Support Our Whale Warriors
By Tamara Vallejos
Looking back on your life, can you pinpoint the moment that put you on this path of marine conservation?
I was raised in a fishing village in Eastern Canadaand when I was 10, I swam with this family of beavers every day during the summer, and next summer when I went back I couldn’t find them. I asked questions and found out that trappers had come in and taken them all, and I got very angry. That winter I began to walk the trap lines and destroy the traps. So that’s how I started, really. I was a founding member of Greenpeace when I was 18, so it’s really been something that I’ve been doing all my life.
Greenpeace is one of several organizations you’ve been a part of over the years, so what was lacking from those groups that led you to start Sea Shepherd 35 years ago?
We were doing a lot of filming and hanging banners and protesting but it wasn’t really making much of a difference, so I decided to set up an organization to intervene. Sea Shepherd is not a protest organization, it’s an intervention organization. We focus on illegal activities, we specialize in marine wildlife habitat and we practice we call “aggressive non-violence.” We’re aggressive, but we don’t injure anybody. We’ve never caused a single injury to a single person, but we have saved lives. Thousands of whales, hundreds of thousands of dolphins and sharks and everything else, and we’ve been doing that by being aggressive.
Is there a campaign in your organization’s history that you’re particularly proud of, or was particularly effective?
Well, campaigns are long and ongoing. For the campaign to stop whaling in the southern ocean, we’ve had eight expeditions to the southern ocean over eight years. During that time we’ve managed to cut the number of whales being killed considerably. [Whalers] only took 26 percent of their quota this last year, 17 percent the year before. Our objective has always been with the Japanese fleet to sink them economically, to undermine their profits, to speak a language they understand, which is economics. And that’s what we’ve done; we’ve driven the Japanese whaling fleet into bankruptcy. But these campaigns never take one year or anything, they’re very prolonged. The thing about it is you have to be persistent. The campaign to shut down the commercial seal hunt inCanadatook over 40 years.
You’re perhaps best-known for your campaign against Japanese whaling in the southern ocean, but what other battles are you fighting?
Ending the whaling in the southern ocean, stopping the dolphin slaughter in Japan, the pilot whale kill in the Danish Faroe Islands, the killing of fur seals inNamibia, protecting theGalapagos Islands … There are campaigns all year, so it’s not just the whales in the southern ocean.
Sea Shepherd says it focuses on battling illegal activities, but by whose definition are these activities illegal?
Killing whales in the southern ocean is illegal under the regulations of the International Whaling Commission. It’s called the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, so you don’t kill whales in a sanctuary. What we do is uphold international conservation law in accordance with the United Nations’ World Charter for Nature, which allows for intervention by non-government organizations or individuals.
It’s Japanese fleets that are killing these whales; does the Japanese government sanction this activity?
The Japanese government certainly sanctions it, but the International Whaling Commission does not andAustraliadoes not. They’re killing whales in Australian territory, andJapanhas been ordered out of that area by the Australian federal court and are now in contempt of the Australian federal court regulations and they need to recognize those regulations. So while it might very well be legal inJapan, it’s illegal under Australian law and under international law.
It seems as if Sea Shepherd’s efforts are very international, but its headquarters are in Washington state. Are there any activities here in the United States that concern you?
Currently we’re involved with trying to stop the killing of sea lions in the Columbia River. We’re doing that right now, and back in ’98 or ‘99 we opposed the plans by the Makah Indians inWashingtonto resurrect whaling. We were able to win that one. Again, that was legal underU.S.law but illegal under international law.
You have your supporters, but you certainly have many detractors—some of whom go as far as calling you an eco-terrorist. How do you respond to that label?
I’m not an eco-terrorist, I don’t work for BP! The fact is, I don’t really care what people call us. Our clients are whales and sharks and seals and dolphins and tuna fish. [Laughs] And that’s what our clients are, not people. So people can call us whatever they want. When people call me a terrorist, I say, “Arrest me, or shut up.” We’re not doing anything illegal. We have been arrested many times in the past, but we’ve always won in every single case. We’re very cognizant of maritime law and of law, so we act accordingly. We uphold the law, we don’t break the law. But sometimes to uphold international law, you have to break a local law. In those cases, we stand ready to defend ourselves. And every case we’ve actually won in the courts.
You must need quite a bit of funding to undertake these massive efforts.
[We’re supported by] individual donors from around the world, and we’re primarily a volunteer-based organization. The television show Whale Wars has certainly been very good for gaining support for us. We went from an organization raising, oh, about $2 million a year six years ago to $12 million now because of that.
And then there are benefit events like Sea No Evil. What does this show mean to Sea Shepherd and its mission?
Sea No Evil is actually sponsored by supporters inRiverside, but it has become a major fundraiser for us every year, and it’s very important. I look at it as one of our major events every year. We try to get different communities involved in what we do—the surfing community, the diving community, the sailing community and that sort of thing—but also artists and musicians. Sea No Evil is an opportunity to get artists involved in protecting our ocean. We’ve had support from artists around the world, and it has been really incredible. It doesn’t really matter what you do to be an activist. The strength of any movement depends upon diversity, just as the strength of an ecosystem depends upon diversity. So if your approach is litigation or education or legislation or direct action, it all works to support the same end. I always ask that people use their individual talents and skills to make this a better world, so in that way, artists fit in very well, because they can interpret the situation artistically and by helping supporting us materially, they’re also increasing awareness.
Sea No Evil at Riverside Municipal Auditorium, 3485 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; www.seashepherdartshow.com. Sat, June 30, 6 PM. $10 at the door.