‘We’re going to see more questioning of the government in the future’: Sea Shepherd’s Cpt. Watson on Japan

Cpt. Paul Watson valiantly battled jet lag to speak with reporter at The Humane Society of the United States’ 2011 Genesis Awards / Photo: Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

By Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

“I am presently in a place on this planet where I feel comfortable,” wrote Captain Paul Watson in a recent to his (SSCS)’s website, “a safe place far away from the scheming nations who have turned a blind eye to the exploitation of our oceans.”

If the founder and president of the 35-year-old environmental protection group seems a bit vague about his whereabouts, it might be because a couple of weeks ago he jumped bail in Germany, where on May 13th he had been detained for extradition to Costa Rica.

Also it might be because he leads a rather colorful life—some of that color coming in the form of notices from , an international police organization.

There’s blue for the level of the imposed by Japan, meaning that the country seeks to “obtain information, locate/identify a person of interest in a criminal investigation,” according to Interpol’s website. And there’s red for the one from Costa Rica, indicating that they “seek the location and detention, arrest or restriction of movement of a person… for the purpose of extradition, surrender, or similar lawful action.”

Those countries are displeased by the activities Watson aims against the whaling and fishing industries. His group uses a fleet of its own vessels, international crews of volunteers, and that range from simply following other ships and asking them to leave legally protected waters to sideswiping, ramming, or sinking them in its mission to “expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas,” , and to “end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans.”

Things were possibly a bit less colorful in the captain’s world at the after-party following in Beverly Hills, where, although struggling with a fierce case of jet lag, he kindly took a few minutes to speak with this reporter.

Interview with Cpt. Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS)

Animal Issues Reporter (AIR): Captain Watson, thank you very much for talking with me tonight. Could tell me, please, how you feel about the success that you guys had in regards to Japan’s turning away from whaling this year?

Captain Paul Watson: Well, every year—we’ve been going down there for seven years— we go down there [to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary near Antarctica] stronger and they go down there weaker, and so we’ve been slowly wearing them down and getting more experience, cutting their quotas more and more every year.

And this year we got down [into the area] very early and were able to get on them when they had only taken 15 percent. Once we’re on their stern slipway, they can’t take any more whales because they can’t load them. So we effectively shut them down and they gave up and they went home. So this is our most effective year ever. And they’re $200 million in debt now in subsidy loans to the government so I don’t think they’re going to recover, especially now with the earthquake and the economic damage that’s caused there.

I think they’re out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary permanently, but even if they’re not, we’ll be ready, we’ll have a ship there ready for them if they do return.

AIR: Speaking of the triple—or more—disasters that Japan has endured recently, you’ve just said that you feel that that will interfere with their whaling efforts because they don’t have the resources, and they won’t for a while to come. Since you guys are familiar with those waters, familiar with that area, do you have any interest in perhaps humanitarian efforts or anything along those lines?

Watson: Our concern in Japan is that they’re killing dolphins, and in fact, on the day of the tsunami I had a crew in the Northern Prefecture and they were down there watching the dolphins being brought in on the boats.

They had killed them and brought them in when our crew leader saw the water begin to recede out of the harbor, so we got our crew up on a hill, and they just got up there with six minutes to spare and that tsunami just wiped out that entire village.

But the one positive thing about all of this is the Japanese government has been lying to the Japanese people for years about the safety of their nuclear reactors and everything and I think that finally the Japanese people are seeing that they can’t trust their government and they’re starting to question it.

Before, they just accepted everything blindly, “we have to kill whales, we have to kill dolphins, we have to do this.” I think that we’re going to see more questioning of the government now in the future and more freedom in the media because of that. I’m hoping that that will be the case.

I mean, what happened in Japan in certainly truly devastating—the earthquake, tsunami, a volcano going off, a blizzard, and then on top of that, you know, the nuclear reactors. It’s like they got hit with everything and it’s devastated the country. It’s going to have repercussions for the entire world.

AIR: Now that maybe your efforts won’t have to be as intense in that area, do you have a plan for where the energy you were spending there might go instead?

Watson: We’ve been doing numerous projects around the world. I’ve been head of a ten-year project in the Galapagos Islands working in partnership with the Ecuadorian police and Galapagos park rangers to protect the islands from poachers.

We just signed an agreement last week with the president of Palau, Republic of Palau, so we’ll be sending a boat there to protect against poaching in those waters.

And we’re talking to Tahiti and the Cook Islands, and we’re sending two ships to the Mediterranean to protect Bluefin tuna from poaching there and stop illegal long-line fishing.

So it’s going to be a pretty busy year.

AIR: What part of the Mediterranean are you aiming for?

Watson: We’re concentrating on stopping Bluefin tuna poaching primarily between Malta and Libya and off the coast of Libya, and also going after illegal long-lining in Greek and Turkish waters.

AIR:   You said that you just got in from Australia?

Watson: Yeah, I just flew in from Australia last night, it’s a long flight. That’s why my throat…the airplanes just kill my throat.

AIR:  You’re here tonight at the Genesis Awards in the Los Angeles area. Why did you battle jetlag to come here?

Watson: I wasn’t planning on coming, but I flew into San Francisco. [CEO of , and HSUS board member] invited me to come sit at her table here so I came here for that reason.

AIR:  And what do the Genesis Awards mean to you?

Watson: Well, I was a very good friend of [Broadway star, animal advocate, and Genesis Awards founder] ’s, you know, many years ago, way back in the days, and so I’ve been coming to [the awards show] off and on for years.

AIR:  The Genesis Awards honor media projects that focus on animal protection issues, and I know you yourself have such a media project, . Do you feel that those types of projects really make a difference for the lives of animals?

Watson: I think that it’s important to motivate and inspire the media to get involved in these issues. And I think an awards ceremony for that purpose does give motivation to a lot of the…you know, everything from documentary films to news coverage to different forms of media, and yeah, I think it’s made a big difference.

AIR: Thank you so much.

More AIR on Cpt. Watson:

Sea Shepherd: ‘Nothing Japan does will stop us from returning to Antarctica this season’

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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for  outlets such as National Geographic TravelerThe San Francisco ChronicleTravelers’ Tales, NBC’s , and Examiner.com (), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for  magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.

Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue,  (The Lyons Press).

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