French film actor, director, and producer Jacques Perrin has worked both
in front of and behind the camera. He acted in and produced Z, directed by
Costa-Gavras, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1969. More
recently, he’s best known around the world for his big-budget, high-concept
nature films, Microcosmos and Winged Migration. His Galatee Films spent eight
years on the groundbreaking new film, Oceans. For more of my conversation with Perrin and his team, check out the companion book to the film, OCEANS, The Threats to the Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide. For mo
“It started with a simple dream: to swim with the fish and the dolphins, to accompany them underwater and as they crossed the oceans. The desire to forget the little we do know in order to rediscover it and see and hear it anew. To invent a camera as fast and nimble as the sea lion, a camera made for the big screen but using short focal lengths so we can get up close and personal with the animals, sparking new relationships and emotions. To stop watching the spectacle and be a part of it. To never slow down—the sensation of speed and vitality is far too precious. That’s what we wanted: a living camera dancing with the whales, leaping with the dolphins, bursting forth with the tuna, and gliding with the manta rays.”
That was Jacques Perrin’s goal for his new film Oceans and aided by a cast of many hundreds they managed to pull it off. On a sunny spring day I find Perrin and the top echelon of his team – the film’s co-producer Jacques Cluzaud, executive producer Jake Eberts and biologist/writer Francoise Sarano – in Paris. The official opening of their beautiful film in the U.S. was still a month away (April 22).
Conceived in Perrin’s head a decade ago, the filmmaking required to match his vision had been a monumental undertaking, taking the mostly-underwater camera crews to 54 locations around the globe. (At one point, there were twenty-six location managers and nineteen cameras in the field on a single day). A veteran producer and film director, known to an international audience most recently for his bold, technology-pushing wildlife films Microcosmos and Winged Migration, Perrin’s films have always been major events. Oceans, funded by a long and varied list, including the expected (film companies and television channels) and the unexpected (NGOs and philanthropic foundations, banks, businesses and regional councils) is no different.
'OCEANS' producers Cluzaud and Perrin
His team built thirteen specially modified digital camera systems and sophisticated waterproof housings for each. Every camera operator had to be able to use rebreathers in order to allow them to stay down long and dive without bubbles; each cameraman was assigned a security diver/“rebreather instructor” who shadowed his every flipper-stroke, responsible for managing and maintaining the dive equipment so the cameraman could focus solely on the pictures. In cases where the diving site was more than two hours from the closest first aid center specialized in diving accidents, the expedition traveled with a pressurized stretcher and an emergency doctor trained in hyperbaric medicine. They built a high-tech crane using military secrets dubbed Thetys; a remote controlled helicopter camera they called Birdy Fly; a torpedo-cam that could be dragged 300 feet behind the boat; and a pole-cam, for getting up-close with the fishes from above sea level. All that time, energy and money is apparent on the screen.
But they were after something bigger than a nature film or documentary. In the words of the film’s co-producer Jacques Cluzaud, “Be clear, Oceans is not a wildlife documentary. A documentary maintains a certain distance, an outsider’s viewpoint. It describes a phenomenon and often explains it. Oceans takes the opposite approach: It doesn’t teach the audience anything, it attempts to jolt it.”
Jacques Perrin: The idea for Oceans came to me about ten years ago when we were finishing Winged Migration. Still vague, it was an idea for a fiction film about a defender of whales and oceans based on the story of Captain Paul Watson. Then the sea animals grew increasingly important. Of course the story continued to fill out, getting increasingly rich, with more and more characters and points of view—that of the sailor, the diver, the oceanographer, the fisherman, the judge, the polluter and the ocean traveler—to represent every aspect of the ocean. But it was never enough: the ocean has too many faces. And more and more the sea creatures were taking over our script, ever more disconcerting. Clearly there wasn’t just one ocean but thousands of them, making up the great global ocean we couldn’t ignore. It filled us with enthusiasm over the days and nights and years that we worked on the script. Jacques Cluzaud and I surrounded ourselves with an indispensable, unbeatable team who helped us to develop an intimate understanding of the oceans. After three years of collaborative work, we realized the script we had finally finished was a dead end: at three and a half hours, the film wove the stories of human characters and sea creatures into the greatest impressionistic vision of the ocean—and was way too long. We came to an abrupt, painful stop.
We had to start over, build it from the ground up, using only what was essential: the marine creatures—the best advocates there are for the ocean. So long as you’re not just in it to film pretty pictures or vent your pessimism, this kind of filmmaking is the best weapon you have to testify, take a stand, denounce, and convey your indignation, no matter how complex the subject. The evocative power of cinema could truly resonate with that of the ocean.
Of course, we’re not the first to make a movie about the sea. But we wanted something else. Wasn’t it possible to make something different and innovative using images we might have seen before? Naturally it wasn’t easy. The breadth of the ocean cannot be defined from a single point of view. It took a long time: three years of writing and pre-production, nearly four years in production, endless trial and error that allowed us to pinpoint our desires and better define our intentions as we went along. Though Winged Migration was a challenge, Oceans was incredibly more complicated. Underwater, our cameramen were physically and visually handicapped: too slow to swim as fast as fish in an environment where visibility is rarely greater than fifty feet. Yet we wanted to express the life and movements of sea animals as different as the cuttlefish and the sailfish. Oceans isn’t a documentary, it’s a wildlife opera. And each animal played its part, contributed a few notes to the score.
The essence of a documentary is that you start off with a theory, that you wish to explain using pictures or images. In a way it becomes an illustrated text. Our case was a bit different because we spent a long time listening to scientists, learning from them, digesting that information and re-expressing it by giving full throttle to nature itself, allowing nature to express itself fully, getting really into the heart of what nature could show us. Which is a very emotional way of expressing it and the viewer should feel that emotion.
It’s a bit like the end of the nineteenth century painters doing seascapes, for example. They would show you colors of the sea and colors of the sky, and would perhaps describe scientifically what was happening at a particular point of time. What I hoped to do is convey that expression and that emotion in a similar way.
With Winged Migration we were trying to see things that we know, animals that we know, but see them differently and therefore discover new things about them. We’ve done that in this film in different ways. First of all, in the way in which we filmed and also the way it’s been edited. The way it’s been presented gives you that very close feel to the animal, but also the fact that we are covering them extremely fast in the speed of their movement. For example, if you are following a dolphin at 10 knots in the water, or 22 knots outside water, you see things differently, you see things in a new light and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. So we’re very close to them.
We had all sorts of advisors but scientists were not dictating us to do certain things. We just followed the animals; they guided us, kind of telling us what to film, what not to film, and how we should feel. We might be right in the middle of them but their behavior didn’t change with our presence, which is what makes it so special, the fact that we are there, we observe them, but they continue to behave in a completely natural way without being modified in any way.
We have heard several times after private viewings of Oceans people coming out of the theater saying, ‘We didn’t realize the diversity that we talk about so much is an expression of life and movement.’ To us, that is what is important to show. For example, when you see a sequence where there are sharks being brought out of the sea and their fins cut off just to be used for soup and the bodies thrown back into the sea it means these sharks have been condemned to death. People young and old people have come out of our movie in tears because of those scenes. The fact that we’ve been able to touch people in that way, show them something different, shows that there is this great diversity and that the diversity also is a question of personality. We are not just talking about ordinary fishes; we are talking about predators and prey, about innate and acquired behavior. We’re not just talking about fish that are going to be eaten or displayed in a store or a market but about beautiful, graceful animals moving in a natural, balletic way. What we are trying to do is show that this diversity is something that we belong to as well, that we are not more than these animals, that we are not in any way better or greater but just another species, part of the huge diversity that exists on the planet. We are not just showing them a gallery of pretty animal pictures, but all of life’s theater, which we hope is going to move them, blow them away.
Many people have come out of the theater and said, ‘we want to share this with someone else. I want to talk about it with my children, my family.’ They either come out feeling really angry at some of the things they’ve seen, or incredibly moved.
After all these years of such intense filming on the ocean am I concerned about it and its creatures? Absolutely. During these eight years several species of fish have disappeared, forever.
I truly think individuals can change things. Otherwise it’s just like going to church and lighting a candle and hoping that something is going to happen. We need to do more than that. We need to have tighter regulations, a United Nations of the Sea so to speak, and it should no longer be mere rhetoric for conferences and discussions. We’ve got to go much further and really have an armed sense of protection of the sea and its nature. I think, however, that more people are becoming aware of these issues and that they are going to really put pressure on governments to take action along these lines.
The ocean is really quite strong and capable of regenerating itself if it were to be allowed to do so. So I think our film is an ode to the ocean, and I think if we kind of sing from the same hymn sheet, so to speak, and we sing in tune, we can make a difference.
A resident of Marblehead, Massachusetts, Christopher Swain is in the midst of his most ambitious adventure yet, swimming the length of the Atlantic coastline. Previous record-settings swims have taken him down the Hudson, Columbia and Mississippi rivers. Using adventure to draw attention to environmental concerns is a unique – but effective — lure. His essay from OCEANS, The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.
When I was a boy, I snorkeled in Buzzards Bay, a fat thumb of the Atlantic Ocean that presses into the coast of Massachusetts.
I remember squinting down through my mask at acres of rippled sand, hunting for the telltale bulges of treasure chests.
As an eight year-old, I didn’t know the sea was warming and turning acidic. I had no idea there was mercury in the bottom sediments or pesticides in the waves.
I was just a kid who loved the ocean.
As an adult, I swam through thousands of miles of water laced with everything from motor oil to raw sewage, in an effort to make our waterways more friends.
When I gave speeches about my adventures, folks would sidle up to me afterwards and ask, “What can I do to help?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got an inbox full of spam telling me what I could be doing to help the ocean, about how I could clean up plastic trash in the Pacific, or stop whale hunting in the Southern Ocean.
And I have to admit it bugs me every time someone tells me what I should be doing. But when people are looking into my eyes, asking for ideas, I feel like I need to say something.
I believe we protect what we love.
When we walk the beach, play in the surf, or go for a swim in our favorite slice of the sea, we get in touch with what’s going on there. We begin to care about that place. We become invested.
And once we do care, once we are invested, protection and restoration take care of themselves.
You know what I see when I look at pictures of our planet? Massive swathes of blue water. Continents floating like islands. And living on those islands? One people, sharing one ocean.
You want to protect it?
You’ve got to get wet.
Once the king of New York City seafood restaurants, Rick’s Moonen’s pseudonymous restaurant in Las Vegas is one of the leading examples of a cook committing to sustainable seafood. A founding member of the Seafood Choices Alliances, which named him “Seafood Champion” in 2006, he is an active member of the Wildlife Conservation Society and SeaWeb, practicing what he preaches – choosing fish wisely – at home and in his restaurant. An excerpt from OCEANS, The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.
I was first introduced to the world of ocean-friendly seafood when I was Executive Chef at Oceana in New York City in the 1990’s. I was approached by a non-profit conservation organization, SeaWeb, who had done their research and knew I had been highly involved in the Pure Foods campaign. I was quite outspoken that consumers, including chefs, have the right to know what’s in their food. SeaWeb was concerned about a different issue, the North Atlantic swordfish, and wanted me to sign on to their Give Swordfish A Break campaign. They were asking chefs to take swordfish off their menu as a means of raising awareness that Atlantic swordfish populations needed protection.
I had been going to the Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan for years, and had seen a lot of changes in both the size and quality of fish. In 1988, swordfish often weighed two hundred pounds or more; today it is frequently found below one hundred pounds. I admit that I was quite nervous about taking such a popular seafood item off my menu, that it might not be a smart business decision. But I began to feel very passionately about the issue and signed on. I became the campaign’s spokesperson, and it ended up being a historic in that it actually forced the government to take action.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed being on the front lines for other species campaigns such as Take A Pass On Chilean Sea Bass and Caviar Emptor. In 2001, I worked with SeaWeb to launch the Seafood Choices Alliance, an association of conservation organizations and seafood professionals that brings ocean conservation to the table by promoting seafood that is good to eat and good for the ocean. As a “Seafood Champion” for the Alliance, I am often called upon to testify at management council meetings or government hearings, participate in media features related to seafood and ocean conservation, and in development of local events to raise awareness of better seafood choices.
The oceans cannot provide an endless supply of fish. More effective fishing methods have led to fish populations being caught faster than they can reproduce. Cod have been depleted – as much because of overfishing as from damage to the ocean floors. So fishermen turned to monkfish, a “trash fish” once discarded as bycatch. Now monkfish is depleted. A savvy marketing campaign renamed the Patagonian toothfish “Chilean sea bass.” These are slow-growing fish, living forty years. A fish that takes that long to mature is particularly susceptible to overfishing – something that is clear when you find out how few of these fish are left in the world.
Seafood conservation has become the focus of my career. As a seafood chef, I feel I have the utmost responsibility to ensure a lasting and diverse supply of seafood. My customers have begun to know me as a conservationist and expect that everything on my menu has been caught or farmed in a way that has had minimal impact on the environment. But for the consumer who doesn’t know me or is going to other restaurants, they should educate themselves and try to find out the following from their server or chef:
- Where is the fish from? Be a smart shopper!
- Is the fish farmed or wild caught?
- If the seafood is wild caught, how was it caught?
- Eat smaller fish; they are lower on the food chain and better for the environment and your health.
If a server, manager or chef of a restaurant can’t provide you with the above information, then they do not hold the passion and commitment in serving only sustainable seafood. As a consumer, you are entitled to know what you are buying and how to choose it. If nothing’s done to change the way we are purchasing, consuming, and removing biomass from the ocean, all commercially available fish will be extinct in the next thirty five to forty years. That was reported by biologist Boris Worm in Science in 2006 and scares the hell out of me.
Jeff Pantukhoff has used his filmmaking skills to help alter a variety of ocean and marine animal fights, most notably with grey whales along the Mexican coast. He has also unabashedly relied on the media and committed celebrity spokespeople(including Pierce Brosnan and Hayden Panettiere) to draw attention to his causes, which he insists has made all the difference. An excerpt from, OCEANS, The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.
I believe one of the best ways to get a message out to the public and to influence decision makers is to use the power of celebrity and the media to deliver the message. My experience is that you can put the brightest scientist or the world’s greatest expert on any given subject in front of people and more often than not, they will get glassy-eyed and lose attention. But put a passionate celebrity in front of them delivering the exact same message, someone that they think they know and someone they relate to, and they will pay attention.
But it can’t be just any celebrity. Merely lending their name to a cause – which many celebrities do – doesn’t often make a difference because they are only doing so to help improve their own image. To truly be effective, your spokesperson has to passionate, to truly believe in your cause and also be self-motivated and committed to the point of wanting to take direct action to help raise awareness be it through press conferences, television appearances, protests and more.
I believe one of the main reasons we were ultimately successful in stopping Mitsubishi from building the world’s largest salt plant in San Ignacio Lagoon was because Pierce went to the lagoon with us, witnessed its beauty and the amazing encounters with the friendly gray whales there firsthand. As a result, he was deeply moved and motivated to do whatever he could to help us take on and beat one of the world’s largest corporations.
When I first met Hayden Panitierre on set of a friend’s film, she was only fifteen years old. But I was immediately impressed not only by how talented she was, but by how she handled herself on set and the relationship she had with Lesley, her mother. As we talked I soon discovered that both were animal lovers. At the time I was looking for someone to spearhead our Save the Whales Again! Campaign. After showing them some of the our public service announcements and previous films I asked daughter and mother if they would be interested in getting involved and they immediately agreed.
The first place I took Hayden and Lesley was San Ignacio Lagoon to experience the gray whales and share our success story. The trip had a huge impact on them both. Later, when I showed them the footage of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji — Japan’s notorious dolphin killing cove — and asked if they wanted to go there and take part in an action that was being planned by my friend and fellow activist Dave Rastovich, they did not hesitate.
In October 2007 we traveled together to Taiji. Images from our visit were seen around the world, bringing international awareness to the issue later heightened with the release of the documentary film “The Cove”, which also included scenes from our visit.
HAYDEN PANETTIERE: The brutal practice in Japan of herding dolphins and small whales into coves and killing them is ongoing. The hunters blind and frighten the helpless animals by hammering on metal poles in the water, driving them into small coves where they are trapped in nets and then killed.
I experienced this slaughter first hand when Jeff invited me to join him on that 2007 trip to Taiji. Along with actress Isabel Lucas, our Australian spokesperson, we took part in a peaceful paddle-out ceremony. Along with four other activists, we paddled surfboards out into the blood red waters where over thirty pilot whales had already been slaughtered and we honored all the beautiful animals that had lost their lives there. During our peaceful ceremony, the Japanese fisherman, unprovoked, became violent and physically aggressive towards us. Though being hit with large poles and threatened with spinning boat propellers, which came inches from us, we held our ground. The resulting international media attention generated by the incident was massive, and the support from people around the world has been incredible.
The irony is that most of the Japanese public is unaware that these hunts even happen, that over twenty thousand dolphins and porpoises are being slaughtered by Japanese fisherman every year
The reason I choose to focus my efforts on saving the dolphins and whales is two-fold. First, is because dolphins and whales are charismatic creatures, both intelligent and beautiful. The second is because dolphins and whales are also the barometer of the overall health of our oceans; I truly believe that as go the dolphins and whales, so go our oceans, and as go the oceans, so goes all life on earth. If we can save the dolphins and whales, we will save our oceans and ultimately, we will save our planet and ourselves.
Professor and author, Callum Roberts has written exhaustively and eloquently about the rapacious history of man when it comes to the world’s ocean. In the final chapter of his critically-acclaimed book Unnatural History of the Sea he suggests there are ways to change the future for fishes, that catching the last one in the sea does not have to be an inevitability. An excerpt from OCEANS, The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.
We have much to do to realize a vision of the world where the oceans and seas are spangled with mosaics of marine reserves. With just three-fifths of one percent of the ocean currently protected, we need fifty times more reserve areas to do the job well, spread across the waters of coastal nations and the high seas. This is far more than many politicians, fishery managers, and even some people in conservation agencies are willing to countenance. I have spoken to hundreds of them in my career. Even in unguarded moments, the most that many are willing to concede is that a few percent of the sea should be protected as reserves. The rest would either continue to be used as it is now or would be zoned to exclude certain kinds of activities, like dredging for aggregate or drilling for oil.
If we stick to that management paradigm, I am convinced that marine life will continue its long slide toward jellyfish and slime. A handful of special places protected by reserves might remind tourists of what has been lost. But these scattered reserves could sustain only a fraction of the species that live in the sea because in the long term they will not be sufficient to maintain viable populations of the largest, most vulnerable, and most mobile species. Diving in them would be like looking at a Roman fresco where great pieces of plaster have crumbled away. Do we really want to have to imagine what has been lost?
I believe that we need to flip this paradigm on its head. Rather than thinking that marine reserves protection should be afforded to only a few species or out-of-the-way places, we need to view reserves as the foundation and underpinning for all other management. According to this view, reserves would cover some 30 percent of the sea, perhaps more in some places. They would be complemented by other kinds of marine protected areas that allow a range of low-impact activities such as certain kinds of fishing. Added to this would be areas zoned for other uses, such as bottom trawling. The aim would be to contain the impacts of more invasive activities and keep them away from sensitive areas. Places that are given no protection would make up a small minority of the sea, not the large majority that they constitute now.
Opinion surveys show that the public is ready for such a change in thinking. For example, when Americans were polled on their attitudes to the oceans a few years ago, they were surprised to find so little protection given to the sea. On average, they thought that 22 percent of the sea was already fully protected from all fishing in marine reserves and were upset and angry to discover that most national marine sanctuaries allowed fishing. The name “sanctuary” was a sham. At a conference in 2003, I picked up a leaflet put out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that proclaimed “Discover Nature’s Bets Hunting and Fishing: The National Wildlife Refuge System.”Clearly, even some conservationists have trouble with the concept of “refuge.” One of my students has also polled public opinion in Britain. On average, people thought that 16 percent of Britain’s seas were already protected in marine reserves (at the time of the survey the correct answer was 0.0004 percent). When asked how much of Britain’s seas they thought should be protected this way, the average answer given was 54 percent. Ninety-five percent of people thought more than 20 percent should be marine reserves.
People love the sea. Some of our most cherished early memories are of trips to the seaside, gathering shells, paddling, fencing with seaweeds, and gazing into rock pools. The sea inspires and soothes us; it can rouse us to rapture and terror. It is in constant motion but never seems to change. The whisper of rising tide over sand is the same today as it was when Dampier and his companions rocked at anchor in some Caribbean bay. The radiant blue of the Mediterranean dazzles in the same way as it did when Hannibal set forth with his fleet to conquer Rome. But many of the animals that sported around their ships are rare today or already in deep trouble and need our help to make a comeback.
A starting gun has been fired to change all of this. In 2000, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order, later endorsed by the Bush administration, charging government agencies to create a national network or marine protected areas. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, coastal nations of the world pledged to create national networks of marine protected areas by 2012. Meanwhile, European nations had already committed to create a Europe-wide network by 2010. However, these pledges remain vague on targets for numbers or size of protected areas and how they should be managed. Marine protected areas must offer genuine refuges. The World Conservation Union’s World Parks Congress of 2003 recommended that at least 20 to 30 percent of every marine habitat should be protected from all fishing, and that marine protected area networks should straddle the high seas as well as national waters. Moves are afoot at the United Nations to develop a mechanism that would allow the establishment of marine reserves in this global commons, for which there appears to be widespread support.
Several countries have made good progress. South Africa has committed to protect 20 percent of its waters. Eighteen percent of its territorial waters are already res and the network is being expanded offshore. In Australia, a third of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, more than 100,000 square kilometers (40,000 square miles) of reef, sea grass, and swamp, was protected from fishing in 2004. This network of reserve zones is representative of all the different habitats in the park and sets a shining example for others to follow. Britain’s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended in 2004 that 30 percent of the country’s waters should become marine reserves. We are on the path to a global network of marine reserves that could restores the oceans to much of their former glory. But we have to be bold and move rapidly if we are to achieve success.
Can the world afford to protect the oceans? One estimate, made in 2004, put the cost at US $12 to $14 billion per year to run a worldwide network of marine reserves covering 30 percent of all oceans and seas. Initial one time set-up costs would be about five times this amount. These sums seem like a lot but are put into perspective when we consider they are less than the US $15 to $30 billion we currently spend on harmful subsidies that encourage excess fishing capacity and prop up over exploitation. Most countries offer fishers tax breaks on fuel, for example, or free nets, and many countries pay for access to fish in another country’s waters. Compared to global defense spending, estimated at US $900 billion in 2004, the sums needed to keep our oceans healthy are trivial. The costs are also less than the US $31 billion that Europeans and Americans collectively spend on ice cream, and roughly equate to the US $15 billion we spend on perfumes or US $14 billion more than a million permanent jobs for managers, wardens, and administrators. Much of the running costs of coastal reserves could be recouped from visitors. Some reserves, like the Saba and Bonaire marine parks in the Caribbean are already self-funding, based on modest payments made by visitors. The costs could also be offset by the very large contribution reserves networks can be expected to make on fs. It would take only 10 percent uplift in fishery productivity in Britain’s Irish Sea and 2 to 3 percent in the North Sea for reserves there to cover all their management costs. The world can certainly afford marine reserves. What it can’t afford is to be without them any longer.
No one ocean person is more ready to fight on its behalf than Captain Paul Watson. Each season for the past several he has sailed his ship the Steve Irwin to the icy waters off Antarctica to harass Japanese whalers, who insist on continuing their hunt despite international protest and pressure, using “science” as their lone defense. The popular Animal Planet series “Whale Wars,” filmed aboard the ship during its offenses, has brought Watson to an international audience and people either love him or hate him; with Paul, it seems, there is no middle ground. An excerpt from OCEANS, The Threats To Our Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide.
Jon Bowermaster: Has your current campaign in the Southern Ocean been successful?
Captain Paul Watson: I believe it has been successful. Our strategy is an economic one. I don’t believe the Japanese whalers will back off on moral, ethical or scientific grounds but they will quit if they lose the one thing that is of most value to them – their profits. Our objective is to sink the Japanese whaling fleet – economically, to bankrupt them and we are doing that.
We have slashed their kill quotas in half over the last three years and negated their profits. They are tens of millions of dollars in debt on their repayment schedule for Japanese government subsidies. The newly elected Japanese government has pledged to cut their subsidies.
I am actually confident that we can shut them down this year. They are on the ropes financially.
JB: How do you measure success? Fewer whales taken by Japanese? Other signs??
CPW: Of their quota of 935 Minke whales last year they fell short by 304. Of their quota of 50 Fin whales, they took only one. The year before they only took half their quota and in the last three years did not kill enough whales to break even so have been operating at a loss. We have also exposed their illegal whaling activities to the world and initiated a controversy and a discussion on whaling in the Japanese media.
JB: How do the Japanese continue to get away with the whale hunt when so many things say they shouldn’t, i.e. the Antarctica Treaty forbidding commerce below sixty degrees south latitude and the International Whaling Comission’s ban on all whaling?
CPW: There is a lack of economic and political motivation on the part of governments to enforce international conservation law. The Japanese whalers are targeting endangered and protected whales inside the boundaries of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling, in violation of the Antarctic Treaty that prohibits commercial activity south of sixty degrees and they are in contempt of the Australian Federal Court for continuing to kill whales in the Australian Antarctic Economic Exclusion Zone. There is no difference between Japanese whale poachers in Antarctica and elephant poachers in East Africa except that the Africans are black and impoverished.
JB: Do you know what the reaction among Japanese people – not scientists, not government – is towards the continued whale hunts?
CPW: I’m not actually concerned. I’m Canadian and the majority of Canadians are opposed to the commercial slaughter of seals but the Canadian government subsidizes it nonetheless. I believe it is a myth that once the people of a nation oppose something that things will change. First, most people are apathetic and could not care one way or another. Secondly, the pro-whalers have an economic motivation to lobby for continued whaling and thirdly in Japan it is considered inappropriate to oppose government or corporate policy. I’ve always felt that educating the Japanese public was a waste of time and smacks of cultural chauvinism. The fact is that whaling is illegal and we intervene for that reason and the key to ending it is the negation of profits.
JB: They are showing The Cove in Japan now, and most Japanese interviewed said they had no idea these dolphin hunts were happening. Are the Japanese aware of “Whale Wars”?
CPW: I am not sure nor do I care. I know that the Japanese government and the whalers are aware of it. I know that the people of Taiji are aware of the dolphin slaughters. I think that the controversy over the film is allowing many Japanese people to become aware of it, despite that the killing of dolphins continues. The Cove has been most valuable in raising awareness outside of Japan, which motivates outside pressure on Japan.
JB: How are whale populations doing around the world? Growing? Shrinking?
CPW: The oceans are dying. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of economic collapse. We have destroyed some ninety percent of the population of the large fishes. All life in the ocean is threatened. And if the oceans die, we die. This is a simple fact that humans choose to ignore. If you eat a fish you are part of the problem. If you eat pork or chicken raised on fishmeal, you are part of the problem. If you throw plastic garbage into the ocean you are part of the problem. All whales are endangered although some populations are slowly recovering, but this may not save them from an overall marine ecological collapse.
JB: Are you optimistic or pessimistic in regard to how man is treating the ocean and its marine life? The World Wildlife Fund, for example, predicts all bluefin tuna will be gone by 2012 and that every species of fish we currently know will be gone by 2050.
CPW: The World Wildlife Fund is part of the problem. I wish they would use their vast resources to actually do something instead of constantly warning us how dire the situation is. Critics call conservationists doom and gloom “Cassandra’s” forgetting the fact that Cassandra may have predicted doom and gloom but she was right and Troy could have been saved if King Priam had simply listened to his daughter. We are the Cassandra’s and no one is listening.
We are about to launch a major campaign to defend bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean but it may be too late. Companies like Mitsubishi are literally investing in diminishment and extinction to raise the price of the tuna they have stored in vast refrigerated warehouses in Japan. The answer to this question is that the solutions are all impossible BUT sometimes the impossible is the answer, in other words, the impossible solution is simply a solution no one has conceived of yet.
JB: How do you counter critics who suggest Sea Shepherd’s methods are “too extreme?”
CPW: Criticisms from people don’t concern me. My clients are whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, fish and seabirds. We have never injured a single person and we have never been convicted of a single felony therefore there is nothing extreme about what we do. There is nothing extreme about intervening to uphold international conservation law and there is nothing extreme about defending the lives of endangered species and defending the integrity of endangered habitats.
In today’s socially challenged world it does not matter if you are running for President of the United States or saving whales, the accusation of the times is “terrorist.” In a world where the Chinese government can label the Dalai Lama a terrorist I have no problem with the Japanese whalers calling me the same.