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The Dilemma of Toxic Cultures on a Toxic Planet

Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson

editorial-150403-1-dolphin-meat-397-400wPackaged dolphin meat for sale in Taiji
Photo: Sea Shepherd
We have been warning about mercury in whale and dolphin meat for decades, yet the people who eat whales and dolphins continue to ignore the consequences.

There is no necessity to kill and eat pilot whales and dolphins in the Faroes, Norway, Japan or Iceland. Much of the meat from whales killed in Greenland is not eaten by indigenous people, and our investigations have exposed the fact that whale meat from endangered whales killed in Greenland is served to tourists in hotels, restaurants and cruise ships.

A recent shipment of whale meat from Iceland to Japan was dumped by the Japanese because of the high levels of mercury. This is an incredible waste of the lives of these whales illegally killed in Iceland.

Commercial whaling has been outlawed by the International Whaling Commission since 1986. Norway, Japan, Iceland and Denmark are all illegally involved in commercial whaling in violation of the international moratorium on commercial whaling.

But for all the chatter about mercury in whales and dolphins, it seems to make very little difference to the people who kill and eat them.

What bothers me most is that very little is said about the effect of mercury and other heavy metals on the many species of whales and dolphins themselves. People make a choice to eat contaminated and toxic whale and dolphin meat. They make a choice to eat fish contaminated with mercury. The whales and dolphins do not have a choice and their health is being seriously compromised by mercury and heavy-metal poisoning in the sea.

What is the impact upon the intelligence of marine mammals? What is the effect upon the physiology of marine mammals?

Thousands of sea lions are washing up dead on the beaches of the West Coast of the United States. The bodies of dolphins are washing ashore on beaches around the world.

The Ocean has been the dumping ground of industrialized society for well over a century and the accumulations of chemicals, plastic, sewage, radiation and heavy metals is diminishing biodiversity, from the plankton to the great whales.

The Ocean is dying and when the Ocean dies, we all die. Diminishment of life in the Ocean means the diminishment of civilization. The death of diversity in the Ocean will mean the death of humanity.

The Inuit in the High Arctic defend the eating of whales and seals by saying it is an important part of their culture, yet in the face of data on dangerous toxicity levels in the meat they consume, it is their lives and the lives of their children that will be sacrificed for their culture. Survival means adaptation and adaptation means changing cultural practices or moving geographically to avoid a toxic environment.

Humanity must address the threats facing the diversity of life in the Ocean because if we fail to stop the continued industrialized poisoning of the sea, we will be the victims of our own ignorance and arrogance.

editorial-150403-1-p8280047-2-400wStranded bottlenose whales reduced to meat in the Faroe Islands
Photo: Sea Shepherd
When we point out that eating whale, dolphin and seal is toxic, we’re accused of being culturally insensitive. However poison is poison, and there is nothing culturally insensitive about stating the facts on mercury levels and their impact on the health of people, and biodiversity in marine eco-systems.

Kuru is a lethal degenerative neurological disease that killed primarily women and children in Papua New Guinea. It was caused by a prion ingested during the eating of human brain tissue. It was a part of tribal culture to eat human brains. The solution was to convince the tribes to stop eating human flesh.

In the same way, the prion that caused mad cow disease was caused by feeding ground-up brains and spinal cords back to the cows. The solution was to stop that practice.

The Maya, the Nazca, and so many other cultures died when the environment around them was compromised and could no longer support the lives of the people. The laws of nature do not discriminate.

The logic is very simple. If something is poison it should not be eaten, for any reason, by any person, anywhere. If people choose to do so, not much can be done to stop it. The role of science and health authorities, however, is to warn people of the dangers.

To willfully continue to ingest mercury-poisoned whale, dolphin and seal meat is nothing short of suicidal, and when toxic meat is deliberately fed to children it is a form of child abuse, regardless of culture or tradition.

Conditions on this planet are rapidly changing for many reasons but primarily because of overpopulation and industrialization. The Inuit and the Faroese quite rightly say that they are not the major contributors to the problem.

Unfortunately though, human civilization is an all-pervasive web and every part of that web affects every other part of the web. There are simply no safe places for any culture to survive independent of the whole of humanity.

Those who continue to eat whales, dolphins and seals will suffer the consequences just as those who continue to consume factory-farmed animals and produce laced with pesticides.

No amount of lamentation or cultural justification will right the wrongs. Poison does not discriminate. People have the option to refrain from ingesting toxic meat and fish.

Unfortunately, marine wildlife does not have that option.
Source: Sea Shepherd

Reflections on Water from the Banks of the Ganges River

Reflections on Water from the Banks of the Ganges River


The cycle of life is intricately linked to water; it is even, perhaps, embedded in water. From our first nine months swimming in a womb to our ashes being immersed in a sacred river or scattered across the ocean, from the essential nectar we drink to that which turns apple seeds into apple trees, water is an integral part of our very existence. However, unlike oxygen which silently, invisibly, maintains the breath in our lungs and the beating of our heart, water is a visible, tangible presence and one with which we interact – directly and indirectly – throughout the minutes of our day and the days of our lives.

The nature of humans’ relation to water is multifaceted and deep. The exchange of oxygen between the air around us and the cells in our capillaries is unconscious and involuntary. Our exchange with water, however, is the subject of poetic literature. Countless novels, poems, sonnets and songs have been written about our love affair with water. Whether that affair is one of awe, nurturance, poignancy, solace, inspiration or fear – it nonetheless captures both our hearts and our minds. From Hemingway to Huck Finn, our lives are inseparable from the water around us.


The crystal-clear, blue, rushing waters of Mother Ganga cut through the foothills of the Himalayas, carving out the most sacred riverbed in the world. Her riverbanks are lined with rocks, softened and smoothed by Her waters, large ones upon which one can sit for hours, medium-sized ones that fit perfectly in the palm of one’s hand, for holding and meditating upon, and small pebbles, one or two collected by the pious so that Mother Ganga may flow through their home as well.

Where the river ends and people’s lives begin is impossible to discern. Ganga is as inextricable from the lives of Indians as the very blood flowing through their veins. Whether She is a source of tangible water for daily drinking, bathing and cooking, or whether She is a source of intangible inspiration and liberation prayed to with each morning’s bath in innumerable cities across the world, She is fundamental to the lives of more than one-seventh of the world’s population.

BathingGangesPeople bathing in and blessing Mother Ganga


Mother Ganga irrigates not only the hearts, minds and souls of Her one billion devotees around the world. She also irrigates the farms that feed more than one-third of India’s population. More than 450 million people receive the means for their very existence from Her waters. The Ganga Basin supports the greatest population density on Earth – it is home to more than one-twelfth of the world’s population. Ganga is the water they drink, and with which they bathe, cook and irrigate their crops. She is both the apple of their eye and the apple on their tree. Her irrigation canals span approximately 18,000 kilometres, a network of channels running as the arteries of life for one-third of India.

Yet, today, tragically, the waters of Mother Ganga are in peril, and the peril is borne not by Her alone but rather by all whose lives are inextricably linked with Hers as She journeys 2,500km from Gaumukh to Ganga Sagar.     

The volume of waste dumped into Her waters is staggering. 1.3 billion litres of wastewater from domestic and industrial sources are dumped directly into Ganga each day. The raw sewage of more than one hundred cities flows directly into Her running waters. This is only the liquid waste – the untreated sewage, agricultural run-off and chemical effluents from factories. The solid waste, the actual trash which individuals and municipalities toss into Her stream each day is immeasurable.


The grace of water is that it keeps flowing. Stagnant water dies quickly. The nature of live, fresh, life-giving water is its movement. In that movement there is forgiveness. The trash I toss nonchalantly into Ganga here, in this moment, is replaced in the next moment by fresh, clean, unpolluted water. My trash has been carried downstream, and I –here in this spot in this moment – am given another chance. No constant reminders of my trespass, no immediate dire consequences, each moment is new. Of course, my brothers and sisters downstream are reaping the bitter fruit of my trespass, are drinking and bathing in my wanton disregard; however, that moment is fleeting, even downstream. The river forgives. She keeps moving, keeps flowing, keeps providing us with a fresh, clean slate as She pours out of the glacier.  There is still time. The molecules of water locked into the Gaumukh glacier and the Himalayan snow cover are still clean and pure. The water saturated with our pollution of yesterday will empty into the Bay of Bengal tomorrow and merge into the mighty ocean by the day after. Fields and crops irrigated by toxins will take longer to recover, but a heavy monsoon can easily carry away a huge amount of polluted topsoil. Those who have died and those on their deathbed from illnesses carried upon Ganga’s waters can, of course, not be restored, but next year’s deaths can be prevented.

ganga-riverWhen a loved one dies, they return to the Ganges to consign the ashes to her custody.


The answers are actually more simple than we realize, or more simple than we want to realize. Complexity absolves us of responsibility. Complexity requires new infrastructure, new systems, the passing of legislation and the enforcement of legislation passed. For those of us without a personal sphere of influence affecting municipalities, cities and states, we shrug our shoulders resignedly and say, “Someone really should do something.”

Simplicity, on the other hand is both empowering and also frightening. If I could make a difference, why am I not? Simplicity holds the mirror of responsibility uncomfortably close to our own faces. Today, however, we cannot afford to turn away. The world today requires us to look into that mirror, not with guilt, not with disdain, not with judgment, but simply with awareness of what we could and should be doing.


Whatever area of environmental, ecological or sociological crisis one studies, the meat industry plays a critical role. One pound of grain can be turned into one pound of bread, or one pound of pasta or one pound of rice or corn. However, in order to produce one pound of meat, sixteen pounds of grain are required. That means, of course, that infinitely more land is required to grow grain for livestock than grain for people. If we must grow sixteen pounds of grain in order to obtain one pound of edible meat, then every time we eat meat rather than grain we are – essentially – eating for sixteen.

The production of a pound of meat takes approximately 2600 gallons (approximately 10,000 liters) of water. This is due to the exorbitant amount of water used to grow the food for the livestock, the water they drink and are bathed in and then the water used to try to wash the blood, urine and feces out of the flesh to be sold in grocery stores or restaurants. Tens of thousands of farmers across the ‘developing’ world are collapsing on their desiccated fields. There is no water for their parched mouths or withered crops. Many commit suicide, unable to face the prospect of a tomorrow with no means to feed themselves and their families. Many others are taken, unwillingly, by sickness and death. Others abandon the fields of their ancestors and flood the already overpopulated cities to eke out a meagre existence in a slum on the muddy outskirts of a third-world metropolis. And a typical small family consumes the equivalent of 2600 gallons of water during one meal of hamburgers.

The world of the twenty-first century cannot live in a vacuum. We don’t have to be quantum physicists to understand the way that our personal choices and actions directly impact the rest of the planet. What I purchase, use and eat today in Rishikesh or Delhi or London or Paris or Los Angeles is having a direct effect on the lives of my brothers and sisters in other countries. Every pound of meat that I don’t eat frees up sixteen pounds of grain and 2600 gallons of water for other purposes.


PontoonGangesWhen I first came to India one of the most remarkable aspects to me of the culture and the country was the peace on people’s faces – the rich, the poor, the old, the young, the homeless, the hungry, the educated and the illiterate. It was as though one’s lot in life was simply part of the ‘package deal’ of human birth. It had very little connection to one’s sense of self or self-worth. However, today there is an epidemic and feverish clamoring for more and more, better and better, newer and newer.

An inevitable and inextricable part of production is waste. There is a direct, linear relationship between the volume of goods produced by a factory and the volume of waste cast by that factory into local rivers, lakes and groundwater or spewed into the air. As we rush exuberantly toward unbridled consumerism, we must be prepared for a rapid devastation of our air and water quality. This tragic prophecy is already a fact. As we clamour for more and more, newer and newer, as we continue to associate our self-worth with the knick-knacks on our counters, as we employ TVs and computers as baby-sitters, we are rendering our natural environment unliveable.

Basic infrastructural issues such as sewage, solid waste, and garbage collection should certainly be taken care of by local and state municipalities. However, we all have a serious role to play as well – both in the problem and the solution. Every new product we purchase, every gram of plastic packaging, our leather car seats, purses and shoes produced in these factories has a direct impact on the levels of toxins in Ganga and therefore upon the health of our brothers and sisters who live downstream. The exorbitant amount of electricity required to run the factories at warp-speed, at all hours of the day and night, necessitates construction of dams on the river. It is a tragic lose-lose situation, a cycle of violence — violence to Ganga and violence to those whose lives depend upon Her waters being clean and free-flowing.

Every religion of the world exhorts us to view the world as our family. Can we? Can we do more than shake our heads in disbelief as we watch the news? Can we realize that the ‘sacrifice’ of living simply, of being vegetarian of consuming less so that our starving brothers and sisters may be fed, so that farmers’ lands may be irrigated, so that trees may continue to grow in the Amazon, so that the rate of global warming and environmental devastation may be checked, so that Mother Earth may continue to have fertile land for growing crops, may we realize that this is a natural choice to be made and not an excruciating sacrifice? Can we truly feel the same Oneness, the same sense of family, for those who are not ‘us’ as we do for those living under our own roofs or within our circle of friends?

This is the great challenge and great gift that we have been presented with today. That which today our world requires us to do is very much what all the religions of the world have been urging us to do for millennia: live simply, live with awareness and consciousness, share with others, love thy neighbor as thyself, practice non-violence and reap not the spoils of violence. By doing that which is right for the Earth, we are actually doing that which is right for ourselves. Every undergraduate psychology student knows that greater happiness is actually attained by giving than receiving, by sacrificing for another than by indulging oneself.

The current tragic state of our Earth is forcing us out of our indifference, out of our cocoons, forcing us to break the boundaries by which we have narrowly defined our ‘self.’ If we can step up to the challenge and redefine our priorities, our values, our goals and even our understanding of where ‘self’ ends and ‘other’ begins, then this time in history will mark not an era of devastation but an era of rebirth.

Mother Ganga: Interview with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati



The post Reflections on Water from the Banks of Mother Ganga appeared first on UPLIFT.
Source: Uplift Connect

Another Impossible Mission Made Possible by Sea Shepherd

Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson

Pirate ship ThunderThe Thunder – the most notorious of the Bandit Six – is no more.

Photo: Sea Shepherd / Simon Ager


110 Days – the longest hot pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history is finally over.

The Thunder – the most notorious of the Bandit Six – is no more. The ship now rests 4,000 meters down on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. 72 kilometers of the Thunder’s illegal gill net are onboard the Sam Simon. Two other poachers, the Kunlun and the Viking, have been detained – the Kunlun in Thailand and the Viking in Malaysia.

This has been the most successful intervention against high-seas poaching in the history of anti-poaching operations.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden on the Bob Barker and Captain Sid Chakravarty of India on the Sam Simon and their crews have done an incredible job in this four-month odyssey that began with the Sam Simon in Wellington, New Zealand and the Bob Barker in Hobart, Tasmania. The ships have crossed the Southern Ocean, the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope and up the South Atlantic to cross the equator on day 109 into the North Atlantic. The chase covered 10,260 nautical miles.

40 fishermen abandoned their sinking ship. Sea Shepherd crew collected the evidence of their illegal activities with a boarding party sent onto the Thunder. All 40 men were taken aboard the Sam Simon (30 Indonesian, seven Spanish, two Chilean and one Portuguese) and given food and blankets. There were no injuries sustained by the crews of any of the three ships. The Bob Barker escorted the Sam Simon to Sao Tome, where the Thunder crew were turned over to authorities.

No oil was observed after the sinking of the Thunder and there was very little fuel left onboard at the time of the sinking. All evidence gathered will be turned over to INTERPOL.

For over a decade the poachers have been fishing with impunity in the Southern Ocean. The last pursuit was in 2003, when the Australian Customs ship Southern Supporter chased the Uruguayan poacher VirasI for 21 days from Heard Island to the middle of the South Atlantic.

The poachers’ supremacy over the waters of the Southern Ocean ended this year.

Operation Icefish has focused attention on the illegal poaching of toothfish like never before, and has involved the authorities in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Mauritius, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Spain and INTERPOL.

Nigeria stripped the Thunder of her registry and flag during the pursuit.

The crews on both the Sam Simon and the Bob Barker have carried out a marathon campaign that has ended in success.

news-150406-2-1-JW-echo-life-raft-and-bob-barker-2979-550wMost if not all the Indonesian crew
may be forced laborers
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Jeff Wirth
Sea Shepherd holds no animosity to the crew of the Thunder. They were treated with kindness and consideration and fed vegan meals. Most if not all the Indonesian crew may be forced laborers; that is a situation that requires investigation. It is not for Sea Shepherd to decide the fate of these men; they will now be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.

The scuttling of the Thunder was a deliberate act of desperation by a crew that has been abandoned by their unscrupulous, wealthy owners, alleged to be fishing companies based in Galicia, Spain. Spanish police have already raided some of these companies in the search for evidence.

The net is being closed around these illegal operations, the source of the illegal Chilean Sea Bass presently being sold in restaurants and markets around the world. In addition, more and more exposure is being given to the virtual slavery involved in the crewing of these pirate-fishing operations.

Sea Shepherd, her captains, officers, crew, shore staff and volunteers have done an amazing job and have carved a place in maritime history. Many of the “experts” and politicians said that Sea Shepherd would not even find the poachers or would be unable to stop them. They even insinuated that Sea Shepherd would be charged with illegal fishing if the net was retrieved, or sued for damages by the companies backing the illegal vessels.

Sea Shepherd ignored the nay-sayers, found Thunder, located the Kunlun and Yongding and Songhua, confiscated the net, and chased the Thunder until it surrendered with the poachers’ dramatic scuttling of their own ship.

Aside from the Viking, detained in Malyasia, the other member of the Bandit 6 is the Perlon. Three of the six stopped, two detained and one sunk is a powerful blow to the operators of this cartel. The cargos of the Viking and the Kunlun have been detained and the cargo of the Thunder lost. Together this cargo could be worth between $6 million and $12 million in financial losses.

Sea Shepherd has intervened over the years against illegal fisheries worldwide. We have conducted campaigns to defend tuna, dolphins from tuna seiners, shark, cod, salmon, sea cucumbers, lobsters, bluefin tuna, and toothfish. These campaigns have not been easy but they have been effective. We were sued by a Maltese tuna company for freeing 800 illegally caught fish and we prevailed in court. The Costa Ricans are still pursuing me for defending sharks. The Canadian government took me to court for protecting cod but we prevailed in the Canadian courts in that case also. Our battles on the sea and in the courts have never been easy but as my old friend Al Johnson said in our early days, “Hey, if it was easy, everyone would be doing this.”

Operation Icefish was not easy. The logistics of deploying two large ships on voyages each exceeding 10,000 miles and covering remote locations, extreme weather conditions, pulling in 72 kilometers of gill net, chasing poachers, debating politicians and bureaucrats, resupplying at sea, delivering evidence, rescuing fishermen and communicating to the media has been a challenge. However, the challenge was met without Sea Shepherd’s crew sustaining any injuries and without any injuries to the opposition. It could not have gone any better.

All in all it was an epic, historic campaign and I am immensely proud of what Sea Shepherd has accomplished with Operation Icefish.

Operation Icefish was a campaign of Relentless Passion, Persistence, Patience, Steadfastness, Seamanship, Success and Courage.
Source: Sea Shepherd