As this article goes online, the numerous boats that make up the Sea Shepherd fleet are active. Standing for a movement that resembles those heroic stories of the past, where brave individuals face extreme adversity for their belief in what is right, Sea Shepherd’s vessels have come face to face with countless threats – from state officials to cartel bosses – and stood their ground.

Preventing the wanton slaughter of the ocean’s most endangered marine creatures is a goal that has brought together conservationists, scientists and like-minded thinkers, to stand together under the name of Sea Shepherd to help end the destruction of our precious marine resources. As in this world, where so many lies continue to slip through the net, and the truth is slashed and frayed for myriad political and economic reasons, it remains a constant struggle for people to help find what is right. But as time passes, many are finally seeing the truth, thanks to those that courageously beat on through it all to expose eye-opening images of how under threat our oceans really are.

Underwater360’s Ocean Defender of the Week, Captain Paul Watson, has become an alternative pop legend. Controversial, of course, but Watson has managed to captain a career so brutally loyal to his cause that he’s garnered thousands of “aware” individuals to stand by him and support his global efforts. Co-founding Director of the Greenpeace Foundation, and Founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Watson has created a global movement few could ever have predicted. Underwater360 caught up with the man to find out more about his motives and incredible career:

Captain Watson standing in front of Sea Shepherd team and the Steve Irwin vessel. © Wikimedia Commons

Captain Watson standing in front of Sea Shepherd team and the MY Steve Irwin © Wikimedia Commons

Major Events in Paul Watson’s Life

1950: Paul Watson is born in Toronto, Canada

1968: Joins the Canadian Coast Guard, on the weathership CCGS Vancouver

1969: Becomes one of the co-founders of the Greenpeace Foundation, which is initially named Don’t Make A Wave Committee

1971: Maiden voyage of the Greenpeace I and Greenpeace II

1972: Skippers a tiny Greenpeace boat Astral on a collision course with a French helicopter carrier in Vancouver Harbour to protest against French nuclear testing

1975: Serves as First Officer under Captain John Cormack on a voyage to confront a Soviet whaling fleet. During the confrontation, a harpooned and dying sperm whale looms over Watson’s small boat, but spares his life due to an understanding of Watson’s intentions. This is the moment Watson claims to have changed his life forever

1977: Leads a Greenpeace campaign to oppose the seal hunt off the coast of Canada’s Labrador Peninsula. Watson leaves Greenpeace Foundation because of disagreement on tactics and founds Sea Shepherd

1978: Purchases a North Atlantic trawler in Britain and converts its into a conservation enforcement vessel, Sea Shepherd

1979: First voyage of Sea Shepherd to Gulf of St. Lawrence to publicise the Canadian seal hunt and save seal pups

Why do you do what you do?
To defend life and diversity in the ocean. It’s also a question of survival. If the ocean dies, we all die.

Why did you found the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society?
I was a co-founder of Greenpeace and I simply grew tired of bearing witness and hanging banners, so I decided to establish an interventionist anti-poaching organisation using what I call aggressive non-violent tactics. 

What’s the hardest and best things about your work?
The hardest thing is dealing with government and corporate bureaucracy. The best thing is saving lives.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever discovered while on the job?
The realisation that humanity is ecologically insane and there seems to be no explanation of our destructive and self-destructive behaviour.

What do you hope to achieve through your work?
To help build a global movement to defend and protect and save biodiversity in the sea.

Who is your role model?
My primary role model is a whale that spared my life in 1975 and gave me an insight into the nature of both his kind and us. My fictional role model is Captain Nemo. My human role model was James Waddell, the captain of the Confederate raider Shenandoah. He sank 37 whaling ships without taking a single human life or causing a single injury, a record I am proud to have kept myself for the past 40 years.

A reminder of why Sea Shepherd do what they do. An orca surfaces in front of a Sea Shepherd vessel © Vimeo.com

A reminder of why Sea Shepherd do what they do. An orca surfaces in front of a Sea Shepherd vessel © Vimeo.com

Steve Irwin collides with the Yushin Maru No. 2 as Nisshin Maru processes minke. © Adam Lau

Steve Irwin collides with the Yushin Maru No. 2 as Nisshin Maru processes minke. © Adam Lau

Sea Shepherd crew member Laurens De Groot hurls a bottle of butyric acid (rotten butter) at Japanese harpoon whaling ship, the Yushin Maru No. 1, as the Sea Shepherd helicopter flies overhead. The Yushin used water cannons to keep Sea Shepherd boats at bay in New Zealand territorial waters north of the Ross Sea off Antarctica in 2009. © Flickr.com

Sea Shepherd crew member Laurens De Groot hurls a bottle of butyric acid (rotten butter) at Japanese harpoon whaling ship, the Yushin Maru No. 1, as the Sea Shepherd helicopter flies overhead. The Yushin used water cannons to keep Sea Shepherd boats at bay in New Zealand territorial waters north of the Ross Sea off Antarctica in 2009. © Flickr.com

A sign calling for the dropping of charges against Watson, Wellington International Airport © William Stadtwald Demchick

A sign calling for the dropping of charges against Watson, Wellington International Airport © William Stadtwald Demchick

Major Events in Paul Watson’s Life (cont.)

1983: Sea Shepherd II moves into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to continue work previously started by Sea Shepherd, and is ra
mmed and boarded by RCMP and Canadian Coast Guard units in a tear-gas assault

1986: Sea Shepherd II departs Malmö for the Danish Faroe Islands to document and obstruct Faeroese pilot whale sport hunts. Five crewmembers are arrested and held without charge, and Sea Shepherd II only departs when the crew is released

1991: Off of Guatemala, the Sea Shepherd II discovers the Mexican tuna seiner Tungui with her nets in the water and dolphins struggling to escape. The Sea Shepherd II rams and damages the Tungui and turns a high-pressure hose on her on-board helicopter. The dolphins are released

1993: Watson’s book Earthforce! An Earth Warrior’s Guide to Strategy is published

2000: Watson signs an agreement with the state of Rio Grande du Sol in Brazil, giving Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil authority to conduct anti-poaching patrols along the nation’s southern coast

2008: Watson receives the Steve Irwin Wildlife Warrior of the Year Award from Terri Irwin

2010: Watson speaks at a TED conference in San Francisco, where some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to share what they are most passionate about

2012: Captain Paul Watson becomes only the second person, after Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, to be honored with the Jules Verne Award, dedicated to environmentalists and adventurers

For further information on the history of Captain Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd, click here.

What qualities do you live your life by?
Yes. Biocentrism, the three laws of ecology, i.e., the laws of diversity, interdependence and finite resources. [Also] compassion and veganism.

What do you think lies ahead for marine ecosystems?
Unless we see a radical shift in human priorities, the future for marine ecosystems is grim. We need to stop subsidising industrial fishing, we need to stop producing plastic, and we need aggressively enforce the laws against illegal activity on the ocean. We need to collectively understand that we cannot and will not live on a planet with a dead ocean – and the ocean is dying before our eyes. 

What can the average person do to help protect life in the oceans?
People can use their talents and skills and harness them to the horses of imagination, courage, passion and action. We need to stop eating the ocean alive. I advocate not eating fish, not dumping our garbage into the sea, not damaging coral reefs, not supporting ecologically destructive fish farms. I advocate volunteering with a group, any group working to protect our ocean. Most importantly, people need to become aware of one very important reality… if the ocean dies, we all die.

What is your next step?
What I started 40 years ago has evolved into a global movement. We have our own small Navy and we are tackling issues around the planet. My next step is to repeat every step that I have taken since 1971, over and over again to build a stronger and more effective global movement.