Paul and the pirate
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:
BREMERHAVEN––A pirate whaler is at large in the central
Atlantic, Captain Paul Watson is out of jail, and the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society has a ship and crew at Bremerhaven, Germany, almost
ready to sail. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to find it,” Watson told ANIMAL
PEOPLE from Washington D.C., after addressing the Animal Rights
‘97 conference and attending a banquet in honor of Animal Rights
International founder Henry Spira, “but we’re going that way anyway to chase
some driftnetters, and we might as well have a look.”
The Portuguese Navy was reportedly already looking with a warship––but
the last time there were pirate whalers in the region, the Portuguese
Navy protected them. The most notorious was the S i e r r a, operating from
Lisbon with impunity. On July 16, 1979, Watson, Peter Woof, and Jerry
Doran overtook the Sierra with the original Sea Shepherd vessel, then rammed
her twice as she ran for the protection of a Portuguese destroyer. The destroyer
apprehended the Sea Shepherd after a high seas chase, but Watson, Woof,
and Doran all eventually escaped, while inspired Sea Shepherd sympathizers
sank the damaged Sierra and three other whalers. The rest left the Atlantic.
Mark Simmonds of the British-based Whale and Dolphin
Conservation Society on June 10 confirmed rumors circulating since May 13
that yacht crews had discovered dead and dying whales lashed to buoys
equipped with radar reflectors in an area about 200 miles west of the Azores.
Said Simmonds, “It is likely that catcher ships first kill or wound the
whales with harpoons before tying them to the buoys. The factory ship then
comes over the horizon and detects the buoys with radar. It can then process
the whale meat at its leisure.” Sperm whales appeared to be the primary targets.
Simmonds’ account was confirmed by British yachters Jeff King, of the
Tuesday Girl, and Brad DeLange, of the Globana.
Watson then still had 10 days to serve in jail, after The Netherlands
on June 9 refused the last of a series of Norwegian extradition requests. The
first, rejected in Germany on March 30, two days before Watson was arrested
in The Netherlands on the same warrant, was based on 120-day sentence
issued in absentia as an accesory after the fact to the 1992 scuttling at dockside
of the whaler Nybraena. Norway also sought to indict Watson for allegedly
ramming the Norwegian naval vessel Andennes, sending a false distress signal,
and trespassing in Norwegian waters in August 1994. Photos of the incident
published by ANIMAL PEOPLE clearly showed that the Andennes rammed
Watson’s vessel, the Whales Forever, not the other way around.
Evidently, Dutch authorities agreed––so instead of sending Watson
to Norway to stand trial, they held him on various pretexts until, as
Norwegian prosecutor Geir Fornebo admitted, “If Watson had been serving
the time in Norway, he would automatically have been set free,” having
served two-thirds of the original sentence.
On the other hand, the Sea Shepherds had also received warnings
that Watson would be killed if ever actually in Norwegian custody.
Pirate whaling is scarcely the only current threat to great whales in
the Atlantic and Mediterranean––especially sperm whales, washing up in
record numbers along the Scots coast since 1987, with a particular surge this
spring. Before 1987, the recorded average Scots coastal dead whale count was
.25; since 1987, coinciding with increased North Sea seismic oil exploration,
the average is eight. Leading marine mammologists speculated on the MARMAM
online discussion board that seismic explosions might damage sperm
whales’ hearing, consequently impairing their ability to echolocate.
A similar problem, blamed on jet fighters, reportedly caused 16
infant seals to become separated from their mothers along the north coast of
Germany during the last week in June. They were taken to a rehabilitation center,
where they will spend three months, until old enough to return to the sea.
As if to underscore the importance of Watson’s planned anti-driftnet
campaign, the Italian stranding rescue network Centro Studi Cetacci released
sperm whales from driftnet entanglement on June 9 and June 14.
Across the ocean, on June 24, Center for Coastal Studies scientists
Charles “Stormy” Mayo and David Mattila and fisher John Ours freed a 55-ton
North Atlantic right whale from entanglement in drifting fishing gear off
Nantucket. Ours, ironically, had spoken strongly against more stringent federal
regulation of fishing in waters used by right whales. The incident was variously
interpreted as proof that stiff new regulations are needed, as activist
Max Strahan has contended in a series of lawsuits, and as evidence that any
whales who do run afoul of nets can be rescued successfully.