For Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, protesting is too submissive

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For more than 50 years Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson has devoted his life to protecting whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and other animals – often at great personal risk.

He is the subject of the new feature-length documentary Watson, made by producer-director Lesley Chilcott (An Inconvenient Truth), which charts his journey from his childhood until today, showing how Sea Shepherd has grown into a worldwide movement with chapters in dozens of countries, and with thousands of members crewing a dozen ships.

“I was raised in a fishing village in eastern Canada and when I was 10 I spent a summer swimming with a family of beavers in the woods nearby,” Watson says.

“It was a great time and the next year, when I was 11, I went to find the beavers and found that they had gone. Trappers had taken them all. That made me very angry so that winter I began to walk the trap lines and free the animals and destroy the traps. So I really started as an activist at 11.

“Then when I was 19 I was the youngest founding member of Greenpeace and then I left Greenpeace in ’77 because I wanted to intervene. I didn’t like the idea of protesting. I wanted to make a difference and intervene. That’s why I set up Sea Shepherd.”

Over the decades since it has been that direct, physical intervention against whaling ships, shark-finning ships and other vessels that has set Sea Shepherd apart from most other conservation groups.

“What we were doing [at Greenpeace] was taking pictures and hanging banners,” Watson says. “You don’t walk down the street and see a woman being raped and do nothing except take a picture. You don’t see a puppy being kicked to death and hang a banner. And you don’t stand there and watch a whale die and do the same thing.

“To me, protesting is submissive. It always has been. It’s like, ‘Please, please, please don’t kill the whale’ and they do it anyway and all you can do is take a picture.”

Watson rejects claims that Sea Shepherd’s kind of intervention amounts to terrorism.

“We’re an anti-poaching organisation, now a movement, and I call what we do ‘aggressive non-violence’,” he says. “We’re aggressive but we’ve never injured anyone in our entire history and we intend to keep that record, but our campaigns have been successful because of that aggressive approach.”

But while people might applaud his and Sea Shepherd’s work – not least in protecting whales from slaughter by Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – they might not appreciate its direct relevance to the survival of the human species.

“If the ocean dies, we die,” Watson says, “We don’t live on this planet with a dead ocean.

“Since 1950 there’s been a 40 per cent diminishment in phytoplankton populations, and phytoplankton produces 70 per cent of the oxygen we breathe. If phytoplankton goes extinct, so do we.”

Watson explains that whales, along with other marine mammals and seabirds, are the “farmers of the ocean”, playing a significant role in our own survival.

“One blue whale, for instance, dumps three tonnes of faecal matter on the surface of the ocean every day, very rich in nitrogen and in iron, which are the primary nutrients required by phytoplankton,” he says. “This is a cycle of interdependence of species, so when we lower populations of whales and dolphins and seabirds and everything we diminish the supply of those nutrients required by phytoplankton and it’s a vicious circle.”

As far as Sea Shepherd’s work to protect the ocean goes, he has a long list of sentences to point to.

“We shut down the icefish fleet in Antarctica, all six of them; the Japanese retreated from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary; we’ve arrested 52 poaching vessels off the coast of Africa; I think that the vaquita porpoise would now be extinct if we hadn’t been there [in the Gulf of California] for the last six years, we’ve confiscated over a thousand nets, and kept the poachers out of the vaquita refuge; we helped contribute to the end of the commercial seal hunt in Canada; and in Australia we helped to stop BP, Chevron and Equinor from drilling in the Australian southern bight and we’ve been very active in opposing Adani and many other things. I think we’ve had a lot of achievements.”

Watson knows, however, that those successes will be fleeting if humanity can’t get its act together on a much broader scale – and quickly.

“In the long term, certainly, the Earth will take care of itself, he says. “There have been five major extinction events prior to this one. We’re now in the sixth major extinction. But what did the five other extinction events have in common? It took 18 to 20 million years for a full recovery. So 18 to 20 million years from now it will be a nice planet again, if we fail.

“Really this conservation and environmental movement is about protecting ourselves from ourselves because we’re going to be the ultimate victims. The Earth will survive, but are we intelligent enough to survive ourselves?”

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/

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