Ocean vigilante

The Anti-Ahab

Whale warrior Paul Watson turns eco-piracy into reality TV.

By Eric Scigliano January 15, 2009 Published in the February 2009 issue of Seattle Met

Ocean vigilante: On Animal Planet’s Whale Wars, Paul Watson and his crew ram, board, and scuttle whaling ships.

The most celebrated pirate outside Wall Street and Somalia may be Friday Harbor’s Paul Watson, founder and self-commissioned captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Since he was expelled from Greenpeace 32 years ago, Watson has skippered young idealists around the world to haunt sealers, hinder whalers, and harass lawless fishermen. They fly a Jolly Roger with crossed trident and shepherd’s crook. Whale Wars, their Animal Planet TV show, calls them “eco-pirates.” Others—whalers and some environmentalists—call Watson a terrorist, hypocrite, reckless provocateur, and insatiable publicity seeker.

But he sounds sincere as he recites how “when you lose a species, you’re pulling a bolt out of the spaceship that is Planet Earth,” “no fishery is truly sustainable,” and “a vegan driving a Hummer contributes less in greenhouse gases than a meat eater riding a bicycle.”

Cap’n Crunchy excels at enlisting Hollywood publicity magnets: “We have Batman, MacGyver, Captain Kirk, and James Bond—Christian Bale, Richard Dean Anderson, William Shatner, and Pierce Brosnan—on our team.” But he failed for years to sell Sea Shepherd’s saga to TV. “They thought it was too dangerous.” (Indeed: In Whale Wars’ first season, which finished in December, Watson reels from an alleged bullet in his Kevlar.) Then some Seattle fishermen opened the door. “We used The Deadliest Catch to sell it to the networks. We said, ‘Look, we’ve got everything they’ve got and more—stormier seas, confrontations with whalers, saving whales instead of just catching crabs.’”

Filed under