What is Sea Shepherd?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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Sea Shepherd, properly named The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, is a highly controversial nonprofit marine conservation organization. The organization supports the active, citizen enforcement of international regulations concerning the environment. The group is notorious for sabotaging efforts of whaling ships, in actions some call eco-terrorism.

Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, was a founding member of the conservation group Greenpeace. After encounters with whales that left him convinced of their intelligence and inherent value, Watson began advocating a form of protests that did not preclude the use of property damage or even violence to protect the animals from harm. In 1978, he was voted out of Greenpeace and began his own organization.

Proponents of the organization insist that their direct-action techniques are in correspondence with the United Nations World Charter for Nature, which was adopted by the United Nations general assembly in 1982. Sections 21-24 of the charter suggest that each person in participating nations has the right and duty to meet the requirements of the charter. By this charter, members consider themselves an international civilian militia, sometimes referred to as "The Whale's Navy."


Members of the society do not mitigate the property damage they have done to what they consider to be illegal whaling and fishing ships. Proponents frequently refer to themselves as "eco-pirates," and the official website of the organization keeps a detailed list of successful attacks carried out on ships. Many detractors of the methods of the society believe their work is blatantly advertised vandalism and should be persecuted by law.

Normal tactics of Sea Shepherd protests involve ramming fishing or whaling ships with their boats, beginning with an attack on the whaling ship Sierra in 1979. In 2005 and 2006, vessels belonging to the organization conducted a campaign against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. Two ships surrounded the whaling vessel Kaiko Maru and rammed a nearby supply ship, Oriental Bluebird. The Sea Shepherd ships eventually ran out of supplies and were forced to return to port.

Not all of the organizations efforts include direct-action techniques. One recent major effort is a boycott against all Canadian seafood products after the seal hunting quotas were raised in 2005. The society also actively assists some nations in protecting marine animals from illegal poaching.

Not surprisingly, the extreme measures taken by the group and the harm they have caused to some nations have created considerable opponents of Sea Shepherd. Several whaling nations, including Japan, have attempted to get the United States to classify the group as a terrorist organization and potential danger to human life. Thus far these attempts have been unsuccessful, and several nations, including Indonesia and Ecuador maintain friendly relations with the groups.

Other environmentalist agencies, including Greenpeace, have also spoken out against the society. Many groups claim that Sea Shepherd endangers the lives of people and creates a bad public image for conservationists. Proponents of the organization insist that their work is lawful under international conservation law, and that truly protecting marine animals is far more important than maintaining a good public image.


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