Measuring up to thirty meters in length, and weighing up to two hundred tons, the blue whale is largest animal on the planet. With an estimated life span of ninety years, an appetite that necessitates four tons of krill (tiny shrimp-like creatures) a day during some parts of the year, only one known natural predator (the orca, who attack solitary blues in pods), these tranquil giants have been hunted to near extinction, with approximately ten thousand to twenty five thousand individuals still alive – a far cry from their once booming population, prior to 1900. Slaughtered for their meat and their vast fat reserves, even after the ban on commercial whaling, the great blues aren’t alone in their plummet into the critically endangered red list: they’re joined by most species of whale, dolphins, sharks, seals, sea lions, and certain species of fish. It is exigent that marine conservative efforts pay off, before our beautiful oceans are reduced to lifeless volumes of brackish water.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) was established in 1977, as an organization that utilizes direct-action to aid in the protection of marine life and protest the destruction of their habitat. Internationally famous for being the focus for Animal Planet‘s documentary/reality show, Whale Wars, which features the SSCS confronting Japanese whaling ships, their endeavors, dangerous and courageous, are lauded by many and condemned by just as many. Their fleet of ships, dubbed Neptune’s Navy, currently consists of the flagship, MY Steve Irwin, named after Australian conservationaist and Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, the MY Sam Simon, the MY Bob Barker and the MY Brigitte Bardot. The organization is spearheaded by Captain Paul Watson, who worked in the Canadian Coast Guard, before co-founding the Greenpeace Foundation. Serving in multiple boats intent on protesting nuclear testing, whaling, and seal hunting, Watson once handcuffed himself to the hoist of a sealing vessel and the seal pelts they were collecting. The sealers dragged him across the ice with the pelts, against the ship’s hull, before casting him into the polar waters until he passed out and dragging him through seal blood and fat, then attempting to smother him with seal blubber.
Discharged from Greenpeace for his proclivity for direct action against offenders and his disregard for diplomacy (he is currently banned from participating in any SSCS activity, and Interpol has twice issued international arrest warrants for his extradition to Japan (following their complaint against his harassing their whalers); he doesn’t leave Vermont these days), Watson went on to create Sea Shepherd.
The SSCS has operations that range from demonstrations to campaigns to protests, to direct intervention. Their conflicts with Japan and Iceland (two countries who take advantage of the fact that the International Whaling Commission’s ban on commercial whaling does not extend to scientific whaling) are ongoing and involving, and began in 1986 (Iceland) and 2003 (Japan).
In November1986, at the Reykjavik harbor, the SSCS sank two unoccupied ships, the Hvalur 6 and the Hvalur 7. Rod Coronado and David Howitt first sabotaged the working of the nation’s sole whale processing factory with the aid of sledgehammers (to render computers, refrigerators, generators and miscellaneous machinery inoperative and damaged beyond repair), acid (to destroy the station’s records) and other assorted tools on the evening of November 8. The next morning, the pair journeyed to the harbor where three of four of the country’s whaling ships had been docked, and opened the valve on two of the boards, flooding and sinking them. They escaped before the police could track them down. The responsibility for the event was wholly claimed by Paul Watson, who journeyed to Iceland to face the authorities. Internationally regarded as terrorism, the operation was not condoned by many countries.
More volatile than even their ventures in Iceland are their Japanese operations. They aim to eradicate the dolphin hunts at Taiji, where the SSCS estimate twenty three thousand dolphins are killed every year. The SSCS have intercepted various ships of the Japanese whaling fleet, preventing the ships from continuing with the hunt by pulling up on either side. This has resulted in altercations between the SSCS and the opposing ship, and damage has been incurred by both sides on multiple occasions. Damaging propellers, launching butyric acid bombs, firing flashbangs and smoke bombs are common features in the skirmishes between the Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd vessels. Deliberate ramming is not unheard of, and the SSCS, in seeking to prevent the transfer of dead whales, has been subject to retaliation from the whalers. Charges of piracy and attempted murder have been filed over the years, but despite injury, there have been no casualties. The efforts of the SSCS, while forceful, have yielded results, as the Japanese crews are often forced to abandon the hunt after a hundred whales, unable to meet their goal of nine hundred. The other result of these confrontations is the SSCS being declared pirates, and hence open to legal repercussions.
The spirited stands taken up the members of the SSCS clearly showcase a passionate desire to save the marine ecosystems, and it may very well be the whales’ last chance of survival. Maverick and highly risky though their undertakings are, what the cause lacks is public inclination to take it up, and what it needs is public awareness; the sensationalism that the SSCS indulges in creates just that. Furious ventures may yet succeed where regulations and negotiations have failed. What gives us the right to massacre dozens of species of peaceful, beautiful beings for our own gratification?