Defending Whales and Dolphins | A Life’s Passion
All my life I have had to listen to critics telling me that what I am doing is foolhardy, counterproductive, impossible, or reckless. It has never bothered me. What people say and what they accuse me of has never been a concern to me. I’ve never been bothered about failing and I’ve never allowed feelings of doubt or uncertainty to restrict me from focusing on my objectives.
In 1817, John Keats observed what he described as “negative capability.” He explained that negative capability is “when a person is capable of acting through uncertainties, mysteries and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
Keats wrote that what is more important than talent or work ethic is the ability to step into and push through doubts and uncertainties. Those who possess negative capability, who can sit with uncertainty, who can spend months or years working on something while knowing that there is a real possibility no one will care about it or if they will succeed — they often possess another quality. They do what they do, not as a means to some end (money, fame, awards, etc.), but for the sake of doing it, because it is a challenge.
Since 1975, my life’s ambitions have been guided by one very specific experience. It was when I looked deep into the eye of a dying sperm whale, a whale that could have killed me but chose instead to spare me. I saw my own reflection in that eye, and I was struck by the awesome intelligence of the creature before me. Within seconds I became lifetime-committed to the defense and protection of the great whales.
After 50 years of campaigns, that commitment remains the singular focus of my life’s devotion to eradicating the evil of whaling. To me, the killing of a whale or a dolphin is murder, and that fact continues to constantly fill my heart and soul with anger and remorse.
A man like the Icelandic whaler Kristján Loftsson, who has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of whales, represents the extreme arrogant ignorance of humanity. Not only has he ended the conscious self-awareness of these very intelligent and socially complex sentient beings, but he has also diminished the ability of the whales to sequester carbon and to provide nutrients to phytoplankton, the aquatic plants that produce up to 70% of the oxygen in the air that we all breathe.
Since 1950 there has been a 40% diminishment in phytoplankton populations in the sea. The reason for that is the diminishment of nutrient-producing animals like whales, dolphins, seals, and fishes.
Every time I have led an expedition to defend whales there have been uncertainties, obstacles, and daunting difficult problems to overcome. The 2002 expedition to defend the whales in the Southern Ocean from Japanese whalers was a failure. But I took what I learned from that failure and returned in 2005. Every year thereafter was more successful than the year before.
And every year I had critics telling me we would not find or stop the whalers — and yet we did.
The same with the Faroe Islands where we have been opposing the Grindadrap since 1983. Has it been a failure? I don’t think so. When we began, nearly 100% of the Faroese supported the Grind. That number has been reduced by half. We have been consistent in our opposition to the Grind despite the constant sorrow of witnessing so many cetacean deaths. Change does not happen overnight. It often takes years.
Pushing past impossible
But even if success is not a possibility, the need to continue to fight remains. Impossible problems require impossible solutions. Impossible solutions are attainable by adhering to the virtues of courage, passion, imagination, determination, and persistence. The very idea in 1972 that Nelson Mandela would one day be President of South Africa was unthinkable and impossible, and yet the impossible became the reality.
I have opposed the Canadian seal hunt since 1975. Although it continues, the kill numbers have decreased by 90%, the market for seal products is no more, whitecoats are no longer killed, and world opinion is solidly opposed to the slaughter of seals. I remember my critics telling me I could not take on the Canadian government.
I was told that if I invaded Soviet Siberia to get evidence on illegal whaling, I would be killed or imprisoned for life. I secured the evidence without consequence. I was told when I hunted down the pirate whaler Sierra that I would not find it and if I did, I would not be able to stop it. Despite the risks and the naysayers, I rammed and sank that ship and ended its grisly career.
I have also been told all my life that I would get people killed including myself. Yet, I have never gotten anyone killed and at 72, I am still alive. It goes back even further to my father telling me, I would never amount to anything because I was wasting my time reading National Geographic and rescuing beavers.
Impossible problems require impossible solutions and impossible solutions are made possible by the application of courage, passion, imagination and determination. I have been able to do all that I have done over the years by ignoring critics, haters and naysayers, and believing in myself to be able to realize what I wish to envision.
I built an organization that became a movement, I built a fleet of marine conservation ships. I also had that organization, that movement and my ships taken away from me. The only possible response to this is to reorganize, rebuild and to carry on without allowing betrayal and deceit to move me off my life’s path.
Those who betrayed me have caused more damage to themselves than they have done to me.
They now have the stigma of betrayal, not of myself but of what was once our shared focus and values — whereas I have the motivation to rebuild and the inspiration of being true to our vision.
Power in the present
The focus remains stronger than ever along with the passion, the imagination, and the courage to move forward. I am never depressed or pessimistic. I have no power over the future, nor am I chained to the past. I recognize that the only power we have is in the present. We take our lessons from the past and we define what the future will be by what we do in the present.
Campaigns involve risk. I have always viewed risk as a necessity to achieving success. A ship must sail into harm’s way to accomplish an objective. I have lost ships and I have lost organizations I created. I have lost battles in the field and in the courts. These losses have never bothered me. I have never lost a crewmember and I have never injured anyone that I have opposed. The precautions were foreseen when I developed the strategy of aggressive non-violence.
I have also always operated within the relative boundaries of the law and practicality. This means breaking laws when such laws need to be broken and challenged, like when protecting seals meant defying the Canadian Orwellian Seal Protection Act, where protecting a seal was legislated as illegal.
So today I find myself defying the order of the Faroese government to not enter Faroese territorial waters. It is imperative that I do so because the need to intervene to protect and defend pilot whales and dolphins requires that we defy such demands.
The defense and preservation of life must always take precedence over property, bureaucracy and law. It also must take precedence over tradition and political correctness. My position on whaling and killing dolphins is simple. I oppose the murder of cetaceans by any person, anywhere, at any time for any reason. This is the mantra that has guided my life and my actions for half a century. It will continue to do so until the day I die.