Film profiles notorious eco-warrior

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Paul Watson, president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, answers questions while sailing aboard a trimaran off the harbour of La Ciotat, southern France. In the background is the Sea Shepherd vessel, Steve Irwin. Watson has spent roughly 40 years developing a reputation as one of the most combative defenders of the ocean. — Photo by The Canadian Press/The Associated Press

Paul Watson, the man former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams once called a high-seas “terrorist,” has spent roughly 40 years developing a reputation as one of the most combative defenders of the ocean.

But when the eco-warrior looks back on his controversial career, he wishes he had been even more aggressive.

“I’ve become, I think, more determined as I’ve gotten older,” Watson says in a telephone interview from the Channel Islands, where he observed the recently concluded International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) annual meeting. “Because of the realization that in some events I could have gotten further. I could have done more if I had been more aggressive.”

“I could have pushed things a little further in many of these campaigns and saved more lives.”

Still, few have been willing to go as far as Watson to protect ocean life.

In the documentary “Eco-Pirate,” writer/director Trish Dolman delves into the notorious crusader’s lifelong dedication to the sea, his role in the beginnings of Greenpeace and controversial split with the pacifist group, the impact his relentless campaign has had on his personal life and his involvement with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which he founded in 1977.

The film, voted a top 10 audience favourite at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, also follows Watson and his crew as they hunt a Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, displaying some of the confrontational tactics that have prompted some critics to label him a terrorist.

The 60-year-old Watson, who grew up in New Brunswick, quotes Martin Luther King in describing his approach as “aggressive non-violence,” insisting his ocean crew has only destroyed property used to take sea life.

“We’re an anti-poaching group so we intervene against illegal activities,” he says simply.

Watson, whose 2008 battle with Canada’s seal hunt resulted in interference convictions for two Sea Shepherd members, says recent triumphs point to an end to whale kills within his lifetime.

“We’re getting close to ending whaling in the Southern Ocean,” he says, referring to a sanctuary surrounding Antarctica where the IWC has banned the practice.

“Japan announced ... they’re going back and most likely this will be the last year because we’ve pretty much crippled them on this last campaign. I think that we’ll be able to stop them completely if they return.”

Earlier this year, Sea Shepherd vessels forced Japan to recall its Antarctic fleet a month ahead of schedule even though it nabbed just one fifth of its planned catch.

Japan captures whales under the auspices of “scientific research,” considered permissible by the IWC but widely condemned by environmental groups as disguised commercial whaling.

“Our objective right from the beginning was to sink them economically, to bankrupt them and we’ve achieved that,” Watson says of Japanese whalers.

“Every year we get a little stronger, they get a little weaker and it’s just persistence.”

Over the years, the Sea Shepherd arsenal has grown to include a fleet of four vessels, sophisticated radar and communications equipment and a helicopter. That growth is supported in large part by an exploding donation base Watson credits to his Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.”

“It’s given us a lot more resources, a lot more support certainly. I think it’s certainly made people around the world extremely aware of what’s going on,” Watson says of the documentary-style TV show, which follows his crew as they chase whaling ships.

“We’ve gone from four years ago being a $2-million-a-year organization to a $12-million-a-year organization.”

“Eco-Pirate” opens in Toronto and Vancouver on Friday.

Organizations: International Whaling Commission, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Hot Docs

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Channel Islands, Antarctica Southern Ocean Japan New Brunswick Canada Toronto Vancouver

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Recent comments

  • David
    July 22, 2011 - 09:33

    Paul Watson, parasite.

  • MudderL
    July 21, 2011 - 14:54

    Can't say I gave two minutes of my life to actually read through this article. Yes, I watch the show, only to cheer for the Japanese and chuckle when the Sea Shepards fail. I'm sick of these animal activist businesses, because I see them only out for the money. What about the cow that was slaughtered for his cheeseburger? Whales, cows, chickens, seals, they're all the same! All highly regulated industries and none are breaking the law. Ugh.

  • Willy
    July 21, 2011 - 14:21

    The telegram sucks, why are you putting him on the front page or any page for that matter, I'm going to cancel my subscription if I don't start seeing the top news of the day on the front page, I have been getting the paper for 49 yrs. and lately it's getting pretty wimpy. Now today I see this lout on the front page a protector of furry little creatures I think not, more like a con man living off of his crimes playing on peoples emotions so he can live the life he wants to live.

  • Frank M
    July 21, 2011 - 14:01

    Paul Watson owns and lives in a $15 million dollar penthouse apartment in New York City. All on the backs of our sealers.

  • Edmund
    July 21, 2011 - 09:47

    Thank goodness we are all in agreement about this reprobate. Why isn't he back in the Scandanavian countries bothering them? Maybe because they blasted him and he is afraid. We should have done the same when he starteed to interfere with our seal hunt (nobody in govnt with the balls to do it). Refuse to give this guy any press and refuse to give him or any of his followers (like here last month) access to our port facilities. Now the reaction to that would be worth reading. There should be many more Newfoundlanders, like those who have passed comments here, challenge this louse and make life difficult for him and his cause. He is not as big as he thinks and his agressive manner can be challenged by many of us but like always he will run off and hide and leave the tough stuff to his lackies. He is simply a coward and a fraud.

  • Greg
    July 21, 2011 - 08:13

    "Non-violent aggression," like the time they launched acid onto the deck of a Japanese boat...

  • Saucy Face
    July 21, 2011 - 08:06

    So why is The Telegram giving this pimp publicity?

  • Clarbety
    July 21, 2011 - 07:40

    "We’re an anti-poaching group so we intervene against illegal activities,” said Watson. What about the barberic treatment he afforded Newfoundland and Labrador Sealers over the years--a leagal hunt according to Provincial and National Law. What a farce this man is. He is the one breaking the law, having been conviced in courts of law in several jurisdictions. I suggest Watson not go over and fool around too much with the Iranians or the like, beacuse ha MAY not be treated as nice by the 'authorities' as is Canada.

    • lost at sea
      July 21, 2011 - 08:11

      This article is old. This man and his ship is presently under arrest in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland.

  • Fred Russell
    July 21, 2011 - 07:38

    As a former sealer from the days of the bnig ship hunt in the late 70's and early 80's and someone who participated in the last great hunt in 1982, this is one documentary I will not be watching.

  • Jeremiah
    July 21, 2011 - 07:07

    It is and always has been all about the money with this joker.

  • Waste of paper...
    July 21, 2011 - 06:43

    I hope this story only appeared online. I certainly wouldn't want to see a tree killed to print a story about this waste of space of a human.