Guest column: Attacks on Sea Shepherd are unfair
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1993:
by Captain Paul Watson
Much criticism of the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society has come
recently from elements in the animal rights
movement who accuse us of selling out the
effort to free captive dolphins.
I would like to set the record
straight and clear up any misunderstanding
concerning the objectives of Sea Shepherd.
I founded Sea Shepherd in 1977 specifically
to pursue the investigation, documentation
and enforcement of laws against activities
that threaten the survival of wild marine
life. Sea Shepherd is an ecological organi-
zation. Our mandate is the conservation of
endangered marine species and ecosystems.
We are not an animal rights or animal wel-
fare society. We cooperate with both ani-
mal rights and animal welfare groups, and
conservation and environmental organiza-
tions. Our roots lie in both the environmen-
tal movement (Greenpeace) and the animal
rights movement (Fund for Animals, whose
founder, Cleveland Amory, enabled us to
obtain both our first ship and credibility).
Former members of our volunteer crew are
prominent in both the conservation and ani-
mal rights movements.
There can be no argument that Sea
Shepherd activities have saved the lives of a
great many animals and that our contribu-
tion toward ending whaling, sealing, and
the killing of dolphins is not insignificant.
However, our contributions seem to be for-
gotten or dismissed by those who object that
we champion species and habitat survival,
not animal rights, as our reason for being.
We have been criticized for not actively
opposing the practice of displaying captive
dolphins. This is unfair. Sea Shepherd does
not criticize other groups for not doing the
specific work that we do in the field. The
criticism we are taking now is the equivalent
of Sea Shepherd criticizing The Dolphin
Project for not sinking whaling ships.
I am very much aware that some
individuals whose agenda is primarily ani-
mal rights have used the Sea Shepherd name
in the past to oppose marine aquariums and
captive dolphin programs. Unfortunately,
those activities seriously jeopardized our
ability to directly intervene to protect
wildlife in the world’s oceans.
Sea Shepherd activities require
very delicate strategies. We walk a fine line
between legal and illegal. To date, we have
avoided criminal convictions. The one
exception was when Ben White was arrested
in Florida for attempting to rescue captive
dolphins. The attempt failed. Sea Shepherd
was hit with an $8,000 legal bill and we nar-
rowly avoided a civil suit. White acted in
Sea Shepherd’s name without the know-
ledge of the Sea Shepherd board. He was
quite aware of the Sea Shepherd policy that
prohibits any illegal action within U.S. terri-
torial waters. We operate internationally,
and we need the sanctuary of the U.S. to be
effective. White’s actions threatened the
security of Sea Shepherd.
It has been claimed that White
resigned from Sea Shepherd in protest of
our position concerning the dolphins kept
by the Mirage Hotel, in Las Vegas. In fact,
he resigned because the Sea Shepherd board
would not fund further attempts to free dol-
phins from U.S. facilities. We did fund
attempts to free dolphins in Mexico and the
Bahamas, but deliberate lawbreaking and
property damage in the U.S. could have
jeopardized our ships and our ability to
campaign internationally. It was our posi-
tion that opposition to captivity programs in
the U.S. should utilize the U.S. laws dealing
with marine mammals, which despite their
faults are the most progressive in the world.
A serious look at the registered
objectives of Sea Shepherd will reveal that
marine mammal captivity issues have never
been central to our purpose. We have never
publicly criticized groups or individuals that
champion captive marine and zoo animals;
in fact, Sea Shepherd officially opposes
captivity in principle. However, we have
supported and continue to support the
improvement of facilities for marine mam-
mals who are captive. We supported the
enlargement of pool facilities at the
Vancouver Aquarium, and we support the
program at the Mirage Hotel, as well as
programs at other facilities that rescue dol-
phins from inferior sites and do not profit
from or participate in captures from the
wild. We oppose the policies and practices
of the Shedd Aquarium, primarily because
they do capture marine mammals from the
wild. We helped the Save the Beluga Fund
to intervene in the capture of beluga whales
in Hudson’s Bay in 1992. That protest led
directly to the current Canadian ban on belu-
We are now criticized for accept-
ing a contribution from Steve Wynn, who
keeps captive dolphins at the Mirage Hotel.
The fact is that Wynn volunteered to support
our high seas campaigns to stop driftnetting
back in 1989––with no strings attached.
White went to meet Wynn on our behalf and
without authorization informed him that his
support would be accepted only if he dis-
continued his captive dolphin program.
White acted solely on his own beliefs, and
did not secure the permission of the Sea
Shepherd board in demanding conditions
from a Sea Shepherd member and backer.
Following this development, I
investigated the Mirage and found that the
dolphins kept there had been rescued from
inferior facilities. They now receive better
care and attention. Wynn gave me his
assurance that the Mirage would never con-
sider capturing dolphins from the wild. He
also assured me that he would return his dol-
phins to the wild if a program for so doing
could be presented to him.
Sea Shepherd holds the position
that we cannot support a captive dolphin
release program until such a program can
be demonstrated to ensure the continued
welfare of the released animals. We have
not yet seen such a program. The recent
release of Pacific dolphins in the Caribbean
in the British “Deep Blue” project was eco-
logically irresponsible in our opinion. I
have not yet been informed of the results of
Ric O’Barry’s dolphin release program,
nor have I been shown any data as to the
consequences of his initial release. I am
certainly open-minded enough to change
my views if O’Barry’s program succeeds.
Money isn’t the issue
Unfortunately, the only feedback
I have received from O’Barry is that I am a
“sellout” to the Mirage and Steve Wynn.
People are entitled to their opinions, but we
have been offered contributions from Sea
World and from Six Flags Magic Mountain,
and have turned them down. If money was
our only motive, the offers from the two
larger corporations were certainly more
lucrative. O’Barry’s criticisms are curious
considering that we have a copy of a letter
from him to Wynn, dated November 13,
1989, stating his support for the Mirage
project, for which he was then a paid con-
sultant. The letter states that O’Barry will
support the Mirage as long as dolphins are
not captured and that the Mirage improves
the quality of life for the dolphins it rescues.
I have seen nothing at the Mirage that sug-
gests Wynn is doing anything other than
what O’Barry requested of him. It was only
after Wynn turned down O’Barry’s applica-
tion for a trainer’s job that O’Barry became
critical of the Mirage.
Sea Shepherd accepts Wynn’s
support because we recognize his legitimate
concerns as a conservationist. Wynn has
also made many efforts that should bring
praise from animal people: he does not
allow furs to be sold in his hotels; he
encourages nesting peregrine falcons on his
hotels; he has hired the Circus du Soleil
because it does not include animal acts; and
he very early ensured that only dolphin-safe
tuna would be served in his restaurants.
Steve Wynn also purchased the Dunes
Hotel and promptly terminated orangutan
trainer Bobby Berosini’s contract.
We agree that there will always be
faults found in any captive situation, and
we acknowledge that there are faults at the
Mirage. But the relationship between Sea
Shepherd and the Mirage is not connected
to the issue of captivity. Wynn supports our
campaigns to stop driftnetting and the
killing of wild dolphins at sea. His contri-
bution to this effort is much appreciated.
Sea Shepherd will support efforts
to release captive dolphins back into the
wild under the following circumstances.
First, the captive animals must have been
captured from the wild. Captive-born dol-
phins would not be able to adapt to a wild
state. Second, captive dolphins must be
returned to the pod they were taken from.
All the research data available indicates that
dolphins including Orcinus orcas can only
be released to the wild if returned to their
original social structure. We do believe that
Sea World’s Corky may be released, as the
pod she was captured from is known and the
whereabouts of the pod are also known.
orcas such as
Keiko of Free Willy fame, captured from
Iceland, are more problematic due to lack of
research on orca pods in Icelandic waters.
In fact, only the orca pods off British
Columbia are sufficiently well documented
to risk returning captives. The dolphins of
the Mirage were all either born in captivity,
or their origins are unknown.
Sea Shepherd continues to oppose
any capture of dolphins from the wild,
including the November 27 captures by the
Sea Shepherd has attracted many
volunteers from the ranks of the animal
rights, animal welfare, conservation, and
environmental movements. To maintain
focus, we have sometimes been forced to
intervene and chastise volunteers, some of
whom have left with the feeling they were
betrayed and that their understanding of
what Sea Shepherd is has been betrayed.
This has led to the present bitter accusations
about our integrity and motivations.
This is ironic considering that Sea
Shepherd is an all-volunteer organization.
No Sea Shepherd director or crew member
has realized personal gain.
What this controversy most illus-
trates is the degree of intolerance within our
movements of other approaches, tactics,
and strategies. The strength of an ecosystem
is determined by the diversity of species
within it. This applies as well to social
change movements. The strength of our
movements is determined by our acceptance
of diverse approaches and philosophies. The
intolerance of many activists is the reason
our movements are slow to grow and are
continuously defensive against an opposition
that does tolerate diversity.
Corporations compete against each
other for profits, but have a history of unit-
ing against anything that threatens their prof-
its in common. We must learn from this and
agree to disagree on some issues while
agreeing upon the bigger picture.