The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Paul Watson. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Paul Watson, the Marine Conservationist, a master mariner, author, educator, and poet. He is the founder of both the Captain Paul Watson Foundation and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and he was one of the co-founders of Greenpeace Foundation. Welcome Paul.
Paul: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jim: Yeah, I just finished reading Paul’s relatively recent book called Hit Man for the Kindness Club, High Seas Escapades and Heroic Adventures of an Eco-Activist. And it really was an enjoyable book. I kind of took away two parts from it, and we’re going to talk about both of them today. On one side of the story, in fact, a goodly part of it, it’s a rollicking, wild story of a life as adventure, right? But it’s also the story of your moral commitments and a life lived in honor of those moral commitments. Would you say that’s fair to say?
Paul: I think so, yes.
Jim: And I think both of those are actually interesting, and it’s quite interesting how they play together. And then, of course, we’ll hit on some of the adventures that seem like good exemplars of the moral commitments. The book is full of adventures. It would take me six hours to go through them all. If you like the kind of style of these stories, I encourage you to read the book. And as always, there’ll be a link to the book on our episode page, and you can check that out at JimRuttShow.com. So let’s hop in at the beginning, more or less, with your childhood. One story in particular stood out, which was swimming with the beavers. Tell us that story.
Paul: Well, that’s pretty much where it all began, because when I was 10 years old, I spent a summer swimming with a family of beavers in eastern Canada where I was raised and had a wonderful time. And the next summer, when I was 11, I went back to the pond and I couldn’t find any of the beavers. So that made me quite upset. I found out that trappers had killed them all over the winter. So that winter, I walked the trap line and freed the animals from the traps and destroyed the traps. And I guess I’ve been doing the same thing for the last 60 years.
Jim: It is amazing, people and their coldness and cruelty to animals. I remember it couldn’t have been more than five, but as we often did in those days, went out in the woods and caught box turtles. And we’d keep them for a week or two, and we’d feed them blackberries by hand and some lettuce, whatever. And a couple of weeks, we’d take them back out to about where we caught them and turn them loose. And I had one I called Murdle the Turtle, which was modeled on Yerdle the Turtle, a popular kids book at the time.
And for some reason, I still have no idea. One of the neighbor kids came into our backyard. We kept them in the turtle pen, little fenced area, you know, pretty good size. The turtle had some room to exercise and some places to hide and things. And smashed the turtle with a rock. And I still vividly recall that and just still don’t understand what kind of person would do that.
Paul: I know there’s a lot of cruelty. I’ve seen a lot of it throughout my life. And that’s why I’ve really spent my life trying to combat is cruelty plus this incredible diminishment of numbers and species around the world. Funny story, Dixie Lee Ray, when she was governor of Washington, she cites in her book, Trashing the Planet, she said, evidence of Watson’s insanity can be found that when he was 12, he shot a boy in the bum really with a BB gun who was about to shoot a bird. And she said, any boy who would shoot another boy to save a bird has to be crazy. And I said, well, you know, Dixie in my town, every boy shot every other boy with a BB gun. I just happen to have a practical reason to shoot the kid that I did.
Jim: Yeah, well, I grew up to those times where we put on a raincoat and sunglasses and go out and have BB gun wars. Yeah. So I’m sure that would not pass muster in today’s politically correct times, but back in the late 50s, early 60s, hell yeah.
Paul: Well, sometimes I wonder how we even survived that challenge. But I don’t recall losing many friends.
Jim: Exactly. Another example of my own life that again, kind of just the callous cruelty that even at age six or seven, I knew was wrong. Some kids on a summer day, it was for some reason, toads had invaded our suburban subdivision and they were picking the toads up and throwing them way up in the air so they come down and go splat on the ground. I must have seen these kids kill 10 toads and I just go, what the hell?
Why would they do that? The toads weren’t hurting anybody. I guess I was also conditioned by the fact that my mother, who had been a farm girl, hated slugs. And she’d always tell us that toads were good because they ate slugs. But I still vividly recall just the callousness of people tossing these toads to their death.
Paul: Yeah, I think a lot of people and children too are disconnected from the natural world and they just fail to have that empathy for other creatures.
Jim: And again, these weren’t necessarily bad kids. They weren’t criminals or anything, but they were people who somehow just had a callousness about the natural world that somehow the natural world was not worthy of our respect.
Paul: Yeah, I think it’s just that people don’t really think about it because, you know, all of our reality revolves around this anthropocentric attitude that we’re the only important species and we’re all that matters. The wife of the conservative Premier of New Brunswick, the governor of New Brunswick in Canada, Ida Fleming, which I dedicated the book to her. She set up a group called the Kindness Club really to teach children to be kind to animals. Albert Schweitzer was the honorary president of this. So I was a member of that club and in my mid-twenties after coming back from a campaign to protect seals, I dropped by to see Ida in Fredericton in New Brunswick and, you know, I had dinner with her in that. But when I left, she said, you know, you’ve become the hit man for the Kindness Club. So that’s where the title came from.
Jim: I meant to mention that early on. So I’m glad you inserted the Kindness Club. Does the Kindness Club still exist as far as you know?
Paul: It does. I mean, Ida has soars as long since passed away, but the club still does exist. I mean, in Canada.
Jim: All right. Well, the next story as you tell, I think this is where we get into talking a little bit about moral commitments and possibly controversy. You call it your first rodeo and you have various adventures, but it ends up with you turning loose some cattle and some pigs from a slaughterhouse. Tell us about that a little bit.
Paul: When I was 12, we moved to Toronto and where we lived was about two or three blocks away from the Canada Packers slaughterhouse, which right in the middle of Toronto is not there now.
And the local kids brought me down there and said, yeah, you know, you can ride these cows. So we go in there and there’s nobody really there. There was no security in that. So we got in and would ride the cows in these little paddocks that they had. I fell off the cow that I was riding. And I was underneath all of these cows. There were a couple of dozen of them in this small little paddock. And what I noticed is that, I mean, they could have stepped on me, but they didn’t.
They actually made a point of not stepping on me. So I began to think, you know, why was this happening? And I also noticed they had a thing called a Judas cow back then. And what that was is the same cow every day would lead the other cows into the slaughterhouse. And I thought that was really bad. So the next Sunday I went back by myself and just opened up the gates and freed all the cows. So they’re all over the streets. I guess in my mind, I thought that they could escape and go somewhere. But of course, there was nowhere to go. But that was my motivation for doing it.
Jim: Yeah, let’s probe into this a little bit. You know, these were animals that were destined soon to be slaughtered for food. What is your view about carnivoreism as a human activity?
Paul: Well, I promoted vegetarianism and veganism like pretty much all my life. All my ships are vegan. And I feel that, you know, it would be hypocritical for us not to be, you know, you develop sort of an empathy or compassion for animals. And you can, you know, look at the state that they’re in. I mean, we kill 90 billion animals and a good percentage of those on factory farms, which are basically like concentration camps.
In fact, one of the things they have to do every year is kill millions and millions of chickens and pigs and everything for no other reason than to curb the spread of xenomic transmission of viruses, because these factory farms are really like petri dishes for growing those kinds of viral epidemics. I mean, I think it was two years ago, they slaughtered 17 million mink in Denmark alone, just because the mink had gotten COVID. So they had to wipe them all out. But it’s constant production of viruses on factory farms. And it’s a really expensive and timely operation to keep those viruses under control.
Jim: It’s also a significant source of greenhouse gases, actually.
Paul: Yeah, I always say one of the solutions to climate change is less cow farts and more whale poop. The whales provide the nutrients for the phytoplankton in the ocean, you know, magnesium, nitrogen, iron. Since 1950, the year I was born, since that year, we’ve seen a 40% diminishment in phytoplankton in the sea. And phytoplankton provides up to 70% of the oxygen we breathe and sequesters enormous amounts of CO2.
And the reality is, is phytoplankton were to disappear from the sea, we would all die. It is the foundation of life on this planet, more important than the forests of the world, which provide about 30%. But the other 70% is from phytoplankton. And it’s the whales that are the farmers of the ocean that keep the phytoplankton supplied with nutrients. So when you diminish the population of whales and sea birds and dolphins, you diminish the nutrient base for the phytoplankton.
Jim: That makes a lot of sense. Now, again, back to vegetarianism versus omnivores versus carnivores. Our ancestors, the chimps, their omnivores, certainly early humans were omnivores, ate a fair bit of meat. But to your point about the domination of the human species, the biomass of large mammals on earth is about 30% human today, which is a crazy number when you think about it. But the biomass of our cattle and pigs and other mammals is another 50%.
So between the two of them, we’re up around 80% of the biomass of all larger mammals on earth. And that’s so that all the wild mammals are 20%, 25%, something like that. In birds, it’s even higher. The total biomass of our chickens and domesticated turkeys and geese is like 85% of the biomass of all birds on earth. Those are pretty staggering numbers.
Paul: Yeah, we’re violating the three basic laws of ecology every day. The first law of ecology is diversity. The strength of an ecosystem is dependent upon diversity within it. The second is the law of interdependency, interdependence of species. And the third is a law of finite resources, that there’s a limited carrying capacity. And when we steal the carrying capacity from other species, it causes diminishment in both diversity and interdependence, which leads to ecological collapse. We don’t live on a world without worms and bees and bacterium and trees and fishes.
We need these species. They are the engineers of the life support system on spaceship earth. What we’re doing is we’re simply killing off the engineers. And there’s only so many engineers you can kill off before the machinery begins to fall apart. That’s what’s happening right now. I mean, we’re seeing an incredible diminishment in insect populations. And some of them like bees, of course, people think are really important, but so aren’t all the other species too.
I remember back in the 60s, 70s, you drive down the road and you constantly had to clean your windshield because of the insects that were on the windshield. That doesn’t happen. You don’t see that now anymore. So there’s a real big diminishment in insect populations. We absolutely need those insects and we’re losing a lot of them. You know, we were the constant production of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides. It’s just becoming a war on the natural world.
Jim: Yeah, let’s go return for a final time to the issue of eating animals. On one side, we have the factory farm. I mean, they are totally horrifying, particularly the poultry, but also the pigs. Cattle, not generally as bad, but the CAFOs, the concentrated feed operations are pretty horrifying. On the other hand, there are grass-fed beef operations and others that are much more humane and one can argue are actually good for maintaining the grasslands and building the soil, etc.
How do we navigate through thinking about animals and the food supply, how they’re produced, etc. And then finally, the impact would be very different if there were less than eight billion people. In 1700, right about the time modernity got rolling, there were 600 million humans, so less than a tenth as many as we have today. A world with 600 million or a billion people, there would be a lot more room for meat in the diet than there is with eight billions.
How do you make sense out of all that? The combination of more humane animal growing and perhaps even environmentally reasonable animal growing versus our numbers versus all the things you talked about.
Paul: Well, the ecosystems on the planet simply can’t support eight billion meat eating primates. We’re slaughtering 19 billion animals a year to meet that demand. We hit our first billion in 1802, the very year Napoleon was crowned, and we hit three billion in the year I was born, 1950. And I’m still alive, and it’s now we’re approaching eight billion, so the numbers are increasing incredibly fast.
I think that the vegetarian vegan movement though has contributed to solving a lot of the problems with greenhouse gases and other things. And it’s amazing how fast that movement has grown. I remember in the 70s, nobody even knew what a vegan was. And now you see vegan restaurants everywhere. In fact, I’m living in France right now, where just only 20 years ago, I mean, it was unheard of to have vegan restaurants or vegetarian restaurants.
Now they’re all over the place. I remember a funny story, I was down in southern France, and I a couple of years ago, I said, Oh, wow, you got a veggie burger here on the menu. I said, that’s a improvement. And he just looked at me says, all these damn Americans, they come over here and all they do is eat french fries because there’s nothing else. So we had to give them something.
Jim: Yeah, it’s hard to imagine French cuisine without butter, for instance, right, or cream. I guess they have a new cuisine over there. Yeah
Paul: They do. I mean, it’s become an art form. I mean, the vegan chefs I have on my shifts are incredible. And they’ve already produced four cookbooks on what they do.
Jim: That’s going to be an important part of making veganism acceptable to people show that you can do great cooking in the vegan style. And I’ll confess to not being a vegan myself, but hey, you know, I’m certainly open to the argument.
Paul: Yeah, I think there’s a lot more diversity in vegan cooking.
Jim: And probably do something good for my waistline also. Let’s go back to your life story of adventure. You said the first time you were arrested was in 1970 after a group of you and your like minded protesters organized an occupation of a construction site near Stanley Park. I’ve actually spent some time in Stanley Park. That is an amazing urban park. Tell us a little bit about that protest and what happened.
Paul: It’s an incredible park and they wanted to build a four seasons hotel project at the entrance at the park. They had the construction fences up and they were ready to go. So we tore down the fences, occupied the site and we won. You know, we occupied the site for a year and a half. Now you go there. There’s a memorial of a plaque that says thanks to the vision of the Vancouver City Council. We have this mark and I’m going, they were the ones who fought us every step of the way, but now they’re taking the credit for it. But that’s politicians for you. But yeah, it was a very successful campaign.
Jim: Now in that section of the book, you say at least at that time, contrasting yourself with the hippie friends of yours, I had never smoked anything, gotten drunk or used drugs. If I was inclined to be addicted to anything, it was adventure and danger. Now, have you stayed a tea toddler and a non drug user?
Paul: Pretty much. Yeah. You know, I might have a glass of wine once a week or something, but yeah, that’s pretty much it. I have to fessel when I was 18. I did get paid by the University of British Columbia to take LSD 125. So it was a job and that was an interesting experience, but I vowed that I would never do that again.
Jim: Your drug has been an adventure and danger.
Paul: Well, I don’t know if it’s a drug, but it’s certainly been what I’ve been attracted to.
Jim: Now next, let’s talk about the founding of Greenpeace in 1971. Tell us how that came about.
Paul: Well, there is nuclear testing on the Aleutian Island of Amchitka, which was a wildlife reserve, which was one of the reasons I was concerned with it. And the people from the Sierra Club got together with the Quakers and decided, well, what can we do about this? And, you know, the Quakers have gone down to Vakini Atoll in 1956 to protest nuclear testing, atmospheric nuclear testing. So he said, well, let’s get a boat and do the same thing. So we set up a group called the Don’t Make a Wave Committee because the 63 earthquake from Alaska was still in people’s memories.
So that was the whole idea. Let’s go up there. And I wanted to do the early meetings of the Don’t Make a Wave Committee. Somebody left the meeting and flashed a peace sign and Bill Darnell, one of our crew members, he said, make it a Greenpeace. And Bob Hunter said, whoa, great name for the boat. So we called it the Greenpeace and the Greenpeace 2, TOO. Those are the boats. And in the next year, we changed the name of the Don’t Make a Wave Committee to the Greenpeace Foundation, taking the name Foundation from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.
Jim: As you talk about the book, there’s been quite a bit of controversy about whether you were or were not a co-founder of Greenpeace. I did do a little bit of research and the Encyclopedia Britannica does not mention you, but you do get a couple of mentions on the Wikipedia page. What’s the story there?
Paul: The documentary How to Change the World explicitly states that I was one of the original founders of Greenpeace. And everybody in Greenpeace knows that who is there at the time.
Most of them are working with me today, so they can certainly attest to that. You know, what happens is the people who run Greenpeace now aren’t even born at the time, and so they don’t even know their own history.
The story I just told you there about how Greenpeace was founded, they don’t know that. They tend to think it was founded in Europe by David McTaggart, who came years later and whatever. So I’m really not too concerned about it because the history is certainly there if anybody wants to look at it. And it’s not really that important. I remember Bob Hunter once used to say, and Bob was the first president of Greenpeace. He says, you can walk into any bar in British Columbia and find a founder of Greenpeace.
Jim: That’s the way she goes sometimes. You mentioned the Quakers, and this seems to be a theme, particularly with Greenpeace, the tension between direct action and witnessing or kind of hyper-pacifist activity. Let’s take into that a little bit.
Paul: Well, the Quakers were very much involved with the Don’t Make a Wave Committee and going up to Amchika. But in 1974, when we decided to go after the Soviet whaling fleet and oppose whaling, the Quakers were very much against it, which is not really surprising when you consider that the Yankee whaling fleet was all run by the Quakers. So they got a history of whaling. The Quakers wanted really nothing to do with that. They were basically the peace part of the Greenpeace, and we were the Green side. So most of the Quakers left in 1974 because of the Whale Campaign. But they did try to retain this thing called bearing witness, which I was very much against.
Still, you don’t walk down the street and see a woman being raped or a dog being kicked to death and do nothing but hang banners and bear witness. So that’s why in 1977, I came up with this strategy, which I call aggressive non-violence. We’re going to aggressively intervene, but we’re not going to hurt anybody. In the 45 years of doing what I’m doing, I never caused a single injury to anybody. But we certainly shut down a lot of illegal operations. I guess the best way to describe aggressive non-violence, if a man is about to shoot an elephant and you take the gun away from the hunter and you break the gun, you save the life, and you destroy the piece of property that was going to take a life.
And that is what I mean by aggressive non-violence. The reason I left Greenpeace was because I refused to bear witness anymore. And I was the campaign leader on the SEAL campaigns off of Labrador in Newfoundland. And a sealer was about to club a baby seal. And I rushed forward, grabbed the club out of his hand, threw it in the water, and picked up the seal and took it to safety. And a lot of the people in Greenpeace accused me of theft and vandalism for stealing a man’s property, his club, and throwing it into the ocean, vandalism. And I said, well, if I had to do the same thing over again, I would do the same thing over again. And so I felt that Greenpeace was no longer the place I should be. And that’s why I set up the Seashefer Conservation Society.
Jim: Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, the question of non-violence, the Gandhi’ism, the Martin Luther King approach, which really was more about witnessing and passively accepting even the implication of violence upon oneself versus aggressive non-violence. And it’s interesting. You think about grabbing a club away from somebody about to beat a baby seal to death in a horrifying fashion. That is violence at some level. You are putting physical force against another person, but you’re doing it for a higher purpose.
Paul: But also not causing injury to that person.
Jim: Let’s take the case he starts to fight back. Would you beat his ass and take his club?
Paul: I would have, you know, blocked any blows, but I probably wouldn’t have beat him. Look at Gandhi, for example. Gandhi is actually an example of aggressive non-violence. Gandhi once said it was a choice between cowardice and violence. He would probably be violent. But he also said that if there had been a Gandhi in Nazi Germany, he wouldn’t have known because it would put him up against the wall and shoot him, or in Stalinist Russia, the same thing. Gandhi was smart enough to know the weak point of the British, and that was their sense of moral superiority. He humiliated them because of his actions. So he was actually being very aggressively non-violent.
Jim: Yeah. And I do remember that quote that he said that Gandhi and non-violence would not have worked against Hitler, right? And speaking of Hitler, when you had the club story, I said, all right, I wonder, you know, what about the famous canard? Would you go back in time and kill the baby Hitler? Well, you had a story not too far from that. When you and a buddy of yours went to Uganda. Tell us that story.
Paul: Yeah. That was more Al Johnson’s story. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. Al was a captain for American Airlines, and we were overdoing an investigation into elephant poaching in East Africa. He and I broke off from the rest of the party to go to Uganda because we were the only two that had visas for Uganda. And we were a little nervous about those visas because it was visa 001 and visa 002, which means we weren’t that many business coming out. And so we’re on the train from Nairobi to Mombasa, then Mombasa, to the capital of Uganda. It’s pointing back to 77
Paul: Yeah, that’s right. And Kampala, we’re on the way. And Al pulls a .22 pistol out of his bag. And I said, what the hell? What’s that for? He says, okay, here’s the deal. You interview him, I’ll shoot him. So what are you talking about? You shoot him. If you had a chance to shoot Hitler, wouldn’t you have done it? I mean, look at the lives we’ll save. Human lives, elephant lives, everything like this.
I mean, you know, and so I say to him very naively, I said, okay, yeah, well, morally, yeah, you got a point. But how do we get away with this? And he looked at me, he says, well, there’s no escape. But, you know, we felt that it was a moral dilemma, but we had to, the consequences would have been far more positive than the loss of our own lives, really is what we’re saying. And when we got to the border, we were denied entry into Uganda. So we probably wouldn’t have got away with it anyway.
Jim: Now, do you think you would have done it if you had the chance? If you’d been given a chance to interview him, and they didn’t put you in any security scrutiny, would you been able to, or countenance to your buddy pulling the trigger?
Paul: My friend, Al, was a former Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, and I think he probably would have done it.
Jim: But what have been your thoughts about the morality of doing that?
Paul: Well, he had me convinced that it was the right thing to do, you know, because of the number of lives that would be saved. Fortunately, we never, that’s the only time in my life that I would have been put in that kind of situation. And fortunately, we didn’t have to follow through.
Jim: Yeah, that’s an interesting thing. You know, I must say, if I had the chance to kill the baby Hitler, I’d do it.
Paul: I don’t know if he can kill the baby Hitler, because babies are innocent. I mean, you know, whatever happened to Hitler happened well after he was a baby.
Jim: You’d have to build a whole elaborate scenario that you had a multi-branching time machine, and you could become convinced that unless you killed the baby Hitler, every trajectory led to the Holocaust. And then even more so, this, I was actually thinking about this this morning when I was preparing for this, you’d also have to make sure your time machine didn’t have trajectories like, okay, you killed the baby Hitler, that delays the rise of Nazism by 10 years.
It ends up happening anyway with Goring in charge. In the meantime, German nuclear science has proceeded with the Jewish German physicists, and Nazi Germany with no Hitler ends up at the atomic bomb before the West and the Nazis take over the world. You get into all these science fiction alternative trajectory problems.
Paul: Well, actually in the 20s, Hitler was the lesser of two evils. Rome was much worse than Hitler, and Hitler actually had Rome killed. And if Rome had a triumph, I think it would be even worse than it actually was, which is hard to believe, but I think it would have been.
Jim: Yeah, the night of the long knives when Hitler killed Rome and all his buddies, Hitler, it is SS killed Rome and all of his buddies. That was a very dark time in history. And to think about it might well be right that if he hadn’t, it would have been even worse. You know, a person who was a sexual sadist, I mean, Hitler was bad guy, but Rome might well have been worse.
Paul: Yeah, history, unfortunately, one event leads to another, Napoleon led to Bismarck, Bismarck led to World War One. It’s just one thing leads to another. It’s a never ending circle of violence, really.
Jim: So let’s back off a little bit killing Hitler. What about should vegans kill carnivores?
Paul: Well, I don’t think that’s something any vegan would actually entertain doing.
Jim: Why not? The Holocaust of cattle and pigs is much more numerous than the German Holocaust.
Paul: Yeah, but the vegan movement is an extremely nonviolent movement. You know, life is life. You know, a lot of people get angry and everything, but I’ve never ever heard of anybody who’s vegan wanting to kill non vegans. However, I’ve heard a lot of non vegans wanting to kill vegans.
Jim: I haven’t heard that either, but it’s certainly possible. Right. My point would be that if either side were to start, then it would be just, you know, goddamn human nature to end up with both sides trying to slaughter each other. Just as we’re seeing, you know, the thin veneer of post enlightenment civilization is starting to fall apart all around the world.
Paul: I don’t think that any killing is ever justified under any circumstances. And that’s just my point of view, except maybe Edie Amin, right?
Jim: Well, again, I was only 25 at the time and easily talked into it by somebody who was very passionate.
Jim: Let’s talk about a much more clever and honorable and I think unquestionably good thing to do. Tell us about how you came up with the idea of painting baby seals. That was just so damn clever.
Paul: They noticed that scientists were putting an indelible dye on the seals for population purposes or studies. I know that they’re killing the baby seals for the pelts, for those white pelts, which are not really white to sort of a transparent hair, but I thought by putting an indelible organic dye on them that it would destroy the commercial value of the pelts. More importantly, it really got the sealing industry pretty angry about the whole thing, which really made for a great campaign.
The other thing with that campaign that I thought was a brilliant move on our part was we brought Bridger Bardot to the ice flows and her posing cheek to cheek with a baby seal guaranteed us the cover of the major magazines in the world. We achieved more by just putting her on the ice with a baby seal than we did on all the other confrontations.
Jim: Yeah, you call that out actually in your book multiple times. You said, if you want the mainstream media to pay attention to, you got to have preferably all four of sex, scandal, violence and celebrity.
Paul: That’s right. That’s almost every story in the news has one of those four elements. Sex, violence or you know, celebrity, probably a better example than Bridger Bardot is that in 84, I was opposing the killing of wolves up in British Columbia. We had the scandal of an environment minister taking a bribe from the big game hunting organizations. And then I recruited Bo Derek as our spokesperson for the campaign. And at the press conference, this journalist said from the Vancouver sunny said, what come on, what does Bo Derry know about wolves? I mean, this is ridiculous having her as your spokesperson.
And I said, well, if I had Dr. Gordon Haber, Dr. David Meck, the two foremost wolf biologists in the world, be an empty room and nobody would be here. I see all the cameras are here. The place is packed. It’s going to be the front page story of your newspaper tomorrow and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Is there and that’s where it was. So that’s the value of a celebrity.
Jim: And you seem like you’ve been pretty clever at doing that throughout your career where you could find the right celebrity.
Paul: Well, one of the most successful ones was that they had all these captor of orcas and belugas in Vladivostok in Russia. And I had to get a message. How did I get the Russian government to release them? I wrote a speech about it for the Russian government. They’re not going to listen to me. I just simply sent Pamela Anderson over to give the speech and they certainly listened to her and they freed the orcas and the belugas.
Jim: Was she wearing that red bathing suit at the time?
Paul: No, but she was. Well, she was Pamela Anderson. She’s still one of our big supporters and always ready to do something if we ask her to, to, you know, to protect animals.
Jim: I noticed you named one of your ships after Bob Barker, the game show host. I did vaguely recall that he was a pretty serious animal rights guy.
Paul: He was. And I got a call from him. I went to meet him and he said, what do you need to stop the Japanese waley fleet? And I said, well, we can use another ship. And he gave us 5.2 million to buy the ship and a helicopter. He didn’t actually want his name involved in it. And I actually had to convince him. I said, well, you know, we should name the boat to Bob Barker because it’ll send a message that, you know, you’re supporting that and that’ll reach a lot more people.
And so he reluctantly agreed. But he wasn’t really in it for getting the credit, but he was always funding different campaigns quietly and, and making a big difference in that way, you know, freeing this elephant here or supporting this organization there.
Jim: Now let’s turn to what, you know, probably the central theme of your life is both a morally committed individual and the adventurer. And that is your whale wars. In fact, wasn’t there a TV show called Whale Wars? So let’s start with, why are whales worth fighting for?
Paul: For me, it’s a personal thing because a whale could have killed me back in 1975. A whale that had been harpooned by the Russians. And I could see as it was coming out of the water to fall forward on us, I could see that sort of understanding that that whale understood what we were trying to do because you made an effort to fall back into the water. And I saw as I disappeared beneath the surface and he died. So could have killed me, chose not to do so. But also this is the understanding that this is incredibly intelligent, socially complex creature. And it’s a very ecologically important creature for maintaining the phytoplankton populations in the sea.
And so it’s always been very, very special to me. But in 2006, I went to all the networks and I said, you know, the biggest show on discovery right now is a bunch of men going into very cold remote areas of like the Bering Sea to catch crabs. And I can give you men and women going to a colder, more remote area to save whales. It’s got to be more compelling than catching crabs. And Discovery Animal Planet went for it. And we had seven seasons on that. And finally, the Japanese gave up. We won. And so that’s the end of the show because that was the end of whaling in the Southern Ocean.
Jim: Yeah, one of the things I did not really wasn’t quite so aware. I guess I was one of the things that’s in the periphery of my knowledge is how extensive the violations of the international moratoriums on whaling had been. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the history of the moratorium and, you know, how intensely, bunch of name names, what countries were involved in pursuing whaling that was clearly illegal?
Paul: When we began opposing whaling in 1974, until now, I mean, there’s a number of countries that we were opposing that shut down, including Australia, Chile, Spain, South Korea, South Africa. But in 1986, the International Whaling Commission imposed the global moratorium on commercial whaling. That should have protected all the whales. But Japan, Norway, Iceland, Denmark continued to kill whales. About 18,000 whales have been killed since the global moratorium on commercial whaling. And in the Southern Ocean, it’s actually called the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. So they were killing whales in a whale sanctuary in violation of the moratorium. This year, last year, we’re putting our attention on Iceland because Iceland is killing endangered bin whales.
They’re doing it for no other reason that the man who was in charge of this, Kristin Loftson, likes to kill whales. He doesn’t make any money. It costs him about two to three million a year, losses every year for doing this. But he’s been killing whales all his life. And that’s what he wants to do. And he happens to be the richest man in Iceland. So what Kristin Loftson wants, Kristin Loftson tends to get. So he was shut down for this last summer and managed to get 12 days in in September. But our intention is to meet his ships in June of next year and make sure they don’t kill any whales at all.
Jim: So he’s still at it?
Paul: Yeah, he’s 80 years old, still killing whales.
Jim: And just because he likes to kill whales?
Paul: Yeah, there’s no other reason, because the majority of the people in Iceland are against it. The government of Iceland is against it. The minister of fisheries put a temporary ban on the whaling this summer, and he’s threatened to take down the government as a response. And then he got that overturned. And he’s got the money and the power to actually take down the government with the support of the independent party.
Jim: The Japanese had been very intense violators of the ban. Didn’t they use some fake cover story that this was for research? But what was really going on?
Paul: Yeah, they called it scientific research on the side of their vessels in English, of course, because that’s where they want us to see. But there is no science involved. In fact, they went to court in 2014, Australia, New Zealand sued Japan before the International Court of the Hague. And the International Court ruled that it wasn’t science. It was bogus. It was illegal.
And that stopped Japan for one year, and then they just decided to go ahead and do it anyway, because they had no respect for the international court. So now they’re killing whales in their own waters. They’re not doing it plagically. But I feel they might be returning to the Southern Ocean because they’re just constructing now a $67 million dollar factory ship. And there’s only one reason to use that, and that’s in the Southern Ocean. So we’re planning to meet them if they return next year.
Jim: Now the Japanese, at least their reason isn’t just because they want to kill whales. They do eat the whale meat, isn’t that correct?
Paul: Yes, but only less than 1% of the population. The real reason that they want to do it is there’s two reasons. One is that the whaling companies owned by the Japanese government and the board of directors of that whaling company are all retired politicians who get six figure salaries for being on that board. So it’s in their interest to keep whaling going. And also the union that provides the crew for the whaling ships is controlled by the Yakuza. And they have a lot of power in the government too. But the average Japanese is not supportive of whaling at all. And only 1% of people in Japan actually eat whale meat. You tend to be elderly people, really.
No, there’s no justification for what they’re doing. I mean, the law should be the law. And the problem is that there’s a lack of economic and political enforcement, or lack of political and economic motivation to enforce the laws. And that’s why it continues to go on. Most of the planet’s surface is ocean. And what goes on out there every day, illegal fishing, all sorts of illegal activities. And we have this thing called the UN Treaty to protect the seas. But it means nothing without enforcement. We’ve got all the laws, regulations, and treaties we need. But again, nobody really abides by them because they don’t have to.
Jim: In theory, who’s supposed to be enforcing these treaties? Are the signatories supposed to be enforcing them?
Paul: The signatories of the International Wailing Commission, the United Nations, signatories to the various treaties that are there. We operate under the guidance of the United Nations World Charter for Nature, which was ratified in 1986 by the UN General Assembly, which states that any organization, non-government organization, nation-state or individual, is empowered to uphold international conservation law.
So that’s what we use. And I successfully use that in court. In 1993, I chased the Spanish and Cuban drag trawlers off of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and Canada arrested me for that, put me on trial, and my defense was the UN World Charter for Nature. And it was funny because Canada brought in a law professor from the University of Toronto to say that Canada didn’t recognize that charter. And the judge said, did Canada sign it? And she said, yeah, well, Canada signs a lot of things. So he said, okay, to the jury of Canada, signs that you have to take it into account. So I was acquitted in the reason being the UN World Charter for Nature.
Jim: I will say one thing that kind of surprised me, us Americans generally think the Canadians, while they may be boring, you’re kind of nice people, right? How aggressive the Canadian government, your own home government, I understand you’re now both a Canadian and US citizen, but you were born a Canadian. How adamantly they were after your ass for a long time.
Paul: Well, Canada doesn’t like its citizens getting involved in trying to change the attitudes of the Canadian government. We lost our tax status in Canada in 1986 because Revenue Canada guy sat down with me and says, are you opposed to the Seal Hunt in Canada? I said, yes. Are you aware that the Canadian government supports the Seal Hunt in Canada? Yes. You cannot oppose the Canadian government. Any organization that opposes the policies of the Canadian government is uncharitable, and they took away our status as they did to Greenpeace and so many other organizations. In other words, you cannot hold an opinion that’s contrary to the government of Canada.
One of the things that the Canadian government did, which I thought was most outrageous, is they passed a special law to stop us. The law was called the Seal Protection Act. Under the Seal Protection Act, it’s illegal to film, photograph, document, or even witness a seal being killed. If you see a seal being killed, you’ve just broken the Seal Protection Act. In 1983, I actually got charged with conspiracy to break the Seal Protection Act, breaking the Seal Protection Act.
I went on trial before the most notorious bias judge in Quebec on this thing. My strategy for dealing with him, as I said to my entire 20 person crew, I said, okay, let’s be as hostile to this guy as possible. Let’s really make him mad. We did. He threw the book at us. I got 21 months in prison for breaking the Seal Protection Act. The crews got fined. The ship was seized and everything. After, I just smiled at him when he did that because I knew exactly what was going to happen. I took it to the court of appeals. They take one look at this and they said, well, this is ridiculous. Through the whole thing out and we’re gone. We’re free.
Jim: When I read about that, I was like, again, this American idea of Canadians is boring, but nice and fair play. The idea of passing a law that it would be a criminal act to photograph or witness somebody killing a seal, that’s mighty extreme. I’m not aware of anything like that in the United States.
Paul: Well, Canada also passed the Canadian Charter of Human Rights in 1983, I believe. There’s no document like this anywhere on the world that I know of because it outlines all your rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, everything. But at the bottom, it says the notwithstanding clause, you have all of these rights are guaranteed unless the government of Canada decides not to guarantee them. I mean, I don’t know of any country that has something like that in their Charter of Human Rights.
Jim: Yes. Unfortunately, in the United States, we don’t have such a thing. Our bill of rights is our bill of rights. God damn it, right? And they has served us reasonably well.
Paul: The basic freedoms in the United States are far freer really than Canada. Ed Abbey once said, the people are sheep and taxes are held as sheep are shorn.
Jim: Now, did you ever meet Edward Abbey?
Paul: Yeah, he was an advisor to Sea Shepherd when I first began.
Jim: It might have been dangerous, but I read the Monkey Ranch Gang when I was pretty young, and that was quite an inspiration.
Paul: Well, I’m actually in the sequel to the Monkey Ranch Gang called Hey Duke Lives. I’m in the last two pages of the book because I rescue, he uses my name and my boat, and I rescue George Washington Hey Duke from the Sea of Cortez.
Jim: Yeah, why don’t you tell our audience who Edward Abbey is?
Paul: Ed Abbey is, I think, one of the great American writers. He wrote the Monkey Ranch Gang Accords, but also other books and that, but he was, you know, they called him Cactus Ed. He lived in the deserts in Arizona, and he was very opinionated, very outspoken environmental activists and totally fearless really. He had a profound impact on the environmental movement in the 80s. The Group Earth First actually was inspired by Dave Foreman, was a good friend of Ed Abbey’s, and he set up the Group Earth First.
Jim: Yeah, and the idea of monkey wrenching was to go out in the desert and use your monkey wrench to destroy mining equipment and such. So again, it was pretty aggressive and Earth First has, I think, been declared a terrorist organization. So it’s right out there at the ragged edge.
Paul: Well, they were never actually officially declared a terrorist organization, but I was invited to give a lecture to the FBI in Quantico. They actually paid me to come and give a talk. It was great because they said, you know, I explain what we did and one agent said, well, you know, Sea Shepherd’s walking a very fine line when it comes to the law. And I said, does it really matter how fine that line is as long as you don’t actually cross the line? And we don’t cross that line. I’ve never been convicted of a felony in my entire life.
Jim: And what did he say to that?
Paul: He laughed. But then he said something really funny. He said, well, you know, some of your crew have become eco terrorists. And I said, who are you talking about? And they said, well, Rod Coronado, he’s an eco terrorist. I said, Rod Coronado liberated some mink farm. Is that your idea of what a eco terrorist is? And I said, besides, he did that five years after he left Sea Shepherd. So I’m not involved in responsible. And he looked at me and he says, you trained him, you’re responsible. I couldn’t resist. I looked at him and I said, I got a couple of names for you. Timmy Thieng Bay, Lee Harvey Oswell and Osama Bin Laden. You trained them.
Jim: Good turnabout. Good turnabout. Well, let’s go back to some wailing stories. I mean, this was some of the most wow stories in the book. One in particular was the battle of maneuver against the Japanese fleet, where you were trying to prevent them from refueling their factory ship and various other things. Tell that story in some detail, give people a sense of just how engaged and relatively large scale some of these actions were.
Paul: Well, the Antarctic Southern Ocean campaigns were the most difficult campaigns we’ve ever done because of the incredible area that we had to cover. I think we would cover something like 15,000 miles on the trip chasing them around. First, we had to locate them. Then we had to block them. There’s two ways of stopping them from wailing, getting behind them to prevent them from loading dead whales. If they can’t load dead whales, they can’t go kill anymore. And the other one was to block their refueling operations by getting between the tanker and the factory ship.
Both of those things were very successful in 2013. They only got 10% of their quota because of what we were doing. Now, that resulted in a lot of confrontations. But I have to say that a lot of the confrontations were more for the benefit of television than actually anything else. Our water cannon bites throwing stink bones on the deck. I mean, it was all very theatrical. But the only two things that really worked was blocking the slipway and also blocking their ability to refuel. And this resulted in they rammed us. We rammed them.
So there’s a lot of to and fro on that. In the end, I mean, Japan, of course, called what we were doing a terrorist, but we also said what they’re doing was totally illegal. I looked at what we were doing is simply upholding international conservation law. But Japan’s a powerful country. And when we shut them down, they put me on the Interpol red notice out on me, which is still in effect. But the US government, the French government, the Irish government look at this and say, well, this is ridiculous.
Canadian government would probably extradite me to Japan because a Canadian government has a personal vendeta against me. I came back into the US, thanks to John Kerry, who took one look at this and said, this is not right. We didn’t do anything that mirrored it being on the Interpol red notice.
Jim: Speaking of the Interpol red notice and extradition and all that, you had quite an adventure having been grabbed in Germany and then escaping. Maybe you could tell us that story.
Paul: I was on my way to the Cannes Film Festival to show a film. And when I landed in Frankfurt to transfer on the plane, the German police had me arrested and detained. And I said, what’s this for? Turned out Costa Rica had put out an arrest warrant for me. There wasn’t a red notice at the time. And I was put under house arrest. But during that time, Japan came out and put an extradition request out on me. I had a lot of sympathy within the German court system.
And I got a call on a Friday from a member of the Ministry of Justice who said, you know, when you go in, because I had to report every day to the police, when you go into the report, you’re going to be arrested and sent to Japan. So that gave me two days to get out of Germany, which so I got out of Germany. I had one of our boats meet us off the Dutch coast. And we crossed the Atlantic.
It was a sailing boat. I was able to go ashore in Nova Scotia, because I’m from that area, because I was raised on a border town. It was pretty easy for me to cross the border.
I didn’t have any passports, no papers at all. So I crossed into the U.S. Cross the country and then boarded another one of our boats off of Catalina. And then that took me to my ship to Steve Irwin off of American Samoa. Then we went down, interfered with the Japanese whaling fleet for three months. And on the way back, I went on the Arvest of the Bridge of Bardot and they dropped me off on various tropical islands in the South Pacific.
So I spent six months on the Great Barrier Reef Banuatu Tonga, which I have to say was one of the greatest six months in my life, really. Being in exile in the South Pacific was actually quite nice. But finally, John Kerry took a look at this and said that, oh yeah, you can come back. And it was actually JFK Jr. that met me in Long Beach, came out to get me and bring me ashore.
Jim: Now, are you still out fugitive from justice in Germany? Can you go to Germany these days?
Paul: Well, I don’t know, because I do have the red notice. So you don’t know until you go there, whether you can. All I know is I can go into France, Ireland and the U.S. The French were very, very supportive and gave me residency. So those countries, I’m sure, Canada, definitely not. But there is a European Parliamentary Committee that uses my case as an example of the political abuse of by Interpol. And so that’s being dealt with. And at some point, I’m going to go to Lyon and turn myself into Interpol, which might be very embarrassing for Interpol.
If I do that, that’s what I’m trying to do at some point, because I got to get this thing off my back. It’s annoying. And the Japanese don’t really want to extradite me because they’ve never made an application in the U.S. or France to extradite me at all. They just want me on that list to just harass me to keep me from traveling freely.
Jim: And what is it with the Japanese? Why are they so after your ass? What should at least your theory seems like it’s a very complicated situation?
Paul: Well, you know, the Interpol red notices for serial killers, war criminals and major drug traffickers. And I’m the only person in history that read notice to be on there for conspiracy to trespass, trespass on a whaling boat. The reason I’m on there is we save 6,500 whales and we cost them over $150 million in loss of profits. So they’re pretty angry about it. And the fact that we expose their illegal activities to the world, you know, I think it was a small price to pay in order to end their illegal activities in the Southern Ocean. And that’s what happened. So it was a victory for us, but you know, victories sometimes come with consequences.
Jim: So in the South Oceans, you’re blocking and maneuvering and keeping the fleets from being able to operate efficiently and substantially reduce their kill many years. Now, escalation, Iceland, there are your sinking ships.
Paul: Well, we sank ships there in 1986, not recently. But what happened in 1986 is that was the year that the moratorium came in. In 1985, I warned them, I said, if you violate the moratorium, we’ll come back and sink your ships. So in 86, we went and sank half the fleet in Dockside and Reykjavik, didn’t hurt anybody. But that might seem quite illegal, you know, to go and sink two ships in the harbor of Reykjavik. And I sent a numerous messages to the Icelandic government. I said, well, what are the charges? Do you have any charges against me?
I didn’t hear back from them. I finally had to take a plane and fly to Reykjavik in January of 1988. I was met at the airport by the immigration officers and the police and the immigration officer said, how long do you intend to stay in Iceland? I said, I don’t know, five minutes, five days, five years. I mean, you tell me. And then they said, well, we have to go for interrogation. I said, great sounds like fun. So we went to interrogation. They said, are you admitting to sinking these two ships? I said, yes.
And we’re going to sink the other two at the first opportunity. The next morning they put me in a police car, drove me to the airport and sent me back to New York. And the minister of justice says, who does he think he is? He comes into our country and demands to be arrested, get him out of here. Because they knew that to put me on trial for what we did would be to put Iceland on trial for their illegal activities. So that’s why we were never charged. So there was no crime committed if they refused to lay charges.
Jim: That’s quite interesting. So let’s get back to this idea of moral commitments and the line between non-violence and aggressive non-violence. What do you think today, looking back at yourself as a younger man in 1986, sinking those ships? Were you right? Were you wrong? Were you a little overzealous? Would you do it again?
Paul: Oh, I would do it again. And it’s a very easy choice, saving lives without causing injury. The property that is being damaged is property used for illegal activities. So we always target illegal activities. And that’s because the governments of the world are not doing it. So we’re doing it for them. So I mean, people call us vigilantes sometime. I said, well, okay, we don’t have to do this.
If you guys uphold the law, they wouldn’t be in need for us. And in the 1990s, our opposition started calling us pirates. I said, okay, if you want us to be pirates, we’ll be pirates because, you know, pirates actually got things done back in the day. Not many people are aware that the founder of the United States Navy, who was also the founder of the Russian Navy, same man, same two navies, was actually a pirate. And that was John Paul Jones.
Jim: I did not know that. That’s interesting. Now vigilanteism, were you the inventor of tree spiking?
Paul: I think so. I call it the inoculation of a tree against a disease called clearcutting. And the first time it was done was in the early 80s. Well, actually, we got inspired by the fact that Captain Cook fired a cannonball on Vancouver Island that got wedged into a tree and destroyed a sawmill. So that was where I got the idea from. They were going to boldface gross mountain facing the city of Vancouver, beautiful forested slope. They sold it all.
They’re going to cut it down. So we set up a group called the North Vancouver Garden and Arbor Club. And we spent a whole weekend spiking 20,000 trees. And then of course, we told everybody that we did that that resulted in the sawmills canceling their contracts. We don’t want anything to do with this. It’s going to damage our equipment and everything else. So those trees to this day, 40 years later, are still there.
Jim: In the book, you did lay out that you did a fair bit of research on the safety of tree spiking.
Paul: Right, because you know chainsaws, we actually use chainsaws ourselves to hit spikes in trees. The chainsaws comes with a cain guard. Which will keep it from snapping back into anybody’s faces. And also when you look at the sawmills, they have plexiglass shields, between the worker and the actual saw blades. So I didn’t see any possibility of anybody being injured as a result.
Jim: And as you know, tree spiking did become and was a big Earth First tactic.
Paul: Yes, because I told I had a meeting with them and told them about the idea in San Francisco. I think that was 1984. One of the things that’s different when we did it in Vancouver, it was perfectly legal. There was nothing illegal about putting a spike in a tree. It is now because they passed laws to make it illegal, but at the time we did it, it was perfectly legal.
Jim: You also did some, call it military R&D. Once people started using metal detectors to find the spikes, you adopted ceramic spikes.
Paul: Yeah, you drill a hole in, put a ceramic spike inside, and that does the same job really. A little more hard work than putting the spikes in.
Jim: All right, another campaign you did was in Norway. Tell us about that.
Paul: Well, in Norway, the objective was, I mean, there’s a lot of small wailing boats, so there isn’t any big ones that we can target. So we can’t go around and sink every Norwegian wailing boat. But what we did was in Christmas Day of 92, we sank one, the Nebrenna in Northern Norway, and in 94 we sank another one. Now, the result of that is now the wailing companies had to get war insurance. They had to pay big premiums to protect their ships, and that was cutting into their profits.
That was the reason for doing that. It was really up in Christmas Day when we did this in Nebrenna Dwight Worker, who was one of our engineers. He was on the boat at night. And as he came off, two Norwegian fishermen were coming down the dock and saw him get off the boat. And then they came up to him and were speaking Norwegian. Now, he doesn’t speak Norwegian, so he’s in a lot of trouble. So how did he get out of it? He got down on his knees, pretended to throw up, and they just laughed and walked away because everybody gets drunk in Norway on Christmas Day.
Jim: You know, we talk about crime and the boundaries. Here you’re involved in some very serious felony level, or at least what your guy is, what would be considered felonious destruction of property, something like that. How do you come out on that as a moral issue?
Paul: Well, because what they were doing is illegal. And we made ourselves available. In fact, I met with the Norwegian police in the offices of the FBI in Seattle and just said, well, this is what we did, and this is why we did it. And nobody got arrested.
Jim: Yeah, I got to say, I really admire your guts, right? You have been willing to put yourself forth to take the legal consequences if they would dare try to put them on you. And yet in most of the cases, they haven’t been willing to. That’s very interesting. And I got to say, astoundingly gutsy strategy.
Paul: In 2011, we found a tuna boat off of the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean. They had 800 large bluefin tuna in their net that they had caught illegally. I approached them and I said, I want to speak to your EU fisheries inspector. They didn’t have one. I said, well, these fish were caught the seasons over, release these fish now. And they of course, they weren’t going to do that. So I put four divers into the nets, we cut the nets and freed all 800 of them. And the fish got out and went out like race horses, really, you’ll see that hole in the net.
Didn’t think anything of it until a year later, as in Scotland, and my ship was arrested civilly on charges of destruction of their property, meaning the bluefin tuna that we released. And so I paid a 750,000 pound bond to release my ship. And then we went to court. We won the court case. And then they appealed it. And their lawyer said, we’ll just throw money at him until we win. And so they appealed it and they won. And then we took it up to the Supreme Court and we won. And they had to give us a million and a half pounds in compensation.
Jim: Being willing to go all in, not that many people are willing to go all in the way you have been.
Paul: Well, the courtroom is an extension of the campaigns on the high seas. So take that into account that that’s always a possibility. And therefore you have to have a good legal defense. And I always make sure that I get the best damn lawyers that are available. I don’t get no public defenders or anything. In fact, I got my lawyer in Newfoundland for that trial.
Brian Casey was an artist. I couldn’t believe. He opened up the case by going to the jury and he said, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we’re not going to say we didn’t do what we’re charged with. We’re going to say we did do what we’re charged with. We’re proud to have done it. And we intend to do it again. That was our opening trial and we got acquitted.
Jim: So many things you’re talking about are some relatively big dollars, $750,000 bonds, fleet of ships, helicopters, even a submarine in one of your adventures. Who was funding you? You don’t have to name names, but just in general, how did you fund this quite substantial operation?
Paul: Well, most of the funding comes just from individual supporters. I mean, we do have some wealthy supporters like Bob Barker and John Paul DeGioria and Steve Wynn and people like that.
But most of it comes from small reporters. Usually it’s a really wealthy donor that will actually purchase a ship for us. But then the operation, the maintenance of that ship has to come from, you know, average people who are supporting members.
Jim: And you talked quite a bit about your crew, your international crews. How did you crew your ships and what kind of relationships have you had with those people over the years?
Paul: Well, I’ve had about 6,000 people volunteer as crew members over the years from about 40 different countries. At any one time, there’s probably a couple of dozen nationalities represented on one of the larger ships. Most of them are volunteers and they come from all over. And of course, we look for people with the skills and the abilities, but we also want to give an opportunity to people who don’t have those skills to learn and we teach them, whether they’d be working on the deck or in the engine room or in the galley.
There’s a lot to learn. And one of the things I’m most proud of is that we have never had a single person injured in our entire history of doing what we’re doing, which is amazing considering that most of our crews are volunteers. When I was with the Norwegian and Swedish merchant marine, we had six fatalities. It’s been amazing that we haven’t had any injuries at all.
Jim: Yes, particularly operating in the Southern Ocean. I mean, even freighters, I don’t think freighters go down there. Anybody operating in the Southern Ocean, those stormy weather is likely to have broken arms and things of that hill. You’ve never had anything like that even?
Paul: No, I mean, we’re very rigid on safety drills and that. And also because they tend to be volunteers and don’t have the experience of professionals, they tend to be far more cautious. I always find that professionals tend to be more reckless. We’ve been very careful and cautious. And I think our record proves that that was the case.
Jim: Pretty amazing. Well, let’s go back and tell another war story here. Tell us the tale about bombing the Russians. That was an amazing one, also.
Paul: Well, that again was with my friend, El Johnson, who was the airline pilot who was at the Uganda. He was working for American Airlines at the time, but we, there was a Russian spy ship at the mouth of the Straits of Wanda, Fuca, that was there to spy on the Trident Nuclear Submarine. It was supposed to be a fishing boat. Everybody knew it was a spy ship. There was two American warships on one side, one Canadian on the other side, to guard and watch what they’re doing.
And so we said, well, this is an excellent opportunity to deliver a protest against Russia for their wailing operations. What we did was we chartered a Cessna 187 and El flew it. And we flew out over to the Straits of Wanda, Fuca. And as we approached, we saw the warships on the side of this Russian ship.
But El just went right in and he leveled the plane out. So we came across the bow. We were going straight for the wheelhouse. Carol Vogel and I, what we did is that we, as soon as we crossed the bow, we dropped 17 industrial life balls filled with red paint, bang, bang, bang, but attached to every one of them was a message in Russian, a protesting wailing. Now, they’re a perfect hit and El pulled it up and all of a sudden there’s a large bang. And we lost altitude. We were heading towards the water and he pulled it up about six feet of the water and started going up. What happened?
He had hit a whip antenna that could hardly see and it put a six inch gash in the wing. But we kept on going up. But at the same time, I’m telling him, I said, there are two fighter jets coming from the Whitby Island base. I can see them coming over there and they’re going to shoot us down.
So El kept going straight up. Don’t worry. He said, don’t worry. And like I told you before, he was a former fighter pilot. And as he came closer, El went into a big dive on a curve, taking us right into Canadian airspace and they had to pull away. And then we got back to the airport and nobody said anything.
Jim: Your buddy, Al, seemed like a total wild man. I mean, you’re not exactly Mr. Calm, cool and collected in some of your actions, but you seem like you keep a cool head. But Al seemed like a total maniac.
Paul: Well, yeah. Well, while he was a captain for American Airlines, he dropped parachutists for Greenpeace into nuclear power plants. He was, by the way, the founder of Greenpeace USA. After leaving Greenpeace, he was with Sea Shepherd and did numerous campaigns with us and everything. Well, he was pretty fearless, really. Good looking guy. Everybody used to call him the working girls, Robert Redford, because he sort of looked like Robert Redford. He was fearless. He would do whatever he needed to be doing. He didn’t really, you know, he couldn’t do that today. You couldn’t be a captain for American Airlines and do that kind of stuff today.
Jim: Which is kind of a shame, actually, right? Because a lot of those guys in the 60s and 70s, they were former fighter pilots. You know, after the Vietnam War, when the Air Force reduced in size, a lot of those guys went into the airlines. In fact, I still recall some flights into Boston on New York Air.
New York Air was famous for hiring Navy carrier pilots. And then boys would bring them down. They didn’t care the fog, the ceiling. Close to never come to die out of commercial airplane was pilot circled the airfield three times, tried to land once, pulled up, tried to land a second time, pulled up. Third time brought her down. Just said, hell with it. He slammed it down onto the deck. Thing was going sideways. The runway was wet.
And we stopped. Oh, I don’t know, maybe 100 feet short of the big rock seawall at the end of Logan Airport. And you know, I looked in the cockpit afterward, looked at the guys. Oh, yeah, that’s one of those Navy pilots.
Paul: Well, you know, Al had an incredible sense of humor. Because one time he said some people, what’s it like being an airline captain? And he says, well, you know, if it wasn’t for the money, the women in the time off, I wouldn’t have anything to do with this racket.
Jim: Right. Let’s, you know, kind of getting up near the end of our time here. Let’s go to next evolution in your organizational life. You know, you are without a doubt the founder of Sea Shepherd. Nobody can take that away from you. But they eventually booted you. Why don’t you tell the story of Sea Shepherd as an organization and how you eventually ended up being thrown out?
Paul: Well, because of the whale wars, we were getting a lot of support and bringing in a lot of money and donations. And then unfortunately, that’s leads to getting an administration. And I’m not an administrator. About 2019, I was, they began to refer to me as the Watson problem. I was too controversial, too confrontational for them.
And, you know, now a lot of people had nice, comfortable jobs. I was told to basically to do nothing. I was offered a large amount of money just to not talk, not do interviews, not write anything, just collect the money and shut up. And I said, well, I’m not going to do that. So anyway, I was ousted and it was an illegal dismissal. There was no meeting.
There was no vote. I got an email saying you’re here by dismiss from Sea Shepherd Global and I haven’t spoken to any of those people since. And in fact, every single one of them I trained and put into that position. So that was a betrayal. But I wasn’t going to allow that to bother me because they, okay, so they had the ships, they had the assets, they had the support list.
But what I had is something that they will never have. And that is the passion, the courage and the imagination of all of those crew members who came with me. I left Sea Shepherd in July of 22. Within three months, we had our first ship. Now we’re getting our second ship. We’re now registered in Spain and Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, you know, all over the world. So it’s an incredible growth in just one year. And the reason for that is because I took the most valuable thing with me, which was our history, our legacy and the courage and the imagination of what we do. And that’s far more important than what they have. They just have the material assets.
So that’s fine with me. But they’re not going to go very far without, you know, what we were. I shouldn’t say that all Sea Shepherd groups, Sea Shepherd France, Brazil and the UK, refused to go along with them. So I’m working in partnership with France and Brazil and Sea Shepherd UK changed their name to the Captain Paul Watson Foundation. Now the reason I named it the Captain Paul Watson Foundation is I figure, okay, I’m going to set something up that nobody’s going to be able to take away from it because it’s my name. So we’ll see how that goes.
Jim: How do people learn more about the Captain Paul Watson Foundation after they’ve heard this amazing set of stories? Do you have a website they can go to?
Paul: Yeah, the Captain Paul Watson Foundation website. We were operating under the name Neptune’s Navy, you know, it was something I created back when I was with Sea Shepherd. We used that this last summer, but then Sea Shepherd, they got these copyright things. They’re actually suing Sea Shepherd France and everything. And they were suing me and they said that we didn’t have a right to use that because the logos that I created, the names that I created now belong to them because they had copyright on it.
So I said, okay, well, let’s not use that name anymore. We’re going to call ourselves Neptune’s Pirates. They’re certainly not going to want that because, you know, they don’t want to be identified as pirates. We have no problem with it actually. So it’s Captain Paul Watson Foundation and Neptune’s Pirates.
Jim: All right. And we will have both of those links up at the episode page at JimRuttShow.com. So if you want to help support Paul and his actions to protect the animals of the world against illegal predation, go check it out, send him some money. Any final thoughts, Paul, on your life and your adventures and what are you up to next?
Paul: I’m living in Paris right now because I have two young boys, two and seven, and I wanted them to give them a good education. And my son is actually a chess champion. So he’s a bit of a prodigy. In the U.S., he’s number 57 on the list. So I’m really here to encourage his career and his education. But at the same time, I can coordinate and manage the ships out of Paris and I’ll be participating going on the ships also.
So we have a campaign coming up here in a month and a half and that’s to go oppose the super trawlers that are operating in the Bay of Iscay. These giant ships that take about 7,000 tons at a time. And last year, we caught them dumping 100,000 blue-whiteing fish, just throwing them away dead on the surface because it wasn’t a target species. So we’re fighting them in court and we’re fighting them on the sea at the same time.
Jim: Well, I want to thank Paul Watson for coming on this show. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a guest on with such an incredible story of adventure and a story of adventure founded on moral foundations. This has really been a wonderful conversation.
Paul: Oh, well, thank you.
Jim: Yeah, thank you and good luck to you with your work.
Paul: Thanks a lot.