Exclusive Q and A with “Whale Wars'” Captain Paul Watson
Whale Wars is getting more and more notoriety for several reasons. Their cause, fighting against the Japanese slaughter of whales and dolphins, continues to gain public support through their show, and the efforts of Ric O’Barry (he was chronicled in the Oscar winning documentary The Cove). Also, South Park finally got around to making fun of Whale Wars and other ocean bound reality shows. That really means they’ve made it.
We got a chance to talk with Captain Paul Watson about the upcoming season of Whale Wars, which he was back from filming. He also shared his future plans for upcoming voyages in this exclusive interview. Whale Wars airs on Animal Planet.
Q: Are you between shooting or still on an ocean adventure?
Paul Watson: Oh, actually downtown L.A. right now. Our ship, Steve Irwin is heading towards New York and then we’ll be going from there over to protect tuna from the tuna poachers in the Mediterranean. We finished up on the Antarctic campaign in the beginning of March.
Q: Is that what we’ll see in the next season of Whale Wars?
PW: Yeah, so season three will start this summer. That was all filmed January, February and March.
Q: How did the latest journey go?
PW: Well, this is our most successful campaign ever. We actually saved more whales this year than they killed, 528 got saved and they killed 507. So we went down with three ships, came back with two. We lost one vessel so it’s a pretty dramatic season really because the confrontations are far more intense than any year before.
Q: That must make for really harrowing footage.
PW: Yeah, sometimes it looks like a World War II battle scene out there with about eight different ships going almost on collision courses with each other. They actually turned into one of our vessels and deliberately cut it in half and sunk it. That was quite dramatic and also quite interesting the fact that that captain on that Japanese boat hasn’t been questioned by anybody, by the Japanese, New Zealand or Australian authorities. I don’t know of any case in maritime history where a ship has hit another vessel deliberately or even accidentally and the guy’s not even questioned. We’re operating in a situation where there’s one law for them and one law for us and they have all the advantages. Still, we’re winning.
Q: When you know their tactics can be that deadly, how do you prepare life preservation precautions?
PW: Well, we have a medical doctor on board. We have a hospital room. We have all the safety rescue equipment and everything. We’re prepared for any kind of situation where people might be seriously injured.
Q: But they cut a boat in half!
PW: Yeah, it was a 78 foot fast patrol boat and fortunately, the entire crew were out on the back deck and they weren’t inside the ship at the time.
Q: I imagine you had other ships to pick them up. What if they got all your ships?
PW: Well, the other two are bigger ships. We’ve had collisions between our ships and their ships but the big ships, it’s not that bad. It’s pretty difficult to sink us but they deliberately took out that small fast boat.
Q: At this point since the show’s been on, do they expect you?
PW: Well, the problem is every year we’re costing them money. They’re $150 million in debt and subsidies to the Japanese government so they’re becoming more and more frustrated. The more frustrated they become, the more hostile they become. The situation does become dangerous because of that but we are winning though. That’s the good thing. They haven’t made a profit now for four years so that’s the kind of pressure that we have to keep on them is really speaking the language they understand, profit and losses. We’ve got to make sure the losses exceed their profits.
Q: That’s amazing for four years. How long do you think it will take to finally stop it?
PW: Oh, God, they’re being incredibly stubborn. I keep hoping that this will be the last year but it looks like we’re going to have to go back again next year. It’s almost like they’ve embraced this as their symbol of resistance against the west really. Now they’re accusing everybody of being racist and everything for opposing their whale hunt which is ridiculous because we oppose Norwegian and Icelandic and other whaling operations. We’re not too concerned about the race that’s involved. We’re concerned about the practice.
Q: Have you had to develop new strategies?
PW: Yeah, we have to keep coming up with new strategies and our strategies have to be designed to make sure that nobody’s injured. We’ve never injured anybody. We have to stay within the boundaries of the law and sometimes we try to make them funny. Like this year we actually shot crocodile eggs onto the ship. Not real ones, but ones from the Australian zoo that when they get wet, expand into crocodiles. We just thought that was an appropriate thing to fire from the Steve Irwin.
Q: What sort of conditions do you expect on the Mediterranean voyage?
PW: We’re going down into one of the most remote areas of the world so we’re certainly dealing with a lot of adverse weather conditions and weather conditions that can change from 20 minutes to the next 20 minutes completely the opposite. We’ve gotten quite used to dealing with that. We also have to deal with ice conditions. Sometimes they become extremely hazardous. The icebergs we’re not too concerned about. It’s the ice flows that can cause problems. A growler could rip open the hull so you’ve got to be very, very careful. And of course we have to deal with the aggressiveness of the Japanese whaling fleet.
Q: Speaking of aggressive, what did you think of the South Park spoof?
PW: Yeah, those guys over at South Park have no sense of humor because I wrote back a letter saying that I enjoyed the show. We printed up our own South Park T-shirts and said, “Hey, why don’t you sue us?” Apparently they didn’t find it very amusing.
Q: Really? I thought they were pretty cool with the people they rib.
PW: No, I read in an interview they said, “Oh yeah, they sent us a letter saying how much they liked it and sent us some T-shirts” but in their exact words “We still think they’re f***ing liars.” So as far as I’m concerned, the guys at South Park don’t have a sense of humor.
Q: What has the popularity of Whale Wars done for the industry of ocean faring vessels?
PW: Well, I think it’s certainly made our job easier, that is to protect biodiversity in the world’s oceans. More and more people are aware what’s going on because of that. Especially amongst young people, I get approached by children almost every day who see the show. That gives me a lot of encouragement because they’re very, very passionate about it. So it certainly has been good for the cause.
Q: As a veteran sailor, what do you still love about the voyages?
PW: Well, I’m really doing what I like to do, the two things that I like to do most in the world. One is to go to sea and the other one is to protect wildlife. So I get to combine both of them and we actually get to take our ships into the most remote and hostile areas in the world. So it’s certainly a challenge from a seamanship point of view and it’s a challenge from a conservation point of view also.
Q: Can you describe the thrill of being at sea?
PW: Well, one of the things that I enjoy about being at sea is really you’re in control of your own fate there. You’re not under the laws or boundaries of any government or bureaucracy and we’re subject to really having to make our own decisions. It’s like being on a spacecraft. Your life support system, everything, you’re in charge of and you can’t depend on anybody else. It’s an incredible sense of freedom really.
COLLISION ON “WHALE WARS”