Sealer mob tries to lynch Watson

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1995:


Quebec–“It was easily the most life-threaten-

ing situation I’ve ever been in,” said Captain

Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd

Conservation Society soon afterward, his

voice uncharacteristically shaky. In the

Magdalen Islands on March 16 to offer out-

of-work fishers hard cash for brushing the

molting wool from baby harp seals instead of

killing them, Watson was nearly lynched

instead of thanked.

“We were waiting for German garment

manufacturer Tobias Kirchoff, who has

already offered to buy all the seal wool any-

one can humanely harvest, to arrive from

Germany to make his presentation,” Watson

told ANIMAL PEOPLE from Monckton,

New Brunswick, where he was flown by the

Quebec Provincial Police following the mob

attack on his room at Auberge Madeli hotel.

“The Sealers’ Association meanwhile held a

meeting and rejected seal-brushing because,

‘Seals are meant for clubbing, not coddling.

A man doesn’t go around brushing a seal.’

That’s exactly what they said. The local radio

station, CMFI, kept telling the sealers to

come down to the hotel and tell us what they

think, so all afternoon more and more of

them came, and a lot of them were drinking

while they waited for something to happen.

The Quebec Provincial Police assigned

six officers to guard the Sea Shepherd contin-

gent. When the violence began, after a three-

to-four-hour siege, Watson and two police-

men were in one room while actor Martin

Sheen and Sea Shepherd crew members Lisa

DiStefano and Chuck Swift were in another.

At approximately 6:00 p.m. EST, when

Quebec Provincial Police spokesman Pierre

Dufort estimated 300 sealers were inside the

hotel and the crowd outside had grown to

1,500, the mob roughed up London Daily

M i r r o r photographer Steve Douglas and

smashed his camera, then went for Watson

in earnest, who had shoved a heavy bed

against his door. Refusing to draw their

guns, the police stepped aside––and the

brawl was on.

“I stood up to them. I was able to hold

them off for about 10 minutes,” Watson

recounted. Using first an electronic stun-gun

and then bare knuckles, Watson said, “I

decked the first three guys to crash in. The

first guy through took a swing at me, but he

didn’t connect hard, and I connected back.

They didn’t seem to be expecting that.”

Eventually as many as 50 sealers

surged into the room, including,

Watson noted, “one big guy who kept push-

ing the others back,” until QPP reinforce-

ments arrived.

“The police insisted that I had to

leave the building immediately,” Watson

said. “I asked what if I didn’t. ‘Then you are

a dead man in one minute,'” the officer said.”

Sheen, DiStefano, and Swift

remained behind as Watson was escorted to a

patrol car through a gauntlet of kicks and

punches. The mob next smashed the win-

dows of the patrol car, then followed it to the

airfield and broke windows there.

Watson was cut by flying glass,

suffered cuts and bruises, and had a bruised

kidney, but a hospital examination found no

serious injuries. At least one reporter besides

Douglas was believed to have been briefly

hospitalized, from among a group also

including representatives of RTL-TV

(Germany), CITY-TV (Toronto), Der Stern

(Germany), and the Los Angeles Times.

Photojournalist Marc Gaede indicated the

Germans were beaten, according to Carla

Robinson at the Sea Shepherd headquarters in

Santa Monica, California.

Despite the attacks on reporters and

photographers, the riot drew little immediate

media notice, partly because the QPP put out

a bulletin advising that there had been no

trouble. “They were lying, boldfaced lying,”

fumed Bob Hunter, a journalist since 1960

and a cofounder, with Watson, of Green-

peace, who was present for CITY-TV. “Not

only were the police lying, but the lazy

establishment media were lying. The Globe

& Mail,” the leading Toronto paper, “went

along for the ride. I phoned the city desk

with the real story, and they said, ‘We’re past

our deadline, we don’t care.'”

The QPP might have thought they’d

get away with it. “The police said Sheen and

DiStefano couldn’t go to the airport until after

the sealers searched them for film,” Watson

explained. “They also said RTL had to turn

over their video, but the Germans hid their

good tapes in the snow and just turned over

several reels of junk.” The video that made it

out included Douglas’ beating, clips of which

were soon aired in both Europe and Canada.

Watson the next day filed charges

of assault, breaking and entering, destruc-

tion of property, theft, and kidnapping

against the sealers he could identify. “I laid

the charges with the Royal Canadian

Mounted Police,” he said. “The provincials

wouldn’t take the complaint.”

Limp prospects

Earlier, Sheen told media, “I

believe we have found a way to provide full

employment for traditional sealers without

having to kill a single seal.”

Now being made to residents of

Prince Edward Island, who are not partici-

pating in this year’s seal hunt, the offer of

cash for seal wool should have interested the

Magdalen Islanders. A seal marketing strate-

gy report researched for the Canadian gov-

ernment by RT & Associates, issued last

November, confirmed that penises are the

only parts of seals now in any demand.

Newfoundland sealers sold 10,024 penises

last year to Asian aphrodisiac merchants for

about $75,000 U.S.––but that was more than

half of the total Canadian return from sealing.

And even that market is drooping.

“The market for seal penises is con-

fined almost exclusively to Hong Kong and is

limited to approximately 20,000 organs a

year,” the report said. “Larger organs are

preferred, and Norway has captured almost

50% of the market, shipping approximately

8,000 last year. The average price paid to

sealers for a seal penis over 10 inches long

was $26; seven to ten inches long was $20.”

The report found no viable market

for seal meat, noting that while the Chinese

will eat it at 50¢ per pound, it can’t be

shipped to China for under $1.00 a pound.

Prospects for selling seal meat as animal feed

were written off, as was most of the possible

seal oil market. Seal fur markets in both

Europe and Canada were deemed “poor,”

while fur demand in Asia was said to be

logistically difficult to supply.

Meanwhile, the report noted,

“Since 1985, the Canadian government has

spent between $8 and $10 million on various

sealing initiatives in Newfoundland,” plus

more in other provinces.

The seal kill in recent years has

been set at 194,000, but has averaged just

57,000 due to the lack of markets. This year

Canada is paying sealers a bounty of 20¢ a

pound per seal landed––admittedly in large

part to offset the outrage of the Atlantic

provinces at the February 3 admission of the

Canadian government that northern cod have

been fished to commercial extinction in terri-

torial waters.

Fish war

Fishers blame seals and foreign

fishing fleets for the collapse of the stocks,

not expected to recover within this century.

However, says University of Guelph marine

mammologist Dr. David Lavigne, “Harp

seals rarely feed on cod. It’s perhaps 1% or

less of their diet.”

And Watson, ironically, chal-

lenged foreign dragnetters on the nose-and-

tail of the Grand Banks in August 1993, 18

months before the March 9 Canadian seizure

of the Spanish trawler E s t a i o f f

Newfoundland. Related charges brought

against Watson by the RCMP are still pend-

ing. Estai captain Enrique Davila Gonzalez,

38, of Galicia, was charged March 13 with

illegal fishing and obstruction of justice.

Gonzalez’ attorney John Sinnot said he would

appeal the seizure to the International Court

in the Hague. Spain sent a patrol boat and a

frigate to the scene after Canada threatened to

seize more trawlers and Newfoundlanders

pelted the Spanish ambassador to Canada

with garbage. The European Union tem-

porarily suspended formal relations with

Canada, pending a decision on possible trade

sanctions––which could include accelerated

imposition of a ban on the import of furs

caught in leghold traps. Canada has won sev-

eral delays of the ban by arguing that it is

developing more humane trapping methods.

“Canada is going to get a boot in

the balls for this,” said Hunter, “which it

richly deserves.”


Sealing resumed more quietly in

Norway. Pressured by Rieber & Co., the one

seal product buyer in Norway, to resume seal

pup hunting, on March 15 the government

authorized a “scientific” hunt for 2,600 infant

harp seals, who have been off limits since

1989, when videotape showed sealers club-

bing the pups and skinning them alive.

Rieber & Co. had threatened to get out of the

seal business.

Norway also announced it would

permit the slaughter of 301 minke whales this

year, during a season lasting from May 2 to

June 23. Norway is the only nation in the

world to hold an acknowledged commercial

whale hunt, in defiance of the International

Whaling Commission moratorium in effect

since 1986.

An Icelandic move toward reopen-

ing whaling was delayed for a year, until

March 1996, when the Icelandic parliament

was unable to move on the necessary motion

before adjournment.

––by Merritt Clifton

(The Sea Shepherd Conservation

Society may be addressed at 3107-A

Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey, CA


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