Non-profit

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

This is a logo for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. (link)
Website:

www.seashepherd.org/

Location:

BURBANK, CA

Tax ID:

93-0792021

Budget (2015):

Revenue: $8,716,783
Expenses: $6,003,688
Assets: $2,867,714

Formation:

1977

Founder, President, and Executive Director:

Paul Watson

Board Chair:

Pamela Anderson

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, founded in 1977 by self-proclaimed Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson, is an aggressive and controversial environmentalist and animal liberation protest organization.[1] In 2008, the Discovery Channel created a reality television show about Sea Shepherd called Whale Wars. [2]

Sea Shepherd is a self-described “vigilante” group[3] characterized by the Japanese government as “hostile eco-terrorists.”[4] The group uses controversial and violent direct actions to prevent lawful yet controversial fishing, hunting, and whaling activities.[5] Sea Shepherd’s favored direct actions include ramming ships, fouling props, firing illegal high-powered laser devices, and firing projectiles containing butyric acid,[6] which according to Greenpeace, endanger human life.[7] Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson claims that the organization has sunk ten ships since its founding.[8]

In August 2016, a U.S. Court of Appeals issued a permanent injunction against Sea Shepherd preventing the group’s U.S. branch from disrupting Japanese whaling operations,[9] however the group’s Australian branch vowed to continue in its fight against Japanese whalers.[10] In 2013, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals injunction ruling had declared the Sea Shepherds to be pirates for their violent tactics.[11]

Organizational Overview

In 1977 Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson was kicked out of the group due to his aggressive actions against hunters.[12]

Upon his departure from Greenpeace, Watson formed the Earth Force Society, an aggressive marine conservation organization.[13] In 1978, with financial support from animal liberation activist Cleveland Amory of the Fund for Animals (now a subsidiary of the Humane Society of the United States), the Earth Force Society purchased its first ship and renamed it the Sea Shepherd, [14] which was used to ram and incapacitate a fishing vessel called the Sierra, off the coast of Portugal.[15] After ramming the Sierra, the Sea Shepherd was scuttled, but a Hollywood producer purchased an account of the action, and the proceeds were used to buy a second ship.[16]

Watson renamed his organization after his first ship, and “set out to protect the oceans as he saw fit.” [17]

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was formally incorporated in the United States in 1981 in the state of Oregon. [18] In the United States it has 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.[19]

Sea Shepherd’s headquarters were located in Friday Harbor, Washington. [20] However amid legal troubles, its headquarters has reportedly been moved to Amsterdam, Netherlands.[21]

In 2008, Sea Shepherd came to fame when The Discovery Channel created a popular reality television show about the group called Whale Wars. UK’s Daily Telegraph described the show by saying, “The dramatic tension comes mainly from watching [Watson’s] amateurish, incompetent, bickering crew make an incredible, agonising [sic] series of blunders.”[22]

Direct Action

Sea Shepherd has a fleet of boats dubbed “Neptune’s Navy” [23] and their goal is to try to harass and prevent activities they deem unpalatable, such as Japanese whaling.[24]

Sea Shepherd labels its actions “coercive conservation.” [25] However it is in fact a radical left-wing animal rights organization that employs a number of controversial and violent methods to achieve its goals.[26] According to Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd’s actions endanger human life. [27]

Watson acknowledges that Sea Shepherd is a “vigilante” group. [28]

Violent Actions

Ramming other ships is Sea Shepherd’s “signature tactic.”[29] In total, Sea Shepherd’s leader Paul Watson claims that the organization has sunk ten ships since it’s founding.[30]

Sea Shepherd activists also use a number of other tactics to fight against fishing vessels. Japanese fishermen claim that Sea Shepherd fires illegal high-powered laser devices that can produce blindness when irradiated to the naked eye and projectiles containing butyric acid, a substance highly hazardous to the human body including skin and eyes.[31] Sea Shepherd often also attempts to snarl the propeller of fishing vessels “prop foulers,” a tactic specifically condemned by Watson’s former group Greenpeace, which argued prop fouling showed callous disregard for human life and risked an environmental disaster.[32]

Seeking to distance itself from Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace has detailed some of Sea Shepherd’s negative exploits. According to the analysis Sea Shepherd; sank two Icelandic vessels in Reykjavik harbor by opening their sea valves in 1986; sank the vessel Nybroena in port in 1992; claimed to have sank a Taiwanese drift net ship; disabled four Asian drift net ships; rammed a Cuban fishing vessel off the coast of Newfoundland in June 1993; and severely damaged a whaling ship in a Norwegian port in 1994.[33]

Illegitimate Rationale

In the early 1990s, instead of simply claiming the side of morality, as he did after ramming the Sierra, Watson began to assert legal authority for Sea Shepherd’s actions. Watson cites a 1982 non-binding unenforceable U.N. Charter for Nature as his legal basis. [34]

However, maritime law expert Joshua Tallis writing for the Center for International Maritime Security’s blog in 2016 wrote that that “Sea Shepherd’s fleet does engage in maritime violence and coercive acts” which are “clearly illegitimate in the current international system.”[35]

Opposition from Environmentalists

Sea Shepherd has made enemies of other conservationists and environmentalists. Greenpeace has disavowed any link with Sea Shepherd, and Paul Watson has been barred from International Whaling Commission meetings since 1986. [36]

Sidney Holt, one of the principal architects of the IWC’s whaling moratorium, said of Sea Shepherd’s Watson: “I think his involvement in all this is an absolute disaster. Almost everything he has been doing has had blowback for those who want to see an end to whaling. In too many cases, playing piracy on the ocean, and creating danger for other ships, is simply not liked.’” [37]

Similarly, former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell said Watson’s threats to attack the Japanese fleet reflected poorly on legitimate anti-whaling groups and “risk[s] setting back the cause of whale conservation many years.” [38]

Exaggerated Claims

Sea Shepherd has been consistently accused of exaggerating their exploits and for taking credit for things that they did not due. For one, Watson advises his activists to make up facts and figures when they need to, and to deliver them to reporters confidently. [39]

The New Yorker quoted a warning about Paul Watson from an anti-whaling conservationist saying, “He takes credit for more than he’s due.” [40]

The report then noted, “[by Watson’s count,] Sea Shepherd has sunk ten whaling vessels in port. By my count, he and his crew have attempted to scuttle two vessels and have successfully sunk two others.” [41]

Eco-Terrorism and Piracy

The Japanese accuse Sea Shepherd of being “hostile eco-terrorists” [42] and officials in Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, and Costa Rica have all denounced Sea Shepherd, with some labeling its leader a terrorist. In the mid-1990s, Norway convicted Watson of attempting to scuttle a whaler, and he spent eighty days in detention.[43]

In 2002 Sea Shepherd was the first group mentioned by an FBI official’s congressional testimony on “The Threat of Eco-Terrorism,” for having attacked commercial fishing operations by cutting drift nets.[44] Similarly, a Canadian intelligence report on “single issue terrorism” reported that Sea Shepherd supporters were involved in a number of animal rights related “militant actions” against businesses in Canada.

Paul Watson admitted they Sea Shepherd could be regarded as pirates, and the group’s black flagship displays a version of the skull and crossbones.[45]

Due to the group’s aggressive direct actions, Sea Shepherd’s ships have reportedly operated under and then been stripped of their flag in six countries including Australia, Belize, and South Africa.[46] In 2015, Watson claimed that Sea Shepherd ships were officially registered under the flags of the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, and Great Britain, which in his view meant that they legally could not be described as pirates.[47]

In 2013, A U.S. court declared that Sea Shepherd were “pirates” and ordered it to stop its aggressive actions against Japanese whalers. Then-U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote of the group, “You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”[48]

Criminal Actions

Paul Watson Arrest and Fugitive Status

Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson has had frequent run-ins with police. In 1980, Watson was sentenced to 10 days in prison and fined $8,000 for his actions during a Canadian seal hunt protest.[49] Watson was arrested in 1993 in Canada on charges stemming from actions against Cuban and Spanish fishing boats off the coast of Newfoundland.[50] In 1997, Norway convicted Watson in absentia and sentenced him to serve 120 days in jail on charges of attempting to sink a Norwegian fishing and whaling vessel. Ultimately, he spent 80 days in detention in the Netherlands pending a ruling on his extradition before being released.[51]

In 2002, Watson was charged with attempted murder and nearly imprisoned in Costa Rica.[52] He fled the country as the authorities were trying to apprehend him.[53]

In 2012 Watson was declared an internationally wanted fugitive on the international police cooperation organization Interpol’s Red List.[54] In May 2012, he was arrested in Germany on an extradition warrant from Costa Rica related to the 2002 attempted murder charges.[55] Watson then skipped bail claiming that had he been extradited to Costa Rica he would have then been sent to Japan on charges related to obstructing their whaling activities.[56] Consequently, Interpol issued a second Red Notice request for his arrest.[57]

After fleeing Germany, France granted Watson political asylum, shielding him from extradition.[58] In June 2016, Watson was given his Canadian passport back and subsequently entered the United States.[59]

Peter Bethune

In 2010, a collision between the Sea Shepherd’s ship “My Ady Gil” and a Japanese whaling ship resulted in “My Ady Gil’s” sinking. In the wake of this event, Sea Shepherd captain Pete Bethune was detained and arrested attempting to board a nearby Japanese ship.[60] Japanese courts subsequently convicted Bethune of assaulting a Japanese whaler, trespassing, vandalism, and possession of a knife.[61] Bethune was held for five months in a Japanese prison, sentenced to two years’ imprisonment (a sentence eventually suspended for five years), and deported.[62]

Bethune later claimed that in the fallout from his arrest, Sea Shepherd treated him “like a used condom, throwing me away once I’d served its purpose.”[63] Bethune claimed that Sea Shepherd “ditched” him in a Japanese prison[64] and that Sea Shepherd had lied about their involvement in the incident leading up to his arrest.[65]

In his criticism of Sea Shepherd, Bethune claimed Sea Shepherd’s boat the “My Ady Gil,” did not sink as a result of the collision, but rather was intentionally scuttled later by Bethune on the orders of Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson. Bethune stated, “We deliberately sank a vessel and lied about it.”[66]

Bethune also claimed that Sea Shepherd lied in a press release denying knowledge of arrows that were found at the crash scene even though Paul Watson had given Bethune permission to take a bow and arrow on the mission to try and shoot poison into the whale carcasses that would spoil the meat.[67]

Other Criminal Activists

In 2006, National Geographic Adventure writer Peter Heller proclaimed, “As for other crew members, the razor edge of their commitment scared me a little. [68] Many of the Sea Shpherd’s volunteers and staff have criminal histories.

For example, Allison Lance Watson, a Sea Shepherd captain’s wife, and Sea Shepherd first mate Cornelissen were arrested for interfering with Japanese dolphin fishing and Watson was also arrested in connection with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), another radical animal rights group that targeted by the FBI’s domestic antiterrorism units.[69]

Lawsuits

Japanese Lawsuit and Injunction

In 2011, Japanese whaling interests filed a lawsuit in a U.S. Court seeking an injunction to restrain Sea Shepherd from undertaking its perpetual violent actions that “puts lives at risk.”[70] The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction ordering the Sea Shepherds to stop harassing the Japanese fleet and for the group’s ships to stay at least 500 feet from the whalers.[71]

As a result the Sea Shepherd tried to avoid the injunction by transferring all of its U.S. assets to Sea Shepherd’s foreign entities in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, Paul Watson stepped down from the U.S. board of directors, and Sea Shepherd Australia took over management of “operation zero tolerance,” the group’s annual harassment campaign of the whalers in the Southern Ocean.[72]

Sea Shepherd boats were involved in high seas confrontations with the whalers in early 2013,[73] and the Ninth Circuit found the group liable for aiding and abetting the organization’s foreign offices to violate the court’s injunction. [74] The group then agreed to pay $2.55 million to Japanese whalers for breaching the US court injunction.[75]

Then in August 2016, the court issued a permanent injunction against Sea Shepherd, which prevents Sea Shepherd’s U.S. branch from disrupting Japanese whaling operations in the Southern Ocean.[76] As a result, the U.S. branch of Sea Shepherd said it would stop chasing Japanese whalers, but the Australian branch maintained that the U.S. court ruling has no jurisdiction over it and vowed to continue in its fight against Japanese whalers.[77]

Ady Gil Lawsuit

In 2013, Ady Gil filed a $5 million lawsuit against Sea Shepherd claiming it deliberately sank the “My Ady Gil” in the Antarctic. The lawsuit arose from claims raised by the boat’s captain Pete Bethune, which alleged that Paul Watson had had ordered the vessel to be deliberately and secretly scuttled to increase public sympathy.[78]

In September 2015, an arbitrator ruled that Sea Shepherd intentionally and wrongfully scuttled the “My Ady Gil,” intending to capitalize on the publicity the sinking would bring.[79]

The arbitrator was particularly harsh on Paul Watson, finding the Sea Shepherd founder in some instances to “be highly evasive, internally contradictory, or at odds with his own prior written statements, and in certain areas simply lacking the basic indicia of genuineness that instinctively inspires confidence and trust.”[80]

Funding and Celebrity Support

In 2015, the U.S. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society raised $8.7 million and spent a total of $4.8 million with end of the year net assets worth around $2 million. [81]

Sea Shepherd is supported by a who’s who list of liberal Hollywood celebrities including Mick Jagger, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Penn, Aidan Quinn, William Shatner, Edward Norton, Orlando Bloom, and Uma Thurman. Martin Sheen travelled with Sea Shepherd to protest in Quebec.[82] Shatner, Brosnan, Christian Bale, Sean Connery, Richard Dean Anderson, and Robert Redford have served on the group’s advisory board.” [83]

Entertainment industry figure and animal liberation activist Ady Gil helped Sea Shepherd buy a trimaran ultra-fast vessel renamed “My Ady Gil” that reportedly cost more than $1 million; the vessel was later lost in controversial circumstances.[84]

Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino magnate who would later become the Republican National Committee finance chairman, once helped the organization buy a submarine.[85]

People

Paul Watson is currently listed as the founder, president, and executive director of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. [86] Prior to his work with Sea Shepherd, Watson wrote articles for the Vancouver counterculture publication Georgia Straight. In the early seventies, Watson, along with some two-dozen other environmental activists, created Greenpeace.[87]

Former actress and Playboy centerfold model Pamela Anderson is the chair of Sea Shepherd’s Board of Directors.[88]

References

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  63. “Pete Bethune: ‘Sea Shepherd Treated Me Like A Used Condom.’” EcoRazzi. July 30, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2017.  http://www.ecorazzi.com/2012/07/30/pete-bethune-sea-shepherd-treated-me-like-a-used-condom/ ^
  64. Seidl, Jonathon. “‘Dishonest’ and ‘Morally Bankrupt’: ‘Whale Wars’ Captain Alleges Lies and Cover-Ups.” The Blaze. October 6, 2010. Accessed December 14, 2017.  http://www.theblaze.com/news/2010/10/06/dishonest-and-morally-bankrupt-whale-wars-captain-lashes-out-at-colleagues ^
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  66. Seidl, Jonathon. “‘Dishonest’ and ‘Morally Bankrupt’: ‘Whale Wars’ Captain Alleges Lies and Cover-Ups.” The Blaze. October 6, 2010. Accessed December 14, 2017.  http://www.theblaze.com/news/2010/10/06/dishonest-and-morally-bankrupt-whale-wars-captain-lashes-out-at-colleagues ^
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Directors, Employees & Supporters

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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: May 1, 1982

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2015 Dec Form 990 $8,716,783 $6,003,688 $2,867,714 $858,804 Y $5,021,336 $0 $8,241 $127,553 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $7,532,824 $6,216,012 $5,977,111 $134,139 N $6,657,497 $113,637 $55 $0 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $4,556,878 $6,272,410 $3,245,149 $399,417 Y $3,920,413 $13,422 $1,940 $0 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $13,657,688 $13,413,448 $5,305,049 $371,111 Y $12,921,360 $14,630 $1,633 $115,499 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $10,214,036 $10,981,181 $5,877,124 $880,814 Y $10,079,694 $18,229 $2,110 $115,460 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

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