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We Want to Save the Whales But Not in the Way You Want to Save the Whales

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson


Fin whale Photo: Sea Shepherd / Oktay Kaya

Way back in 1975, when I first ventured onto the waves to defend whales with the first Greenpeace campaign Project Ahab, we succeeded in bringing the issue of commercial whaling to the attention of the world. Our tactic was very simple. Block the harpoons with our own body. It was a non-violent tactic yet still it provoked ire from mainstream whale lovers who claimed we were going too far, the tactics were too radical, that we would alienate decision makers etc., etc.

I remember Joan McIntyre of Project Jonah in 1975 berating us for our tactics. When I mentioned to her we were on the same side and asked if she wanted to save the whales, her reply was and I quote, “Yes, I want to save the whales but not your way.”

Joan’s idea of saving whales was writing books and songs, collecting petitions and organizing children to demonstrate. All very good tactics of course but in her book, these were the only acceptable tactics.

None of her tactics made international news. Ours did and therein lies the difference.

Throughout Sea Shepherd’s almost 40-year history we have never launched a campaign without some people denouncing it and telling us we were going about it the wrong way which usually translates into we’re not going about it their way.

Sea Shepherd has not announced any plans to go to Iceland this summer to oppose their illegal slaughter of Fin whales.

But with Sea Shepherd ships in Germany and the announcement to return to the Faroes this summer, the Icelanders are feeling nervous.

And thus I received a letter Monday from ICEWHALE (The Icelandic Whale Watching Association), an organization that states they are working closely with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to oppose whaling in Iceland.

Sea Shepherd goes where the whales need us so I guess they assume that Sea Shepherd will soon be heading to Iceland.

I do support any efforts in Iceland to stop whaling so I do not view the Icelandic Whale Watching Association or IFAW as our enemies. I believe they are sincere about wanting to end whaling in Iceland.

But contrary to what this letter is saying, progress is not being made and whale kills are increasing, not decreasing, especially endangered Fin whales.

The Letter and my comments:

Mr. Paul Watson Sea Shepherd

Dear Mr. Watson,

Reykjavik, 11 May 2015

Gísli Ólafsson?: IceWhale, the Icelandic Whale Watching Association, composed of all the major whale watching companies operating in Icelandic waters, was founded in 1999 and has from its inception endeavoured to guide government, the tourist industry and the public towards a greater understanding of the inherent value and beauty of living whales. This has led to the Icelandic Travel Industry Association giving our mission their undivided support.

Captain Paul Watson: This is laudable work and Sea Shepherd supports such efforts 100%.

Gísli Ólafsson?: Since 2003 we have worked closely with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) on a successful campaign to reduce demand for whale meat in Iceland. From 2009 to 2014, the percentage of foreign tourists who eat whale meat in Iceland has halved. As a result, of the 229 minke whales sanctioned for whaling in 2014 by the Minister of Fisheries, only 24 were hunted.

Captain Paul Watson: With the whalers focused on the more valuable and endangered Fin whales, there may be another reason for the reduction in Minke whale kills. The fact is that consumption of whale meat in Iceland is small compared to the real market, which is Japan. Exports to Japan have increased significantly and have proven to be more lucrative than local consumption.

Gísli Ólafsson?: Huge changes have also been observed in the attitudes of politicians and political parties during the last decade. Last December, the Reykjavik City Council unanimously voted for whale hunting to make way for whale watching in Faxaflói Bay.

Captain Paul Watson:  Good stuff and Sea Shepherd applauds such efforts. We absolutely support and endorse diversity of approaches.

Gísli Ólafsson?: Opinion polls by Gallup have shown that more and more Icelanders have doubts about or are opposed to whale hunting. For instance, fewer than half of all Icelanders supported Hvalur hf’s hunting of fin whales, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013.

Captain Paul Watson: Unfortunately these numbers have not been translated into political action.

Gísli Ólafsson?: Given the good progress and constant improvements regarding the position of whales in Icelandic waters, IceWhale urges Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) to reconsider its plans of coming to Iceland with the goal of disrupting whale hunting this summer. IceWhale believes that such actions run the risk of having exactly the opposite of the intended effect. The possible conflict is likely to stir up old ghosts from 1986 when SSCS claimed responsibility for acts of sabotage on whale hunting boats and the whaling station in Hvalfjörður. Contrary to its intended effect, those events only served to stiffen the Icelandic resolve to continue whale hunting.

Captain Paul Watson: SSCS is a separate legal entity from other Sea Shepherd organizations worldwide. SSCS does not have any plans that need re-considering. SSCS has not announced any plans to go to Icelandic waters.

Whales were killed up until 1986. In 1985, I took my ship the Sea Shepherd II to Iceland where it was made clear to us that Iceland had no intention of abiding by the moratorium on commercial whaling. Half the Icelandic whaling fleet was sunk in November 1986. No whales were taken from the time of the sinking until 2006. Twenty years of no whaling followed that action. The whale kills have risen steadily ever since 2006 dictated primarily by demand from Japan. One correction: Sea Shepherd never “claimed” to have sunk the ships. Sea Shepherd did sink those ships. Although I made myself available to Icelandic authorities in January 1988, no charges were ever laid against myself or any other Sea Shepherd crew. In other words no crime was committed although crimes by Icelandic whalers were prevented. You may believe that the action stiffened resolve to continue whale hunting but you are in error, considering it took two decades before whaling resumed, not due to the nationalistic resolve of Icelanders, but because of the greed of Kristján Loftsson.

Gísli Ólafsson?: It is imperative that SSCS respects the fact that much progress has been made in Iceland over the years with the aim of achieving a positive solution. SSCS operations in Iceland at this point of time will only harm all the work that has been done so far to change attitudes in Iceland and is more likely to incite nationalist tendencies and once again encourage domestic support for whale hunting.

Captain Paul Watson: We have not seen progress. What we have seen is rising kills especially of endangered Fin whales.

Gísli Ólafsson?: We find it hard to believe, Mr Watson, that you and your organisation have any intention of embarking on a course of action that could lead to the death of more whales or prolong the unnecessary commercial whale hunting that has taken place in recent years. Therefore we urge Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to refrain from coming to Iceland this coming summer or next year, thereby giving IceWhale and Iceland further opportunity to adapt to the changing demands of our own society and to build on the good progress that has been made so far.

Yours sincerely,

Gísli Ólafsson?

Chairman of IceWhale – The Icelandic Whale Watching Association

Captain Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd activities worldwide have saved many thousands of whales from the harpoons. Sea Shepherd has not prolonged whaling. Whaling continues because of the illegal actions by Icelanders. Many people find it hard to believe that we do what we do and that is because they believe we are concerned for the opinions of humans. Sea Shepherd’s clients are the whales – not people. Sea Shepherd represents the interests of the whales and their primary interest is not to be killed.

The whales in the North Atlantic do not belong to Iceland, Norway or Denmark. They don’t belong to anyone but to themselves. Sea Shepherd has no intention of interfering with Iceland. Sea Shepherd’s mission is not anti-Icelandic. It is pro whale. It matters not whether the whales are killed by Icelanders or Japanese. Sea Shepherd goes where the killing takes place. Sea Shepherd blocks the harpoons no matter the nationality of the harpooner. Should Sea Shepherd tolerate killing and the increase in killing simply because some Icelanders will get all nationalistic over their perverse “right” to kill whales?

Finally I will say that there are no plans as yet to come to Icelandic waters this summer. As announced yesterday, Sea Shepherd will be in Faroese waters. Sea Shepherd may scout out the situation in Icelandic waters this summer and individual Sea Shepherd organizations will formulate plans based on what they observe and the advice of their individual scientific and legal advisory boards. As always Sea Shepherd will act in accordance with the needs of the whales. As always, Sea Shepherd’s actions will be non-violent. Our intent is to always work within the boundaries of practicality and the law.

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