Sea Shepherd's whale wars get unwarranted hatchet job

The “bad-ass do-gooders” of Sea Shepherd come with the blessings of nine-out-of-10 Australians
Sunday, March 22, 2015

Blood & Guts: Dispatches From The Whale Wars
Sam Vincent
Black Inc., 2014, 274 pages, $29.99 (pb)

Industrial-scale whaling, writes Sam Vincent in Blood & Guts, had picked clean the world’s oceans until only the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary remained, protected by the icy remoteness of Antarctica and a worldwide ban on commercial whaling.

A convenient loophole allowing lethal whaling for “scientific research”, however, was exploited by Japan. This led to many thousands of gory whale deaths ― until the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society began physically disrupting Japan’s annual hunt on the high seas.

The “bad-ass do-gooders” of Sea Shepherd come with the blessings of nine-out-of-10 Australians, who support the group’s direct action campaign. However, Vincent, a mainstream media , has some disillusioning news for what he derisively calls the “whale-huggers”.

During his time with Sea Shepherd in 2013, Vincent uncovers, behind the donor-friendly, charismatic image of the Sea Shepherd leader, Paul Watson, a domineering, “megalomaniacal misanthrope”. Watson harbours among his whale-loving crew, says Vincent, like-minded “human-haters” who care more about whales than the plight of refugees in Australia or homosexuals in Africa.

Racism, too, Vincent says, is an “integral part of Australia’s whale advocacy”. Norway and Iceland kill more whales than Japan but it is only Japan that draws condemnation. This is because it is easier to demonise Australia’s old Asian war-time enemy, he says.

Vincent also disparages Sea Shepherd as an example of cost-free environmental activism. It's feel-good whale-saving theatrics, he says, allow us to ignore greater threats to whales from pollution, overfishing and climate change, with their requirements for changes in personal consumption behaviour.

Vincent’s biggest claim against Sea Shepherd, however, is to blame it for the continuation of Japanese whaling.

If only the anti-whaling zealots in Sea Shepherd (and Canberra) would back off, he says, then Tokyo would have no pretext to play the nationalist card in defence of a bogus “tradition” against “Western cultural imperialism”. This would leave market forces to bury an antiquated industry kept alive only by a large government subsidy.

Vincent’s lack of awareness that irrational and uneconomic government policies can well continue because of their domestic political benefits is on a par with the rest of his obsessive fault-finding crusade against Sea Shepherd.

Yes, Watson is personally and ideologically fallible. But he is extremely good at what he does ― disrupting the whale-hunt to financially cripple a terrible industry.

Yes, a proportion of Sea Shepherd’s popularity feeds on anti-Japanese racial prejudice, but this layer of support is an aberration.

And, yes, there are other issues deserving attention but the whale slaughter takes place in Australia’s backyard. It also raises a crucial issue: is nature simply a resource to be ruinously exploited or are we part of a mutually inter-dependent biosphere,with a unique responsibility to mind our technologically oversized ecological footprint?

Vincent, however, is exercised by a different question. Because whaling is “so miniscule in every respect ― whales killed, money made, cultural importance”, Sea Shepherd’s fixation on it must be about something other than whales.

Vincent nominates Watson’s “Gaddafi-size ego” and vegan fanatics using whale conservation to aggressively promote their “extremist” creed of animal rights.

This is too cynical, by half. Saving whales can serve as a symbolic entry into the necessary revolution in thinking from anthropocentrism to biocentrism.

Life on planet Earth is not all about us, especially not the profit-crazed elite who literally make a killing out of exploiting the natural world that is our one and only home.

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