INTERVIEW-Sea captain aims to sink Japan whaling industry

SANTIAGO, June 25 (Reuters) - After three decades at the helm chasing whaling ships, Canadian-born renegade sea captain Paul Watson has set his sights on sinking Japan's whaling industry, the largest in the world -- and reckons he is halfway there.

Spraying stinking rancid butter and non-toxic chemicals onto whaling ship decks on the high seas, Watson says his nongovernmental organization Sea Shepherd International has helped prevent Japan from catching around 500 whales for two years in a row.

"The only thing that's going to stop Japanese whaling is an economic approach," he told Reuters outside the annual International Whaling Commission meeting in the Chilean capital. "We've got to make sure that their losses exceed their profits."

"We've proven that we can (cut their catch by) 50 percent with the ship that we have, so we're working to get a second ship," he added. "What we're trying to do is to cut that down to 100 percent."

Shunned as an extremist by some in the International Whaling Commission, Watson has been chasing whaling boats since 1974, from Soviets to Norwegians, Icelandics and Japanese.

His team has also resorted to sabotaging ships in dock -- including four Norwegian and two Icelandic vessels.

"The reason we sink the Norwegian whaling boats is to keep their insurance premiums high. They have to pay war insurance, a 3,000 percent increase in their insurance, so every couple of years we sink one," he said.

"We haven't been able to get into Japan to do that, their security's better," he added. "We can't sink them at sea, because that puts people's lives in jeopardy. In our entire history we've never caused a single injury."

Japan signed up to a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, but the following year defied the IWC and started to catch whales for "scientific research," assigning itself an annual quota of 1,000.


So Watson's heavy-duty "conservation enforcement" ships chase whalers to prevent them catching what he calls illegal bush meat.

"This is going out and destroying wild species in their natural environment," he said. "We condemn Africans for going and shooting and killing giraffes and mountain gorillas and elephants because they're eating bush meat. ... This is no different."

His strategy is to focus on the factory ship used to process the catch among the eight-strong fleet Japan sends to the Southern Ocean each year in search of whales to kill. His next mission begins on Dec. 1.

"It's actually quite easy. ... We show up and they start running," he said. "We throw butyric acid on their decks, which is rotten butter. You can't even work with that smell on the deck."

"We also toss methyl cellulose on board which makes everything extremely slippery. So we call it organic, non-toxic chemical warfare."

In return, he says he has been shot at by whalers armed with guns and concussion grenades, but none of his crew has been hurt to date.

Watson devoted his life to stopping catches of whales and other marine life after being disgusted by the fishing industry in eastern Canada he grew up in -- and due to a pivotal encounter with a sperm whale in 1975 when trying to block a Soviet whaling ship.

Harpooned and bloodied, the whale reared up by his boat, and caught his eye.

"I looked up into this eye the size of my fist and what I saw changed my life forever, because I saw understanding," he said. "The whale understood what we were trying to do. He went backwards to avoid coming down on top of us. I saw his eye disappear beneath the water and he died. He spared my life."

Editing by Sandra Maler