Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"We Need the Whales. They Don't Need Us."

This was the first time Captain Paul Watson, of Sea Shepherd infamy, visited Albany. He stood before a jolly roger lectern and behind him loomed the skeleton of a blue whale. The blue whale's bones are suspended from the purloins of a shed at Whaleworld, where they used to cut whales up and then boil them down.

Paul Watson nearly made it to Albany once before, but on a different agenda. Had he not just been kicked out of Greenpeace, the renegade, self proclaimed pirate who specialises in 'direct action' claimed that he was to lead the campaign against the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, here, in 1977. Now Paul Watson is hoping that the Japanese will one day be as passionate defenders of whales and dolphins as the Albanians are.

Tonight's gig at Whaleworld was more than a pep talk for protecting the ocean dwelling mammals though. Impian Films have big plans for Tim Winton's book. Shallows is a story of whaling in a town called Angelus, commonly recognised as Albany, spanning from the 1830's to that day in 1977 when the bikies, the flensers, the gunners, an ex-deputy prime minister, federal police, Greenpeace and Catchalot and Co all descended on the whaling station for a bit of a barney over the whales.

Impian Films is attempting to incorporate a third age of whaling into the film; the current Japanese activities in Antarctica, the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone and the Australian Whale Sanctuary. That's where Sea Shepherd comes in. But there were other reasons for the gig tonight. Before Watson spoke, Sea Shepherd's man in Australia Geoff Hanson talked about the possibilities of starting a chapter in Albany. Whilst standing under a dead whale in a place where they used to cut them up. Delicious. I love a good irony. I can't think of a better town for a Sea Shepherd chapter.

Hanson showed a promotional movie of Sea Shepherd's campaigns that began with a testosterone sound track and showed protesters against sealing in Canada, a shark finning campaign and of course, the Antarctic whale defence, complete with Japanese water cannons. The promo concluded with a quote: "I'm not here to watch them kill whales. I'm here to stop them," by Captain Paul Watson. It hit the collective g spot and drew lots of applause. If I'm sounding wearied, it's because advertising of any sort leaves me cold and this was so slick ... it was downright blubbery with slickness.

However. There were plenty more interesting enough things said to make the evening worth writing about.
Like, once anti-sealing protesters started daubing the young seals with dye to make their pelts worthless, the Canadian government brought in the Seal Protection Act. This Act does not protect the seals. It simply keeps the public (protesters and/or documentary makers) further than half a mile from working sealers. A year in gaol acts as a deterrent.

Paul Watson got up to speak and boy, can he speak. Thank goodness Paul Watson is giving splendid orations for the Whales and not to Stop the Boats or Dig Up All Our Uranium and Flog It to the Dodgy Generals.
He speaks quickly,  full of anecdotes and one liners. He has more than a couple of ripping yarns to tell. Forty years of wandering around the world in his line of work will do that. Here's some grabs:

"In 1979, hunted a pirate whaling vessel, well it was a Norwegian vessel but it had no flag so we rammed it and sank it. Later the captain was interviewed in television and asked how he felt about his ship getting sunk. He said he'd never thought about killing whales before, just killed them. Then he saw these guys putting their life on the line to protect them. It changed him. He didn't want to kill whales anymore ..."
... a bull leaped out of the water after his cow had been killed. The gunners knew he'd do that and they shot him at point blank range. Watson, sitting in his little zodiac at the bow of the ship, met this whale's eye ...
... the Russians kill whales and use their oil for intercontinental ballistic missiles. Have a quick think about that. "We are insane," was what Watson came up with ...
... sank five Icelandic whalers in one season ...
... never been convicted of a crime, never been sued. Got kicked out of Iceland though ...

"They like to call me a pirate. the way I see it, in the 17th century everyone was making money out of pirates in the Caribbean and they were too hard to shut them down. Took a pirate, Henry Morgan, to clean the pirates up. That's what we are doing."

"Steve said I was on Interpol's most wanted list. But I'm not. Japan's put me on Interpol's Blue File. That means that every country I go to, they can't arrest me for anything but they can harass me at every point. Slow me down.... took me three months this year to get an Australian visa. They wanted me to get an all clear from the FBI but the FBI don't do that. They only give out criminal records. Last year it took me four months to get a visa, even though I don't have a criminal record. Bob Brown sticks up for me. The Greens have been helpful. Garret is not." (Bob Brown was the only person who really kicked up a stink about the Spy Planes issue last year, saying that if Australian ports were closed to Japanese whalers, then why are Australian airports open and ready for business? See my Spy Planes tag below for background.)

 ... they have a replacement for Ady Gil. They decided to call her Godzilla but then realised that the only thing scarier than Godzilla was Godzilla's lawyers ...

When I asked Watson about Japan using Antarctic whaling to prop up territorial boundaries and quotas, he said that Japan may have to give up their blue fin tuna quotas if they were not also whaling in the area. Whaling is not profitable anyway. He said that Mitsubishi are stockpiling blue fin tuna in huge freezer complexes, for when they are so rare a species that the price will be astronomical. "Humans work constantly to adapt to diminished species. Not only does this mean they move on to killing other species, it means that the endangered species becomes more valuable, the less of it is around."

I asked him if he ever did find out the identity of Taz Patrol, the anonymous crew of an old boat who got a bead on the whalers last year and messaged the coordinates to Sea Shepherd. He laughed. "No, never did."

When Watson has been criticised in the past for some of his direct action techniques, something that others would call 'direct violence', he answers, "We don't care. We don't care what people think. We are not acting for people or trying to protect them. Our clients are the whales, the seals and the sharks."


  1. A smile came to my face over Canada's deceitful ruse of the "Seal Protection Act" and then I remembered we had a group here in WA named the "Forest Protection Society" who were supporters of logging the last bastions of our old growth forests. Actually at that time Bob Pearce was the Forest Industries spokesperson (he probably still is), not bad for someone who was the "Environment Minister" in the previous Bourke Labour Government...So, I wouldn't come as a surprise then, to find a similar group of happy ex-harpoonists in Albany named Friend's of Whales...

  2. Hey, thanks for posting this. Interesting.

    I liked your research questions...and Watson's 'insane' remark. There is a lot of insanity in the air at present.

  3. Oh buggar! A modern day hero. I hadn't realised he was coming to Albany!

  4. I just saw the Sea Shepherd heading out to Storm Bay. Their work is never done, it seems.

  5. Yes Tim, it is an interesting paradox, protecting the marauders in the name of their victims. Some of the old gunners in Albany are changed men though these days. Some are not.

    Sorry Boy Wonder :)Should have let you know. It was an interesting talk, though like I said, definitely promo work. A good crowd was there - lots of kids too.

    And thanks Sontag. I heard they were heading off today. Apparently the Japanese ships haven't left Japan yet. Unusual, Watson thought. They are ten days overdue.

  6. God, what can I say? I think Sontag summed it up. We are living in really crazy times. One of my friends said to me the other day: the world has gone completely mad.

  7. The stockpiling of tuna, waiting for diminishment, is pretty evil. But after all, that practice is the basis of economic sanity!

    When the tuna fishermen got taken down by the quotas here in Albany and other fishing towns, the Australian government sold the quotas to the Japanese fishing companies. Which was part of Watson's argument; that the presence of Japanese whalers in Antarctic and the Southern Ocean has little to do with the economics of whaling and everything to do with 'territory' and fishing quotas.

  8. The insanity of stockpiling fish that could be busily breeding just astounds me. I was never a great supporter of this mentality, even when I was fishing a bit myself and my then partner was stashing food in the biggest chest freezer he could find.