Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace: some facts

Page - December 17, 2008
Paul Watson is the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and an early member of Greenpeace. Over the last few years, Paul has become extremely critical of Greenpeace in the press and at his website. The information below is provided as a service to our supporters to get a few facts out on the table about Paul's history with Greenpeace and the nature of our disagreements.

Paul Watson became active with Greenpeace in 1971 as a member of our second expedition against nuclear weapons testing in Amchitka, and went on to participate in actions against whaling and the killing of harp seals.  He was an influential early member but not, as he sometimes claims, a founder.

He was expelled from the leadership of Greenpeace in 1977 by a vote of 11 to one (only Watson himself voted against it).

Bob Hunter (one of Greenpeace's early leaders, after whom a Sea Shepherd vessel was named) described the event in his book, the Greenpeace Chronicles:

'No one doubted his [Watson's] courage for a moment. He was a great warrior brother. Yet in terms of the Greenpeace gestalt, he seemed possessed by too powerful a drive, too unrelenting a desire to push himself front and center, shouldering everyone else aside… He had consistently gone around to other offices, acting out the role of mutineer. Everywhere he went, he created divisiveness… We all felt we'd got trapped in a web no one wanted to see develop, yet now that it had, there was nothing to do but bring down the axe, even if it meant bringing it down on the neck of our brother."

Confusion: Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd

Watson founded his own group, Sea Shepherd, in 1977.

  • in 1986, Sea Shepherd carried out an action against the Icelandic whaling station in Hvalfjoerdur and sank two Icelandic whaling vessels in Reykjavik harbor by opening their sea valves;[1]
  • in December 1992, Sea Shepherd sank the vessel Nybroena in port;[2]
  • Sea Shepherd claimed to have sank the Taiwanese drift net ship Jiang Hai in port in Taiwan and to have rammed and disabled four other Asian drift net ships;[3]
  • a Canadian court ordered Watson and his former ship, the Cleveland Armory, to pay a total of $35,000 for ramming a Cuban fishing vessel off the coast of Newfoundland in June 1993;[4]
  • in January 1994 the group severely damaged the whaling ship Senet in the Norwegian port of Gressvik.[5]

Each of the whaling ships noted above was refloated and refitted for continued whaling.

In a 2008 article in the New Yorker, Watson claims that Sea Shepherd has sunk ten ships since its founding, but the author of the article notes, with some skepticism, that she was unable to verify that number.

Paul Watson's and Sea Shepherd's actions have sometimes been wrongly attributed to Greenpeace, often in an attempt by others to damage Greenpeace's reputation for non-violence.

Greenpeace has never sunk a whaling ship.

Some anti-environmentalists try to use the fact that an extreme minority in the environmental movement resorts to force and sabotage to brand the movement as a whole as "terrorist." One such attempt has been specifically condemned by a Norwegian court. [7]

In 1991, we had an agreement with Sea Shepherd that we would refrain from public criticism of one another. Today, many of Sea Shepherd's fundraising communications and Paul Watson's public communications are filled with attacks on Greenpeace, our methods, our activists, and our supporters. They are often peppered with inaccuracies and outright untruths. Paul Watson is still fighting a one-sided battle that was over for Greenpeace in 1977. 

In most cases, we simply don't respond to Paul Watson's criticism.  While we don't agree with Sea Shepherd's methods, we also know that stories of divisiveness within the ranks of environmental groups distract from the real issues which unite us, and we prefer that when the media writes about whaling, they write about the real issues. Although Paul Watson is a vehement anti-whaling activist, he regularly lends his support to attacks on Greenpeace -- some of them organized by the whalers themselves. [8]

Our committment to non-violence: why we don't cooperate

Paul Watson has made many public requests for Greenpeace to reveal the location of the whaling fleet or otherwise cooperate with Sea Shepherd in the Southern Ocean when the ships of both organizations have been there simultaneously.

We passionately want to stop whaling, and will do so peacefully. That's why we won't help Sea Shepherd. Greenpeace is committed to non-violence and we'll never, ever, change that; not for anything. If we helped Sea Shepherd to find the whaling fleet we'd be responsible for anything they did having got that information, and history shows that they've used violence in the past, in the most dangerous seas on Earth. For us, non-violence is a non-negotiable, precious principle. Greenpeace will continue to act to defend the whales, but will never attack or endanger the whalers.

We differ with Paul Watson on what constitutes violence. He states that nobody has ever been harmed by a Sea Shepherd action.  But the test of non-violence is the nature of your action, not whether harm results or not.  There are many acts of violence -- for example, holding a gun to someone's head -- which result in no harm.  That doesn't change their nature. We believe that throwing butryic acid at the whalers, dropping cables to foul their props, and threatening to ram them in the freezing waters of the Antarctic constitutes violence because of the potential consequences. The fact that the consequences have not been realized is irrelevant.

In addition to being morally wrong, we believe the use of violence in protection of whales to be a tactical error. If there's one way to harden Japanese public opinion and ensure whaling continues, it's to use violent tactics against their fleet. It's wrong because it puts human lives at risk, and it's wrong because it makes the whalers stronger in Japan.

We work with many other groups whose methods differ from ours, and we know the power of cooperation among groups with a common objective but diverse ways of working.  For decades, we have had productive working relationships with the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Sierra Club, Environmental Investigative Agency, and a host of other groups dedicated to whale conservation.   We would only be willing to cooperate with Sea Shepherd under the condition that it would not facilitate endangering human life.

To give one example, in 2005/2006, Sea Shepherd attempted to snarl the propeller of the Nisshin Maru with a rope and cable, as reported on their own website:

Two of our three zodiacs were equipped with devices we had made to foul their propeller; basically two buoys connected with steel cable and rope that we would place in front of their ship in hopes that the Maru would run it over, it would pass underneath their hull and into their propeller at the stern of their ship causing their ship to slow down dramatically or be stopped completely. The Maru was running at full speed away from the Farley. Both zodiacs deployed their devices repeatedly. None seemed to work against the goliath Nisshin Maru ship...

Running out of options and having lost both of our propeller fouling devices, all hope seemed lost of slowing the Maru...

Disabling a ship at sea in the Antarctic, regardless of how much one may object to its activities, is not only a callous act of disregard for human life -- it's courting an environmental disaster in one of the most fragile environments in the world. 

Such tactics are not only dangerous to the whalers, they are dangerous to the cause of stopping Japanese whaling. Our political analysis is unequivocal: if Japanese whaling is to be stopped, it will be stopped by a domestic decision within the Japanese government to do so.   That's why we have invested heavily in a Greenpeace office in Japan and efforts to speak directly to the Japanese public -- 70 percent of whom are unaware that whaling takes place in the Southern Ocean at all.  A majority of those who are aware of the whaling program, oppose it.   Support for whaling in Japan has been steadily falling for the last decade. Consumption of whale meat is in decline, the cost of the program to taxpayers is being questioned by the business community, and the political costs of the program have created opposition in the Foreign Affairs department in Japan.  All of this progress could be undone by a nationalist backlash.  By making it easy to paint anti-whaling forces as dangerous, piratical terrorists, Sea Shepherd could undermine the forces within Japan which could actually bring whaling to an end.

A few facts

We've got fairly thick skins here at Greenpeace.  When you challenge powerful forces, you need to be ready to put up with accusations of ulterior motives and hidden agendas. What's unfortunate is when we have to spend time countering friendly fire -- attacks by an organization that shares the same goals as we do.  We don't mind robust disagreements, but we do object to falsehoods.

As the New Yorker article on Paul Watson noted, in his book "Earthforce!":

Watson advises readers to make up facts and figures when they need to, and to deliver them to reporters confidently,  "as Ronald Reagan did."

Paul Watson has claimed that Greenpeace goes to the Antarctic merely to film whales being killed, to wave banners and to bear witness to their deaths -- but does nothing to save them.

This is untrue.

Greenpeace saves whales

Greenpeace has directly saved the lives of countless whales over more than three decades by maneuvering our boats between the harpoon and the whale. Many of us have risked our lives in those actions from Iceland to the Antarctic. But, while we consider it acceptable to risk our own lives for the whales, we don't believe in risking anyone else's.

In 2006, a harpoon was fired over one of our inflatables and the line fell on the boat, pulling one crew member into the freezing waters of the Antarctic. According to records kept by the whalers (we were too busy to keep records), we interfered with them 26 times in 2006. Shortly after sighting us, the whalers departed at high speed -- their own records show they lost nine days of hunting due to interference with their operations.  The whalers rammed our ships twice, hit one of our crew members with a metal pole, and used a high-powered water cannon against us. Despite this, they came in 82 whales short of their quota.  In 2008, the whalers ran from us for 14 consecutive days, days that were lost to them for hunting. Since they need to catch an average of around 9-10 whales a day to make their self-appointed quota, this action alone saved the lives of over 100 whales.

Greenpeace works to save whales around the world, all year round, and with a variety of tactics.

Along with the Worldwide Fund for Nature, we were the primary advocates that created public pressure for the moratorium on commercial whaling which was agreed in 1982.  That single piece of work has saved the lives of tens of thousands of whales and ended the whaling programs of the Soviet Union, Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Spain.

We have undertaken political work to maintain support for the moratorium on commercial whaling and counter Japanese vote-buying schemes. There have been years in which the conservation majority in the International Whaling Commission has hung by a thread,  in one case by a single vote. By lobbying conservation-minded countries to join the International Whaling Commission and successfully pressuring countries like Denmark to change their policies toward conservation, our millions of supporters and activists have worked quietly behind the scenes to save whales.

Working in Japan to stop whaling

Greenpeace has had an office in Japan since 1989.  As a result of hard, steady work over the years we have succeeded in making whaling a subject of domestic debate in Japan where none has existed before.  We've brought Japanese celebrities, musicians, and artists to speak out against whaling, exposed taxpayer-sponsored promotional efforts by the Japanese government -- by exposing waste and corruption in the bureaucracy that supports whaling, we've generated criticism of whaling in some of Japan's largest newspapers, and articles in the business press asking whether Japan should end its whaling program. 

On May 15, 2008, Greenpeace Japan used undercover investigators and the testimony of informers to expose that large amounts of prime cut whale meat were being smuggled from the whaling ship Nisshin Maru disguised as personal baggage, labeled "cardboard" or "salted stuff" and addressed to the private homes of crewmembers. Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki intercepted one box out of four sent to one address, discovered it contained whale meat valued at up to US$3,000, and took it to the Tokyo public prosecutor.

Their public press conference drew national attention in Japan, and a promise by the public prosecutor to "fully investigate" the charges.

Instead, Junichi and Toru were arrested for stealing the box of whale meat, and the scandal investigation was dropped by the Tokyo public prosecutor's office the same day; it was clear that the two events were connected, just as it is clear that both were politically motivated. Although Junichi and Toru had provided full cooperation to the police, it took some five weeks to make the arrests, and when they did, more than 40 officers raided the Greenpeace Japan office, with the media tipped off by police beforehand.  The Greenpeace activists learned of their imminent arrest from the TV news the same day the embezzlement case was dropped.

The two activists now face up to ten years imprisonment.  We consider them political prisoners, and believe that powerful forces have instrumented a crackdown aimed at discrediting Greenpeace in Japanese society.  This means we've hit a nerve.  We intend to put all our efforts into turning the tables, and putting the whaling interests on trial in the court of public opinion in Japan.  We see the reaction of whaling interests as conforming perfectly to the way the most successful Greenpeace campaigns play out: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. Then you win."

Greenpeace has too much money?

Watson likes to paint a picture of Greenpeace as enjoying vast riches, but in fact Greenpeace accepts no money from governments or corporations, and our resources are minuscule compared to the task before us. We rely almost entirely on the donations of nearly 3 million people worldwide, and we spend those hard-earned donations in ways that win campaigns for the environment. 

To put our budget in perspective, in 2007 Exxon-Mobil generated more revenue in less than six hours than Greenpeace raised worldwide from its supporters for the entire year.  Our annual donations are less than the value of seven days of the global value of the illegal forest industry, or three days of the subsidies to the global fisheries industry.  The nuclear industry spends more money in advertising than Greenpeace International's entire operating budget.

The full breakdown of what we raise, what we spend, and what we spend it on is released every year in our Annual Report.

Most importantly, Greenpeace gets results.  In the three decades since our founding, we have combined our unique brand of non-violent direct action with political lobbying, scientific research, and public mobilization to bring an end to nuclear weapons testing, stop the dumping of hazardous waste at sea, secure the moratorium on commercial whaling, and win dozens of other significant steps toward our ultimate goal of a green and peaceful future for our planet.

In conclusion

Paul Watson is welcome to express his opinions about Greenpeace -- as a more progressive environmental organization, we have a wide spectrum of detractors, and we welcome fair criticism.  But, we expect fair debate to be based in fact, not falsehoods. 

[1] New York Times, November 10, 1986: Militants sink two of Iceland's Whaling Vessels

[2] Reuters, 3 June 1994: Norway Sentences Anti-Whaling Activists

[3] Sea Shepherd Conservation Society fact sheet, Econet, spring 1994

[4] Sea Shepherd Media Release, April 12, 1994

[5] Sea Shepherd Media Release, January 24, 1994

[6] Examples: Sea Shepherd Media Release, April 25, 1994; Sea Shepherd Log, Second Quarter 1993

[7] Greenpeace Norge v. Magnus Gudmundsson and Anor, Oslo, March 17-March 21, 1992

[8] In "The Man in the Rainbow" Watson appeared alongside representatives of the pro-whaling High North Alliance and the anti-environmental Wise Use movement to condemn Greenpeace and cast aspersions on the entire environmental community. The film was deemed libellous by a German court.

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