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Paul Watson

Paul Watson

Paul Watson, in front of the "MV Steve Irwin" docked in Hobart. January 2009
Born (1950-12-02) December 2, 1950 (age 61)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Occupation Activist, television personality
Spouse Starlet Lum
Lisa DiStefano
Allison Lance

Paul Watson (born December 2, 1950) is a Canadian animal rights and environmental activist, who founded and is president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a direct action group devoted to marine conservation.[1]

The Toronto native joined a Sierra Club protest against nuclear testing in 1969. He was an early and influential member of Greenpeace, crewed and skippered for it, and later was a board member. Watson argued for a strategy of direct action that conflicted with the Greenpeace interpretation of nonviolence, was ousted from the board in 1977, and subsequently left the organization. That same year, he formed Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The group is the subject of a reality show, Whale Wars.

He also promotes veganism, voluntary human population control, and a biocentric, rather than anthropocentric, worldview.[2]


  Early and personal life

Paul Watson was 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, the World's Fair that took place in Montreal in 1967, Watson "rode the rails" in boxcars west to Vancouver.[3]

In 1968 and the early 1970s, he joined the Canadian Coast Guard, where he served 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, Norway and manifested for the Indian Ocean and Pacific trade.[3]

Watson has one child (born 1980) with his first wife, Starlet Lum,[4] who was a founding director of Greenpeace Quebec, Earthforce!, Project Wolf, and Sea Shepherd. His second wife, Lisa DiStefano, a former model, was Sea Shepherd's Director of Operations during the Makah anti-whaling campaigns in Friday Harbor.[1] His third wife, Allison Lance, is an animal rights activist and a volunteer crew member of Sea Shepherd.[5][6][7]


  Early years

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.[8] Watson sailed as a crewmember aboard the Greenpeace Too! ship in 1971[9] and skippered the Greenpeace boat Astral in 1972.[3] Paul Watson continued as a crew member, skipper, and officer aboard several Greenpeace voyages throughout the mid-1970s. According to Watson, in June 1975 during a Greenpeace campaign to confront Soviet whaling, an incident occurred which changed his life.[10]

Greenpeace states that Watson "...was an influential early member but not, as he sometimes claims, a founder."[11] According to the New Yorker ( and Paul Watson himself), he was indeed a founding member.[12][13]

  Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The first Sea Shepherd vessel, the Sea Shepherd, was purchased in December 1978 with assistance from Fund for Animals.[9][14] Sea Shepherd soon established itself as one of the more controversial environmental groups, known for provocative direct action tactics. These tactics have included throwing objects onto the decks of whaling ships, the use of "prop foulers" in an attempt to sabotage the ships, boarding whaling vessels,[15] and the scuttling of two ships in an Icelandic harbor.[16] Watson uses the title "captain", although he has never been licensed as a ship's captain.[1] The organization and its activities to halt whaling are the focus of a reality TV series, Whale Wars, airing on Animal Planet.

  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.[9] Watson also was a co-founder of Friends of the Wolf and Earthforce Environmental Society.[9]

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! According to the New Yorker, Watson revived the 19th century practice of tree spiking.[1]

Although currently unaffiliated with it, Watson did work with the Green Party of British Columbia in Vancouver in the 1980s and 90s.[17] He ran for mayor in 1996, placing fourth.[18]

In April 2003, Watson was elected to the board of directors of the Sierra Club for a three-year term.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

In January 2008 Paul Watson was named by The Guardian as one of its "50 people who could save the planet" for the work of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.[22]

  Writings on activism

Watson published Earthforce!, a guide to strategy for environmental activists in 1993.[23] In it, he specifically endorsed the tactics of "monkeywrenching" previously described by Dave Foreman[24] and Edward Abbey.[25] According to Foreman in Eco-Defense—The Field Guide to Monkey-Wrenching, these are tactics of sabotage, covert activity, and direct action.[26] Watson says he incorporated his own personal experience in writing the book.[27]

In Earthforce! An Earth Warrior’s Guide to Strategy, Watson expressed disdain for the truthfulness of mainstream media:

The nature of the mass media today is such that the truth is irrelevant. What is true and what is right to the general public is what is defined as true and right by the mass media. Ronald Reagan understood that the facts are not relevant. The media reported what he said as fact. Follow-up investigation was “old news.” A headline comment on Monday’s newspaper far outweighs the revelation of inaccuracy revealed in a small box inside the paper on Tuesday or Wednesday.[28]

Watson was explicit about what he perceived to be the lack of truthfulness in mass media: “If you do not know an answer, a fact, or a statistic, then simply follow the example of an American President and do as Ronald Reagan did—make it up on the spot and deliver the information confidently and without hesitation.”[29][30] In a subsequent book, Ocean Warrior, Watson expanded on this view, saying: “Survival in a media culture meant developing the skills to understand and manipulate media to achieve strategic objectives.”[31]


  Separation from Greenpeace

Paul Watson continued as a crewmember, officer, and skipper (in 1972) aboard several Greenpeace voyages throughout the mid-1970s. He considers himself a founding member of Greenpeace and Greenpeace International, a claim Greenpeace disputes. According to an influential member, “No one doubted [Watson's] courage for a moment. He was a great warrior-brother. Yet in terms of the Greenpeace gestalt, he seemed possessed by too powerful a drive, too unrelenting a desire to push himself front and center, shouldering everyone else aside.”[1]

In 1977, Watson was expelled from the Greenpeace's board of directors by a vote of 11 to 1[32][33] (Watson himself cast the single vote against it). The group felt his strong, "front and center" personality and frequently voiced opposition to Greenpeace's interpretation of "nonviolence" were too divisive.[34] Watson subsequently left the group. The group has since labeled his actions at the time as those of a "mutineer" within their ranks.[35][36] That same year, he founded his own group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.[37]

During an interview in 1978 with CBC Radio, Watson spoke out against Greenpeace (as well as other organizations) and their role and motives for the anti-sealing campaigns.[38] Watson accused these organizations 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.[38]

Greenpeace has called Watson a violent extremist and will no longer comment on his activities.[39]

  Charges and prosecutions

Watson was sentenced to 10 days in prison and fined $8,000 for his actions during a Canadian seal hunt protest in 1980. He was convicted of assaulting a police officer. He was also found guilty under the Seal Protection Act for painting harp seal pups red and being on what is known as the "front".[40] Watson was arrested in 1993 in Canada on charges stemming from actions against Cuban and Spanish fishing boats off the coast of Newfoundland.[41] In 1997, Watson was convicted in absentia[42] and sentenced to serve 120 days in jail by a court in Lofoten, Norway on charges of attempting to sink the small scale Norwegian fishing and whaling vessel Nybrænna on December 26, 1992.[43][44] Dutch authorities refused to hand him over to Norwegian authorities although he did spend 80 days in detention in the Netherlands pending a ruling on extradition before being released.[43]

There have not been any successful attempts at prosecuting Watson for his activities with Sea Shepherd since the trial in Newfoundland. 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.[45]

  Paul Watson leads protest against Makah whaling, Port Angeles, Washington, 1998.

Watson was also told to leave Iceland after disabling two ships in harbor and turning himself in to the Icelandic police. Kristjan Loftsson of Iceland's largest whaling company told The New Yorker that Watson is persona non grata in that country.[1]

In April 2010, the Japanese Coast Guard obtained an arrest warrant for Watson "...on suspicion of ordering sabotage activities against Japan's whaling fleet",[46] and Interpol has listed him as wanted at the request of Japan. The blue notice asks national police forces to provide information on Watson's whereabouts and activities, but does not seek an arrest.[47]

In May 2012, Watson was detained by German authorities after he arrived at the Frankfurt Airport based on a request from the government of Costa Rica. The charge stemmed from an altercation in 2002 in which Sea Shepherd contends that the other vessel was shark finning in Guatemalan waters. Members of the other involved ship said that Sea Shepherd was trying to kill them.[48] Watson was charged with violating navigational regulations.[49] The conflict took place during filming for the documentary Sharkwater.[50]

  Sierra Club immigration stance

After his election to the national Sierra Club Board of Directors in 2003, Watson supported an unsuccessful slate of candidates supporting strict immigration controls as an element of a population stabilization policy. This effort was denounced by another candidate in the election, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, as a "hostile takeover" attempt by "radical anti-immigrant activists."[51] Watson responded by saying that the only change he was seeking in the organization's immigration stance was to restore the position it had held before its 1996 "neutrality policy."[52] Watson left the Sierra Club board in 2006.[53]

  Anti-sealing activities

In 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 were a tragedy, he felt that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seals is an even greater tragedy. Canadian Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn accused Watson of trivializing the memory of the lost sealers.[54] Watson replied that Mr. Hearn was trying to distract attention from his government's incompetence as the boat the men were on capsized while under tow by a Canadian Coast Guard vessel, while his political ambitions continued to support and subsidize an industry that had no place in the 21st century.[55] 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."[56] Due to the operations against Canadian seal hunters, Danny Williams called Watson a terrorist and said that the Sea Shepherds were not welcome in the province.[57]

  Australian visa issues

In October 2009 Watson, who carries a US passport, complained to media outlets about having his request for an Australian visa denied. He states that the Australian government was attempting to sabotage the upcoming 2010 Sea Shepherd campaign by denying him entry into the country. Watson and several other shipmates were also unable to join the MV Steve Irwin on its promotional tour of Australia until they were able to provide documentation from the governments of the United States, Canada and Norway, exonerating them from previously claimed acts of violence, specifically claims by Sea Shepherd of intentionally sinking a ship in Norway.[58][59][60][61]

  Anti-whaling activities and alleged shooting

  Paul Watson and the Farley Mowat crew in 2005.

On March 17, 2008 Paul Watson said that he was shot by the Japanese crew or coast guard personnel during the Operation Migaloo anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean. The incident is documented during the season finale of season 1 of the Whale Wars TV reality show, and the first six episodes are covered as a buildup to what is portrayed as the major incident during the campaign. The footage in Whale Wars shows Watson standing on the deck of the Steve Irwin while Sea Shepherd crew throws glass bottles filled with butyric acid at the Nisshin Maru whaling vessel. Butyric acid was used for its foul odor and sticky properties.[62] The Japanese respond by throwing flashbang devices. Watson is then shown reaching inside his jacket and body armour and remarking "I've been hit." Back inside the bridge of the Steve Irwin, a metal fragment is found inside the vest.[63]

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research disputes Sea Shepherd's statements. The Institute and Coast Guard said that they used seven flashbang devices designed to flash and make noise in the air without causing harm.[64] Neither of the two conflicting accounts have been independently verified. The Australian Foreign Affairs Department had condemned "actions by crew members of any vessel that cause injury". Two media releases were made on the same day from the office. One said that the Australian Embassy in Tokyo had been informed by the Japanese that the whalers had "fired warning shots"[65] while the updated version used the phrase "'warning balls' – also known as 'flashbangs' – had been fired".[66]

Watson has been called an eco terrorist by the Japanese government for his direct action tactics against whalers, and have repeated their position after conflicts during the 2009–10 whaling season.[67][39]

  Leadership style

His leadership style has variously been called arrogant, as well as pushing himself too much "front and center", which was cited as being one of the reasons he was expelled from Greenpeace.[14] The atmosphere aboard his vessels has been compared to an "anarchy run by God".

The former member of Sea Shepherd and captain of the Ady Gil Pete Bethune described Watson as “morally bankrupt” who would order the intentional sinking of his own ships like the Ady Gil as a means to “garner sympathy with the public and to create better TV”. Watson denied this, "saying Bethune was bitter over his falling out with the organisation. 'No one ordered him to scuttle it. Pete Bethune was captain of the 'Ady Gil', all decisions on the 'Ady Gil' were his," Watson said.[68]

  Attitudes about his activism

At an animal rights convention in 2002, Paul Watson was also quoted as saying, "There's nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win. Then you write the history."[69] Recently, Fox News commentator Glenn Beck also discussed the comment, criticizing Watson's views.[70] Watson responded to Beck's comments on the official Sea Shepherd website by stating that he had said that but that it was taken out of context, quoting Gerald Seymour's "One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.”[71]

Watson has stated that he does not consider himself a 'protester', but an 'interventionist', as he considers protesting as too submissive.[72] He often takes the attitude that he represents (or stands in for) law enforcement which is either unwilling or unable to enforce existing laws.[14]

  In popular culture

A biographical documentary on Paul Watson's early life and background entitled Pirate for the Sea was produced by Ron Colby in 2008.[73][74][75] The 2009 documentary At the Edge of the World chronicled the efforts of Watson and 45 volunteers to hinder the Japanese whaling fleet in the waters around Antarctica.

Watson, Whale Wars, and the Japanese whaling industry were satirized in the South Park episode "Whale Whores". Watson himself was called "An unorganized incompetent media whore who thought lying to everyone was OK as long as it served his cause" and "A smug, narcoleptic liar with no credibility".[76][77][78] Watson responded to the South Park episode by stating; "My understanding is that the Japanese prime minister was not amused, and the whalers and dolphin killers are enraged at the way they were portrayed," Watson said. "That’s music to my ears. If the humorless whale killers and the bank-rollers of the dolphin killers did not like the show, then that’s all I need to applaud it."


  • 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)
  • Contributor to Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberations of Animals (2004) (ISBN 1-59056-054-X)


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  67. ^ "Hardline warrior in war to save the whale". The New Zealand Herald. The Observer. January 11, 2010. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10619393. Retrieved November 2, 2011. 
  68. ^ "Activist says Sea Shepherd sank its own ship". 9News. October 7, 2010. http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/8101062/Activist-says-Sea-Shepherd-sank-its-own-ship. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  69. ^ Douglass F. Rohrman (2004). "Environmental Terrorism". Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2 (6): 332. DOI:10.1890/1540-9295(2004)002[0332:ET]2.0.CO;2. 
  70. ^ Glenn Beck (2010-01-18). "Surprised Massachusetts Race Is Close?". Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,583319,00.html. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  71. ^ Paul Watson (2010-21-1). "Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". "Glenn Beck – The Father of Freaky Fox Facts, Fables, Farces and Fantasies". http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/editorial-100121-1.html. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  72. ^ Millar, Peter (January 10, 2010). "Ady Gil downed by Japanese whalers". The Sunday Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/article6982236.ece. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  73. ^ Pirate for the Sea at the Internet Movie Database
  74. ^ Pirate for the Sea
  75. ^ Seattle International Film Festival listing
  76. ^ Murphy, Dan (2009-10-29). "South Park puts spotlight on Paul Watson and his "Whale Wars"". The Christian Science Monitor. http://features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/10/29/south-park-puts-spotlight-on-paul-watson-and-his-whale-wars/. Retrieved 2009-11-03. "On Wednesday night, the satirists from the cartoon show South Park took aim at the group (and Japanese whalers and, typically, everyone else) in an episode that they named, in their inevitably “classy” fashion, “Whale Whores.”" 
  77. ^ Tucker, Ken (October 29, 2009). "'South Park' and 'Whale Whores': Lady Gaga and Entertainment Weekly harpooned, er, lampooned". EW.com. http://watching-tv.ew.com/2009/10/29/south-park-and-whale-whores-lady-gaga/. Retrieved 2009-11-03. "South Park had its usual tartly sarcastic way (by which I mean “delightfully savage ridicule”) with save-the-whales conservationists, cable-TV nature shows, Lady Gaga, and, yes, Entertainment Weekly in the episode titled “Whale Whores.”" 
  78. ^ Trey Parker (October 28, 2009). "Whale Whores". South Park. episode 11. season 13. Comedy Central. 

  Further reading

  • Earth Warrior: Overboard With Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, by David B. Morris (1995) (ISBN 1-55591-203-6)
  • Eco-Warriors, by Rik Scarce (2006) (ISBN 1-59874-028-8)

  External links



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