THE HISTORY OF SEA SHEPHERD: 1977-2017

Sea Shepherd was established in 1977, Captain Paul Watson founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international non-profit organisation whose mission is to stop the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans.

Sea Shepherd began its journey to become the most effective direct action marine conservation organisation with just one vessel. Our first ship was a British-registered fishing trawler and was aptly named Sea Shepherd. Her major action was ramming and damaging the outlaw whaler Sierra and the campaign to find and disable the Sierra was Sea Shepherd's first direct action. Captain Paul Watson scuttled the ship rather than let it fall into the hands of pirate whalers.

 
 
Captain Paul Watson stands with the 'Sea Shepherd'  - Sea Shepherd's first vessel.
The 'Sierra' runs from 'Sea Shepherd' (left), and the damaged hull of the ship before it was sunk (right).

Today, with the support of donations and our volunteer crew, we have expanded our number of working-vessels that serve in the Sea Shepherd fleet - dubbed Neptunes Navy. These include our flagship vessel M//Y Steve Irwin, M/Y Bob Barker, M/V Sam Simon, M/V Bridgette Bardot, M/V Farley Mowat, RV Martin Sheen, our newest vessels in the fleet, M/V Ocean Warrior and M/V John Paul DeJoria and many more support vessels and watercraft.

Not long after Sea Shepherd was established we began the campaign to put an end to the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world, the Canadian sea hunt. The Canadian government has given seal hunters the green light to bludgeon to death hundreds of thousands of baby harp seals. In some years the annual seal quota has been set at almost half a million seals. In 2009, the European Parliament voted to ban seal hunt product imports, which is a direct result of Sea Shepherd’s tireless efforts and determination in bringing this hunt to an end.

Paul Watson with a Harp Seal in 1983 (left), and a crew member inspects the aftermath of the Canadian Seal Hunt (right).

Sea Shepherd has been opposing the Japanese dolphin whale massacre since 1981 when Captain Paul Watson successfully negotiated a decade long cessation to the dolphin kills at Iki Island. In 2003 crew members of Sea Shepherd’s Taiji Dolphin Campaign filmed and photographed the slaughter of Taiji Bay. The world – including many Japanese citizens – saw for the first time the brutality of this slaughter. This work laid the foundation for the making of “The Cove” the Oscar winning Best Documentary for 2010. Each September to March Sea Shepherd deploys a team of Cove Guardians who document, film and live stream the daily activities at the Cove. Sea Shepherd will continue to monitor this hunt and live capture program until it has ended for good.

The iconic images of the dolphin slaughter captured by Sea Shepherd in 2003 (left), and the Cove Guardians (right).

Each year hundreds of pilot whales are rounded up and slaughtered by hand on the beaches of the Danish Faroe Islands. Since the mid-1980’s Sea Shepherd has lead opposition to this brutal slaughter by patrolling the islands, filming, documenting and deploying innovative acoustic devices.

The 'Sea Shepherd II' patrols the Faroes for the first time (left), and the bloody waters of Bøur in 2014 following a grind that killed 250 whales (right).

Sea Shepherd’s mission to end whaling in Iceland saw the sinking of half the Icelandic whaling fleet in 1986, effectively shutting down Icelandic commercial whaling activities for the next 16 years.

The 'Hvalur' vessels of the Icelandic whaling fleet in dock (left), and the 'Hvalur 6' and 'Hvalur 7' after having been scuttled by Sea Shepherd (right).

Over in South America, Sea Shepherd Galapagos uses an array of tactics to combat illegal fishing and poaching inside the Galapagos National Park. Since 1999 when the National Park Service first invited us to help protect the Galapagos Marine Reserve, our presence has had a major impact. We have assisted in the apprehension of poachers; provided essential equipment to the local authorities to help them improve the results of their work; assisted in the prosecution of poachers and smugglers; started the first ever trained dog unit to detect illegal wildlife smugglers in Latin America and much more. Our work is a constant battle to adapt to the ever-changing poaching and smuggling operations inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve, always trying to stay one step ahead of the criminal elements.

Captain Alex Cornelissen inspects an illegal haul of shark fins in the Galápagos (left), and the K9 unit inspects luggage for potential wildlife smuggling (right).

Sea Shepherd’s Antarctic whale defense campaign began in earnest in 2002, with the sending of our ships to the remote waters in the Southern Ocean to directly intervene against the Japanese whaling fleet, illegally killing whales in a sanctuary that was in fact established by the International Whaling Commission. These poachers are in direct violation of the 1986 Global Moratorium on commercial whaling and rulings by the Australian Federal Court and the International Court of Justice. For eleven summers our international volunteer crew have given up their Christmas’ and New Year’s to be the whales only hope and have gallantly saved the lives of over 6,000 whales from the harpoons of the fleet.

3 dead, protected Minke Whales lie on the deck of the Japanese whaling fleet's factory vessel, the 'Nisshin Maru' (left), and the 'Bob Barker' prevents the refuelling of the 'Nisshin Maru' in 2013, saving the lives of 932 whales (right).

We have a history of defending fish of all kinds. Besides being the leading voice for the conservation of fish species, we “walk the walk” taking our ships out on the high seas to defend these defenseless creatures. From driftnet campaigns, the tuna-dolphin fight, chasing drag trawlers, to dropping “net cutters” on the ocean floor, Sea Shepherd employs direct action to stop the overfishing of our oceans.

A prime example of this was in 2010 with Bluefin tuna on the fast track to biological extinction, Sea Shepherd intercepted an illegal bluefin tuna operation off the coast of Libya freeing 800 Bluefin tuna from the nets of an illegal fishing vessel.

The 'Steve Irwin' rams a net containing illegally caught Bluefin Tuna in 2010 (left), and a crew member of the 'Steve Irwin' cuts an illegal tuna net to release the Bluefin Tuna within (right).

Presently the crews of Sea Shepherd’s vessels M/V Sam Simon and M/V Farley Mowat are patrolling in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, the only waters on Earth called home by the world’s smallest and rarest cetacean – the vaquita marina porpoise. With a population that has dwindled to an estimated less than 60 individuals (only 25 of whom are believed to be reproductive females) Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro III addresses the urgent need to conserve this imperilled species.

The 'Farley Mowat' and its crew with 66 dead Totoaba on board in the Sea Of Cortex, Mexico (left), and crew of the 'Sam Simon' retrieve illegal fishing nets responsible for the decline of the vaquita (left).

From April to September 2016, under the name Operation Albacore, Sea Shepherd assisted the Government of Gabon to tackle Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing by providing the use of the M/Y Bob Barker as a civilian offshore patrol vessel operating in Gabonese waters, under the direction of the Gabonese Government. The campaign's aim was to ensure the legal compliance of European operators, fishing under the European Union protocol, and deter IUU fishing throughout the region.

The 'Bob Barker' launches its small boats to inspect a fishing vessel in Gabon (left), and a Gabonese Marine inspects a fishing vessel with the 'Bob Barker' in the background (right).

Sea Shepherd holds a world record too – In 2015 our vessel the M/Y Bob Barker engaged in the world record-breaking pursuit of the notorious toothfish-poaching vessel the Thunder, covering approximately 11,533 nautical miles. In that same campaign the M/V Sam Simon undertook a four week-long operation removing 72 kilometres of illegal fishing gear abandoned by the Thunder when it first fled from the M/Y Bob Barker. The confiscated gear was later handed over to local authorities in Mauritius, initiating the first ever investigation into a fishing vessel issued with an Interpol Purple Notice. Three officers from the Thunder were arrested and charged and subsequently found guilty of forgery, pollution, damages to the environment and recklessness.

The 'Bob Barker' and 'Sam Simon' during their chase of the 'Thunder' (left), and a crew member of the 'Sam Simon' retrieves the illegal fishing gear of the 'Thunder' during 'Operation Icefish' in 2014-2015 (right).

In January 2016, Sea Shepherd’s M/Y Steve Irwin intercepted a fleet of illegal Chinese fishing vessels actively fishing on the high seas of the Indian Ocean using driftnets; a form of fishing banned by the United Nations in 1992 due to its indiscriminate and destructive impact. Upon seeing the M/Y Steve Irwin, the vessels ran, abandoning approximately five kilometres of driftnet which the crew of the M/Y Steve Irwin confiscated and brought on board. In this section of net were the bodies of 321 animals. As a result of the evidence we provided, the Chinese government suspended fishing licenses, handed out heavy fines and cancelled master certifications.

The crew of the 'Steve Irwin' display confiscated illegal fishing gear in front of the 'Fu Yuan Yu 76' (left), and some of the victims from the illegal drift net vessels lie on the deck of the 'Steve Irwin' (right).

Most recently Sea Shepherd has been working closely together with the Ministry of National Defense in Liberia to tackle the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. It’s estimated that 15-40% of the global catch of fish is caught by IUU operators and in the region of West Africa that number is closer to 40%. Commencing in February 2017 Operation Sola Stella is a new campaign to further address the issue of IUU fishing in West Africa and bring criminals to justice. Already a number of arrests have been made, vessels detained and charges laid in defence of the waters off the Liberian coast.

The 'Bob Barker's' small boat transports Liberian marines to inspect a fishing vessel (left), and Liberian marines prepare to board a fishing vessel (right).

As we celebrate 40 years of direct action conservation, we acknowledge the thousands passionate Sea Shepherd volunteers and crew as well as every person and business who has donated to Sea Shepherd. You have enabled us to embark on hundreds of voyages covering many of the world's oceans, defending and saving defenseless marine life all along the way.