Human Interaction

Whale Wars Kim McCoy Interview

posted: 05/15/12

October 2008 Interview

Please note that the views expressed are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the views of Animal Planet or Discovery Communications, Inc.

ANIMAL PLANET: How did you first hear about Sea Shepherd?

KIM MCCOY: I first learned about the Sea Shepherd in 2003. I heard Paul speaking at an animal rights conference. It was my first animal rights conference and I was overwhelmed by everything that I learned there, but most of all, overwhelmed by him and his message and really blown away to know that whales were still being killed. I had no idea about all the other things that are happening in the oceans. Paul and I became friends and have been friends ever since. That was kind of my door into Sea Shepherd.

ANIMAL PLANET: Is this your first campaign?

KIM MCCOY: This campaign was my first time ever to Antarctica, down to the southern Ocean. It was incredibly exciting not only to be going down to save whales but also because it's an adventure going to a beautiful, beautiful place in the world that's very remote and I'd never seen.

ANIMAL PLANET: What does it take to be a Sea Shepherd?

KIM MCCOY: The people who come on our campaigns, especially on the Antarctic campaign, have a very strong commitment to the issue. You have to because we are at sea for so long and there's no way to know how long we're gonna be out at sea. We may have to sit out a storm, and we sit and wait for a couple of weeks. We're not using fuel during that time, so that extends the amount of time we can be at sea. We may be in hot pursuit the whole time and burn our fuel quickly and have to turn around and go back, but you just never know. So, it takes the right person and the right level of commitment to go down and do this.

Definitely coming on the boat means you're giving up a lot. Saying goodbye to family and friends and companion animals. One of the hardest things for me was being away from my two cats. It sounds ridiculous, but you can't call up your cats on the satellite phone and talk to them. It's hard. The thing that makes it worthwhile is that you know you're going down there for a greater good and everybody that you love will still be there when you get back. They're not going to be harpooned.

ANIMAL PLANET: What kind of background did you have before joining Sea Shepherd?

KIM MCCOY: Before coming to work for Sea Shepherd and coming out on the campaign, I (went) to law school. I specialized in international environmental law and animal protection law. That definitely helps a lot. Most of what we do is testing gray areas in the law, and international law has a lot of gray areas. So having an understanding of how it works, having connections with people who practice this and have expertise in this area, it's critical. It's really, really helpful.

ANIMAL PLANET: Why are there so many gray areas?

KIM MCCOY: Well, the IWC, the International Whaling Commission, is a regulatory body that is like most international law. It's soft law. It's non-binding. It's created by a group of countries who get together and sign onto this and say, "We all agree that we're gonna set these rules and we're gonna abide by these rules." And in 1986, the IWC established a global moratorium on commercial whaling, meaning nobody in the world can kill whales for commercial purposes.

There is a loophole however for scientific research. The Japanese whaling fleet exploits that loophole claiming to be going to a whale sanctuary to kill upwards of a 1,000 whales each year for the purposes of lethal scientific research. Now, I've lived in Japan and happen to know that this whale meat winds up in fish markets, in restaurants. You don't have to have lived in Japan to know these things. It's not disputed.

The IWC itself has actually condemned Japan's activity. In 2006, it issued a resolution telling Japan to stop exploiting this loophole. The problem with the IWC is that like most international treaties and conventions, there is no regulatory or enforcement mechanism. That's where Sea Shepherd comes into play.

ANIMAL PLANET: So you're not convinced that Japan is whaling for scientific reasons?

KIM MCCOY: There's a lot of evidence to justify that this is not being done for scientific research purposes. Scientific research can be conducted non-lethally, and should be in this case. Just the numbers alone aren't enough to legitimize the research that is being drawn from it. And this whale meat winds up in markets. The blubber is used in cosmetics. More than that, it even winds up in pet food products. I mean, it's absurd. There's actually a diminishing demand for whale meat in Japan. It's very high in mercury. It's very unhealthy for people to consume and I think that people are starting to realize that. Whale meat was a common food in Japan backing during the war era, in times when other food sources weren't as plentiful. Now we have so many other options. It's just not needed.

If the Japanese whaling fleet and the ICR (the Institute of Cetacean Research) were actually conducting meaningful scientific research, there would be contributions in the scientific world. They're not putting out regular reports. They're not putting out anything meaningful, anything new, anything substantial. So, it's pretty clear that this is just being used as a way to exploit the loophole in the IWC. It's been a year since the ICR has published a report. There is no evidence of any conclusive or useful information coming from this scientific research.

ANIMAL PLANET: While in Japan, did you get a sense of what most Japanese people thought about whaling?

KIM MCCOY: During my time in Japan, visiting the fish markets, seeing this whale meat, I don't really know anybody who actually purchases it or eats it. My friends in Japan (who) I still keep in touch with, a lot of them really weren't aware of this issue. The Japanese public is kept largely in the dark. This most recent campaign was actually the first time we ever hit major publicity with the mainstream media in Japan really. (It) brought this to the attention of the Japanese people. And we've actually gotten support from people in Japan who didn't know this was happening in their own countries.

I have a very close friend in Japan. She's in her fifties. She and her husband tell me that when they were schoolchildren, they were forced to eat whale meat and they don't have any desire to do so anymore. They don't understand why anybody would kill such a beautiful, magnificent creature. And because people aren't willing to eat it, it's winding up in dog food. I mean, can you imagine? I just... The juxtaposition of this elegant, incredible animal and then it winds up in somebody's dog food bowl? It's just... It's wrong.

ANIMAL PLANET: So why do you think Japan continues to hunt whales?

KIM MCCOY: My personal belief is that it's an issue of national pride. And not the Japanese people, but the people who profit from the industry of Japanese whaling don't want to be told what to do by outsiders, by foreigners. They want to continue doing their thing. It's not a profitable industry anymore, especially thanks to us. The Sea Shepherd has hurt the Japanese whaling industry financially to the tune of $70 million on this last campaign. We're costing them fuel. We're costing them time. They hired a vessel, Number 68, to come out and spy on us. That had to have come at a tremendous cost to them. Of course, it was frustrating for us, but we were also kind of secretly laughing, you know, 'cause we're costing them money. We're hitting them where it hurts. Paul likes to say that we are sinking them economically, and I like that. That's what we're doing.

ANIMAL PLANET: Why do you care so much about whales?

KIM MCCOY: We get asked all the time by the media and other people, "Why do you care so much about whales when you're eating hamburgers?" or, one of my favorites, "when you're eating kangaroo every day?" Which is hilarious because we don't eat kangaroo every day. In fact our ships are vegan ships. So we don't have any animal products on board and all of our meals are cruelty free.

I guess the answer to the question, "Why whales? Certainly the other creatures are just as important." (Whales) are critically important to the ecosystem. There are a million scientific ecological reasons that could be given, but my personal answer is: anybody who has ever stood on a shore or stood on the deck of a ship and looked and seen a whale breaching, and looked into the eye of that whale... There aren't really any words for how to describe it. You don't have a choice at that point. You see that and there's a specialness, a uniqueness, an awareness, a connection. You just feel a sense of obligation to do something. This is such an injustice. The way that they die is so atrocious. Nobody should have to die that way, and certainly not an animal with that level of intelligence and emotion.

ANIMAL PLANET: What's so bad about the way whales are killed?

KIM MCCOY: The way that the whales are killed is atrocious. The people killing them claim that they're using more humane methods now than they did before, but I've seen video footage of whales that took 15, 20 minutes to die. They are harpooned with an explosive tipped harpoon. It enters their body and it instantly shreds their internal organs. They spend agonizing minutes thrashing around in the water desperately trying to dive deep for protection. They can't because they're roped to the boat. They wind up suffocating on their own blood. It is the most horrific thing. I've never seen that happen in real life and I'm incredibly proud to say that that's because when Sea Shepherd shows up, the killing of the whales stops. We have never stood by to see a whale die and we never will. That's because the whaling fleet sees us coming and they know we're not there to take pictures. They know that we mean business and they stop what they're doing and they run. And they should because we do mean business

ANIMAL PLANET: Why doesn't Sea Shepherd use non-aggressive tactics like Greenpeace?

KIM MCCOY: I think there was a time and a place for Greenpeace tactics. I think there was a time when the world needed to see what was happening, and it was important to get video footage of these whales dying so that people could see the way that they're being killed. Now we have that footage. The world has seen it. The world knows and understands what's happening. So now is the time to actually do something about it. We've got all the evidence, the pictures, the videos; we've got everything that we need. The time has come to just stand up and say, "We're not gonna let this happen to these creatures anymore."

The difference between Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd is that Greenpeace goes there to bear witness. They allow the killing to happen. They watch it happen. When Sea Shepherd shows up, it stops. That's the main difference between us. We're often accused of being violent and I completely disagree with that. We destroy property. We destroy instruments of death. We don't harm. We would never inflict harm on any living being. And in our 31 years of operation, we've never once injured a single person. We're really proud of that record.

ANIMAL PLANET: What is Paul Watson's role as the captain?

KIM MCCOY: The way things work on a ship is the captain is the mastermind. (He's) the person who comes up with all the strategy, decides how everything is going to be done. The captain is not the person who goes out and then delivers those orders to the crew. That's what the officers are for. So we've got a first mate and a second mate. Those are the people who meet with the captain, take his instructions, go out and deliver them to the rest of the crew and make sure that those are followed.

I think the magic of Paul is that (he) is the most brilliant and hardworking person I've ever spent time with. I have spent a lot of time with Paul and he will work nonstop. He wears me out. I can't keep up with him. During the hostage situation, Paul was on the phone for almost three days straight without taking a break. He was sitting by the phones, he would answer a call and then he would hang up. The phone would ring while his hand was still on it. He'd pick it up and he'd keep going. Three days straight. He would only leave to go to the bathroom and come back. He was wrapped in a little blanket and we would bring him canned peaches and tea, and things to eat, and he was just a machine. I've never seen anybody with that kind of endurance. The fact that he could stay on point and just steady and focused without any sleep was absolutely incredible.

Paul as the captain of the ship is not the man who gives orders to the rest of the crew. He has his officers to do that. But the brilliance of Paul is that he is a quiet visionary who works behind the scenes for hours on end and then springs into action when the time comes for him to be the voice of Sea Shepherd.

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