avenues have failed, I support non-violent direct action (refer to my earlier statements to understand EXACTLY what I mean by that) to effect meaningful change.
Whaling in Japan looses money. The government subsidizes it. There is credible evidence that this is done because of the political connections of the Yakuza, which is a rough equivalent to the mafia. Because whale meat doesn’t sell that well in Japan, it is given away free to feed Japanese school children even though it is loaded with many times more mercury than is consider safe. It has also been shipped illegally to Norway in search of a market. Such activity is NOT going to stop because of letter writing and unfurling banners.
Neither will shark finning, for that matter. There is too much money and power tied into it. Considering the blind ignorance (backed by hundreds of millions of dollars) allied against ocean conservation, what do you suggest as a solution?
I do mean the Sea Turtle Restoration Program, and I was referring to their success in preserving sea turtles as a model for how good conservation organizations get the job done.
Since worldwide sea turtle numbers are still dropping, I would argue that this, as good as it is, is not enough.
If whaling is not profit driven, then how can direct action (by which I mean the intentional disruption of a process) possibly stop it. Paul Watson has often stated that the intent is to make it too expensive for whaling to continue, but it already is a cash drain, so by what mechanism do we go from disrupting whaling ships to ending whaling?
Watson also frequently mocks Greenpeace for “just going out and taking pictures”. Greenpeace describes what they do as ‘bearing witness’. Although this hasn’t working for Japanese whaling, that policy did wonders when Greenpeace shut down French nuclear tests in their glory days.
And that’s exactly what the Cove guys did. They bore witness and showed the images to the world. And Taiji was shut down. Dissemination of knowledge works. Vilification does not.
That’s why STRP works. They went out and interacted with people who’s livelyhood depended on the turtle harvest, and not only showed them why turtles were worth saving, but also gave them new tools to sustain themselves.
In that regards Whale Wars could be SSCS’s most effective mechanism, if it weren’t largely about ship-board drama and grandstanding. I loved Sharkwater despite Sea Shepherd, because it brought the message home. Sea Shepherd seems to want their message to be “We’re Pirates”.
The cash drain model still applies. Unfortunately, since it is the Japanese government’s cash, the pockets are deep. But it is still a cash drain, and the money is now public money. The new Japanese Administration is definitely noticing this.
Boy, you certainly gloss over the Greenpeace actions toward the French! They did a lot more than “just take pictures.” French Government operatives in New Zealand sovereign waters illegally blew up the Rainbow Warrior and a photographer was murdered. The perpetrators in the end escaped all punishment. But there was international outrage, not at the pictures, but at the death of the photographer. The French also illegally confiscated a large portion of the Greenpeace fleet, setting Greenpeace back financially for years and in effect ended their “Glory Days,” which was the ultimate goal of the Frenh Government. Don’t fool yourself that a bunch of pictures won the day, that’s simply not true. There are a number of permanently uninhabitable Pacific islands that were once paradise that continue to leach radiation into the environment to this day, and there are deformed human children that have to live much changed lives because of it.
And then there is the photographer who lost his life and those islanders who died of radiation poisoning.
Have you seen “The Cove?” They broke all kinds of laws and risked imprisonment to film the movie. They did this after others before them (including SSCS members) had been arrested and thrown into jail for trying to do the same thing. They also spent A LOT of money. The movie was finally shown in Japan only because the Japanese film festival received thousands of e-mails, of which mine was one.
Regardless of your disapproval, “Whale Wars,” warts and all, has done more than anything recently to highlight the plight of whales, particularly the pictures of the Japanese actually killing great whales. The “Whale Wars” series INCREASED the number of viewers who saw that footage. I think it is a net gain for saving the lives of whales.
The SSCS members were first called pirates by the whalers, not by themselves. Didn’t you like the image of pirates when you were a kid?
Yeah, I definitely only gave Greenpeace’s work against the French a passing mention, mostly because it’s peripheral to this debate. They weren’t “just taking pictures” but they also weren’t sabotaging French equipment or ramming French vessels. The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior was tragic, but also highlighted just how much effect Greenpeace was having.
As for the Cove, I never said I had a problem with breaking the law, if you’re effective. Do you honestly think that if they had broken in to sabotage the processing, as opposed to filming what goes on and bringing it to the world, they would have been more effective? They ddi what Sea Shepherd couldn’t, they shut Taiji down. And it wasn’t just the thousands of letters from you and me and Dave, but from the Japanese citizens who were outraged that this was happening in their country who wanted the film shown. You can’t sway people like that while calling them monsters.
Honestly, I think Whale Wars has been a mixed success. People who watch Animal Planet most likely already know whaling is bad. But even if they don’t Whale Wars looks like someone is doing something, so we don’t have to. The South Park Whale Whores episode probably did more to expose new people to the issue than Whale Wars ever had.
It will be hard to have a meaningful conversation if our word definitions are substantially different. Direct action has a definition. If that is not what you mean, I would suggest finding the proper word to describe it, or our efforts will be wasted.
By “direct action”, I mean physically stopping something from happening by damaging equipment, harassing or intimidating the people involved, or physically blocking the event from happening (i.e. chaining yourself to a tree, putting your boat in between a whaling vessel and a whale).
I do not include photo documentation, which is what the folks involved with “The Cove” did.
Paul Watson also claims to have “invented” spiking trees, a technique which has actually killed loggers.
The technique has killed loggers… and yet, logging continues. Not only are Watson’s techniques morally reprehensible, THEY DON’T ACCOMPLISH THEIR GOALS.
That is, if he even did accomplish something so tangible as inventing tree spiking, which he probably didn’t. The man has a tendency to stretch the truth to make himself sound more important.
Andrew, I suppose you could argue that “Whale Whores” wouldn’t have existed if not for “Whale Wars”, and therefore “Whale Wars” helped….
The reason that “The Cove” was so successful is that they had enough money to fund the high-tech equipment and expertise necessary to get the pictures and not get caught, because their filming activity was illegal. “The Cove” was able to financially support an expert team and a great director to put together a marketable end result.
SSCS also tried to get good pictures, but without the funding and the expertise. The SSCS also cut the nets across the mouth of the cove to release the trapped dolphins. Unfortunately, the Japanese hunters, knowing that dolphin groups will not abandon injured members, would injure some of the dolphins so that the healthy ones would not try to escape. Given the circumstances and the opportunity, I would have attempted the same thing. SSCS definitely brought the plight of the dolphins of Taiji to a wider audience, but not wide enough to cause change. Since these events, the SSCS have had a standing offer of $10,000 to anyone who would film the Taiji slaughter, and “The Cove “ answered the call.
SSCS funding, since the release of the first season of Whale Wars, is way, way up, because Whale Wars is marketable to a wide audience. Watson is pleased as punch about the South Park publicity, also. From a financial point of view, it is hard to argue that Whale Wars was anything but a huge success for the SSCS. The SSCS’s effect effect on ending whaling remains to be seen.
The definition of direct action by Wikipedia includes all illegal action as direct action. This would put the Cove filming directly into the category of direct action. Putting a vessel between a whaler and a whale, on the open ocean, is not illegal, or in any way violent, but it would be considered direct action, also. What you appear to be talking about is your own moral standard, which of course is to likely differ from my own standard. It’s a slippery eel of a thing to talk about if we don’t mind our emotions and our word definitions.
It is also important that information is accurate. There is no evidence whatsoever that tree spiking has killed anyone. According to Wikipedia, in their discussion about tree spiking:
“An issue with safety has been raised after an injury incident occurred when the blade of a worker broke and hit his body. This led many activists to either reject this form of sabotage entirely, or take some precautions, such as putting warning signs in the area where the trees are being spiked. Tree spiking is condemned by opponents as eco-terrorism as they claim it is potentially dangerous to loggers or mill-workers, although only one injury resulting from tree spiking has been recorded, occurring in a sawmill with poor safety practices.”
I followed this up with some research of my own, and to all who examined this event closely, it appears extremely unlikely that this incident was caused by an eco-terrorist tree spike. It was much more likely caused by lax safety on the part of a Louisiana-Pacific saw mill, and this is indeed the opinion of the injured individual.
Also of interest to the discussion:
“It is believed that tree spiking originated in timber logging labor disputes in the Pacific Northwest of the United States in the late 1800s.”
No citation is offered.
In the Wikipedia entry on Paul Watson, it states, “Watson has claimed to have invented the tactic of tree spiking.” I followed the reference, which was to an extremely anti-environmental web site that was so biased that I did not find it credible. I can find no proof anywhere on the web that Watson ever actually said this.
Tree spiking has little to do with ocean conservation, but my point is this: the web is full of information and misinformation. Misinformation does nothing to further intelligent debate. An untruth, repeated enough times, remains untrue. Paul Watson is a controversial and outspoken individual who is usually right out there on the edge. I personally don’t care if you love him or hate him, but, being an educator, I do care about the accuracy of information so that others may make more informed decisions.
From the man himself: “But first, some background. I have never gone public on this before but I am now. I was the person who first thought up the tactic of tree-spiking and as such I fell obligated to defend this child of my imagination.”
Source: Earth First! Journal, Mabon (September 22), 1990
The old back issues aren’t online, but a reprint was published in IWW: http://www.iww.org/unions/dept100/iu120/local-1/EF/CPWatson1.shtml
Incidently, while Wikipedia is a great place to start, it’s never a credible source on it’s own, especially on anything even remotely controvesial.
I never denied he said this. I just stated that I couldn’t find an actual quote. This appears legitimate. He is quite adept at what the sports world calls “trash talk.” He certainly gets some people very angry.
I never trust just Wikipedia completely. The footnote on this entry led to a different, much less credible web site, which was itself second hand and undocumented. My web search after that did not turn up this reference.
It certainly wasn’t easy to find. I remembered the quote from back when I was deep in the Earth First! literature, but it took some effort to track it down, and even then it wasn’t a primary source. I’ve ordered the old journal on inter-library loan, since IWW isn’t exactly unbiased either. I’ll confirm when I get the hard copy.
I have first hand knowledge of two people who have been injured by tree spikes in North Carolina. One of which was killed when a piece of ceramic struck him in the chest. The other was injured when the chain flew back (in defense of the spiking, in the second case the chainsaw was missing a chunk of the guard that keeps the chain from flying all the way back). I was a first responder in the second case, and responded to the scene (too late) in the first. Both were reported as logging accidents, with no record of the ceramic spike as the cause, at the request of logging companies, who have an interest in not admitting that spiking works.
(by First Responder I mean Wilderness First Responder (SOLO trained) working for a completely different organization operating in the same area who happened to be nearby, with a radio, that responded to an emergency call. I was neither acting as a back country professional medic nor as the primary caregiver at either scene.)
I did finally get my eyes on a back issue of EarthFirst! and the quote was taken verbatim.
The Cove was not “well funded”, it was funded by a previously little known small conservation organization called the Oceanic Preservation Society. OPS got a loan to pay for their high tech equipment, got another loan to pay for post-production editing, and had a crew that largely consisted of volunteers who believed in the cause.
OPS was started by Psihoyos (the director) himself and his diving buddy, Jim Clark, one of the venture capitalists behind Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and WebMD. The obtained funding from more sources than your post implies. I am not saying that the process was easy, all I am saying is that he obtained adequate funding to support an endeavour like this.
They certainly had the cash, but they used it to do the job right. If Sea Shepherd used the massive funding boost from Whale Wars to revise their tactics, I could get behind that. If they just continue to harass whaling ships for another 30 years, then what’s the point?
Hell, I’d even be more sympathetic if they ditched the Steve Irwin and rolled out something with an Ice rating. I’m honestly terrified to see what will happen with the Ady Gil, a ship capable of 40 knots, with a carbon fiber hull, in the Southern Ocean. That’s a recipe for disaster, and tragic loss (I do, in fact, believe that their volunteers are genuine, good hearted, and truly compassionate, but have been drawn into a cult of personality, and wish no ill upon them).
Sea Shepherd’s brand of direct action differs markedly from other organizations that claim to follow the same philosophy. Since Paul Watson actively claims that “bearing witness” by taking pictures is worthless and actively mocks Greenpeace on film (in the first or second episode of Whale Wars) for just “taking pictures”, photodocumentation is clearly not a core part of their Direct Action philosophy.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to claim that Sea Shepherd style direct action and simple photodocumentation are completely different tactics, regardless of what someone else’s definition is.
Warning – this is, of necessity, a long post.
I have no interest in defending everything Paul Watson has (or is purported to have) said.
I was a Greenpeace supporter for many years. I performed at a number of their fundraisers in the 1980’s, and I hooked them up with a very wealthy donor. My name was in the ledger in the bow of the Rainbow Warrior when the French sank it. The actions they took not long after that (which caused most of their fleet to be confiscated by the French) caused me to rethink my financial support. After that, Greenpeace turned more to street theater, protest, and research than to direct action to protect whales, because they saw the kind of direct action that they used to do as too risky to their financial support. Now, street theater, protest, and research are important, but there were already organizations around that did these things as well as or better than Greenpeace. (Education is important, too, which is why I have taught for much of my life.) I still support Greenpeace, but something more is necessary.
Someone needs to be out in the most remote seas of the world, between the whalers and the whales, saying, “No. You will not do this unopposed.” I discuss this in my article above. I will explain exactly why I feel this way. This is going to be quite unscientific, but then, I am a musician by trade – his comes from the OTHER side of the brain.
Composing music is a very lonely task. There is rarely any insurance that the music one composes will ever be played or listened to by anyone, or is even any good. J. S. Bach was quickly forgotten after his death. Forty percent of his music was lost – it is gone. Many of these compositions were sold shortly after his death for the paper on which they were written to wrap meat. Mozart died young, poor, and depressed. The only existent copies of 63 of Albinoni’s operas were burned in the firebombing of Dresden in WW2. The communist government chased Bela Bartok out of his beloved Hungary at least in part because they thought his music was corrupt. He died shortly later in America, depressed. Composing can be a tough business.
I have composed a number of large concert works for symphony orchestra. Most have been performed to appreciative audiences. Every one of these pieces incorporates environmental themes. I musically imitate bird calls, frog calls, insect sounds – all kinds of natural sounds. I incorporate the “sound images” of the natural world in everything I write, because these things deeply inspire me.
Because this music is what I would call “art music” or concert music, and not popular (or, more accurately, commercial) music, there is no money in writing it. Some pieces I have written I may never hear performed. Why do I do it? Because I have something I want to say that can only be said through music. It can be a very lonely process.
In 1971, an album came out called “Songs of the Humpbacked Whale,” recorded by Roger Payne. It was a revelation to me. There were composers of music in the ocean! These musicians sang long, repeatable works with a frequency range that went above and below the hearing of humans. These songs had harmony, counterpoint, and structure. I borrowed a motive from one of these incredible works and made a piece out of it (just like Beethoven might write variations on a theme by Mozart) for the piano. This piece got me accepted into music school.
Many whales are musicians. They are composers. They are the sirens of ancient Greek mythology (imagine bunking below the waterline in a small wooden ship in ancient times and hearing these songs from the depths!). They sang so beautifully that they might lure sailors to their deaths.
They are not meat. They are not statistics. They are not a “resource to be harvested,” or a “waste of resources” to preserve. They are musicians.
It is not OK with me for ANYONE to kill whales cruelly and unnecessarily. If someone is willing and able to go down to the southern oceans and put himself between the whalers and the whales and say, “No! You will not do this unopposed!,” then that’s my man, and I will support him, warts and all.
Well, there’s only one man I know willing to do this. Paul Watson’s the man. He’s protecting the musicians in the ocean. It’s the least I can do.
Today, I just played “Songs of the Humpbacked Whale” to a very talented, young composition student who was feeling a little down. He was blown away.
The circle is unbroken, as long as there are new musicians to learn the ancient songs.
I’d be lying if I said the ideal of Sea Shepherd wasn’t appealing, to go out into the open sea and take justice for ourselves. I want them to be right, I want them the succeed, but all evidence points to the contrary.
It’s not enough to just be passionate. It’s not enough to just be driven by a sense of justice and compassion, you also have to get the job done.
From where I stand, whaling will continue in Japan for the foreseeable future. This isn’t a statement of fatalism or surrender, it’s an observation and a rallying cry. From where I stand, Japan will continue whaling unless the Japanese people can be persuaded that whales and dolphins are worth more than their meat. From where I stand, the efforts of Sea Shepherd are making it harder for this goal to be obtained.
“Songs of the humpback” was a powerful piece of this puzzle. Because conservation is not just about science, not just about ecology. If the only morality was the law of data, we’d abandon the North Atlantic Right Whale and we’d leave the Minkes to the whalers. But conservation is about compassion and value. Science does not set the goals of conservation, it informs the methods.
On this front, our goals are the same, but I see the methods of Sea Shepherd and I don’t see the mechanism that leads from their actions to the end of whaling. The whale they save today will be hunted next year, and the year after that, until whaling ends.
The scientific data revealing the true value of any species remains incomplete. This means that some portion of the value of life will only be judged by the heart (read: intuitive “side” of the brain). I suspect that humans are capable of both avenues of evaluation because it yields a survival benefit. This is how we attempt to make good choices when the data is incomplete.
The list of species once thought to be worthless or expendable and now known to be essential or extremely useful in some way is too long to enumerate. Because of this long history of misjudgment, I choose to err on the conservative side when it comes to saving species.
Judging people’s reaction to the actions of others is also a difficult task. Some people, in order to be effective at manipulating the actions of others, make a great effort to modulate their actions to elicit a certain response. If this begins to be perceived as dishonest, this can backfire. So to be effective at manipulation, you either have to be a damn good liar, or you have to have sincere passion in what you believe. Now, I know from experience that I am a lousy liar, so that leaves me one other choice.
I believe that, whether they know it or not, people choose to feel the way they feel, and are responsible for that. So if I speak or act from honest passion to confront a wrong, some people will always choose to react with anger. That doesn’t bother me so much, because they are responsible for that, and in the end, their reactions will be perceived that way.
In order to reduce human impact on the environment, it remains to be seen which avenue or combination of avenues is most effective to change human behavior. Maybe neither manipulation (politics), honest passion, dispassionate science, nor any combination of those will save much of the life on earth from the massive number of people who refuse to take responsibility for their feelings, and consequently their actions. Only time will tell.
Total and completely irrelevant side note from someone who love linguistics and the way we use idiomatic expressions:
“It’s a slippery eel of a thing to talk about if we don’t mind our emotions and our word definitions.”
Holy crap that is just an awesome phrase. I hope you don’t mind if I use “It’s a slippery eel of a thing…” in conversation?
Be my guest. I don’t seem to get the feeling that eels are easily offended!
Heck even South Park knows that Watson and his Sea Sheep are liars for cash.
Missing in all these comments is a larger debate about the differences between “conservation” and the commercialized cultural eccentricity known as “animal rights” and its wider implications for conservation and environmentalism generally.
For the record, I do NOT in any way support the Sea Shepherds or Animal Rights but I am in the front lines of Conservation at the community level.
Most of Watson’s campaigns have been to blur the line between conservation and animal rights and have resulted in campaigns based largely on the demonization of some of the most sustainable renewable resource harvesters on the planet whether it be Seal Hunters or Faeroese Pilot whalers etc…
Watson let the Cod go extinct because there was more money in demonizing sustainable east coast seal hunters who themselves had spent years trying to get attention to how the Grand Banks were being emptied.
Knowing as I do that almost anything that comes out of a Sea Shepherd’s mouth is an outright lie or distortion, why should I think the situation with shark finning is any different?
The Sea Sheep are milking what’s left of an old media model. They only have traction in print and TV where few people make the decisions.
In the information age, demonization and lies tend to wilt in the light.
I look forward to the information age putting the hucksters and their groupie followers out to pasture.
Sorry folks but whales are food too.
If you think that South Park supports Japanese whaling, I don’t think you understand South Park.
Underlying the arguments for conservation and for animal rights are similar moral principles. The two cannot be cleanly divided. “Animal rights” is certainly less commercialized than “Christmas,” and yet Christmas continues to exert its own magic on much of the world.
Try beating your cat or dog to death with a hooked club or shooting it with small, explosive pellets and tell me how that works for you. Then explain to me the moral difference between the life of your pet and that of a whale or a seal. To the Vietnamese, cats are “food.” In the Philippine Islands, dogs are “food.”
The seal hunt in Canada and Japanese “scientific” whaling are not commercially viable without large government subsidies. There is also scientific evidence that seals eat fish that prey on young cod, and to reduce seal populations actually increases young cod predation in the Grand Banks. Because pilot whale flesh, like most other large predator flesh from the oceans, is polluted with high levels of PCBs, mercury, and other heavy metals, the Faroese Chief Medical Officer does not advise eating the meat. This is most likely why the rate of Parkinson’s disease on the Faroe Islands is twice that of the rest of Denmark.
So moral issues aside, there are good financial, environmental, and health reasons not to support the animal slaughters that you mention.
Saying that “Watson let the Cod go extinct” is not true. In 1984, Paul Watson said: “Unless the DFO closes the Cod fishery, the species will become commercially extinct by 1995. They must stop catering to the greed of the industry and the fishermen and act in the interest of preserving the species.” He was heavily criticized for that statement at the time, but it was a far more accurate prediction than the predictions given by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans who were finally forced to announce a “surprise” collapse of the Cod fisheries in 1992. Certain parts of the government then began blaming seals for the crash of the Cod fisheries, although science disproves this, also. Despite years of seal hunts since 1992, the cod fisheries have not rebounded.
And so it goes. Slaughter upon slaughter. Now consider your own emotional comments, the comments of an avowed “Conservationist.” Do you not see some kind of moral truth, some kind of flaw in human nature, running through all of this?
All life is a part of the food chain. This does not mean that we should eat everything that will fit into our mouths.
“My clients are the whales. I could care less what you think.”
I’d say that says it all. Your moral boundaries are meaningless. The oceans are dying, and Paul Watson has devoted his life to stop marine poaching. Do more than he does and then you can criticize. Until then, you’re just posting on a blog while he’s piloting a ship in Antarctica.
You may want to check out Underwater Thrills extensive coverage of Sea Shepherd before parroting the SSCS talking points.
I still remain flabbergasted that people think any organization should be above criticism. A 32 year track record of failure should make you wonder if Sea Shepherd, as well intentioned as they might be, really has the right strategy to affect change. At the very least, it demands discussion and analysis.
But I guess when your methods are so profoundly flawed, all you can do is try to silence critics.
Andrew, why do you hate whales so much?
“All life is a part of the food chain. This does not mean that we should eat everything that will fit into our mouths.”
When we are in the middle of a food diversity crisis; YES ABSOLUTELY IT DOES!