Fixing for a fight of Leviathans
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1998:
NEAH BAY, Wash.; NEWPORT,
Ore.––If the media drama underway in the
Pacific Northwest was a professional wrestling
match, it would be billed as the Makah
Harpooners vs. Willy the Whale, alias Killer
Keiko, orca star of the hit films Free Willy!,
Free Willy II, and Free Willy III.
Scrapping for air time, they might
make a show of enmity, and their partisans
might fall for it, but more cynical viewers
would suspect they were working for the same
But who might own the syndicate––
Hollywood, or Japan?
Whoever wrote the “Keiko-vs.-
Makah” script, literal or figurative, seems to
have worked for four years to bring about an
autumn battle of Leviathans. Captain Paul “The
Pirate” Watson and fellow voyagers of the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society will try to put
themselves between the Makah whalers and
migrating gray whales. The Free Willy/Keiko
Foundation, led by David Phillips, also head of
Earth Island Institute, will meanwhile prepare
Keiko to become the first of his species ever
returned to the ocean after prolonged captivity.
The real struggle will come through
your TV and mailbox, as their causes vie for
public interest and donations.
Promoting the Makah position from
nearby Victoria, British Columbia, the
Japanese-backed World Council of Whalers
almost certainly hopes the prospective
Willy/Keiko release will continue to distract
attention and money away from Neah Bay,
where the first Makah whale-killing in 70 years
may set a global precedent for permitting
coastal whaling in the name of preserving cultural
tradition. Already Japan, Norway,
Iceland, several Caribbean nations, and 13
British Columbia coastal tribes are clamoring
for whaling quotas under the same pretext.
The three-year-old World Council of
Whalers didn’t invent the rivalry between the
“Cetacean freedom” and “Save the whales” factions,
though. That dates back a decade, when
Watson and Dolphin Project founder Ric
O’Barry first clashed over priorities.
Watson, observing that public concern
for wild marine mammals rose roughly
parallel with exposure to marine mammals at
captive facilities, steered the Sea Shepherds
away from captivity issues. Pointing out that
marine mammals in captivity number in the
hundreds worldwide, most of whom couldn’t
survive in the wild, while whole whale species
are endangered by fishing and whaling, Watson
eventually orchestrated a campaign against
driftnetting with substantial help from Steve
Wynn, owner of The Mirage hotel, casino,
and dolphinarium in Las Vegas.
O’Barry called that a sellout. The rift
was amplified by dissident Sea Shepherds, led
by former executive director Ben White, who
eventually resigned under pressure, along with
several other longtime crew members.
Disagreements pertaining to marine mammal
captivity were only a few of many reasons cited
for their departure. Watson and Mirage executives
told ANIMAL PEOPLE that White had
even solicited Mirage funding himself, a point
White denied. White had been associated with the Sea
Shepherds since 1981, following and somewhat overlapping
approximately a decade of intermittant and sometimes controversial
involvement with Native American causes.
Whatever the truth of the Watson/White split, and
their relations with Wynn and the Mirage, lingering ill feeling
simmered, coming to center on captivity especially after the
first Free Willy film focused activist attention on Keiko in mid-
1993. Keiko was then kept at the substandard El Reino
Aventura oceanarium in Mexico City.
A fast-rising campaign to relocate him eclipsed media
note that Norway unilaterally resumed commercial whaling.
While Seattle telecommunications magnate Craig McCaw contributed
a reported $2 million via the McCaw Foundation to
“free Willy,” and the public tossed in millions more, the Sea
Shepherds scuttled at least three Norwegian whaling ships at
dockside, clashed with the Norwegian coast guard on the high
seas, and struggled to find the funds to keep going, all to virtual
U.S. media silence.
By spring 1995, Norway had killed more than 600
minke whales. U.S. vice president Al Gore at a White House
meeting with Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland had in
effect traded indifference by the Bill Clinton administration for
completion of a $261 million missile sale to Norway––as
reported in the July/August 1994 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE
but practically nowhere else until long afterward.
Watson in a June 1995 ANIMAL PEOPLE g u e s t
column entitled “The Cult of Animal Celebrity” challenged the
growing activist fixation on Keiko and other captivity cases.
But his frustrations were just beginning.
On May 25, 1995, soon after Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt declared that gray whales were no longer a
threatened or endangered species, and a week after Watson’s
column went to press, the Makah announced their intent to
begin killing gray whales in 1996, claiming a right to do so
under an 1855 treaty.
The Sea Shepherds pledged to “directly intervene.”
Mass media again paid little attention.
As early as June 13, 1995, International Wildlife
Coalition marine mammologist Jose Truda Palazzo warned
from Brazil via the MARMAM Internet bulletin board for
marine scientists that the Japanese might use the Makah whaling
strategy as a precedent to reopen commercial whaling under
an argument of cultural justification. But mass media and even
the International Wildlife Coalition itself made little of Truda
Palazzo’s suspicions, which he reinforced by citing several
precedents involving Japanese conduct as regards international
A few days later, Makah “minister of fisheries”
Daniel Green killed a gray whale in a salmon net, and distributed
the meat among the tribe. Humans reportedly ate little of
it. Most became dog food, or just waste.
On June 19, 1995, the Sea Shepherds exposed federal
and state funding of a “protected marina complex from which
Makah tribe whaling boats will operate.”
The sequence of incidents might have produced a
furor. Instead, International Wildlife Coalition president
Daniel Morast and much of the rest of the marine mammal
activist community appeared wholly preoccupied with infighting
at the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary.
Located at a former dolphin exhibition facility in the
Florida Keys, owned by the family of Lloyd Good III,
Sugarloaf was supposed to rehabilitate for eventual release two
dolphins from a private club, whose names were Bogie and
Bacall, who arrived in August 1994, and three ex-U.S. Navy
dolphins, delivered on November 30. The dolphins were
obtained after long campaigns led by Ric O’Barry, Joe Roberts
of the Dolphin Alliance, Russ Rector of the Dolphin Freedom
Foundation, and Rick Trout, who later founded the Marine
The organization of Sugarloaf coincided with the
arrival in marine mammal acitivism of one Rick Spill, who
signed the “S” in his name as a dollar sign. Representing himself
as a Vietnam veteran and former naval intelligence operative,
Spill was marine mammal consultant for the Animal
Welfare Institute from mid-1993 until May 1997. During the
first year of this time he was also earning a masters degree in
marine science from the University of Miami, with emphasis
on maritime law––which gave him frequent reason to visit
south Florida. Spill organized an association of marine mammal
activists called The Gadfly Coalition, and was elected to
the Sugarloaf board of directors.
Two weeks after the Navy dolphins arrived, Spill had
a prominent role in forcing Rector, Trout, and Lynne Springer,
Trout’s companion, out of Sugarloaf and the Gadfly Coalition,
after they clashed with O’Barry over training methods.
Having trained dolphins for the Navy before leaving
and denouncing the Navy dolphin program in 1989, Trout had
already become skeptical of Spill’s purported naval background
and war stories.
From that point on, major incidents involving the
resumption of the Atlantic Canada seal hunt in early 1995 after
a 10-year suspension, Norwegian whaling, Japanese
“research” whaling, and/or the Sea Shepherds usually seemed
to coincide with public escallation of the Sugarloaf hostilities.
Usually the Sugarloaf trouble preceded the incidents involving
wild marine mammal killing by two or three days.
On March 14, 1995, for instance, Roberts fired
O’Barry, who refused to accept the action––just as Watson and
actor Martin Sheen arrived at Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, to
protest the 1995 seal hunt. The Sugarloaf fracas usurped U.S.
media notice, even after sealers on March 16 stormed the hotel
where the Sea Shepherds were staying, beating Watson.
Immediately preceding the Makah announcement of
intent to whale, Spill and other off-site Sugarloaf board members,
including Mark Berman of Earth Island Institute, in late
May 1995 moved to close the sanctuary and take the dolphins
away from O’Barry and Good, who countered on June 16,
1995 with a lawsuit.
That’s when O’Barry, quite upset, first suggested to
ANIMAL PEOPLE that Spill might be worth investigating as
“some sort of infiltrator.”
Introduced to Spill by Ben White a year earlier,
O’Barry developed an intuition of something wrong, he
explained, when he noticed Spill was eating veal––produced
by keeping calves in dark crates which severely restrict their
movement, and shunned by most animal rights activists.
O’Barry said he had confirmed it was veal with the cook at the
restaurant where they met. But O’Barry hadn’t taken the matter
any farther, he added, because other activists reminded him of
the purported necessity of maintaining a united front while
negotiating to get the dolphins.
By mid-June 1995, O’Barry argued that trying to
maintain movement unity had only achieved a year of turmoil,
delaying releases which he and Rector agreed could have been
accomplished within a month or two of the dolphins’ arrival––if
the Gadfly Coalition hadn’t been involved.
Weighing O’Barry’s intuition, and similar suspicions
voiced later by Rector and Trout, ANIMAL PEOPLE s o o n
noted an apparent strong physical resemblance between Spill
and one Bill Wewer, an attorney self-professedly fond of veal,
who in 1990-1991 was leading spokesperson for the anti-animal
rights organization Putting People First.
Renamed Putting Liberty First in 1997, PPF was
founded in September 1989 by Wewer’s wife, Kathleen
Marquardt. Together, they had earlier been two of the four
members of the board of directors of the National Committee to
Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which Wewer founded.
They left in 1986 after the NPSSM received rebukes from the
U.S. Postal Service and the Justice Department for allegedly
mailing misleading fundraising appeals, and twice came under
Wewer subsequently incorporated the Doris Day
Animal League and drafted contracts for the 1990 March for
the Animals, but jumped from DDAL and the March to assume
his PPF position on March 21, 1990. Rarely seen in public
after mid-1991, Wewer in a December 1992 letter to Mark
Berman identified himself as representing Norwegian whalers
who belonged to PPF.
Keeping an eye on Spill from mid-1995 on, A N IMAL
PEOPLE noted a continuing sequence of events, usually
but not always involving Spill and/or Ben White, which
tended to refocus activist attention on captivity issues any time
either the Sea Shepherds, the Makah whaling proposal, or the
Atlantic Canada seal hunt seemed about to take the spotlight.
Whales & jail
On August 29, 1995, two weeks before Watson was
to go on trial in St. Johns, Newfoundland, facing a potential
life sentence on charges resulting from a confrontation with the
Cuban dragnetting vessel Rio Las Casas in July 1993, White
reputedly brokered a settlement of crossfiled lawsuits between
O’Barry vs. the Dolphin Alliance and the Gadfly Coalition.
Under the settlement, the Dolphin Alliance took Bogie and
Bacall to a sea pen on the Indian River. O’Barry kept the Navy
dolphins. Other parts of the deal were in dispute again within
48 hours. Roberts had O’Barry jailed for alleged trespassing.
As that made headlines, the Watson trial drew extensive note
in Canada, but virtually none in the U.S. Convicted of the least
serious among four charges, Watson served a 60-day jail term.
Keiko was finally moved from El Reino Aventura to
the Oregon Coast Aquarium, his home for the past 32 months,
in January 1996. Attention to his arrival predictably upstaged
Sea Shepherd efforts against the 1996 Canadian seal hunt.
As the Makah pursued permission to whale from the
International Whaling Commission in May 1996, they did
draw publicity. On May 17, 1996, however, an individual
never caught or identified by law enforcement clandestinely
freed Bogie and Bacall. O’Barry, fearing the National Marine
Fisheries Service would then reclaim the Navy dolphins, publicly
freed two of them six days later. They were soon recaptured––by
Trout–– and were returned to Navy custody .
The episode lured the TV cameras back to Florida,
away from the Makah, for most of a month.
Amid Internet buzzing over who was to blame for
what, Congressional pressure rallied by Rep. Jack Metcalf (RWashington)
at request of the Sea Shepherds on June 26, 1996
obliged the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling
Commission to delay presenting the Makah whaling quota
application until 1997. It was advanced again only after the
Clinton administration and Republican Congress, both sensitive
about their environmental records, were re-elected.
Ben White meanwhile took two Makah tribal elders
to the IWC meeting, and claimed their lobbying at the scene
was responsible for the postponement. Watson issued a conciliatory
press release, sharing the credit.
The upstaging continued. Notably, the August 20,
1997 announcement of the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation that
Keiko had finally learned to catch his own fish pre-empted
mass media note that on August 22, 1997 the National Marine
Fisheries Service published a required environmental assessment
of the Makah whaling proposal, which in effect gave it
the go-ahead for presentation at the International Whaling
Commission meeting of October 1997.
As the IWC at last took up the Makah proposal,
whatever print space and air time might have been devoted to
marine mammals was diverted when a dispute erupted between
the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation and the Oregon Coast
Aquarium over Keiko’s care and rehabilitation. The fracas
reached media via the former Gadfly Coaltion, renamed and
much more formally constituted as the Cetacean Freedom
Network. On Friday, October 17, as the IWC delegates
arrived in Monaco for the meeting, the Washington Post
Syndicate distributed an extensive account of the latest turns in
the Keiko saga. It appeared in the Washington Post itself and in
many other major newspapers on Monday, October 20––the
first day of the IWC meeting––and was usually published with
photographs, while IWC coverage if published at all tended to
be no more than a paragraph, without illustration.
Mass media did take note when the Makah whaling
quota was apparently approved, lumped together with purported
subsistence quotas for Siberian tribes.
Whether the IWC actually intended to approve
Makah whaling is disputed by some activists, and may become
the subject of legal action. Since then, however, the
Clinton/Gore administration and the Makah have proceeded as
if killing up to five whales in October is a go.
Still the upstaging went on. As the World Council of
Whalers met in Victoria during the first week of March 1998,
and visited the Makah, the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation
announced it would move Keiko to a sea pen in August.
Activists were further diverted by protest, led by Ben White,
against U.S. Navy sonic experiments off Hawaii. Seattle-area
media reported on the whalers’ visit a week afterward––and
even then tended to focus on Makah traditions, rather than the
possible precedent for other would-be whaling nations.
Friends of Animals had hired White in July 1994 as
Pacific Northwest representative and marine mammal consultant.
Based first in Port Townsend, Washington, and later in
Friday Harbor, White repeatedly clashed with the Sea
Shepherds during the next two and a half years over campaign
tactics pertaining to both the Makah whaling proposal and sea
lion predation on endangered salmon runs. When the Sea
Shepherds offered to relocate sea lions caught eating salmon at
Ballard Locks, near Seattle, White occupied the cage set up by
fisheries officials to hold trapped sea lions. The cage was later
smashed and sunk by unknown vandals––which both the Sea
Shepherds and National Marine Fisheries Service officials told
ANIMAL PEOPLE might have brought the shootings of any
sea lions who subsequently turned up.
White was eventually reprimanded for making a telephone
call to the Sea Shepherd headquarters, caught on tape,
in which he threatened that FoA would destroy the Sea
Shepherds because Watson had not endorsed a campaign seeking
to release or transfer the Vancouver Aquarium whales.
FoA fired White in January 1997. A review of telephone
calls White had billed to FoA since his hiring found that
more than a third were to numbers answered by Spill.
ANIMAL PEOPLE pursued investigation of Spill
by seeking Wewer. In February 1997 Wewer responded by fax
to questions from ANIMAL PEOPLE by boasting that he had
“moled into a movement organization using an identity which,
although assumed, does contain a humorous clue to my real
identity, if you know how to look for it.”
In archaic Germanic languages a “wewer” may be a
weir, a small stream or spillway, a pitcher or basin––or a
ANIMAL PEOPLE had already picked up a hint,
indirectly leaked from Putting People First, that Animal
Welfare Institute moves pertaining to the eventually killed but
then still pending European Union ban on imports of trapped
fur were perhaps known in advance by fur trade lobbyists.
In March 1997 ANIMAL PEOPLE tipped Animal
Welfare Institute founder Christine Stevens and executive
director Cathy Liss to the possible presence of a spy on their
payroll. Confronted, Spill denied being Wewer, as ANIMAL
PEOPLE reported in July/August 1998.
Spill gave Stevens and Liss affidavits that he was not
Wewer, signed by Doris Day Animal League president Holly
Hazard, Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Valerie Stanley,
who was formerly Hazard’s law partner, and several
Washington D.C. housemates.
But as ANIMAL PEOPLE also reported in
July/August 1998, one housemate later told EnviroWatch
investigator Carroll Cox that contrary to the affidavit, Spill
could not be definitively placed at that address at a time when
Wewer was making a public appearance in Montana. The
Social Security number Spill used at AWI traced to three different
individuals, in various parts of the U.S.; public records
indicate no births of males within a week of his stated date and
place of birth; and he abruptly left AWI in May 1997, he told
associates, to attend to matters associated with the death of his
85-year-old mother in Maine, but ANIMAL PEOPLE w a s
unable to locate any record of anyone female dying in Maine
during the right several days who was in the right age range to
have been Spill’s mother.
There was more. ANIMAL PEOPLE and Cox compiled
a long list of quirks that Spill and Wewer seemed to share.
Individuals using the same SSN as Spill had rented premises
close to several prominent west coast marine mammal facilities.
Another rented premises in proximity to a subsequent series of
alleged Animal Liberation Front arsons and break-ins against
fur farms and other animal use industry targets, each of which
didn’t appear to lastingly harm the enterprises in question, yet
did produce negative public response.
Did it mean anything?
As ANIMAL PEOPLE and Enviro-Watch followed
the trail, Washington state marine mammal activist Athena
McIntyre told Cox and affirmed in writing that Spill in March
1997, apparently soon after Liss and Stevens talked to him,
solicited her help to arrange for “police” he claimed to know to
“rough up” ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merrit Clifton.
McIntyre did not cooperate; no such “roughing up” occurred.
API hired White in place of Spill. ANIMAL PEOPLE
and EnviroWatch continued to note coincidences, including
Spill’s contact with individuals whom acquaintances repeatedly
identified from a variety of photographs and videos as
Mary Lou Sappone and Jan Reber. The person whom three
sources identified as Sappone was said by Spill to be a “girlfriend.”
The person who appeared possibly to be Reber was a
supposed tourist who was photographed and videotaped in the
act of allegedly assaulting Spill during a 1997 demonstration at
Marine World Africa USA. The episode enhanced Spill’s credibility
among the Cetacean Freedom Network, but Marine
World Africa USA witnesses told ANIMAL PEOPLE t h e y
suspected it might have been choreographed. No charges were
filed. Spill told other demonstrators that he might sue Marine
World Africa USA, but the only subsequent legal action was
apparently a demand from Ben White that the facility refund
the demonstrators’ entrance fees. White said this was done.
Reber, a decade earlier, was a partner in Perceptions
International, a private security firm hired by U.S. Surgical Inc.
to spy on animal rights activists. Sappone was a Perceptions
operative, who infiltrated Friends of Animals as a volunteer,
was elected president of the Connecticut Animal Rights
Alliance, and allegedly encouraged and financially assisted one
Fran Trutt, of New York City, in a November 1988 attempted
bombing of the U.S. Surgical parking lot. Sappone and Marc
Mead, another Perceptions undercover operative, also
arranged for Trutt’s arrest at the scene, much publicized by
U.S. Surgical. Trutt plea-bargained a year in prison.
Others of possible dual identity and conflicting values
also turned up near Spill.
Are we nuts?
Perhaps all the factional name-calling and coincidences
of timing and location amount to no more than the usual
activist hoopla. Perhaps we’re paranoid, perhaps the reputedly
wimpish Wewer is really just Wewer, and perhaps the
weightlifting, tough-talking Spill never was anyone else.
In any event, if the ongoing confluences of events
have all been plotted, they would require the connivance of
even better-placed participants to go on as they have, long after
Spill and many of his apparent friends lowered their profiles.
Among the highlights, Free Willy/Keiko Foundation
personnel during the first week in March visited Iceland,
Scotland, and Ireland, inspecting potential sea pen sites for
Keiko. Associated Press reported their findings on March 14,
one day before the scheduled start of this year’s seal hunt––
which was then delayed by poor ice conditions.
On April 16, an Icelandic veterinary team assessed
Keiko at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Coverage of their visit
upstaged the Sea Shepherds’ April 22 disclosure that the
Makah whale hunt is to begin October 1.
On June 17, the same day the Japanese “research”
w h a l e r Nisshin Maru unloaded 100 dead minke whales, the
Free Willy/Keiko Foundation announced that Icelandic prime
minister David Oddsson agreed back on June 9 that Keiko
could be moved to a sea pen at Klettsvik, Iceland. Iceland, a
whaling nation, before this year opposed any return of Keiko to
Icelandic waters, where he was captured in 1980. TV stations
worldwide mostly aired footage of the live Keiko, not the dead
On July 21, the Baffin Island Inuit killed a highly
endangered bowhead whale. The Sea Shepherds announced
that their flagship, the Sea Shepherd III, would pay a visit to
Neah Bay two days later to draw attention to Makah whaling.
The U.S. Coast Guard called a press conference to announce
rules for on-the-water protest during the Makah whaling. The
Free Willy/Keiko Foundation again pre-empted media notice,
however, by announcing completion of the sea pen.
On July 23, the Sea Shepherd III anchored in Neah
Bay, but even local media were more inclined to banner an
annonymous death threat against Keiko, reportedly received by
Free Willy/Keiko Foundation spokesperson Hallur Hallsson.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE goes to press, Keiko is to be
flown from the Oregon Coast Aquarium to Iceland on
September 9. That should insure a further barrage of attention
to him coinciding with the arrival of migrating gray whales
within shooting range of the Makah.
Get yourself a ringside seat.