We continue our interview with controversial Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson …
‘In comparison to the problems that the world’s wildlife population has experienced, I don’t think that any human sacrifice is anything, really. We’re not sacrificing anything.’
People’s opinions of Captain Paul Watson are divided, although many of them can’t pinpoint exactly why. Some are annoyed that he claims to be a captain without the necessary paperwork. After more than 30 years at sea, however, others believe he couldn’t be more qualified to be the leader of a ship.
Perhaps part of the dislike stems from inflammatory statements such as ‘I don’t have enough respect for people to be concerned about what they call me.’
You can see why he rubs people up the wrong way; society expects that people want to be liked. But it’s his detractors he’s referring to here, rather than his supporters, of whom there are many, including Hollywood celebrities like Pierce Brosnan, Martin Sheen, Sean Penn, William Shatner and Uma Thurman. In his foreword to Watson’s book Seal Wars: Twenty-five Years on the Front Lines with the Harp Seals, Martin Sheen says Paul Watson is ‘by far the most knowledgeable, dedicated and courageous environmentalist alive today’.
It’s easy to understand how he garners this support in Hollywood; Paul Watson would be as refreshing as sea air. Not only has he walked the talk, he’s down-to-earth, passionate and knowledgeable, and he has a never-ending supply of entertaining, enlightening and incredible stories. Unquestionably, he’s also undertaking meaningful work. And then there are his other supporters, who include Mick Jagger and the Dalai Lama.
Watson has been banned from International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings since 1986, after the Sea Shepherd sunk two Icelandic whaling vessels, and since that time the IWC has been vocal in its condemnation of him. Interestingly, then, in 2006 the IWC’s outgoing vice-chair Horst Kleinschmidt joined the Sea Shepherd’s board as an advisor, and he’s still on the board today.
From Namibia in southern Africa, Horst Kleinschmidt speaks four languages and has a host of university degrees. He says, ‘I have been an activist all my life. I fought against apartheid and for the rights and dignity of the oppressed people of my country. For this I went to jail and then into exile … Having been an IWC Commissioner, the plight of the world’s whales became apparent to me … Sea Shepherd alerts and educates people through its radical actions, which is why I decided to side with this organisation.’
When it comes to the cause, Watson doesn’t mince his words either, and nor does he buy into human trivialities. Equally, he condemns the use of culture or tradition to justify killing, calling these justifications ‘ridiculous’. Watson has been outspokenly critical of tribes like the Makah, a North American tribe from Neah Bay in Washington, who continue to whale today under an 1855 treaty. Watson says these exemptions of ‘aboriginality’ can be applied to almost any culture if you look far enough back into history.
‘I mean what the hell, where does that begin? They’re breaking the law, and if they’re breaking the law, we are going to oppose them. And I think that it would be racist of me not to oppose them because I’m discriminating against them based on their race, and I won’t do that. So I find that being politically correct to me is being racist. Because I only look at people as people, I don’t see any difference down the line. I don’t see a difference between male and female, black, red, whatever, it’s all the same – it’s human beings, one race, the human race.’
Watson’s message is to all humankind, regardless of creed, religion, race or colour. He believes in living in accordance with the three basic laws of ecology:
1. The law of diversity – that the strength of an eco-system depends upon the diversity in it
2. The law of interdependence – that all those species are interdependent
3. The law of finite resources – that there is a gross limit carrying capacity.
Of the last law he says, ‘humans are stealing the carrying capacity of other species in that they have to be eliminated in order for us to increase our populations’.
Watson says last year he was criticised in the United States for a comment that referred to worms being more important than humans, which he explains:
‘Worms can live on the planet without people; people can’t live on the planet without worms. Honeybees are more important than people, bacteria is more important than people – any species that is actually a foundation species which allows for the other species to survive is more important than the species up top. So the so-called higher mammals are actually lower on the value scale than the bacteria and the insects which maintain this planet for us.’
Of course, even foundation species have symbiotic relationships. Some bacteria, for instance, live only in humans. But the point is valid; other species live far more harmoniously on this earth than people. To the planet’s survival, we are superfluous. And if the planet survives and we don’t change our ways, Watson says there’ll be consequences.
‘What I would like to see is that people understand that everything they do has repercussions. They should learn to live in harmony with other species and respect other species and learn to abide by the laws of ecology. Any species throughout the last billion years that hasn’t lived in accordance with the laws of ecology becomes extinct. It’s as simple as that. If you want to survive, obey the law, otherwise you’re going to disappear. Because we’re already at carrying capacity – the environment is set up into different niches that different species occupy. And if you start vacating a lot of these niches then things begin to collapse.’
Watson doesn’t believe in pets, he’s a vegetarian, and if his following claims are correct, you can see why.
‘Fifty per cent of the fish that’s taken out of the ocean goes to livestock. The pig is the largest aquatic carnivore on the planet – it eats more fish than all the world’s sharks put together. Cats eat more fish than all the world’s seals put together.’
Watson has other claims too: puffins are starving in the North Sea because the sand eel is being fished to feed factory farm chickens in Denmark – the sand eel is the puffin’s main diet. Mass harvesting of plankton is being planned to provide protein paste to feed livestock, and every fish at a fish farm requires 70 fish from the ocean to feed it.
Before you dismiss these claims, consider the research. A UK information website, Wildlife Britain, says that in some places in the United Kingdom there’s been a shortage of sand eels, which ‘has led to the drastic increase in the mortality of the young birds [puffins]’. They say, ‘The usual suspects of over-fishing and global warming are thought to be to blame, although it is difficult to prove.’
The research into farmed fish is even more interesting. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says that ‘aquaculture is contributing to over-fishing through the use of wild-caught fish as feed for farmed fish’.
They claim that to produce just one kilogram of farmed tuna up to 22 kilograms of wild-caught fish is needed; one kilogram of farmed salmon needs four kilograms of wild-caught fish; and up to two kilograms of wild-caught fish is needed to produce one kilogram of farmed marine shrimp.
A 2000 article in Nature [volume 405] titled Effect of aquaculture on world fish supplies confirms that ‘some types of aquaculture activity, including shrimp and salmon farming, potential damage to ocean and coastal resources through habitat destruction, waste disposal, exotic species and pathogen invasions, and large fish meal and fish oil requirements may further deplete wild fisheries stocks’. It goes on to say, ‘The diversity of production systems leads to an underlying paradox: aquaculture is a possible solution, but also a contributing factor, to the collapse of fisheries stocks worldwide.’
Watson’s choice to become vegetarian is based on this. ‘I cannot justify eating [meat], I’m totally opposed to eating seafood primarily, but I can’t justify the eating of meat because of its contribution to the destruction of marine wildlife. I always get called an animal rights person and this type of thing, but I’ve always been a conservationist, but I feel that veganism and vegetarianism, are essential if you are going to be a really committed and dedicated conservationist or environmentalist. The amount of greenhouse gases produced by the meat industry is greater than the amount of gases produced by the automobile industry. Al Gore didn’t mention that.’
According to the United Nation’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report, published in 2006, the meat industry contributes more to greenhouse gases than not only the automobile industry but the transport industry as a whole. The report claims that the world’s livestock industry ‘generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2’. And that ‘livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport’.
The report based its assessment on the most recent and complete data available, taking into account both direct impacts and those of feed-crop agriculture required for livestock production. The livestock sector emerged as one of the top significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale, from local to global. The findings of the report suggested the industry should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortage and pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
A statement of Watson’s that was well publicised in the United States was ‘A vegan driving a Hummer contributes less to global greenhouse emissions than a meat-eater riding a bicycle.’ While this is most quotable, research, including that from the University of Chicago, indicates it’s more likely to be: a vegan (who contributes the equivalent of 0.19 tonnes of CO2 through their food consumption) driving a Prius (which contributes around 2.1 tonnes after covering a distance of 12,000 miles) contributes about the same greenhouse gases as an average meat-eater (around 2.19 tonnes) on a bicycle. For those interested, a Hummer at 12,000 miles contributes around 8.5 tonnes per year.
Regardless, his point is evident – eating meat contributes enormously to greenhouse gases. Watson says he doesn’t know why there is such resistance to vegetarianism, except to suggest that it impinges on the lifestyles of individuals, and that, while people may be in favour of conservation, this is too much of a sacrifice for most people.
‘It’s true that no one wants to touch it. An example: we boarded with the Greenpeace ship, well I didn’t, but my crew did, in South Africa, while we were both there, and they were on an anti-fishing campaign but they were all serving whole fish dinners, big fish dinners. And one of my crew said “well this is ridiculous” and the cook said “well you gotta eat”. My crew member replied “well our ships are vegan”,and the cook said “well that’s just plain silly”. But people can’t adapt to it, to that whole thing. I mean, I was raised on seafood. I lived in a town where the poor kids went to school with lobster sandwiches because that was the cheapest meat in town. We thought baloney and peanut butter was exotic.’
Watson has many criticisms of the organisation he helped found all those years ago. He publicly accuses David McTaggart, former CEO of Greenpeace, of being a ‘crook’. He says, ‘David McTaggart pretty much manipulated all the original people out of the organisation, including Bob [Robert] Hunter, who was the first president of Greenpeace, and he did it basically for his personal fiefdom. And when I say he’s a crook, he’s dead now, but I said it when he was alive, I said [to him] “You tell me how a bankrupt businessman becomes a multi-millionaire ten years after taking over a non-profit society and retires to a villa in Italy. If I’m lying, sue me”, but he never sued me.’
Watson says when he made this accusation, Greenpeace turned against the Sea Shepherd and the war was on. Watson says, ‘He [McTaggart] took it away from animals, he was totally opposed to the animals. Even though people think Greenpeace is protecting seals, they haven’t been to a seal hunt since the mid eighties. Their whole position on whaling is that they neither condemn nor condone.’
In perhaps the most inflammatory quote in our interview, Watson says …
Find out in Part 3 later this week
Text: Lisa Louden
Research: Steve Nietz, Lisa Louden
Photography: Dione Molnar
Interested in hearing from the man himself? Click here for Captain Paul Watson’s blog