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Environmental Group Thrives On Confrontation Tactics

November 11, 1986

SEATTLE (AP) _ Some anti-whaling activists think the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society goes too far in its efforts to save marine mammals, but the organization says its violent tactics are responsible and effective.

The group, which claims 12,000 members worldwide, has rammed and sunk whalers, girdled its own vessels with greased barbed wire to keep authorities from boarding, and dyed live seals to make their pelts worthless.

The all-volunteer group claimed responsibility Monday for the destruction of an Icelandic whale byproducts processing plant, and for the sinking early Sunday of two Icelandic whaling boats in Reykjavik harbor.

″If Iceland has chosen to commit terrorism on the high seas against the whales by killing these animals in flagrant disregard to international regulations, someone has to bring them to justice,″ the society’s founder, Paul Watson, said in Vancouver, British Columbia.

″I think we did so in a very responsible and efficient manner,″ Watson said. ″Terrorism is a word that is thrown about quite freely these days. It is causing death or injury to innocent people. We are not involved in terrorism in any way, shape or form.″

No injuries have been reported in any of Sea Shepherd’s acts, including those this weekend.

Alan Reichman, wildlife campaign coordinator for Greenpeace in Seattle, said Greenpeace doesn’t condone Sea Shepherd’s tactics.

″Our concern goes beyond (injury to people) where we just think that damage of property, even if individuals aren’t around, is beyond bounds,″ he said. ″He (Watson) is very lucky no one was aboard those boats.″

Reichman said Greenpeace thinks ″that over the long term we can make more progress through peaceful demonstrations and active lobbying.″

Making themselves physical obstacles between whalers and the sea mammals is as confrontational as Greenpeace members get, Reichman said.

Watson had been a member of Greenpeace, which was founded in 1971. But in 1977 he and members of the Vancouver chapter clashed sharply over tactics and Watson left. He then founded the Sea Shepherd organization, which is funded solely through donations and Watson’s literary and lecture earnings.

Sea Shepherd, which has offices in British Columbia, Los Angeles, Virginia, England, Ireland and Sweden, claimed responsibility in 1980 for the sinking of two whaling ships in Vigo, Spain, and of a whaler in Lisbon, Portugal.

The activists even blew up and sank one of their own vessels in 1979 after the Portuguese government confiscated it as compensation to the owners of the whaler Sierra, which Watson had rammed.

Sea Shepherd spokeswoman JoAnna Forwell said from Vancouver that the group’s harassment of sea-mammal hunters has saved thousands of whales, seals and dolphins.

The group always takes care to make sure no one is hurt by its actions, she said. The Sea Shepherd crew was instructed not to use explosives on the Iceland ships, she said, and to take action only against ships with no one aboard.

The saboteurs left two other whaling ships alone because there were watchmen aboard, Ms. Forwell said.

Watson and his band have some fans in the mainstream environmental movement. Cleveland Amory, the New York writer who heads Fund for Animals Inc., told the Seattle Times in 1981 that ″Paul Watson is really the outstanding animal activist in the world today.″

″To me, he is a kind of John Brown,″ Amory said. ″Nobody may have liked the John Browns, but they’re the ones who freed the slaves. For these times, it’s essential that a man like Paul Watson exists. He keeps the issue of whales alive.″

In 1984, Watson vowed to set out on foot in northeastern British Columbia to halt British Columbia’s wolf kill program. Ill-equipped for freezing temperatures and driving snow, he quickly called the campaign off.

He is seeking election Saturday as a member of the environmental Green Party to Vancouver’s parks board.

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