Confronting Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd
When Watson makes false claims like accusing Japanese whalers of shooting him in the chest or ramming his boat, it makes environmentalists look bad while muddling and polarizing the debate on how to actually save whales from untimely deaths both in countries that are predominantly against whaling, like the US, and in countries which support it. The truth, you see, is not irrelevant. The truth is that whale hunting continues unabated while Whale Wars, (Watson’s TV show) racks up ratings. That might only be a “small box” revelation, but it is an exceedingly important one.
Of course, Watson and Sea Shepherd, as well as some who support them recently made it clear that they don’t actually support any kind of debate concerning how to best deal with the issue of whaling. In a February article by Gabe McCauley and Sean Radich on the web site of Australia Surfing Life, the authors questioned Sea Shepherd’s approach to conservation and, citing numerous studies, proposed one alternative. The response of some supporters of Sea Shepherd was copious amounts of hate mail, anonymous threatening texts, and posting ASL’s web editor’s details online. In a written response Watson called it a “shoddily researched simplistic rant” although he didn’t give any evidence or site any studies to show how their article was poorly researched.
Give him some credit though, as the protagonist of the show Whale Wars, he’s a certified master of shoddily researched, simplistic rants. Although I don’t agree with all of their points, their opinion added a reasonable and nuanced angle to the debate on how we should or should not use our oceans. The response against it was less of an invective against whaling, and more of concert for people who love the sound of their own voices. Having met the editor and chief of ASL, Chris Binns, twice, and considering him a man of intelligence and integrity, I would say the only mistake he made was subsequently apologizing for approving the article. So I write this with the utmost respect: Binnsy, how dare you let them fade you. How dare you let these two-bit, no account, bullying propaganda monkeys scare you off your mark with their contrived outrage.
Many people view Sea Shepherd as a positive force simply because it’s “doing something” when so many are doing nothing. This is false reasoning. By targeting the wrong end of the fishing spectrum Watson and Co. are actually making a big show of doing nothing. Let me explain.
Watson’s most recent arrest was for boarding a Guatemalan fishing boat that was engaged in the illegal act of cutting off shark’s fins for sale to certain parts of Asia who eat shark fin soup. Stopping the dirt poor, dark skinned fishermen who engage in this practice might make good TV or movie documentaries (those fishermen certainly make convincing villains to our Western eyes), but it does less than nothing to solve the problem. There will always be more people who are willing to do illegal things to make money – especially if they are poor Guatemalans, Mexicans, or Taiwanese, who sit at the very bottom of the global economic order and whose governments have very little regulatory power. Unless you put pressure on governments who both allow and encourage this practice, and have the regulatory clout to stop people in their waters from doing it, all you are really doing is raising your public profile as “do-gooders” while shark-finning, or whaling, or child soldiers, or whatever your cause is – continues unabated. Pat yourself on the back, you’ve just figured out how to do the impossible: getting nothing for something.
The movie, The Cove is a good example of this particular brand of pantomime. Targeting poor fishermen in a small village in rural Japan for killing dolphins is like going to Cleveland, Ohio and blaming car industry workers for C02 Pollution. Poor people make good scapegoats because they are not used to being in front of cameras; they speak without professionally written scripts, and in the case of Japan, they cannot express themselves eloquently in English because it is not their first language. If we wish to stop their activities we don’t have to rationalize or forgive their butchery, but we have to understand that villainizing them is the rhetorical equivalent of beating a dead horse – a poor dead horse at that. In the grand scheme of things, poor people have almost zero power; in fact, they are being victimized by large international flows of capital even more than the people who shout abuse at them from behind a digital camera. Change is only affected by attacking the centers of power and most fishermen sit so far from those centers that they aren’t even on the damn map.
Finally, Watson has mentioned that he suspects Japan, who is actually a co-sponsor of the International shark-finning ban, is involved with his arrest for boarding a fishing boat in Guatemala. This is part of an ongoing propaganda campaign in which Watson uses racism to demonize non-whites and polarize the debate surrounding oceanic conservation. This is an accusation he has denied on several occasions, but this doesn’t change the fact that, with regards to Japan, he likes to bring up historical atrocities committed by the country in order to paint their culture as savage and cruel. Take this quote from a 2007 piece that is still on the Sea Shepherd Germany web site:
“The Japanese say that whaling is a matter of national pride. What kind of sick perverse culture can take pride in the cruel and bloody slaughter of whales and dolphins? Oh yes, I almost forgot, the same culture responsible for the Rape of Nanking and the beheading of Australian, American, Canadian and Dutch soldiers and civilians.”
I would like to take this moment to pose a question to both Rastovich and Kelly Slater (who sits on the Sea Shepherd advisory board): Do you guys really think that Japanese culture is “sick” and “perverse?” Similar claims that Watson has made over the years can be found here.