Pardon me thy bleeding piece of Earth that I am so gentle and mild with these butchers.
— “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare
Back in 1974 when Dr. Paul Spong, Robert Hunter and I organized the first ever voyage to save the whales we all agreed on one thing – The killing of whales was immoral, cruel, ecologically unsound and had no place in the modern world. Our position was that whaling, all whaling should be abolished. It was murder plain and simple.
Thus Bob Hunter, George Korotva, Fred Easton, and I found ourselves in front of a Soviet harpoon boat in June 1975 as eight magnificent Sperm whales fled before us in a frenzied panic a desperate race for their lives. We both smelt and felt their hot breath as they spouted in quick bursts, their gigantic lungs taxed to the limit as they tried to outrun the deadly killing machine bearing down on them.
And it was there in those heaving swells some sixty miles off the coast of California that the modern anti-whaling movement began when the Soviet harpooner pulled the trigger and sent an explosive tipped harpoon directly over our heads and in the backside of one of the fleeing leviathans.
It was a female and we were shocked to hear a blood-curdling scream of pain as the hot blood from her gaping wound pumped like a crimson fountain into the cold sea, we watched transfixed with horror as the head of the large male in the pod rose out of the water and dove back into the sea, the tail came out of the swells and followed the curving black back of the whale as it dove and then disappeared.
We all sat in the two small inflatable boats on the blood stained shroud of the sea and as the female rolled in agony on the surface in front of us the Russians began to reload their harpoon and were preparing to attach a cable, when suddenly the surface of the sea exploded behind us and we saw this angry Sperm whale rise up out of the ocean in a desperate and hopeless attempt to defend his pod from these killers. But they were ready for him and the harpooner nonchalantly squeezed the trigger and an unattached harpoon shot out with a clap of thunder and at point blank range slammed into the head of the large male and exploded in a shower of blood and gore as the dying whale fell back screaming pitifully, painfully convulsing in a spreading pool of steaming blood.
And still we sat there. I had jumped into the boat with Fred Easton and he had just captured the harpoon shot on his camera and was trying to keep it from getting wet when we saw the mortally wounded whale dive, and a trail of blood and bubbles came towards us very fast.
The whale came up and out of the water, his head rising swiftly along side our boat at a angle that would bring his body crashing down upon us. Cold salt water and steaming blood poured down onto us as I saw eye appear before me, so close I could see my own reflection and it was at that point that something happened and my life was never the same again.
Because in that singular eye, I saw a glimpse of intelligence, and I felt an understanding, that the whale understood what we were trying to do and suddenly I saw an incredible effort by the whale to halt his assault on us as his muscles clenched and the angle of his body changed so that he began to sink back into the sea alongside of us rather than to crush us beneath him. I saw his eye sink into the deep blue of the sea and disappear and I knew that I was the last thing he saw before he died.
The sun was slowly sinking as the Russians began to haul in their kills with threatening gestures towards us. I could barely speak, the look in that whale’s eye was haunting. He knew, he was aware, it was so plain to see and what sent shivers through me was the realization that what I had also glimpsed in that eye was – pity!
Not for himself but for us. How could we slaughter so remorselessly and without empathy or even a thought for what we were doing?
As I looked at the Russian whaling fleet scattered around my tiny boat I wondered what was motivating them? They were killing these magnificent, intelligent, socially complex, warm blooded sentient beings for what?
And it occurred to me that one of the products they were coveting from the whale was spermaceti oil, a high heat resistant lubricant used in sophisticated machinery including the production of inter continental ballistic missiles and the revelation came to me that we were killing such perfect beings for the purpose of obtaining an oil used in the production of a weapon designed to exterminate large populations of human beings.
And that was when it struck me. Is man really this insane?
And from that day onward I have devoted my life to defending the whales from the murderous designs of my own species. That whale had chosen to spare my life and in turn I have chosen to dedicate my life to defending whalekind from mankind.
Today the whales are my clients, not people.
And thus it is with a deep sadness and a sense of betrayal that I see the organization I co-founded now compromising on the lives of whales.
Of course much has changed. Many of the original Greenpeace people have died or moved on, and a few just simply sold out. Some of us, myself included have been the victims of revisionism and we have had our co-founder status removed Orwellian style on the Greenpeace website to simply “early member.”
But that is unimportant, I don’t mind being betrayed by Greenpeace but what I do mind and what grieves me sorely is that Greenpeace is now betraying the whales and is supporting the resumption of commercial whaling under certain conditions. It is like Greenpeace has claimed dominion over the lives of the whales to barter them in negotiations with their killers.
Why? Because it is in the nature of bureaucrats to compromise and Greenpeace is now a mega-international eco-corporation run by career eco-bureaucrats. The whales have now become simply numbers without sentience and the International Whaling Commission nothing more than an annual round of horse trading, subject to the influence of bribes, not science, to politics and not conservation.
I do know one thing for certain. These compromisers have never seen a whale die. They have never looked into the eye of a whale. They have never been witness to the intelligence and magnificence of what a whale really is – not a number or a piece of sushi on a plate, but a separate reality of intelligence, culture and perception.
Captain Paul Watson, a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation, is director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.