Paul Watson, wanted in Spain and Portugal for sinking three illegal whaling ships and parole in his native Canada for interfering with the government-sponsored kill of baby harp seals, is happily working on Alexandria docks these days, preparing a North Sea trawler for more high seas derring-do in defense of whales, dolphins and seals.
Watson and the Fund for Animals, which sponors him, are trying to raise $35,000 needed to outfit the Sea Shepherd II before Watson and his crew of 18 volunteers can set off to disrupt Soviet whaling operations in the Bering Sea and the U.S.-approved kill of Alaskan fur seals.
With time out for filming of a Warner Brothers movie about his exploits as an environmental vigilante, Watson then plans to sail to Japan, where he will try to thwart the annual Japanese dolphin kill.
And next fall, Watson will be off to the Antarctic to disrupt Japanese and Soviet whaling operations.
The ship that Watson is commanding -- a rusting, 178-foot trawler being painted in rainbow colors by volunteers -- is the second Sea Shepherd. The first is at the bottom of a Portuguese harbor, where Watson and friends scuttled it two years ago before fleeing Portuguese police and soldiers.
Watson cheerfully admits that he scuttled the Sea Shepherd in defiance of the Portuguese government, which had issued a confiscation order for the ship after Watson and his crew pursued and rammed the Sierra, a notorious pirate ship that had been slaughtering whales in violation of international whaling laws.
The Sierra later was sunk in another Portuguese harbor by environmentalist underwater demolition teams.
None of Watson's exploits has injured anyone, he quickly assures visitors, who are welcomed aboard the Sea Shepherd moored to the U.S. Coast Guard dock at Union and Franklin streets in Alexandria.
"We're against violence and if I were to injure anyone I just wouldn't continue doing what I'm doing," said Watson, who at the same time has no qualms about destroying the ships and equipment involved in whaling operations.
The first Sea Shepherd had support from Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Fund for Animals, a 14-year-old American group founded by writer Cleveland Amory which has been active in animal protection activities throughout the world. Last year, the Fund was the prime sponsor of a project to save more than 500 wild burros in the Grand Canyon.
The $100,000 it cost to buy Sea Shepherd II this past winter came partly from the Fund for Animals, the British League Against Cruel Sports, donations to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society set up by Watson to protect marine mammals, a $25,000 bank loan and $1,000 each paid by the volunteers serving on the old cod trawler.
Sea Shepherd II, still endowed with the faint fragrance of cod liver oil, needs 35,000 gallons of diesel fuel to get to the Bering Sea and ride herd on migrating flotillas of giant gray whales.
"Right now we're broke, and the Fund for Animals is broke too, after its expensive burro rescue," said Watson.
Among the volunteers aboard Sea Shepherd II last week was Denise Dowdall, a 30-year-old Californian who joined the group in Scotland five months ago. Like other volunteers, Dowdall has worked many odd jobs, such as a projectionist at Washington movie theaters, to support her interest as a wildlife lobbyist and to pay her way aboard Sea Shepherd II.
But it isn't all sailing the high seas with the wind in your face. Dowdall's job, along with another crew member, Lins Masterton, is in the engine room: "It seems we're always covered with grease, down below, where it smells of cod liver oil."
Despite the bravado of Watson and his crew, his operations have come under criticism from several American and international groups.
The International Whaling Commission condemned the ramming of the Sierra, although almost half of the 24 nations represented on the commission have supported a ban on commercial whaling and have expressed concerns about private whalers.
Terry Leitzell, assistant administrator for Fisheries in the U.S. Office of Fisheries, said this week: "The methods we prefer to use in dealing with the problem are different (than Watson's). We have just as much concern about private whaling, and we tried to get the nations that are importers of whale meat to restrict importations.
"We've been somewhat successful in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea," he said, which now have strict importation laws.
Although the International Whaling Commission did not completely ban whaling operation, it set a quota of 14,553 kills for the 12-month period ending in July, 9.2 percent less that the quota for the year before, and approved a total ban on the slaughter of Orca, or killer whales.
However, Watson contends that the Soviet Union and other whaling nations are not observing the legal quotas, while private whalers are indiscriminately and illegally killing additional thousands of whales.
"The Russians illegally slaughtered 920 killer whales last year in the Antarctic and even admitted it," said Watson. Leitzell said he couldn't confirm the number but noted, "We have had some problems with the Soviets over killer whales."
According to Watson, five illegal whalers still are operating off the coasts of Peru, Chile and Brazil. "We've offered a $25,000 reward for anyone who sinks one of them without injuring any crewmen," said Watson, a tactic Watson said his crew used last summer to put a pirate whaler in the Canary Islands out of commission.
Despite Watson's apparent determination to occasionally use illegal means to thwart whaling operations, he contends that he is simply fighting force with force.
"There is no international body to enforce international law in international waters," said Watson. "All we've done is enforce the law."
But there are some areas where even Watson draws the line. For instance, he says, his crew won't be ramming Soviet boats in Soviet territorial waters, which violates Soviet and international law and carries heavy penalties for those who are caught. Watson's crew plans to observe the Soviets, film their whaling, study whale migration and perhaps use blocking tactics to interfere with the whalers, as Watson and other environmental groups have unsuccessfully tried to do in smaller boats in past years.
Still, Watson admits that he could have some difficulty in using restraint in Soviet waters.
"I have a problem," he says. I just can't watch a whaling operation . . . the slaughter of endangered mammals that may be as smart or smarter than man . . . and not interfere."