Paul Watson

Paul Watson

Paul Watson (born December 2, 1950) is the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a significant figure in the environmental movement and animal rights movement. He was named by "Time Magazine" in 2000 as one of its Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century.

Early life

Watson born in Toronto to Anthony Joseph Watson and Annamarie Larsen, and grew up in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. After working as a tour guide at Expo 67, a world's fair that took place in Montreal, Watson "rode the rails" in boxcars west to Vancouver.

In 1968 he joined the Canadian Coast Guard, where he served (in 1968 and again in the early 1970s) aboard weatherships, search and rescue hovercraft, and buoy tenders. He signed up as a merchant seaman in 1969 with the Norwegian Consulate in Vancouver and shipped out on the 35,000 ton bulk carrier "Bris" as a deck hand. The "Bris" was registered in Oslo and manifested for the Indian Ocean and Pacific trade.


In October 1969, Watson joined a Sierra Club protest against nuclear testing at Amchitka Island. The group which formed as a result of that protest was the Don't Make a Wave Committee, which evolved into the group known today as Greenpeace. Watson was an early member and sailed as a crewmember aboard the "Greenpeace Too!" ship in 1971, and skippered the Greenpeace boat "Astral" in 1972.

Watson claims to have offered his services as a medic to the members of the American Indian Movement during the Wounded Knee Incident in South Dakota. He says that he was given the name Grey Wolf Clear Water by medicine men of the Oglala Sioux.

Resignation from Greenpeace

Paul Watson continued as a crewmember, skipper, and officer aboard several Greenpeace voyages throughout the mid-1970s. In June 1975, during a Greenpeace campaign to confront Soviet whaling, an incident occurred according to Watson which he claims changed his life. From the official Watson biography: "In 1975, Watson served as First officer under Captain John Cormack on the voyage to confront the Soviet Whaling fleet. In June 1975, Robert Hunter and Paul Watson were the first people to put their lives on the line to protect whales when Paul placed his inflatable Zodiac between a Russian harpoon vessel and a pod of defenseless Sperm whales. During this confrontation with the Russian whaler, a harpooned and dying sperm whale loomed over Paul's small boat. Paul recognized a flicker of understanding in the dying whale's eye. He felt that the whale knew what they were trying to do. He watched as the magnificent leviathan heaved its body away from his boat, slipped beneath the waves and died. A few seconds of looking into this dying whale's eye changed his life forever. He vowed to become a lifelong defender of the whales and all creatures of the seas." [cite web |url= |title=Paul Watson Biography |accessdate=2008-07-27 |work=Sea Shepherd Society website ]

Watson is quoted in Peter Heller's "Whale Warriors" (2007) as giving a similar story. According to Heller, in June 1975 Watson and Robert Hunter were confronting Soviet whalers off Siberia hunting gray whales when a big, male gray whale surfaced near their boat. The whale reportedly looked Watson in the eye, changing his life forever. This event happened in the same month that the above quoted encounter with the sperm whales occurred. That, with the fact that the two episodes are nearly identical in detail, indicates that Heller is retelling the same incident, though the Watson's version has to be given a priority. [Heller (2007), p. 6]

In 1978, Watson was expelled from Greenpeace by a vote of 11 to 1 (only Watson himself voted against it). Watson was expelled as he did not share Greenpeace's definition of non-violence. That same year, he founded his own group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

During an interview in 1978 with CBC Radio , Watson spoke out against Greenpeace (as well as other organisations) and their role and motives for the anti-sealing campaigns. Watson accused these organisations of campaigning against the Canadian seal hunt because it is an easy way to raise money and it is a profit maker for the organizations.

ea Shepherd

The first Sea Shepherd vessel, the "Sea Shepherd", was purchased in December 1978 with assistance from the Fund for Animals. Sea Shepherd soon established itself as one of the more controversial environmental groups, known for provocative direct action tactics in addition to more conventional protests. These tactics have included, at times, ramming whaling ships at sea, and the scuttling of two ships in an Icelandic harbor. Watson remains the leader of Sea Shepherd today and uses the title "Captain" in reference to his role in the organization.

Other environmental activities

Watson was a field correspondent for Defenders of Wildlife from 1976 to 1980 and a field representative for the Fund for Animals from 1978 to 1981. Watson also was a co-founder of Friends of the Wolf and Earthforce Environmental Society.

During the 1980s, Watson declared his support for Earth First! and cultivated friendships with David Foreman and Edward Abbey. He proclaimed Sea Shepherd to be the "navy" of Earth First! Watson has claimed to have invented the tactic of tree spiking and denies that the practice has ever caused any fatalities or injuries.

Although currently unaffiliated with it, Watson did work with the Green Party of British Columbia in Vancouver in the 1980s and 90s, receiving over 15,000 votes when he ran for municipal office in 1986. He ran for mayor ten years later in 1996, placing fourth. His relationship with the federal Greens was somewhat rockier; Watson was nominated as the party's candidate in Vancouver-Quadra in 1988 but stepped down as candidate mid-campaign and endorsed the NDP, citing vote-splitting as a concern.

In April of 2003, Watson was elected to the board of directors of the Sierra Club for a three-year term. [] In 2006, he did not seek re-election. He resigned from the board a month before his term ended, in protest against the organization's sponsorship of a "Why I Hunt" essay contest. [ 1] ]

Watson feels that "no human community should be larger than 20,000 people," human populations need to be reduced radically to "fewer than one billion," and only those who are "completely dedicated to the responsibility" of caring for the biosphere should have children, which is a "very small percentage of humans." He likens humankind to a virus, the biosphere needs to get cured from with a "radical and invasive approach," as from cancer . [ The Beginning of the End for Life as We Know it on Planet Earth?] - There is a Biocentric Solution, Paul Watson,, 05/04/2007:"No human community should be larger than 20,000 people and separated from other communities by wilderness areas [...] We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion [...] Curing a body of cancer requires radical and invasive therapy, and therefore, curing the biosphere of the human virus will also require a radical and invasive approach [...] Who should have children? Those who are responsible and completely dedicated to the responsibility which is actually a very small percentage of humans"]


Watson was arrested in 1993 in Canada on charges stemming from actions against Cuban and Spanish fishing boats off the coast of Newfoundland. In 1997, Watson was convicted in absentia by Norway on charges of attempting to sink the small scale Norwegian fishing vessel "Nybrænna" in 1992, [ [ Reine - a Norwegian Fishing and Whaling Community] ] but Dutch authorities refused to hand him over to Norwegian authorities although he did spend at least 60 days in detention in the Netherlands before being released.

Thus far, other attempts at prosecuting Watson for his activities with Sea Shepherd have failed. Watson himself defends his actions as falling within international law, in particular Sea Shepherd's right to enforce maritime regulations against illegal whalers and sealers. Watson caught a Costa Rican fishing boat poaching in Guatemalan waters while he was on a journey to Costa Rica, having been invited by its president to help in the fight against shark poaching there. The authorities in Costa Rica later filed seven charges of attempted murder against Watson and a colleague, Rob Stewart, in what Watson and Stewart have described as an effort to cover up mafia-funded illegal shark finning operations. They eventually fled to international waters to escape arrest by Costa Rican coast guards after they had filmed what they attest was mafia-funded shark-finning in private docks. These events are featured in Sharkwater [cite web |url= |title=Sharkwater synopsis and movie info |accessdate=2007-03-24 |work=Sharkwater documentary website ] , a documentary about sharks and activism.

Watson was also told to leave Iceland after having turned himself in to the Icelandic police after disabling two ships in harbor.

Actions taken by Watson and Sea Shepherd to protest a resumption of whaling by the Makah tribe in Washington in 1998 have also proven controversial. The protests resulted in some unusual alliances, with environmental, animal rights groups, and conservative former Congressman Jack Metcalf protesting the whaling, while native rights groups and "wise use" groups supported the whaling.

In early April 2008, Watson stated that, while the deaths of three Canadian seal hunters (a fourth one is still missing) in a marine accident involving a Canadian Coast Guard vessel and a fishing boat during the 2008 Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt is a tragedy, he feels that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of baby seals is an even greater tragedy. Canadian Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn accused Watson of trivializing the memory of the lost sealers and called him gutless, shameless, without a shred of human decency and said that his lust for media coverage knew no bounds. ["CBC News at Six", CBHT-TV, Nova Scotia, April 2, 2008.] Watson replied that Mr. Hearn was trying to distract attention from his government's incompetence, while his political abitions continued to support and subsidize an industry that had no place in the 21st Century. [cite web |url= |title=Sea Shepherd - I'm Not Ready To Make Nice |accessdate=2008-07-27 |work=Sea Shepherd Society website ] Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams was quoted as saying, "I think what a lot of people don't realize is that this man is a terrorist." [ [ Williams assails anti-sealing activist Watson as 'terrorist' ] ] In response, Watson said that calling him a terrorist might be cute, but it had no foundation in reality, as he had never injured anyone. [cite web |url= |title=Hard Talk With Captain Paul Watson |accessdate=2008-07-27 |work=Sea Shepherd Society website ]

Alleged assassination attempt

Watson says that he was shot in the chest by an expert marksman on the Nisshin Maru on March 7 2008 during a clash between Sea Shepherd's ship MV Steve Irwin and the Nisshin Maru, and that his life was saved because he was wearing a kevlar vest. [ [ Sea Shepherd - Japanese Open Fire on Sea Shepherd Crew: Three Injured ] ] The Japanese Fishing Agency denied any shots were fired [] . Sea Shepherd has produced photographs that show the bullet and the kevlar vest worn by Watson, and a video that, it says, shows him taking the bullet out. Neither of these two conflicting accounts can be independently confirmed, though the footage does exist. Japan has dismissed Sea Shepherd's claims as lies. [ [ Japan denies Sea Shepherd claims] ,, March 7, 2008]

Personal life

Watson has one child (born 1980) with his first wife, Starlet Lum, founding director of Greenpeace Quebec, Earthforce, Project Wolf, and Sea Shepherd. He is a vegan, and all food served on Sea Shepherd voyages is vegan. [cite web |url= |title=Inteview at Care2 |accessdate=2008-03-07 ]


* "Sea Shepherd: My Fight for Whales and Seals" (1981) (ISBN 0-393-01499-1)
* "Earthforce! An Earth Warrior's Guide to Strategy" (1993) (ISBN 0-9616019-5-7)
* "Ocean Warrior: My Battle to End the Illegal Slaughter on the High Seas" (1994) (ISBN 1-55013-599-6)
* "Seal Wars: Twenty-Five Years on the Front Lines With the Harp Seals" (2002) (ISBN 1-55297-751-X)


Further reading

* [ Personal blog of Paul Watson]
* [ Sea Shepherd Conservation Society official website]
* [ The Politics of Extinction]
* [ Detailed profile by Raffi Khatchadourian, from The New Yorker, November 5, 2007]
* "Earth Warrior: Overboard With Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society", by David B. Morris (1995) (ISBN 1-55591-203-6)
*Scarce, Rik. "Eco-Warriors" (2006) (ISBN 1-59874-028-8)

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