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: When did you start Sea Shepherd?
CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON: I started the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977, after leaving the Greenpeace Foundation. I felt that there was a need for an interventionist organization. I was tired of protesting. I'm actually totally apposed to protesting. It's sort of like "please, please don't kill the whales." You know? That wasn't getting us anywhere. Well, the thing that I'm most satisfied with is that since leaving Greenpeace, since '77, I haven't seen a whale die. That's what Sea Shepherd is good at, stopping the killing of whales — or seals, fish, sharks and sea turtles.
ANIMAL PLANET: What does Sea Shepherd do?
CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON: Over the last 31 years, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been working to protect all marine wild life, everything from plankton up to the great whales. We have a full-time captain in the Galapagos, protecting sharks. We've intervened against long-line fishing, driftnet fishing, drag trolling and we protect the sea turtles, dolphins whales, seals all around the word.
I think that protesting... Coming from a sort of submissive position, it's always begging people to not do anything. What we do in Sea Shepherd is oppose illegal operations. You don't beg criminals to stop what they're doing; you intervene. You physically, and aggressively, shut them down. That's what we do.
ANIMAL PLANET: What led you to lose hope in protesting?
CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON: Back in 1975, when I was with Greenpeace, we came up with this idea to oppose whaling operations. We were reading a lot Gandhi at the time, and Bob Hunter thought that all we had to do is put ourselves between the harpoon and the whales and it'd miraculously stop the killing of whales.
So in June of 1975, Bob and I were in a little rubber boat in front of a Soviet harpoon vessel that was bearing down on us at full speed. In front of us were eight magnificent sperm whales that were fleeing for their lives. Every time that they tried to get a shot at the whales, I would maneuver the boat and try to block the harpoon. That worked for about 20 minutes, until the captain of the Soviet vessel came down the cat walk, screamed into the ear of the harpooner, looked at us, smiled and brought his finger across the neck like that. That's when I realized that Gandhi wasn't going to pull it through for us that day.
A few moments later, there was this incredible explosion, and this harpoon flew over our head and slammed into the backside of one of the whales, in front us, and she screamed. It was a very human-like scream. It sounded like a woman in pain. The whale rolled over on its side, blood pumping into the air. Suddenly the largest whale in that pod struck the water with its tail and disappeared. We've been told by all the so-called experts that that whale would attack us. So I can tell you, it was with a lot of anxiety that Bob and I sat in that little rubber boat waiting for 50 tons of a very angry animal to come underneath us.
Suddenly the ocean erupted behind me, and I turned in time to see him hurl himself at the harpooner on the Soviet vessel to protect its pod... But the harpooner is waiting for him. He pulled the trigger and sent a second harpoon — at point blank range — into its head. That big, bold whale screamed and fell back into the water, thrashing blood everywhere.
As he was rolling on the surface of the water I caught his eye and he looked straight at me, and he dove again. Then I saw a trail of bloody bubbles come straight at us, real fast, and he came up and out the water, so that the next move was to come forward and fall straight on top of us. As his head rose high above us, and I looked up into his eye — an eye the size of my fist — what I saw there was a life-changing experience, because I saw understanding. The whale understood what we were trying to do, because we could see the effort that the whale made. His muscles tensed. He pulled back and pulled away from us. I saw his head disappear beneath the sea, go beneath the surface, and he died. He could have taken our lives and he choose not to do so.
Later when I saw them hauling away the whale away I said "why are we killing these whales? Why are the Soviets killing those whales?" They weren't eating the sperm whale meat; they were making spermicidal oil, which is used for.. as a lubrication oil, for heavy, heat-resistant machinery. And one of the things that they were using spermicidal oil in was the production and manufacture of intercontinental ballistic missiles. I said here we are destroying this incredibly intelligent, socially complex, gentle creature for the purpose of making a weapon meant for the mass extermination of human beings. That's when it struck me: we were insane. Our entire species has to be insane.
It was at that moment when I decided that we work for whales. We work for the creatures of the sea, not for people. So that's why we really don't care for criticism. Our clients are whales, and sharks, and dolphins, and sea turtles.
ANIMAL PLANET: What exactly did you see in the whale that day that led you to shift your way of thinking?
CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON: What I saw was understanding. I could see an intelligence there that understood what we were trying to do. I personally believe that whales and dolphins are more intelligent then people. We happen to measure intelligence by eye-to-hand coordination and technology. Or if an alien made of proto-plasma steps out of a space ship with a ray gun. we automatically assume that it's intelligent because it has technology. But we can't really fathom non-manipulative intelligences.
The fact is the human brain is a 1,350 cubic centimeter brain when the orca brain is a 6,000 cubic centimeter brain and the sperm whale has the largest brain to ever evolve on the planet — a 9,000 cubic centimeter brain. All brains, from mice to human beings, are 3-lobed brains with the exception of the cetations, which have a 4-lobed brain. So the most highly sophisticated, highly evolved brain in this planet is the cetation brain. But we don't want to admit that.
Anybody that's ever taken Biology 101, they've put up all those brains up on the display, everything from a rat to a dog, to a chimp to a human. Then the biology professor will say by the larger brain size and the convolutions on the neo-cortex area that it becomes more progressively convoluted as we go up the scale. Therefore humans are more intelligent then chimps, chimps are more intelligent then dogs, dogs are more intelligent the rats. They never, ever stick an orca or sperm whale up there because it makes us look really stupid. Since we choose to decide who's intelligent or not, we don't put them up there.
ANIMAL PLANET: How do you define intelligence?
CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON: Well I think that intelligence can be defined in many ways. I happen to believe that intelligence is best to find by the ability to live in harmony with the natural world, to live within the context of the basic laws of ecology, and by that criteria human beings are not that intelligent.
Right now, in over the last 100 years, humanity has been raging war on life at sea and over-exploiting everything. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of collapse. We eradicated whale populations, dolphins populations...
ANIMAL PLANET: How serious a crisis are the world's oceans in today?
CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON: Jacques Cousteau said just before he died that the oceans are dying in our time, and we're not really... It's out of sight and out of mind for us. We really don't pay too much attention to it. But the reality is this: if the life in the ocean dies, the oceans die and we die. Civilization ceases to exist. That's how interconnected it is right now. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of collapse. The diminishment of the world's oceans is really incredible. Not many people are aware of this.
So it's a very serious situation we find ourselves in right now. The protection of life in the sea is the priority environmental conservation issue of our time right now. The environmental movement is pre-occupied and obsessed with global warming, which is nothing. They can't do anything about it. Nobody is going to stop global warming. If everybody stopped driving a car tomorrow it isn't going to stop it. You might be able to mitigate it a bit, but that's about it, it's here. we have to learn to adapt to it.
But what is the real factor causing global warming? It's the destruction of bio-diversity, because life on this planet creates and absorbs carbon dioxide. In a normal situation, the amount of carbon dioxide created and the amount absorbed is in equilibrium. Now we're producing 3 billion tons more than organic life can absorb, and as we diminish other species we actually increase that amount because we're taking away the absorption factor.
Really people need an education about this. We have Al Gore's movie Inconvenient Truth. Well the biggest inconvenient thing about that movie is the fact that the man does not once mention meat production as a source for global greenhouse productions. In fact, meat production and the fishing industry produce more global greenhouse gas emissions than the entire automobile industry. So eating a steak actually contributes more to global warming than driving an automobile. As I say, a vegan driving a Hummer contributes less than a meat-eater riding a bicycle. Nobody wants to confront these issues because meat production produces not just carbon dioxide but also methane and, most importantly, nitrous oxide, which is 296 times as detrimental a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.
The real issues are not bring addressed. The environmental movement really is conversation and not really conservation at all. People talk about issues but nobody really ever wants to do anything. They don't want to make the sacrifices.
Now what Sea Shepherd does when we go to the high seas — we don't talk about, we don't do petitions, we don't lobby politicians. We go in and directly intervene and shut down what these people are doing. We do it aggressively, but at the same time we do it non-violently. We never injure anybody, and we don't intend to injur anybody, but we're not going to sit back and watch them destroy the planet without interfering.
ANIMAL PLANET: What's your objective in going after the Japanese whaling fleet?
CAPTAIN PAUL WATSON: Our objective in going against the Japanese whaling fleet is to simply uphold international conservation law. The Japanese are targeting endangered species in a whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium, in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, in violation of the Antarctic Treaty — numerous regulations that they're breaking. So we're simply going in there to uphold those regulations.
As a self-appointed law enforcement body, what gives us the right to do that? It's the United Nations World Charter for Nature which allows for non-government organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation law. We have the laws. We have the regulations. What we don't have is enforcement. We shouldn't be doing this. Governments should be doing this. If they're not going to do it, we will.
Our objective in going in there is to simply uphold those laws and regulations. Our secondary objective, which is probably the most important objective, is to hurt the Japanese whaling industry economically, as significantly as we possibly can. For the last two years we've done just that. They've only gotten half their quota and now they're $50 million in debt in subsidies to the Japanese government, and we cost them over $70 million.
So when people say "how could they shoot at us or get so angry," $70 million is a big factor in their aggressiveness. We expect that next year they will be more aggressive because of this, because now they're becoming desperate. The one language that they understand is profit and loss, so we have to make sure that their losses continue to exceed their profits.