Usually, I love reading the Huffington Post. However, in the past week they posted a surprisingly scathing blog entry calling Sea Shepherd a terrorist group.
However, the blog made all its arguments based on many assumptions that many people seem to be making about conservation lately, so it seemed worth it to address the blog.
For the first part of this post, we will first address the main themes of the Huffington blog, for the benefit of most readers. Afterwards, we will have, for anyone who has the time or curiosity, a much longer section analyzing every other argument made in the Huffington blog, as it does address other arguments against conservation law enforcing.
The main themes
The central theme of the Huffington blog is mentioned time and time again, and put succinctly in its eighth paragraph:
“Of course the whalers, whatever you may think of their activities, are operating legally. It is Watson and the Sea Shepherds who are the criminals.”
So, although we’ve addressed this partially in previous posts, let’s cover it comprehensively here.
Here is a list of illegal activities that the whalers are performing on video, much of which was outlined by Paul Watson:
1. The Japanese are whaling in violation of the International Whaling Commission’s global moratorium on commercial whaling. The IWC scientific committee announced it does not recognize Japan’s whaling activities as “research,” and thus Japan is not exempt from the commercial whaling ban.
In 2008, Japan released its first research finding in many years from the annual slaughter. The research finding was as follows: “Injecting dead whale sperm into a cow, does not result in producing a cow-whale hybrid creature.”
2. The IWC doesn’t just ban commercial whaling, the IWC specifically bans whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary where Japan whales.
3. The Japanese are in violation of IWC regulation 19. (a) The IWC regulations in the Schedule to the Convention forbid the use of factory ships to process any protected stock: 19. (a) It is forbidden to use a factory ship or a land station for the purpose of treating any whales which are classified as Protection Stocks in paragraph 10. Paragraph 10(c) provides a definition of Protection Stocks and states that Protection Stocks are listed in the Tables of the Schedule. Table 1 lists all the baleen whales, including minke, fin and humpback whales and states that all of them are Protection Stocks. The main ship in the Japanese whaling fleet is the Nisshin Maru, the whaling fleet factory ship, which allows the fleet to kill 1,000 whales a year at sea at a time.
4. In addition, the IWC regulations specifically ban the use of factory ships to process any whales except minke whales: Paragraph 10(d) provides: (d) Notwithstanding the other provisions of paragraph 10 there shall be a moratorium on the taking, killing or treating of whales, except minke whales, by factory ships or whale catchers attached to factory ships. This moratorium applies to sperm whales, killer whales and baleen whales, except minke whales.
5. The Antarctic Treaty specifies the area that Japan is whaling in, as Australia’s territory. Japan is a signing member of the Antarctic Treaty. According to a law it signed, Japan is violating Australia sovereign territory.
6. Before the 2007-2008 Japanese whale hunt, the highest federal court of Australia passed an order stating that it is illegal for Japan to whale in its Antarctic Territory.
7. Article 1 of The Antarctic Treaty specifies that the area in which Japan is bringing military personnel and military gear/weapons for military purposes, is a demilitarized zone in which it is illegal to bring military personnel and military gear for any non-peaceful purposes.
8. The Japanese are in violation of targeting whales protected by the UN’s CITES and the UN Law of the Sea. Japan is a member nation of CITES.
Now, the other half of that passage states that we as Sea Shepherd are criminals. We operate legally, however, under the UN World Charter for Nature, which gives any NGO or individual the right to stop poaching or illegal environmental destruction that’s outlawed by international conservation laws.
Japan has an extradition treaty with the US, and has filmed me during our engagements with them. They have said they will extradite all of us US criminals for prosecution, but have never done so, even though they are granted this right by international agreements. If we could legally extradite any terrorists who have attacked us, and we have film of them doing illegal actions, under which conditions would we NOT extradite them?
The Huffington blog also tries to do what many people try to do, which is reassure themselves that Japan must be taking whales that the world doesn’t need:
“Whatever it may be, minke whales, in particular, are not considered to be particularly threatened. Estimates have placed the minke population in the Southern Hemisphere in the range of 200,000-416,700 whales.”
Minke whales, in particular, are considered to be particularly threatened by the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which Japan is a member nation of, so even Japan officially considers the minke whale to be particularly threatened.
The other theme of the blog is stated in its fourth paragraph:
“And oh, by the way, the Sea Shepherds do almost nothing to protect the whales where they really do need protection.”
SSCS has campaigns against drift-netting, long-lining, and illegal fishing in all its forms that decimate whale populations around the world. We have devoted our scant resources to ending all forms of poaching that result in whale by-catch and accidental whale killings, and we work with sovereign governments to pass and enforce regulations to prevent accidental killings of whales by ships and fishing equipment.
In 2006-2007, Sea Shepherd directly lead law enforcement raids that seized tens of thousands of illegal shark fins bound for China (illegal long-lining operations that would cause countless by-catch), and SSCS waged investigations that directly lead to arrest warrants in large illegal operations that kill tons of by-catch. Last year, I served as Sea Shepherd’s comms specialist on a mission with the Ecuadorian rangers to create the very first conservation law enforcement and ranger base in the Northern Islands of the Galapagos, because that’s where a huge amount of the dolphin and whale by-catch from the entire Northwest quadrant of South America happens.
Independently of other governments, SSCS has rescued countless whales and dolphins from illegal purse netting, long-lining, and other accident scenarios in the Pacific Ocean by directly patrolling areas that are often used for such illegal fishing. And in the past four years, we have caught and stopped many illegal operations from Panama to China to the US to Ecuador to many others, that have been decimating whale and dolphin populations through by-catch.
The argument of this passage is that Sea Shepherd is doing “almost nothing” with the scant resources it has to protecting whales where they do need protection. The question is, how much are we expected to do with the tiny budget we have, to match expectations of what we could be accomplishing?
So those are the basic premises of the blog, which many people have been recounting since the premiere of Whale Wars.
The blog continues to mention many other assumptions, although the above reading may be enough for most people in one sitting.
Further reading for the curious
However, if you are curious enough, and have some time to kill this lunch break, then below, I have examined every single argument the Huffington blog makes from beginning to end because I have strange hobbies in my spare time:
“Tonight begins the second season of ‘Whale Wars’ in which a scruffy band of eco-crusaders, the Sea Shepherds, go to war against the evil whaling ships, by any means necessary.”
First sentence corrected:
Actually, it is not “by any means necessary.” Our methods are very strictly regulated, and we have all been given very well defined limits of what we can or cannot do during engagements, all in an effort to cause zero harm to humans, and to avoid any entanglements with international law. Thus, we have never been arrested or prosecuted for any violent crimes. The Japanese crew train multiple video cameras on us during every engagement, following our actions closely to try to catch any illegal violent behavior on our part, but they have never been able to actually get video of us doing any such thing because we strictly control how we engage with poaching vessels. The Japanese do sometimes claim that their crew have been injured by us, although we have shared all our video with any interested parties to show exactly where all of our shots go. Also, whenever we have injuries from grenade blasts etc, we have crew to produce with those injuries, but the Japanese have always stopped making their accusations as soon as they are asked to produce anyone who requires medical attention from an engagement.
“What’s not to like? The show is action on the high seas; ocean combat to save the whales! Everyone likes whales. I like whales. Who doesn’t like whales? What great television for those bored with shows about fishing off Alaska, Ice Road Truckers or the Real Housewives of Duluth!”
Second paragraph commentary:
It is a great show isn’t it?
Third paragraph opening:
“So what is the problem with ‘Whale Wars’? The problem is that it is cheap exploitation in praise of what is nothing less than eco-terrorism.”
Third paragraph opening, corrected:
Eco-terrorism is illegal. However, we do not do anything illegal in Antarctica, even though the Australian government has investigated us many times looking for anything illegal to prosecute on behalf of Japan, even temporarily confiscating our tapes of Japanese whaling in order to protect Japan’s interests earlier this year. Several times, even in the past two years alone, Australian federal authorities have boarded our ship under pressure from Japan, on behalf of Japan, to investigate everything from piracy to interfering with legal businesses. There has been nothing illegal for them to pursue, and no arrests have ever been made from any of these investigations, regardless/because of how much video evidence there is (from both us and the Japanese) of every engagement.
Third paragraph continued:
“It is the glorification of vigilantism on the high seas.”
Third paragraph continued, corrected:
Vigilantes fight against crime, so we thank the blogger for pointing out that we are indeed trying to stop illegal activities. However, vigilantes also do not operate under any legal authority. We perform our campaigns under the authority of the UN World Charter for Nature. Vigilantes are also illegal, and would be arrested if found. We haven’t only been found; we’ve been searched, investigated, interrogated, and pursued by first-world federal legal authorities. However, no one has been arrested for anything related to Whale Wars.
Fourth paragraph opening:
“While ‘Whale Wars’ presents a simplistic case of us against them, the noble environmentalists against the evil whalers, the reality, of course, is not so black and white. By international agreement with the International Whaling Commission, the Japanese were allowed to kill up to a nine hundred minke whales and fifty fin whales in 2007/2008 in the Antarctic ocean for ‘research purposes.'”
Fourth paragraph opening, corrected:
Japan wouldn’t make any “international agreements” with the International Whaling Commission. They’re already a member country of it, bound to the IWC’s legal commission rulings. And the IWC has announced they officially do NOT recognize Japan’s whaling as research.
Fourth paragraph second half:
“Critics claim that this is thinly disguised commercial whaling.”
Fourth paragraph second half, corrected:
The suggestion here is that there are some critics in the traditional sense of individual commentators. Although you could as an individual cite things like Japan’s open lack of research records, the important critics here are sovereign countries like Panama, that removed their flag from the Japanese whaling ship the Nisshin Maru in the past year because it’s against Panamanian policy to support commercial whaling. And other critics like the sovereign nation of Holland, which refused to give into Japanese political pressure to remove the Dutch flag from our ship, citing it was the Japanese who are engaged in the illegal activity of commercial whaling.
“Negotiating international agreements may not make for rousing ‘reality TV’ but it has made a significant difference in actually ‘saving the whales.'”
Fifth paragraph corrected:
The laws and international agreements protecting the whales that Japan targets have been in place for years. Indeed, commercial whaling has been illegal since the 1980’s, and several UN bodies cite specific whales that are not to be killed or hunted. Japan has actually signed these agreements and is a member nation of the UN bodies and IWC, which have outlawed commercial whaling and the specific killing of whales that Japan is targeting during its annual hunt.
More recently, there has been additional international legal action done. Australia has been building a legal case against Japan, and Australia’s highest federal court indeed outlawed all Japanese whaling in the Australian Antarctic Territory, which is where Japan whales.
Despite all of these international agreements, Japan continues to illegally whale in protected waters every year.
It’s very easy to say, “Well, the law is in place, our work is done!” Whereas the reality is that rules only mean something if a police force supports them. As it is, a very powerful first world nation has been using its military might to break these international agreements and rulings, not back them.
Sixth paragraph first half:
“The Sea Shepherds on ‘Whale Wars’ are abolitionist animal rights activists. They believe that every whale is sacred and should be preserved. On this basis, they justify aggressively interfering with and attempting to disable whaling ships in international waters, including pelting the ships with bottles containing butyric acid, which recently injured four Japanese crew members.”
Sixth paragraph first half, corrected:
We do not justify our behavior because whales are being killed. We justify our behavior because we are operating legally against an illegal enterprise. Whales are being killed much closer to home, legally, by indigenous cultures. We do not have any campaigns against that because such hunts have been deemed legal by the IWC.
And here, the Huffington blog is taking Japanese claims of injuries as fact. We know, from our engagements and the injuries from grenade blasts inflicted on our crew by the Japanese, that it’s very easy to prove injuries by matching video to medical evidence. And again, Japan shuts up immediately when asked to provide this.
Sixth paragraph second half:
“Their zealotry is strongly reminiscent of anti-abortion extremists. (Both groups share a fondness for butyric acid attacks.) The Sea Shepherds also attempt to maneuver Zodiac boats in between the whalers and their prey. More seriously, they have taken to ramming Japanese whalers with their ship, the Steve Irwin. (They deny this but several videos of the Irwin ramming a whaler are widely available.) Members of the Sea Shepherds have also boarded whalers at sea and in one case the Sea Shepherds interfered with the search and rescue of a Japanese sailor washed overboard. (The Sea Shepherds deny they interfered but that is not the opinion of those conducting the search and rescue.)”
Sixth paragraph second half, corrected:
We haven’t “taken to” anything new recently, actually. Sea Shepherd’s ramming of illegal poaching vessels has been well documented in many documentaries like “Sharkwater” and news pieces for decades, starting with the very public ramming of the pirate whaling vessel the Sierra in Spain. So we have no shame admitting when we ram vessels. However, the Japanese fleet has not been shy about ramming us either, starting in 2006 when we got footage of them ramming our ship the Robert Hunter (which has been renamed the Steve Irwin). Indeed, ramming is serious business, as footage shows a Japanese harpoon ship ramming our ship in the documentary “At the Edge of the World.” If people are concerned about ramming, we can provide video evidence (to any law enforcement agency they think would care) of the Nisshin Maru turning at us in an attempt to ram us during the 2007-2008 whaling season (which would have been lethal to us, on a ship one eighth the size of the Nisshin Maru).
This passage also argues the claim that in one case, SSCS interferes with the search and rescue of a Japanese sailor who fell overboard a Japanese ship. The incident (which was unrelated to any pursuit or confrontation) was tragic, and Sea Shepherd offered to help in search and rescue. The offer was turned down, but more importantly, this period of time was being filmed. And as we mentioned earlier, whenever we come in sight of their ship, they film us too. If there is more than an accusation that we would do anything other than help a human who falls overboard, we invite them to show their evidence against ours.
“The Sea Shepherds fly the Jolly Roger flag of piracy. I think that they should be more accurately described as eco-terrorists.”
Seventh paragraph corrected:
Again, if anyone has video or any other proof of any illegal acts worthy of a $10 fine on Whale Wars, there’s a good chance we would’ve been told by the sovereign governments launching federal investigations targeting us.
Eighth paragraph, first half:
“‘You don’t beg criminals to stop doing what they’re doing,’ Mr. Watson said in the first episode last season. ‘You intervene, and you physically and aggressively shut them down.'”
“And where are these self-described pirates or eco-terrorists, call them what you will, based? In Friday Harbor, Washington. Given their arguably illegal and dangerous antics, I am surprised that the group, as well as the producers of the television show and the Animal Planet Network
have not been swamped in lawsuits.”
Ninth paragraph, corrected:
We thank the blogger for taking back his former bold statements, and at least calling our actions “arguably” illegal here. However, the fact that we aren’t in legal trouble should not be a surprise to anyone at all, if you look at the laws against whaling, and at the laws protecting those operating legally under UN charters.
Tenth paragraph, first half:
“But do the Sea Shepherds make a difference? Not in any significant way. The WWF estimates that 90% of non-natural whale deaths are due to collisions with ships, followed by “by-catch,” whales becoming caught in nets, and then lastly, by fishing. Only this week, an oil tanker bound for Valdez apparently collided with a humpback whale and dragged the carcass into the harbor on the bow of the ship.”
Tenth paragraph, first half, corrected:
The argument here is that because whales die in other ways, it’s important to ignore the whale hunt. We actually believe it’s important to tackle the problem from ALL sides, and to tackle both the accidental killings as well as the direct poaching of whales. While we do not have the funds to be a lobby group, we work with sovereign governments in preventing accidental whale deaths, and we contribute the scant amount we have to making sure that incidents mentioned in that passage will be prevented. As an example that directly relates to the incident mentioned above: in the Galapagos, we donated one of our ships (we don’t have many, so this was a sizable donation) to the Galapagos rangers, to protect lanes in which whales are in danger among other things. About six months ago, that ship we donated towed and rescued a blue whale that got caught and stranded in such a lane. We don’t have many resources, but every penny people give to Sea Shepherd goes to making sure whales won’t get killed.
Even if we did not do any of that, does the argument – “because whales die in other ways, it’s important to ignore the whale hunt which we can put a stop to” – actually helping any whales? Let’s consider it in human terms. If a murderer is killing 1,000 people a year, and he publicly advertises where and when he’s about to kill his next 1,000 victims, and only one tiny, under-funded group decided to stop the murderer, the argument of this article would be: “It’s irresponsible and a gross misappropriation of the world’s resources for this one small group to do anything about this murderer, because so many people die from other causes.” We pursue those other causes, yes, but we think it would be rather irresponsible to ignore the murderer sitting right in front of us.
Tenth paragraph, second half:
“Special shipping lanes have been set up off Cape Cod to reduce collisions between ships and the extremely endangered northern right whales, which migrate through the area. It is hoped that these collisions will be reduced by an estimated 74% during the migratory season. Changes in shipping lanes around the world and the development of new technologies are making a real difference in reducing the number of whales who die needlessly, which also does not make for entertaining television.”
Tenth paragraph, second half, corrected:
Indeed, it doesn’t make very entertaining television, which is why a lot of people do not know about these other non-glamorous campaigns we do to prevent accidental whale deaths. But the data and results are there for anyone to see if they look into it or ask or spend a few minutes on our website.
“In the end, ‘Whale Wars’ is a highly dangerous sideshow, which may make for diverting ‘reality TV’ for the couch-bound, but has nothing meaningful to do with ‘saving the whales.'”
Final paragraph, corrected:
One of the most common responses to the show is the statement, “I had no idea whaling still happened.” It is perhaps not dangerous, and perhaps a good thing that people understand that this illegal enterprise is still happening, and that it is possible for people to shut down such a poaching machine if they put their minds to it.