Opening 10 Nov 2011
White-bearded, stocky “Santa Claus” Paul Watson guides his Sea Shepherd ship around the world looking for criminals who ignore the environmental laws of the sea. On board is a staff of volunteers, as well as conservationist/cinematographer Peter Brown, who serves as first mate. Watson says, “Women volunteers have more stamina than men; men go home after a month; women are more aggressive.” Sometimes mistaken for Greenpeace, they believe themselves to be more combative, and have no trepidation about ramming a ship if the opposing crew hesitates to follow orders. One of the founders of Greenpeace, Robert Hunter, often travelled with Watson until Hunter’s death in 2005.
Brown reports their journeys to the coast of Finland, St. John in Newfoundland, the Labrador ice sheet, the North Pacific off the coast of Washington state and southwest Canada, and Coco Marine Sanctuary near Costa Rica, to name some of their fields of action. They seek out criminals who slaughter whales or seals for their fur, which then has no market in the U.S. or Europe. They cut drift nets, which are only ten feet deep, but spread out for miles – enough to encircle the earth two and a half times. More than 1800 ships deposit drift nets at any one time, mostly from Japan and Thailand. They are, “curtains of death and kill everything, including innocent animals with no market value.”
Some slaughterers think they are above the environmental laws simply because of long-standing traditions. For example the Makah Indian tribe near Vancouver Island tried to restore a tradition of their cultural past to take up commercial whaling. They built a processing plant to sell outside the reservation, but Watson blocked their access to the whales. After a long stand off, the Makahs gave up. Men from the Faeroe Islands between Iceland and Norway, actually a highly civilized European island, suddenly go berserk and kill whales practically with their bare hands, wrestling with them in the water simply because it is a long-tradition. That is their only explanation.
Some people slaughter Harp seals for the fun of it. Watson says, “They are “the unemployed, movie stars, and decadent immoral nuts.” Often protestors disagree with the Sea Shepherd and protest from land, which “is a good tourist income for, e.g., Newfoundland” says Watson. Canada once arrested him for ramming a ship, but he was judged to be innocent and set free after several weeks in jail.
Peter Brown delivers the running commentary, keeping us in tune with where we are at any given time and calling Watson “my mystic holy man with uncanny good luck.” He seems to have adopted a kind of Michael Moore technique, although he doesn’t have to set up queasy situations like Moore often does. Watson encourages journalists to travel with him; he gives them enough juicy activity to report to the world. Watson, says, “This is no love boat; we shower once a week and have bad breath and most of the crew is stalwart vegan.” The cartoon series South Park has already caricatured him.
This is definitely an interesting film report about a worthy cause, and if you should think it is repetitious, then it’s because the work is repetitious: the same old bad guys are forced from unwanted oceans by this small crew of determined world saviours. You might even want to board ship some time yourself – that ship with the skull-and-crossed-bones flag – wait no – that’s a skull with a hook and a three-pronged fork. (Becky Tan)