Paul Watson

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For other notable people named Paul Watson, see Paul Watson (disambiguation)

Paul Watson (born December 2 1950 in Toronto, Canada) is the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and is a significant, albeit controversial, figure in the animal preservationist industry.

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Paul Watson with silver hair in 2005

Childhood and early activities

Watson was born in Toronto to Anthony Joseph Watson and Annamarie Larsen, and grew up in the coastal town of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. After working as a tour guide at Expo 67, Canada's international trade fair, Watson "rode the rails" in boxcars west to Vancouver.

In 1968 he joined the Canadian Coast Guard, where he served (in 1968 and again in the early 1970s) aboard weatherships, search and rescue hovercraft, and buoy tenders. He signed up as a merchant seaman in 1969 with the Norwegian Consulate in Vancouver and shipped out on the 35,000 ton bulk carrier Bris as a deck hand. The Bris was registered in Oslo and manifested for the Indian Ocean and Pacific trade.

Early environmental activism

In October 1969, Watson joined a Sierra Club protest against nuclear testing at Amchitka Island. The group which formed as a result of that protest was the Don't Make a Wave Committee, which evolved into the group known today as Greenpeace. There is some dispute over whether Paul Watson himself had any role in the actual founding of Greenpeace, despite Watson's signature on the organization's founding document. Watson was an early member and sailed as a crewmember aboard the Greenpeace Too! ship in 1971, and skippered the Greenpeace boat Astral in 1972.

Watson offered his services as a medic to the members of the American Indian Movement during the Wounded Knee Incident in South Dakota. His specific presence and role there is contested by some writers[citation needed].

Resignation from Greenpeace

Paul Watson continued as a crewmember, skipper, and officer aboard several Greenpeace voyages throughout the mid-1970s. In 1975, during a Greenpeace campaign to confront Soviet whaling, an incident occurred which Watson says changed his life. From the official Watson biography: "During this confrontation with the Russian whaler, a harpooned and dying sperm whale loomed over Paul's small boat. Paul recognized a flicker of understanding in the dying whale's eye. He felt that the whale knew what they were trying to do. He watched as the magnificent leviathan heaved its body away from his boat, slipped beneath the waves and died. A few seconds of looking into this dying whale's eye changed his life forever. He vowed to become a lifelong defender of the whales and all creatures of the seas."[1]

In 1977, Watson resigned from the Greenpeace Foundation (some accounts say he was expelled), over disagreements over tactics. (Specifically, Paul picked up a sealer's club and tossed it into the sea) That same year, he founded his own group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Sea Shepherd

The first Sea Shepherd vessel, the Sea Shepherd, was purchased in December 1978 with assistance from the Fund for Animals. Sea Shepherd soon established itself as one of the more controversial environmental groups, known for provocative direct action tactics in addition to more conventional protests. These tactics have included, at times, ramming illegal whaling ships at sea, and the scuttling of two ships in an Icelandic harbor. Watson remains the leader of Sea Shepherd today and uses the title "Captain" in reference to his role in the organization.

Other environmental activities

Watson was a field correspondent for Defenders of Wildlife from 1976 to 1980 and a field representative for the Fund for Animals from 1978 to 1981. Watson also was a co-founder of Friends of the Wolf and Earthforce Environmental Society.

During the 1980s, Watson declared his support for Earth First! and cultivated friendships with David Foreman and Edward Abbey. He proclaimed Sea Shepherd to be the "navy" of Earth First! Watson has claimed to have invented the tactic of tree spiking.

Although currently unaffiliated with it, Watson did work with the Green Party of British Columbia in Vancouver in the 1980s and 90s, receiving over 15,000 votes when he ran for municipal office in 1986. He ran for mayor ten years later in 1996, placing fourth. His relationship with the federal Greens was somewhat rockier; Watson was nominated as the party's candidate in Vancouver-Quadra in 1988 but stepped down as candidate mid-campaign and endorsed the NDP, citing vote-splitting as a concern.

Time Magazine listed Watson as one of its Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century in 2000.

In April of 2003, Watson was elected to the board of directors of the Sierra Club for a three-year term. [2] In 2006, he did not seek re-election. He resigned from the board a month before his term ended, in protest against the organization's sponsorship of a "Why I Hunt" essay contest. [3]

Controversies and legal troubles

Paul Watson has been singled out for criticism by the wise use movement, which has denounced him as an ecoterrorist.[4] Some former colleagues in Greenpeace have likewise distanced themselves from him. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Jim Bohlen, one of the founders of Greenpeace, said: "I've known the guy [Watson] for 15 years, and he's absolutely insane, out of his mind."

Watson was arrested in 1993 in Canada on charges stemming from actions against Cuban and Spanish fishing boats off the coast of Newfoundland. In 1997, Watson was convicted in absentia by Norway on charges of sinking the small scale Norwegian fishing vessel Nybrænna in 1992, but Dutch authorities refused to hand him over to Norwegian authorities although he did spend at least 60 days in detention in the Netherlands before being released. Costa Rica filed attempted murder charges against Watson for an incident after he caught a Costa Rican fishing boat poaching, but charges were dropped after prosecutors were shown a film of the incident that was shot by a team making a documentary of Sea Shepherd. Thus far, all attempts at prosecuting Watson for his activities with Sea Shepherd have failed. Watson himself defends his actions as falling within international law and Sea Shepherd's right to enforce maritime regulations against illegal whalers and sealers.

Actions taken by Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd to protest a resumption of whaling by the Makah tribe in Washington in 1998 have also proven controversial. The protests resulted in some unusual alliances, with environmental, animal rights groups, and conservative former Congressman Jack Metcalf protesting the whaling, while native rights groups, wise use groups, and anarchists supported the whaling.


“If you don’t know an answer, a fact, a statistic, then ... make it up on the spot.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win. Then you write the history.”

"As for myself, I do not believe in loggers, I believe in trees. I do not believe in fishermen, I believe in fish. I do not believe in miners, I believe in the rocks beneath my feet. I do not believe in pie in the sky spirituality, I believe in rainbows, rivers, mountains, and moss. I do not believe in environmentalists, I believe in the environment. I am a proud traitor to my species in alliance with my mother the Earth in opposition to those who would destroy her, those parasites who believe the Earth is here to serve human interests."

"We don't give a damn what you or anybody else on this planet thinks. We didn't sink those ships for you. We did it for the whales."

Regarding Greenpeace: "They forgot their original purpose and turned into a big, rich bureaucracy, more interested in fund-raising than in saving lives, so I got fed up and quit . . . they're a bunch of wimps."


Books by Paul Watson

  • Sea Shepherd: My Fight for Whales and Seals (1981) (ISBN 0-393-01499-1)
  • Earthforce! An Earth Warrior's Guide to Strategy (1993) (ISBN 0-9616019-5-7)
  • Ocean Warrior: My Battle to End the Illegal Slaughter on the High Seas (1994) (ISBN 1-55013-599-6)
  • Seal Wars: Twenty-Five Years on the Front Lines With the Harp Seals (2002) (ISBN 1-55297-751-X)

Books about Paul Watson

  • Earth Warrior: Overboard With Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, by David B. Morris (1995) (ISBN 1-55591-203-6)

Other Books

Scarce, Rik. Eco-Warriors (2006) (ISBN 1-59874-028-8)

External links