Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Founded 1977 (1977)
Founder Paul Watson
Type Public charity (USA); registered charity (UK)
Focus Marine conservation
Area served
Method Direct action

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is a non-profit, marine conservation organization based in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington, in the United States.[1]

Sea Shepherd uses direct action tactics to protect marine life. The organization was founded in 1977 under the name Earth Force Society by Paul Watson, a former member of Greenpeace, after a dispute with that organization over what Watson saw as its lack of more aggressive intervention.[2] The group has a strong focus on public relations to spread its message via the media. In 2008, Animal Planet began filming the weekly series Whale Wars based on the group's encounters with the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean, a development which brought the group much publicity.

Sea Shepherd currently operates nine vessels (see: Neptune's Navy). Operations have included scuttling and disabling whaling vessels at harbor, intervening in Canadian and Namibian seal hunts,[3] shining laser light into the eyes of whalers,[4][5] throwing bottles of foul-smelling butyric acid onto vessels at sea,[5] boarding of whaling vessels while at sea, and seizure and destruction of drift nets at sea. Sea Shepherd claims that their aggressive actions are necessary, as the international community has shown itself unwilling or unable to stop species-endangering whaling and fishing practices.[6]

Sea Shepherd has received support for its tactics against fishing, whaling, and seal hunting from many celebrities, such as musicians and TV personalities. The tactics of Sea Shepherd have been opposed, even by those who denounce whaling, such as Greenpeace[7] and the governments of Australia and New Zealand.[8] The Japanese government have called them eco-terrorists.[9] However, in March 2014 the International Court of Justice ruled the Japanese whaling program in the Southern Ocean was not, as claimed, for scientific purposes, and ordered Japan to cease operations.[10]

Paul Watson and American members of Sea Shepherd are currently prohibited by US courts from approaching or harassing Japanese whalers.[11]


The predecessor organization of Sea Shepherd, the "Earth Force Society", was formed in 1977, after its founder, Paul Watson was ousted from the board of Greenpeace for disagreements over his direct action activism which clashed with their pacifist nature.[12] Watson soon left Greenpeace. Initially without funding and with only a small group of supporters, in 1978 Watson convinced Cleveland Amory, head of the Fund for Animals to fund Watson's first vessel, the Sea Shepherd.[6]

The first direct action undertaken by Sea Shepherd was against Canadian seal hunting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in March 1979.[13][14] Also in 1979, the group made headlines when, for the first time, they rammed a whaling vessel,[15] the notorious pirate whaling vessel, Sierra.[16] Such acts continued with Sea Shepherd claiming responsibility for damaging or sinking multiple whaling ships, through sabotage or ramming. The group has attempted to intervene against Russian, Spanish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Makah, Faroese, and Japanese whalers in multiple campaigns around the globe.[2][6] Setting a pattern that the group would keep up in later years, the group managed to scuttle a Portuguese whaling vessel, though the first Sea Shepherd was impounded, and lost. Watson states he used the money gained from selling the story rights to fund his next vessel.[6]

After having spent the 1980s undertaking a variety of controversial and dangerous operations in support of various marine conservation aims, in the 1990s the group has been described as having undertaken a shift in their public attitude.[6] Having previously argued primarily from an ethical viewpoint, from the 1990s, Watson's group now also started ascribing themselves law enforcement powers, using its interpretation of maritime and conservation law, to describe themselves as an anti-poaching agency.[6][17] In some cases in the 2000s, they cooperated with official government efforts against maritime poaching, such as in Costa Rican waters, though the agreements often did not last long before conflict ensued.[18]

Starting in September 2010, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has positioned a crew in Taiji, Japan to monitor and report their annual dolphin drive hunt.


Sea Shepherd Flag
A wildlife advocate during an education session on board RV Farley Mowat.

Sea Shepherd is a non-governmental, non-profit environmental organization. In the United States it has a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Most of the organization's revenue—83.2 percent—is spent on its programs, while 16.7 percent of revenue is spent on administrative and fundraising.[19] It is supported by private and corporate donations, lectures by Watson, internet advertising,[6] and grants. The group is operated by volunteers and a small number of paid staff.[6] Watson says he is committed to keeping his organization small, and does not believe in spending money on fundraising or recruitment.[6]

Sea Shepherd is governed by a board of directors, including Watson. The organization has several boards of advisers, each addressing an area of expertise. The Scientific, Technical, and Conservation Advisory Board includes Earth First! founder Dave Foreman and Horst Klienschmidt, a former deputy chair of the International Whaling Commission (2006). The Legal and Law Enforcement Advisory Board includes Ian Campbell, a former Australian Minister of the Environment and Heritage (2004–07) whom whaling groups had accused of having inappropriate and close ties with the organization.[20][21] The Animal Welfare, Humane and Animal Rights Advisory Board includes animal rights philosopher Tom Regan. The Media and Arts Advisory Board includes several major Hollywood stars. There is a Photography Advisory Board and a Financial and Management Advisory Board.[22]


Sea Shepherd engages in conventional protests and direct actions to protect marine wildlife. Sea Shepherd operations have included interdiction against commercial fishing, shark poaching and finning, seal hunting, and whaling.[2][23] The group has been active in intervening against fishing and poaching in the South Pacific, the Mediterranean, and in waters around the Galapagos Islands.

According to its mission statement, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society "uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas".[24] Those actions have included scuttling and disabling commercial whaling vessels at harbor, using limpet mines to blow holes in ship hulls,[25] ramming other vessels, throwing glass bottles of butyric acid on the decks of vessels at sea, boarding of whaling vessels while at sea, and seizure and destruction of drift nets at sea. As of 2009, Paul Watson has said that the organization has sunk ten whaling ships while also destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment.[26] Their practice of attacking and sinking other ships has led to reports of injuries to other sailors as well as the Sea Shepherd crew, including concussions and complications from chemical attacks.[27][28]

Watson considers the actions of Sea Shepherd to be against criminal operations and has called the group an anti-poaching organization.[17] Critics claim that Sea Shepherd's actions constitute violations of international law,[29] while Watson has stated that Sea Shepherd believes that their actions constitute an attempt to enforce international conservation laws and international maritime law under the World Charter for Nature adopted by the United Nations.[30][31] Australia has declared Japan's hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to be illegal, and federal court judge Jim Allsop has stated "there is no practical mechanism by which orders of this court can be enforced".[32] The lack of official enforcement mechanisms in that law prompted the Society to adopt, without official sanction, what it sees as a law enforcement mission. A 2008 academic paper by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Victoria concluded that the group "may be best categorized as a vigilante group, because they say they are seeking to enforce a legal status quo because of states' and the international community's inabilities or unwillingness to do so".[16]

Watson left Greenpeace in 1977 after being expelled from the board of directors due to his confrontational methods.[33] Since then, Greenpeace has criticized Sea Shepherd for the group's tactics,[34] particularly regarding its interaction with whaling ships while at sea. The rival environmental group maintains Sea Shepherd is a violent organization whose tactics may endanger the lives of fishermen and whalers.[35][36] Greenpeace has called Watson a violent extremist and will no longer comment on his activities.[9] Greenpeace is also critical of the group on its website and state: "By making it easy to paint anti-whaling forces as dangerous, piratical terrorists, Sea Shepherd could undermine the forces within Japan which could actually bring whaling to an end".[7] Both groups protest the Japanese whale hunts in the Southern Ocean but Greenpeace has a policy to not assist Sea Shepherd in finding the whalers. In his 2009 book, Whaling in Japan, Jun Morikawa states that Sea Shepherd's confrontational tactics have actually strengthened Japan's resolve to continue with its whaling program. According to Morikawa, Sea Shepherd's activities against Japan's whaling ships have allowed the Japanese government to rally domestic support for the program from Japanese who were otherwise ambivalent about the practice of hunting and eating whales.[37]

Sea Shepherd has been criticized and sometimes physically attacked by people in several of the countries they protest against. In March 1995, a mob of Canadian seal hunters stormed the hotel where members were staying. They fled while the mob ransacked their room.[38] In November 1998, Makah seized an inflatable boat belonging to the group and threw rocks at the Sea Shepherd's Sirenian in response to protests over their whale hunt.[39] In 2005, 11 Sea Shepherd crew were involved in an altercation with sealers while on the ice. The sealers were not charged with any crime, but the activists were arrested and later convicted for approaching too close to the hunt.[40][41][42] In 2008, fishermen in the French islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon cut the mooring lines of the Farley Mowat after hearing Watson make disparaging comments about the deaths of four seal hunters.[43] In February 2010, pro-whaling demonstrators gathered outside the Australian Embassy in Tokyo to protest the group. A political activist said that Sea Shepherd's actions were "absolutely racial discrimination against Japanese people".[44] In response, Sea Shepherd stated that they also oppose whaling in the Faroe Islands, sealing in Canada, etc. In response to the events of the sinking of the MY Ady Gil in January 2010, Glenn Inwood, whose firm handles public relations on behalf of the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, accused Sea Shepherd of being "hostile eco-terrorists".[5] In March 2014 the International Court of Justice ruled Japan's whaling program was not for scientific purposes. The Court ordered that Japan "revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence to kill, take or treat whales" and refrain from granting any further permits."[45]

Public relations

A $5 million donation from Bob Barker facilitated the purchase of the MY Bob Barker, pictured here docked in Hobart, Tasmania.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has received attention from the press and been called "media savvy".[2][46] The group has worked with journalists and has made statements through press releases to spread its message during various campaigns.[47][48]

Watson's public relations savvy is shown in an episode of Whale Wars when he creates an international "media storm"[49] after two crewmembers are detained on a Japanese whaling vessel. In his book, Earthforce!, Watson advises readers to make up facts and figures when they need to, and to deliver them to reporters confidently.[6] He also states that the "truth is irrelevant" due to the nature of mass media.[50] In response to criticism that he manipulates the media, Watson has stated: "What we do is provide the media with the kind of stories they can't resist... and this is how we bring attention to what's happening to the whales, the seals, the sharks and the other marine conservation campaigns we're involved in."[9]

Sea Shepherd has also used satellite uplinks, webcams, and internet blogging during its operations in the Southern Ocean, and has invited the media to ride along.[51] In 2006, representatives from Seven network and National Geographic magazine, along with documentary filmmakers, accompanied the group.[2] In a television series entitled Whale Wars, Discovery Communications, Inc. documented Sea Shepherd's 2008/09 Antarctic campaign against Japanese whalers, following events on the Steve Irwin.[9] The program premiered on November 7, 2008, on Discovery's Animal Planet network.

Sea Shepherd has received financial contributions from celebrities and businessmen such as entrepreneur Steve Wynn, television personality Bob Barker, and John Paul DeJoria, as well as other celebrities.[6][6][17] Martin Sheen, Daryl Hannah, and Richard Dean Anderson have joined the group during protests. Actors including Edward Norton, Pierce Brosnan, Christian Bale, Clive Standen and Emily Deschanel have supported the group through contributions,[9] while William Shatner has also been mentioned as supporting the group.[52] Actress and model Pamela Anderson is an active spokesperson for the group, has participated in several campaigns, served on the Board of Directors and is a close friend of founder Paul Watson. In 2007, actor Heath Ledger conceived and directed a music video of the Modest Mouse song "King Rat", intended to raise awareness of the whale hunts taking place each year off the coast of his native Australia. Although Ledger died before the video could be completed, others finished it in his honor and debuted the video online in August 2009. Proceeds from iTunes sales of the video in its first month of release were donated to Sea Shepherd.[53][54]

From the music industry, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leona Lewis, Rick Rubin, and the groups Hawkwind, The Red Paintings, Propagandhi, Gojira, Parkway Drive, Heaven Shall Burn, Stick To Your Guns, The Amity Affliction and Architects have financially supported Sea Shepherd.[17] Architects vocalist Sam Carter is also one of Sea Shepherd's British ambassadors. Giacomo "Josh" Giorgi, vocalist of now-defunct Italian hardcore punk band, To Kill is the bosun's mate aboard the MY Steve Irwin.[55] In 2009, professional surfer Kelly Slater joined a Quiksilver Australia/Sea Shepherd partnership featuring a fund-raising clothing line, including board shorts designed by Slater.[56] In 2013 alt-metal band Klogr started supporting Sea Shepherd in Europe through the videos "Guinea Pigs" (2013) and "Zero Tolerance" (2014), featuring images from Sea Shepherd documentaries filmed in Taiji and other missions.

The Lush cosmetics company joined with Sea Shepherd to raise awareness about the practice of shark finning in 2008. Lush produced 'Shark Fin Soap' (punning on 'shark fin soup'); all sale proceeds were directed to Sea Shepherd.[57] To launch the soap and awareness campaign a performance artist suspended herself, using hooks in her flesh, in a Lush shopfront window in London.[58]

Governmental response

In testimony on "The Threat of Eco-Terrorism" given to a US congressional subcommittee in 2002, Sea Shepherd was the first group mentioned by an FBI official for having attacked commercial fishing operations by cutting drift nets.[59] An earlier Canadian intelligence report on "single issue terrorism" stated that "Watson and his supporters have been involved in a number of militant actions against whale hunting, driftnet fishing, seal hunting and other related issues" and mentions "activities against logging operations in Canada".[60] In 2007, Ian Campbell, then the Australian Environment Minister and a vigorous critic of Japan's whaling, once opposed Sea Shepherd's tactics, saying that it really put the cause of conservation backwards.[8] Due to the 2008 operations against Canadian seal hunters, Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, called Watson a terrorist and said that Sea Shepherd was not welcome in the province.[61] The group has been accused of eco-terrorism by the Japanese government.[9]

Sea Shepherd has based many of its operations out of Australia with foreign crew members being able to travel in and out of the country on tourist visas.[62] Tasmanian Greens and the former Greens Senator Bob Brown, have endorsed and supported the Society in various ways, including advocacy within the Australian government and public endorsement of the group.[63] However, Nationals Party Senator Barnaby Joyce has opposed granting Sea Shepherd tax-exempt status stating that "Criminals should not get tax concessions – if you break the law, then donations to your organisation should not be tax deductible".[64]

When the Steve Irwin returned to Hobart, Tasmania in February 2009, Australian Federal Police seized film footage and the ship's logs, reportedly prompted by complaints from Japan.[65][66] Brown demanded that the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, order their immediate return, but a spokesman for the Home Affairs Minister said it was a federal police matter.[67]

A variation of the flag used by the group.

In October 2009, The Australian Immigration Department ruled that Watson and his First Officer, Peter Hammarstedt, must satisfy new good-character requirements to obtain business visas, requiring them to provide police references from the governments of the United States, Canada and Norway. Watson criticized what he considered a submission to Japanese pressure by the Rudd government.[62] The Australian government responded by rejecting the idea that it was in some way delaying Watson, and on October 20, 2009 issued visas to Watson and Hammarstedt.[68]

Paul Watson said to Discovery Channel the Dalai Lama sent a letter of support for Sea Shepherd's volunteers accompanied by a wrathful, scowling statue of the deity Hayagriva,[9] which expresses compassion and determination in overcoming obstacles. In 2010 during a visit to Japan, the Dalai Lama said that while he agrees with the goal of stopping Japan from hunting whales, they should stop using violent methods to achieve that goal.[69]

The ships of the fleet have flown the flags of different nations and the opinion of several governments that the vessels are engaged in inappropriate activities has several times led to registration issues for Sea Shepherd vessels.[70][71] Canada, Belize, UK and Togo have revoked the registrations of various vessels.[72][73][74] Both the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker ships now sail under Dutch flag leading to direct complaints by the Japanese government towards Dutch ambassadors. The Netherlands consequently considered revoking the registrations for both vessels but finally decided not to do so.[75]

Officials in Japan have discussed revoking the group's tax exempt status with their counterparts in the United States.[76][77][78]

In December 2011, the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) and Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd, the two Japanese organizations which operate Japan's whaling program, sued Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) in U.S. federal district court in Seattle. The suit requested an injunction to stop Sea Shepherd's operations against Japanese whalers. The suit was filed in Seattle because Sea Shepherd is based in the state of Washington.[79] The federal court denied the ICR's preliminary injunction against SSCS.[80] The ICR and Kyodo Senpaku appealed and, on December 17, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an injunction against Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd and any party acting in concert with them from physically attacking any person or vessel of the ICR and requiring them to stay at least 500 yd (457 m) from their vessels.[81][82] After the court ruling, Paul Watson stepped down and Bob Brown succeeded his role as the leader of SSCS.[83][84] Sea Shepherd appealed to the US Supreme Court to have the injunction set aside, but the appeal was rejected.[85] On February 26, 2013, the Court of Appeals maintained the injunction, stating that SSCS's activities were "the very embodiment of piracy".[86][87] This reversed a previous decision by Richard A. Jones, who was removed as trial judge for abuse of discretion.[88][89]

In 2013, Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister of Australia, told the press club of Japan, "We do not, and will never, condone reckless, dangerous, unlawful behaviour. And where it occurs on the high seas, we will unreservedly condemn it. The fact that the Sea Shepherd visits Australian ports or some of the Sea Shepherd fleet might be registered in Australia is not indicative in any way of the Australian government’s support for the organisation. And we will continue to comply fully with our international legal obligations with regard to safety at sea".[90]

In March 2012, reacting to Paul Watson's allegation that Maltese politicians were bribed by the Bluefin tuna industry, Prime Minister of Malta Lawrence Gonzi announced that the government would initiate libel proceedings against the Sea Shepherd founder.[91]

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.[92] Watson was charged with violating navigational regulations.[93] The conflict took place during filming for the documentary Sharkwater.[94] Watson subsequently skipped bail and went into hiding at the end of July.[95] Watson's lawyer has confirmed that he has fled the country.[96] The Costa Rican government requested the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to issue a Red Notice (an arrest request to member countries), which was granted by Interpol.[97]


Main article: Neptune's Navy
The MY Steve Irwin in September 2011, sailing up river under Tower Bridge in London.
The MY Sam Simon in Hobart, Tasmania, December 2012

Sea Shepherd refer to the ships it has operated as Neptune's Navy. The society operates five ships, the MY Steve Irwin, the MY Bob Barker, the MY Sam Simon, the MV Brigitte Bardot, and the Ocean Warrior,[98] as well as smaller vessels such as RHIBs.[99][100]

The Steve Irwin was obtained in 2007 and originally called the Robert Hunter. It was renamed in honor of The Crocodile Hunter star Steve Irwin.[101] His widow, Terri, gave her support to Sea Shepherd, saying: "Whales have always been in Steve's heart and in 2006 he was investigating the possibility of joining the Sea Shepherd on part of its journey to defend these beautiful animals."[102] The other ship, the 1200 ton Bob Barker, was named after well-known television game show host and animal activist Bob Barker, who made the purchase in Ghana of the retired Norwegian whaling vessel possible with a donation of US$5 million.[103] In February 2010, the Bob Barker collided with the Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru No. 3, tearing a gash in the hull of the Bob Barker.[104]

The group also formerly operated the Farley Mowat (impounded by the Canadian government, with Sea Shepherd having stated that they have no intention of paying the legal fines and berthage fees to recover their now obsolete vessel) and the Ady Gil, formerly known as the Earthrace (sunk after a collision with the MV Shōnan Maru 2 whaling security vessel in early 2010)[105] as well as a number of earlier vessels.

Sea Shepherd acquired the Ocean 7 Adventurer for its 2010/11 campaign against Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.[106] In November 2010, Mayor Brad Pettitt of Fremantle, Western Australia, christened the vessel Gojira with Fremantle as its home port, making this the first Sea Shepherd ship registered in Australia, with an Australian crew. The Gojira was renamed MV Brigitte Bardot in May 2011 after complaints of copyright infringement by Toho.[107]

For the 2011-2012 Antarctic campaign, the organization acquired drone aircraft to assist in their surveillance of the whaling ships.[108]

In July 2012 Sam Simon, a co-creator of The Simpsons, reportedly donated money to purchase the fourth vessel, a former German icebreaker.[109] The actual ship however turned out to be a former Japanese weather survey vessel, now called the MY Sam Simon.

On October 18, 2014, Martin Sheen, the actor, unveiled Sea Shepherd’s newest vessel, R/V Martin Sheen, named in his honor,[110] and captained by Oona Layolle of France. The name of this vessel carries the prefix "R/V" because it will be engaged in direct action as a research vessel.

In January 2015 two decommissioned, 30 knot, Island-class Coast Guard cutters were spotted flying the Sea Shepherd flag in Annapolis Yacht Basin.[111] In June 2015, Sea Shepherd revealed on their website that they had, in fact, purchased these vessels. One will be named MY Farley Mowat, after an earlier vessel that Sea Shepherd retired in 2008, and the other will be named MY Jules Verne, after the author of the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.[112][113]

Books written by members

See also


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