The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) has been a thorn in the side of commercial fisheries since it first took to the seas in 1977. Determined to defend marine mammals, it has regularly made headlines for blocking marine traffic and disrupting poaching and illegal fishing.
Over the weekend, Canadian environmental activist Paul Watson was arrested in Frankfurt on a Costa Rican warrant issued last October. Sea Shepherd questioned the timing, pointing out it was issued “curiously close to the time that the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) filed their civil suit against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the United States.”
According to Sea Shepherd:
The German police have said that the warrant for Captain Watson’s arrest is in response to an alleged violation of ships traffic in Costa Rica, which occurred during the filming of Sharkwater in 2002. The specific “violation of ships traffic” incident took place on the high seas in Guatemalan waters, when Sea Shepherd encountered an illegal shark finning operation, run by a Costa Rican ship called the Varadero. On order of the Guatemalan authorities, Sea Shepherd instructed the crew of the Varadero to cease their shark finning activities and head back to port to be prosecuted. While escorting the Varadero back to port, the tables were turned and a Guatemalan gunboat was dispatched to intercept the Sea Shepherd crew. The crew of the Varadero accused the Sea Shepherds of trying to kill them, while the video evidence proves this to be a fallacy. To avoid the Guatemalan gunboat, Sea Shepherd then set sail for Costa Rica, where they uncovered even more illegal shark finning activities in the form of dried shark fins by the thousands on the roofs of industrial buildings.
Watson is a veteran of the battle to save marine life. He was one of the original founders of Greenpeace. In 1977, he launched the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He is no stranger to controversy.
Before he and Greenpeace parted company, he led the organization’s second campaign to stop the seal hunt off Labrador. A biography on the Sea Shepherd site tells the story:
Later on this campaign, in an effort to bring one of the sealing ship’s operations to a halt, Watson handcuffed himself to a pile of seal pelts that were attached to the winch of a sealing vessel. When the sealers saw what he had done, they dragged him and the pile of pelts across the ice then up into the air, slamming them against the hull of the ship. Then they plunged Watson into the frigid waters several times causing him to lose feeling in his limbs and lose consciousness. Finally, when Fisheries Minister officers arrived on the scene, he was strapped to a stretcher and hoisted onboard, where the sealers almost suffocated him by pressing seal blubber over his face, then dragging him across the deck through seal fat and blood, kicking him all along the way.
In the years since Watson founded SSCS, he has squared off with whalers, factory ships and governments. He has authored books, created documentaries and thumbed his nose at those who disapprove of his tactics. And he has never wavered in his commitment to marine mammals.
It is not clear yet whether Germany will agree to extradite Watson, and it is possible Costa Rica will drop the charges. In the meantime, SSCS is calling for his release and insists, “Captain Watson will not be intimidated, and he will not stop until marine life and ecosystems are given the protection they deserve.”
Sign the petition to demand his release.
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Photo of Captain Watson and the Sea Shepherd crew from David w ng via Wikimedia Commons