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Whale Wars: The aggressive tactics of Sea Shepherd Paul Watson

A collision Tuesday with a Japanese whalers destroyed a $2 million high-tech speedboat operated by Paul Watson and his anti-whaling outfit, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. It was probably the costliest collision yet for the group. But Watson has a long roster of mishaps at sea.

By Staff writer / January 6, 2010

Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, shown in this April 14, 2008 file photo, in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Paul Darrow/Reuters/File

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Paul Watson calls his reality TV show "Whale Wars" for a reason: When he says he's "fighting" to save whales he isn't using a metaphor.

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For decades, Mr. Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have rammed, sabotaged, shot water canons at and thrown stink bombs on whalers and commercial fishing vessels. The Ady Gil, the high-tech speedboat he sought to deploy against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean this winter, may have been his most expensive loss so far at sea but his has been a career filled with dangerous mishaps and financial losses - both for his crews and for the boats he's targeted.

In a press release Wednesday, he said while the loss of the Gil, which he said was worth $2 million, was a heavy blow, he'd happily trade it to save the life of one whale. While more whales are likely to be successfully harpooned by the Japanese fleet this season thanks to the loss of the ship and the diversion of other resources its caused, his extreme views on the matter were captured in a war of words between Watson and Greenpeace in 2008. Greenpeace, which opposes the use of violence in its campaigns because it says its conservation views are more effectively spread into policy levels by constructive engagement, was singled out by Watson as "Yellowpeace."

That year, Greenpeace criticized Watson and his tactics as "morally wrong" and counter-productive because "If there's one way to harden Japanese public opinion and ensure whaling continues, it's to use violent tactics against their fleet." Watson responded by appearing to compare the plight of the whales to that of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. "It was this kind of attitude by Jewish leaders in the Warsaw ghetto that resulted in the Holocaust. The leaders begged the people to not resist and to allow the Germans and the Poles to save them," he wrote, defending his tactics.

The jury is still out on who caused Wednesday's collision. Watson's group says they were deliberately rammed; the Japanese say the Gil steered into them. A view of the video shows some merit to both claims, though typically larger vessels are expected to make every effort to steer away from smaller ones on the high seas, and the Japanese were clearly well-aware of their proximity to the Gill, given that they were directing water canon fire at it before, during and after the collision.

But they certainly had cause to be concerned about the Sea Shepherd vessels activities, since the group has a record of aggressively targeting whalers for ramming, and worse.

What are the group's tactics?

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