Free the dolphins and orcas? Free Willy inspires movement––but Watson has doubts, takes heat

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1993:

SANTA MONICA, California––Paul Watson,
Ric O’Barry, Peter Wallerstein, and Steve Hindi all agree
on one thing: Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium shouldn’t have
captured three Pacific whitesided dolphins off San Diego
circa November 27. All were bitterly disappointed when the
Shedd capture crew eluded nautical and aerial surveillance
by the Whale Rescue Team to bring in the dolphins by the
dead of night. A Shedd holding pen at the Kettenburg
Marine wharf was dry and empty late Saturday; the anxious
dolphins were there and shrieking on Sunday morning, and
were still shrieking Sunday night, according to Hindi as
ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.

But when it comes to freeing Willy, the star of the
hit film Free Willy whose actual name is Keiko, or the dol-
phins at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, Watson is the odd
man out. And when it came to attempting to block the
Shedd capture, Watson was the odd man out again, appear-
ing strangely conservative for the founder of the militant
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the virtual inventor
of direct action on behalf of marine mammals. O’Barry, not
Watson, is the man-of-the-hour behind dolphin releases
––including the anticipated release of Bogie and Bacall, the
two dolphins whose 1988 capture led to the conviction of
former Sea Shepherd director Ben White for trying to free
the dolphins from their captors’ net. Wallerstein, not
Watson, led the frustrated Whale Rescue Team flotilla.
“I drive the boat,” Watson has often said of his
role on behalf of marine mammals––but Hindi, the former
trophy fisherman, took leave from his sheet metal fabricat-
ing plant in Plano, Illinois, to pilot the Whale Rescue Team
flagship, the high-powered 23-foot One Resolve, which he
donated to Sea Shepherd in 1991, a year after abandoning
fishing to become active for animal rights.
“It’s a spartan machine, very fast, with a 115-gal-
lon gas tank,” Hindi told ANIMAL PEOPLE shortly
before flying to San Diego to await the call to action that
never came. “If we get good intelligence, we should be
able to do some things with it.”
As the Shedd vessel combed the sea with a crew
the would-be dolphin liberators depicted as latter-day
Captain Ahabs, Captain Paul spent much of his time
answering his mail––seething mail from longtime support-
ers, calling him a sellout, a traitor, and worse, unaware
that it was Watson who made the One Resolve available to
Wallerstein, and that Watson had both ethical and pragmat-
ic reasons for stepping aside. Not one to let political cor-
rectness override his perception of what’s kind and ecologi-
cally sound, Watson isn’t sure release would be the best fate
for either Keiko, a pseudorca, or the Mirage dolphins,
whom O’Barry claims are potentially all candidates for
release after suitable rehabilitation.
Facing trial in St. John’s, Newfoundland, for his
summer confrontation with dragnetters, Watson thought he
might be in jail by now, as a matter of politics rather than
justice, back when the thwarted anti-Shedd capture actions
were planned. Watson’s trial was recently postponed from
December 6 until March 21, 1994, skipping over the
months when the surrounding media attention might have
given him more opportunity to denounce the landsmen’s seal
hunt, the ongoing and perhaps expanding last remnant of
the harp seal hunts off the eastern coast of Canada that his
work helped halt a decade ago. But the postponement only
heightened Watson’s awareness of the importance of main-
taining his clean record in the U.S., his base for staging sen-
sitive international operations.
O’Barry vs. Watson
It may be harder for Watson, a legendary man of
action, to wait and take flak than to attempt a heroic deed.
Yet he knows he must wait, no matter how intense the
flak––especially from O’Barry. Mirage Hotel owner Steve
Wynn is among Watson’s biggest backers, perhaps the
biggest. O’Barry makes no secret that he sees this as a
major conflict of interest, which is a milder term than he
usually uses. Irked, Watson responded in the fall 1993 edi-
tion of the Sea Shepherd Log by quoting a letter endorsing
Wynn and the Mirage that O’Barry wrote as their employee
back in November 1989.
“I published details of O’Barry’s letter because I
was fed up with his attacks on our integrity,” Watson told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, but the wording of the item back-
fired, by indicating––if only with awkward grammar––that
O’Barry’s endorsement is current.
Best known now as founder of the Dolphin Project
advocacy group, O’Barry rose to prominence by training
Kathy, one of the dolphin stars of the 1960s TV series
Flipper. Kathy died from boredom, neglect, and loneli-
ness soon after the TV series ended; O’Barry has been an
outspoken opponent of dolphin captures ever since. In
1992 O’Barry received the prestigious Global 500 Award
from the United Nations Environmental Committee for his
work on behalf of dolphins.
Last winter, funded by the World Society for the
Protection of Animals, O’Barry rehabilitated another dol-
phin named Flipper, a 12-year-old refugee from a Brazilian
amusement park, who was freed on March 2––apparently
only the fourth dolphin ever to be released successfully.
O’Barry also rehabilitated two of the others, Joe and Rosie,
who were released off the coast of Georgia in 1987 after
spending eight years in a failed dolphin/human communica-
tion experiment. He’s currently working with WSPA in an
attempt to free a six-year-old female dolphin from captivity
in Argentina––the sole survivor of 11 dolphins imported
from the Moscow Academy of Sciences aquarium during the
past two years. The Animal Rights Defense Association of
Argentina is reportedly pursuing legal action to oblige her
release and halt two more scheduled dolphin imports.
At the same time, O’Barry is slated to rehabilitate
Bogie and Bacall, whose owner, the Ocean Reef Club Inc.,
recently agreed to a pre-release protocol with Joe Roberts of
the Dolphin Alliance. The deal was achieved despite a pur-
ported significant cash bid for the dolphins, said to have
been made by Wynn on behalf of the Mirage.
That bid evidently inflamed O’Barry, who has had
a quarrel with Wynn either since 1988 or 1990, depending
upon whose statements one believes. As O’Barry recounts
it, “When Wynn first outlined a plan to capture six dolphins
and use them to entertain casino patrons, I opposed it. But I
saw a chance to help dolphins who were already captives
and urged Wynn to use his aquarium instead as a halfway
house for dolphins condemned to petting pools. These dol-
phins would be brought to the Mirage and retrained for life
back in the ocean. Wynn said he liked the idea and asked
me to get it started, so I went out to Las Vegas and tried.
But others got involved and Wynn changed his mind, so I
From December 1988 until early 1990, O’Barry
worked for the Mirage facility, then still in construction, as
a consultant. When it opened, however, in mid-1990,
O’Barry led a protest at the site, and was arrested. The Sea
Shepherd Log published two articles in 1991 backing
O’Barry, blasting Wynn and Mirage dolphin facility coordi-
nator Julie Onie.
There are at least three different versions of what
happened between Wynn and O’Barry. Media accounts at
the time indicated that other dolphinariums were unwilling
to sell dolphins to a program that might have undercut their
industry––especially one with O’Barry involved. Watson
(opposite page) charges that O’Barry simply wanted Wynn
to hire him as a fulltime trainer, and Wynn declined.
“Right there is where Paul Watson is lying,”
O’Barry exploded on the telephone to ANIMAL PEOPLE
the day before Thanksgiving. “Ask him if he can produce a
copy of an application. I could have stayed there and gotten
$100,000 a year to be Wynn’s captive environmental person,
but I didn’t, and now he’s got Paul Watson. I’m not a train-
er, I don’t want to be a trainer, I don’t like trainers, and I
quit being a trainer when I left Hollywood.”
To document his contention that Watson is “kiss-
ing Wynn’s ass…for $50,000,” O’Barry faxed A N I M A L
PEOPLE a copy of a letter Watson sent Wynn in mid-1992,
apologizing for the tone of the Sea Shepherd Log a r t i c l e s ,
which Watson said were both written by Lisa Lange. A for-
mer Sea Shepherd volunteer, Lange is now with PETA.
Stating that he found both articles offensive for including
personal attacks on Wynn and Onie, Watson added that Sea
Shepherd “would no longer publish articles about the
Mirage unless the articles specifically addressed questions
concerning the health and welfare of the dolphins in captivi-
ty. “As a result of this policy,” Watson acknowledged,
“Lange resigned her position as administrative director” of
Sea Shepherd. Wallerstein, then on the Sea Shepherd
board of directors, resigned at the same time, followed in
May by Ben White.
Watson countered by putting ANIMAL PEOPLE
in touch with a well-placed witness to his claim.
“I would like to stress,” Watson added, “that I do
not wish to attack Ric O’Barry. “I simply would like him to
discontinue condemning Sea Shepherd just because he does
not like our priorities––that being the protection of marine
animals in the wild.”
It was clear Watson would have preferred to be at
sea, doing the work he showed the world how to do, per-
haps aboard the used British submarine he’s trying to buy,
having set aside the idea of buying a much cheaper Russian
submarine because none of the operating manuals are in
English. It was equally clear from how Watson edited his
guest column, opposite, that though deeply hurt by some of
the name-calling, his first concern was to be fair––and even
kind––to one and all.
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