Sea Shepherd - Protecting Marine Wildlife Worldwide

Sea Shepherd anti-whaling team stand on the bridge of one of their ships with the skull logo painted behind them
Flickr | Greg Bishop

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society – Pirate Advocates of the High Seas

Sea Shepherd is an international non-profit marine conservation organisation that engages in direct action campaigns for the protection of marine wildlife worldwide. They were founded in 1977 by Captain Paul Watson, a former member of Greenpeace.

There are 15 Sea Shepherd chapters around the world, with Sea Shepherd Global being the largest. Their fleet currently consists of 10 ships and several smaller boats.

The organisation is predominantly ran by dedicated volunteers. The group has been funded over the years by a host of celebrity sponsors and high-profile animal rights activists including Bob Barker, Doug Tompkins, Ady Gill, Bridget Bardot, Mick Jagger, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Penn, and many others.

The main goals of Sea Shepherd are:

  • Defend ocean wildlife from poaching, unsustainable fishing, habitat destruction, and captivity.

  • Protect marine habitats and maintain a balanced ecosystem free from pollution, destructive fishing gear, plastic, and marine debris.

  • Uphold international laws and agreements by supporting law enforcement agencies to bring justice to poachers and illegal fishing activity.

The protection of whales is a key priority for the Sea Shepherds. Commercial whaling was banned in 1986 however still continues under the radar of the authorities. Since this ban, Japan, Norway, and Iceland have killed 40,000 whales often under the guise of ‘scientific research’.

Despite the known barbarity of whale harpooning there still exists a demand for whale meat, and their oil, blubber, and cartilage which is used in pharmaceuticals and homeopathic medicines with no proven health benefits.


The Sam Simon ship owned by marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd is docked at Wellington Harbour. It has large shark teetch painted on the front and its says 'Antipoaching' in large letters on its side
Flickr | Peg Hunter

Recommended Sea Shepherd Documentaries

The Sea Shepherds are the focus of a series of eye-opening documentaries that help to raise awareness, highlight the severity of the situation, and capture the progress of their excellent work.

A thrilling documentary featuring the 110-day pursuit of rogue fishing vessel Thunder wanted by Interpol for illegal toothfish poaching in the Southern Ocean. The longest chase in maritime history encountered storms and freezing conditions across three oceans until the ship's captain deliberately sunk the ship in an attempt to destroy evidence.

A documentary featuring Sea Shepherd's Operation Albacore on board the M/V Bob Barker where alongside the Gabonese military and government they worked to stop illegal fishing off the coast of West Africa.

Sea Shepherd's diverse crew of dedicated volunteers are filmed sharing in their own words, why they literally put their lives on the line to enforce international conservation law against the illegal fishing industry.

Limited series highlighting the shocking and dangerous world of the controversial Japanese whaling trade and the tactics that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society use to cripple it.


Sea Shepherd crew member Laurens De Groot hurls a bottle of butyric acid from a zodiac at Japanese harpoon whaling ship
Flickr | Guano

Sea Shepherd Controversies

The innovative direct-action tactics employed by the Sea Shepherds have received mixed attention for their controversial, high-risk, and confrontational nature.

Tactics used in the past to varying degrees of success, include the use of ships to physically block illegal fishing vessels and harpoons, paintballing ships, throwing butyric acid onto ships, disabling ships at harbour, net cutting, ramming ships, using emergency flares as smoke bombs, boarding ships, and ensnaring ship propellers - all with the intent to disturb and interfere with illegal operations.

After years of clashes at sea, the U.S. court of appeal declared the Sea Shepherd organisation ‘pirates’ and upheld an injunction in 2013 barring them from targeting or attacking whaling ships from Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research in the Southern Ocean. They were then ordered to pay $2.55 million for breaching this injunction.

Since the departure of Captain Paul Watson, the organisation has begun to change its course and steer away from the aggressive nonviolent approach of the past. Going forward they are committed to adhering to international maritime law and shift their focus to scientific research and governmental collaboration.

This change in trajectory led to Watson separating from the organisation he started. He has since created the Captain Paul Watson Foundation which will remain committed to his direct-action approach he believes is necessary to be successful in combatting the rampant illegal activity taking place in our seas.


Black and white Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Logo. The outline of two whales one larger one smaller swim in a circle surrounded by the organisations name
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society | CC BY-SA 4.0

Sea Shepherd Success Stories

Whether you agree with their tactics or not, the organisation gets results. Their nonviolent direct actions have drawn international media attention to the plight of marine animals and the large-scale illegal activities which operate unabated.

The debate on how far is too far when it comes to protecting endangered species continues, but you can't argue with positive results.

Over its decades-long history, Sea Shepherd has been credited with saving thousands of marine animals. Notable achievements include the shutdown of illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, where their interventions significantly reduced the number of whales killed by Japanese whalers.

They successfully combated illegal fishing in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and the Vaquita Refuge in the Gulf of California, contributing to the protection of critically endangered species such as the vaquita porpoise.

As part of the Monachus Campaign they confiscated over 7,500 illegal octopus fishing pots from the waters off the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, the largest seizure of octopus fishing traps ever in Mediterranean Sea.

Sea Shepherd's work in Gabon to combat illegal fishing in marine protected areas was featured in Sir David Attenborough's 'A Perfect Planet'.

Sea Shepherd has partnered with ‘LessonUp’ to create a channel of free resources for teachers and students on marine conservation, illegal fishing, and plastic pollution.

How can you Support or Get Involved with Sea Shepherd?

Individuals and organisations can support Sea Shepherd by donating funds, becoming a member, or purchasing merchandise from their official store which directly funds their campaigns. Additionally, those interested can volunteer to work on board their ships or participate in land-based activities.

Sea Shepherd also offers internships and educational programs to spread awareness and train the next generation of marine conservationists. Engaging in ocean advocacy and spreading the word about Sea Shepherd's missions and successes can also significantly aid their cause.

Author: Rachael Mellor 13.06.24 licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

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