By Captain Paul Watson

In 1975 along with David Garrick I initiated and led the first two Greenpeace campaigns to oppose the horrific massacre of baby seals on the East Coast of Canada. 

In 1975 David Garrick and I communicated with Native American and Inuit leaders about our intentions in opposing the commercial seal slaughter. Native American leaders had no problem with this campaign then because there was not a single Inuit or any Native American person involved with the commercial slaughter of seals. 

In March 1976, we intervened against the Norwegian and Canadian seal slaughter off the coast of Newfoundland. We stopped large factory ships and opposed White men on the ice who were armed with spiked clubs. We intervened again in March 1977 this time alongside French actress Brigitte Bardot. There was no concern expressed at that time from any First Nations people. In fact many First Nations people supported us.

A few years earlier in March 1973, David Garrick and I were part of the occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement. We were both very sensitive to Native American cultural values and one thing that was definitely not a part of any First Nations culture or traditions was the mass commercial slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seals by White people off the Eastern coast of Canada.

In addition I myself was raised in an Eastern Canadian fishing village and I was personally offended and concerned about this obscenity they call the seal hunt as far back as 1960 when as a child, I saw a baby seal killed with my own eyes. I swore then that I would forever oppose this cruel and cowardly atrocity – the clubbing to death of helpless harp and hood seal pups. I have never changed my mind about my opposition to this slaughter and I have opposed it with an angry passion for over a half a century. 

I left Greenpeace of which I was a co-founder in 1977 and established the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and I returned to oppose the killing of seals in 1979, 1981, 1983, 1995, 1998, 2005, and 2008. I was the first Captain to ever bring a ship into the ice to directly intervene against the commercial ships and I am proud of the fact that we contributed to the collapse of the commercial markets in 1983 and again in 2008.

After the 1983 campaign, the market for Whitecoat pups was shut down by the European Union but the hunt revived again in 1995 and the market collapsed once again in 2008 after the European Union banned all seal products. 

In 1985 in an attempt to revive the slaughter the Canadian government introduced a new strategy. That strategy was to promote seal fur with a deliberate tactic of intentionally associating the commercial East coast seal slaughter with indigenous Northern Native cultures despite the fact that not a single Inuit person was employed with, or was a part of the Canadian commercial seal hunt. However in exchange for subsidies and due to political manipulations, the Inuit agreed to this association. It has not been to their benefit.

But the ploy worked for Canada and the fur industry. 

It was a trap that Greenpeace blindly walked into for the very simple reason that there was no one in Greenpeace with the knowledge of the early Greenpeace seal campaigns. They had forced us all out, and the people that had taken over did not see seals or even whales as a priority.

In 1985, Greenpeace made the embarrassing announcement of apologizing for ending the hunt. They said they did not realize the damage it would cause to the Inuit by having baby seal products banned in Europe. This was absurd because the Inuit had not killed a single white coat pup ever. The pups are born on the ice off the East coast of Canada and the only traditional indigenous people of Newfoundland, the Beothuks are extinct, killed off by the same government that promotes the killing of seals.

The government’s strategy of association benefits the fur companies – not the Inuit.

The European Union excluded the Inuit from the ban but Canada and the Inuit insisted that the indigenous hunt remain connected to the commercial hunt. This connection did not exist before 1985 and it began purely for political reasons.

With the Inuit leadership willing to demonstrate solidarity with the White commercial hunters, the Inuit voluntarily included themselves in the ban on all seal products.

Greenpeace however in the last few years has had a reason to support sealing. They seized on the sealing issue as a means to recruit support amongst the Inuit in their opposition to Arctic drilling. All fine and good but not necessary since many Inuit already oppose Arctic drilling although many others have struck deals with the oil companies. 

Greenpeace is now saying that the alliance with the Inuit is the reason that Shell Oil recently retreated from the Arctic. This is a great fantasy for fund-raising efforts but the truth is that Shell Oil retreated because of declining oil prices that made further efforts not profitable. If anyone should get the credit for forcing Shell Oil out of the Arctic is would be OPEC.

What Greenpeace Arctic director Jon Burgwald did is unforgivable in my mind. He openly endorsed a commercial sealing operation by promoting and accepting a gift of a seal skin vest from a Danish company that supplies seal products to a commercial market in Europe and Asia.

This company Great Greenland Fur Tannery just this month laid off five Greenland Native women seamstresses and outsourced their jobs to Greece and Poland. What this company does cannot in any way be defined as indigenous sealing.

In addition supplying wealthy people with expensive seal fur products in Dubai, Tokyo, and Copenhagen cannot be defined as traditional, cultural or indigenous. Parading white models on fashion runways sporting trendy dyed seal fur is not a part of Inuit culture.

The only connection is the small fraction of the profits paid to hunters for the skins. The bulk of the profits go directly into the pockets of Europeans like Lars Berg of Denmark, the CEO of the Great Greenland Fur Tannery

If an Inuit person kills a seal and makes a coat or jacket from the seal pelt and sells it directly to any person in Greenland and receives 100% of the price of that coat, such a product could be called indigenous. However if an Inuit hunter kills a seal and sells the pelt to a company and receives less than 5% of the final retail price for that product that is called exploitation.

Jon Burgwald and the Greenpeace leadership today have no right to apologize for our campaigns with Greenpeace in the Seventies. They have their jobs because of what we established back in the Seventies and the seal campaign was a major factor in building Greenpeace into the brand it is today.

Neither David Garrick or myself ever received a salary or a wage for our efforts with Greenpeace between 1972 and 1977. Not one penny. We were volunteers and we were motivated by a sincere desire to shut down the massacre of seal pups.

None of these Greenpeace apologists today were there. They did not see the clubs smashing the skulls of seal pups, they did not see the hot blood steaming on the ice, they did not see them being skinned alive nor hear their screams. The did not see the anguish of shocked mother seals desperately trying to nurse the skinned bodies of their babies. They did not experience the beatings we received or the days in jail, the fines we paid, the extreme weather conditions we endured, the threats against our lives, so it is really quite easy for them to apologize.

But if Greenpeace today really believes that our campaigns in the Seventies and early Eighties were a mistake and that Inuit communities really did suffer hardships because of what we did, they should do more than apologize with mere hollow words. They should turn over the tens of millions or dollars and euros they raised to oppose sealing to these same communities they profess to have sympathy with. After all Greenpeace brings in hundreds of millions in contributions and has tens of millions in the bank. They could easily deliver reparations to Inuit communities – if they wanted to, if they were sincere.

But they are not. Instead they want to use the Inuit in the same way the Fur companies exploit First Nation cultures, because they want something.

The Inuit should respond by saying, well if you want us to have an alliance with Greenpeace and if you are truly sorry for the “mistake” you made, how about ponying up some mega-bucks to back your words.

I however will not apologize. I went to the ice and fought for the seals because I wanted to end the suffering and the exploitation, and I oppose the fur industry with every fibre of my being. I have studied the history of the fur trade and the damage this bloody business did to both Native American cultures and to the numerous species of animals that were ruthlessly exterminated and diminished. 

When I saw Jon Burgwald wearing a Sealskin vest and sporting a seal fur coat, I confess to feeling like I wanted to vomit. He betrayed all that we once stood for and he spat in the face of the founders of the organization that now pays his salary. 

If his is the new face of Greenpeace it is a face of insensitivity, insincerity and opportunism.

Greenpeace needs to remove him as an employee.

Captain Paul Watson

Founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Established (1977)


Photo: Paul Watson rescuing a seal from Norwegian sealers in March 1976 off the coast of Labrador