No one ocean person is more ready to fight on its behalf than Paul Watson. Each season for the past several he has sailed his ship the Steve Irwin to the icy waters off Antarctica to harass Japanese whalers, who insist on continuing their hunt despite international protest and pressure, using “science” as their lone defense. The popular Animal Planet series “Whale Wars,” filmed aboard the ship during its offenses, has brought Watson and his Sea Shepherds’ to an international audience. The season down south is just finished and Watson and the Tokyo fleet of whale hunters have announced their take was down by half, thanks to Sea Shepherd’s harassment.
Jon Bowermaster: Has your current campaign in the Southern Ocean been successful?
Captain Paul Watson: I believe it has been successful. Our strategy is an economic one. I don’t believe the Japanese whalers will back off on moral, ethical or scientific grounds but they will quit if they lose the one thing that is of most value to them – their profits. Our objective is to sink the Japanese whaling fleet – economically, to bankrupt them and we are doing that.
We have slashed their kill quotas in half over the last three years and negated their profits. They are tens of millions of dollars in debt on their repayment schedule for Japanese government subsidies. The newly elected Japanese government has pledged to cut their subsidies.
I am actually confident that we can shut them down this year. They are on the ropes financially.
JB: How do you measure success? Fewer whales taken by Japanese? Other signs??
CPW: Of their quota of 935 Minke whales last year they fell short by 304. Of their quota of 50 Fin whales, they took only one. The year before they only took half their quota and in the last three years did not kill enough whales to break even so have been operating at a loss. We have also exposed their illegal whaling activities to the world and initiated a controversy and a discussion on whaling in the Japanese media.
JB: How do the Japanese continue to get away with the whale hunt when so many things say they shouldn’t, i.e. the Antarctica Treaty forbidding commerce below sixty degrees south latitude and the International Whaling Comission’s ban on all whaling?
CPW: There is a lack of economic and political motivation on the part of governments to enforce international conservation law. The Japanese whalers are targeting endangered and protected whales inside the boundaries of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling, in violation of the Antarctic Treaty that prohibits commercial activity south of sixty degrees and they are in contempt of the Australian Federal Court for continuing to kill whales in the Australian Antarctic Economic Exclusion Zone. There is no difference between Japanese whale poachers in Antarctica and elephant poachers in East Africa except that the Africans are black and impoverished.
JB: Do you know what the reaction among Japanese people – not scientists, not government – is towards the continued whale hunts?
CPW: I’m not actually concerned. I’m Canadian and the majority of Canadians are opposed to the commercial slaughter of seals but the Canadian government subsidizes it nonetheless. I believe it is a myth that once the people of a nation oppose something that things will change. First, most people are apathetic and could not care one way or another. Secondly, the pro-whalers have an economic motivation to lobby for continued whaling and thirdly in Japan it is considered inappropriate to oppose government or corporate policy. I’ve always felt that educating the Japanese public was a waste of time and smacks of cultural chauvinism. The fact is that whaling is illegal and we intervene for that reason and the key to ending it is the negation of profits.
JB: They are showing The Cove in Japan now, and most Japanese interviewed said they had no idea these dolphin hunts were happening. Are the Japanese aware of “Whale Wars”?
CPW: I am not sure nor do I care. I know that the Japanese government and the whalers are aware of it. I know that the people of Taiji are aware of the dolphin slaughters. I think that the controversy over the film is allowing many Japanese people to become aware of it, despite that the killing of dolphins continues. The Cove has been most valuable in raising awareness outside of Japan, which motivates outside pressure on Japan.
JB: How are whale populations doing around the world? Growing? Shrinking?
CPW: The oceans are dying. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of economic collapse. We have destroyed some ninety percent of the population of the large fishes. All life in the ocean is threatened. And if the oceans die, we die. This is a simple fact that humans choose to ignore. If you eat a fish you are part of the problem. If you eat pork or chicken raised on fishmeal, you are part of the problem. If you throw plastic garbage into the ocean you are part of the problem. All whales are endangered although some populations are slowly recovering, but this may not save them from an overall marine ecological collapse.