The “Sea Shepherds” as a naval insurgency

I think I found out about the “Sea Shepherds” through a South Park parody. They are an animal-rights group that harasses and annoys the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters. The U.S. channel Animal Planet has a documentary TV series portraying their “adventures,” “Whale Wars“, which in Spain was entitled “Piratas Ecológicos” (sic). Its renewal for a sixth season was announced last January.

“Sea Shepherds” now has a respectable fleet that consists of the MY Steve Irwin (a former patrol boat), the MY Bob Barker (a former whale catcher), the MY Sam Simon (a former oceanographic ship), the MV Brigitte Bardot (an experimental trimaran), several RIB boats, helicopters and light drones. The larger boats formerly wore a quite ugly and theatrical black that has been replaced by a camouflage pattern.

“Sea Shepherds” is in a category apart from environmental groups such as Greenpeace, as their aesthetics and language reveal. Both organizations conduct public actions seeking high media coverage, but “Sea Shepherds” plays with the limits of maritime law. That already has earned them several problems with the law, the seizure of a ship in Canada and the loss of another one after a “clash” at sea with a Japanese whaler. Viewing the TV series gives the impression that the “Sea Shepherds” place ends above means. The fact that their actions make for attractive content for a television show also questions their credibility due to the evident pursuit of spectacularity, parodied and criticized by South Park. But as we saw in the case of the Gaza Flotilla (I, II, III and IV) the important thing in these times is not to reflect the reality of the facts, but to reach media notoriety with a propaganda action that harms the image of the “enemy” .

“Sea Shepherds”, with private funding sources (*) and multinational crews, is a clear example of the emergence of non-state actors who achieve global notoriety. Chris Rawley at Information Dissemination told how he was invited to discuss this and other issues related to irregular warfare at sea within a specialized forum at the U.S. Naval Academy. Rawley noted how interesting it is to follow the evolution of the tactics and means of the “Sea Shepherds”, which have been considered “piracy” by an appeals court in the United States.

(*) “Sea Shepherds” is financed by contributions from supporters and merchandising sales, like the book “Earthforce!: An Earth Warrior’s Guide to Strategy”, written by its founder. The book is touted as:

Captain Paul Watson, one of the most brilliant ecologist strategists of our generation, takes the genius of Sun Tzu, the discipline of Miyamoto Musashi, the perception of Marshall McLuhan and his own field experiences to present an effective strategic guide for any apprentice of environmental or conservationist activism.

Published originally by Jesús M. Pérez in
Translated from Spanish by Alan Furth.