History of Sea Shepherd Campaigns for Seals

credit: Rei O'Hara

Shepherds of the Seals - Captain Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd have been fighting sealers since 1976, and over the course of a quarter of a century have saved hundreds of thousands of seals from slaughter. Sea Shepherd shut down the gray seal hunt in the Scottish Orkney Islands and is considered to be the most aggressive threat to Canadian sealers by the Canadian government and the Canadian Sealing Association. This is a fight Sea Shepherd doesn't intend to quit until the senseless slaughter of seals is eradicated. The Sea Shepherd vessel, Farley Mowat, and volunteer crew are departing in February of 2005 to head back to the ice floes of Canada to continue their long fight to save the seals.

Join us on our journey to save seals. Step through our Seal Campaign history timeline (below) which illustrates with words and pictures Sea Shepherds actions to save the seals. The fight goes on . . .

Timeline 1976 to present . . .

Note: To see picture captions, please hold your mouse over each image

1976 - Led by Paul Watson, 14 members of the Greenpeace Foundation intervene against the seal hunt off the coast of Labrador. Robert Hunter and Paul Watson stand on the ice in the path of a sealing ship forcing it to stop. The crew physically moves seal pups away from the sealers. In response, the Canadian government passes laws providing for a fine and imprisonment for interfering with the seal hunt.


The first two men to place themselves between a whale and a harpoon earlier in the year, Hunter and Watson now stand between a seal and the sealing ship, Arctic Endeavor.

- Leading the second Greenpeace seal campaign, Paul Watson brings actress Brigitte Bardot to visit the seals. Later, in an effort to stop the operation of a sealing ship. Watson handcuffs himself to the winch line. The sealers drag him across the ice, repeatedly plunge him into the water, slam him into the side of the ship, and punch and kick him as he is dragged through a gauntlet of sealers on the deck of a sealing ship. He is hospitalized with pneumonia. Due to these events, the seal hunt becomes a headline event worldwide.

history_1977a_Brigitte_BardotBrigitte Bardot 1977

Paul Watson handcuffed to a winch 1977Paul Watson handcuffed to a winch closeup with seal pelts 1977

Marking a seal pup with harmess red dye 1979
1979 - Captain Paul Watson takes his ship Sea Shepherd to the ice floes of the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This Paul Watson versus a helicopter 1979marks the first time that a ship has gone to the ice to save seals, not kill them. Watson and seven of his crew are arrested for spraying red dye on over a thousand seals. The harmless organic indelible dye ruins the commercial value of the pelts.

The RCMP arrest the entire crew; Watson temporarily wards off authorities' helicopter with 7-foot long pole, but is eventually arrested.

The crew was charged and jailed with unlawfully approaching a seal hunt closer than one half nautical mile without permission of the Federal Minister of Fisheries and also with violating the Seal Protection Act by marking a live seal with dye contrary to the regulations.


Cleveland Amory, seated second from the right in the
foreground, watched the court proceedings and then
returned to New York to raise funds for the crewmembers' bail


Cleveland Amory carrying a seal pup

Kayaks 1981history_1981b_kayak_at_sea_with_sail1980 - Paul Watson is ordered into Orsainville Prison on the first day of the seal hunt for interfering with the seal hunt in 1979. He serves ten days and is prevented from interfering with sealing. He is prohibited by law from being on the East coast of Canada for 3 years. His conviction is later overturned.

1981 - Watson defies the 1980 order to stay out of the Atlantic provinces and leads a three-man ocean kayak crew to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in violation of his parole order. With the safety the cover of darkness brings, hundreds of seals are sprayed with harmless blue dye.


RCMP in Charlottetown, PEI, order
Paul Watson to leave the province

1999 re-creation of 1981 blue dye event

In 1999, a film crew recreates the "1981
saving seals with blue dye event"

- Scottish Sea Shepherd volunteers camp on Little Green Holm and Muckle Green Holm and prevent the sealers from landing on the islands to club seals.

1982 - The Sea Shepherd Grey Seal Campaign receives enough publicity that the Society was able to raise funding to purchase Little Green Holm Island and declare it a Seal Sanctuary.

1983 - The Sea Shepherd II blockades the harbor at St. John's, Newfoundland, preventing the Canadian sealing fleet from leaving for two weeks. Captain Watson recalls the scene, "We lurked outside the Narrows daring the sealers to come out of the harbor. There were traffic jams in St. John's from all the cars trying to ascend Signal Hill to catch a glimpse of the Sea Shepherd II. The sealers did not leave, under the belief that we would ram the first one that put out to sea. The delay cost them 76,000 seals. For the first time ever, the quota (of 186,000) fell short, and it fell short by 76,000."

Sea Shepherd II patrolling the harbor 1983

In April, the Sea Shepherd II moves into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and escorts three sealing ships out of the Harp seal nursery. RCMP and Canadian Coast Guard units ram and board the Sea Shepherd II in a tear-gas assault on the ice north of Nova Scotia.

Canadian Coast Guard rams SSII 1983Canadian Coast Guard tear gasses SSII 1983

Captain Watson and his 20-person crew are jailed on charges of conspiracy to violate the "Seal Protection Act" by approaching within a half nautical mile of a seal hunt. Captain Watson is given a 21-month prison sentence, the Sea Shepherd II is seized, and his crew are given $3,000 fines.

In December, the lower court rules to confirm the confiscation of the ship and that the vessel is to be held as evidence until the trial is completed. (This order was later over turned by the Quebec Court of Appeal.)

1983 - The European Parliament bans seal pelts thus destroying the market for the commercial sealing industry.

1984 - The Quebec Court of Appeals reverses the convictions against Captain Watson and his crew. The Canadian government appeals that reversal to the Supreme Court.

1984 - The European Parliament bans Harp seal pelts and the commercial hunt is reduced significantly.

1984 - The commercial hunt is shut down leaving a limited landsman hunt in place.

1985 - After 22 months and after the Quebec Court of Appeals overturned the 1983 convictions against us by the lower courts, the Sea Shepherd II was released. In April, Captain Watson took possession of the ship in Halifax.

1985 - The Canadian Supreme Court denies the government's appeal to reinstate the convictions against the Sea Shepherd crew and rules that the "Seal Protection Act" is unconstitutional. Captain Watson files suit against the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans for damages done to the Sea Shepherd II while in Canada's possession.

1987 - Sea Shepherd wins its appeals case against the Canadian government on the convictions of the 1983 trial, which are overturned on a technicality.

1992 - In the damages suit, just days prior to going to trial, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans offers a $50,000 out of court settlement for damages done to the Sea Shepherd II while in Canada's possession. Sea Shepherd accepts the settlement.

1994 - The Canadian government provides subsidies to re-open the seal hunt and finances research into opening new markets.

1994 - Captain Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd International Director Lisa Distefano lead an expedition to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and collect the hair fibers of molting harp seal pups, initiating a pilot project that will utilize the hollow seal hairs in insulated bedding products. The seal brushing demonstrates a non-lethal, cruelty-free alternative to sealing and the Canadian government's plan to export seal penises to the Asian aphrodisiac trade. Shanghai Fisheries of Taiwan contracts to slaughter 60,000 seals for their penises. Under DFO supervision, sealers begin the non-lethal harvest of molting seal hair and send the first commercial batch to Kirchhoff Bettwarenfabrik.

Paul Watson brushing seal 1994Volunteer, Chuck Swift, brushing seal 1994

1995 - Canada announces the full-scale resumption of commercial sealing. The government sets a bounty on landed seal meat. Sea Shepherd returns to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to conduct further research for an alternative non-lethal sealing industry. The Sealing Association on the Magdalen Islands is angered that Sea Shepherd is attempting to replace the club with a hair brush. On March 16, a mob of three hundred sealers take-over the hotel where Captain Watson, Lisa Distefano, actor Martin Sheen, other volunteers, and media representatives are staying. Sealers break down the door to Watson's hotel room and assault him. Reporters are attacked and journalists' cameras are smashed. Police take Watson against his will from the hotel to the airport - while the car is driving away a brick is thrown threw the window hitting Watson in the head. A Quebec tactical police team is flown to the Magdalens to escort the media and Sea Shepherd crew out of the province. The Quebec police refuse to lay charges on the sealers. Canada's return to sealing is publicized worldwide.

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Martin Sheen greeted at airport by volunteers Marc Gaede (back) and Chuck Swift 1994

1996 - One year after the sealer riot, Watson and Distefano lead another Sea Shepherd team to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to continue the research into an alternative to sealing, accompanied by the company principals of Kirchhoff Bettwarenfabrik, wildlife photographer Bob Talbot, and Reinhard Olle of ORIGO, one of Europe's largest catalog retailers of natural products. The team collects the molted Harp seal hairs from naturally shedding, weaned seal pups without incident.

German businessmen with Paul Watson 1996Bob Talbot with seal 1996

Paul with bag of fur 1996a very fluffy baby seal 1996

RCMP watch over Paul Watson brushing seals 1996

Sweater made from seal hair collected by the Sea Shepherd Seal-Brushing Project
A sweater made from seal hair collected by Sea Shepherd.

1998 - The Sea Shepherd III becomes the first conservation vessel to brave the Maritimes during the Canadian seal hunt since 1983. Watson and Distefano stake out the largest floating nursery in the Gulf during the week of March 15, and the sealers stay away while Watson, renowned Canadian author Farley Mowat, and Paul Mitchell Systems CEO John Paul DeJoria broadcast the alternative of non-lethal sealing.

Paul Watson and Farley Mowat 1998 RCMP ship stays close to the Sea Shepherd III 1998

SSIII with Paul brushing seal 1998Crewmember, Timothy Treadwell with seal 1998

John Paul and Alexis DeJoria 1998 Ship, helicopter and seal 1998

John Paul and Alexis DeJoria with Paul Watson 1998

1999 - Sea Shepherd films seals on the ice for a major motion picture, Ocean Warrior. Veteran Sea Shepherd crewmember Peter Brown films on behalf of producer Pieter Kroonenburg.

2002 - Captain Paul Watson's book about seals is published: Seal Wars - Twenty-five Years on the Front Lines with the Harp Seals (foreword by Martin Sheen).

Allison Lance Watson with seal 20032003 - Sea Shepherd crew returns to the ice floes of the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence. The objective of the on-ice campaign for 2003 was both exploratory (for bringing the ship back to the ice) and to once again shine the spotlight on this slaughter. Sea Shepherd takes promotional pictures and videos of the seals for the purpose of producing an educational and Founder of Ian Robichaud with seal 2003public service video. Several media journalists and photographers, along with crew, joined the crew to obtain material for articles and documentaries.

2004 - Sea Shepherd successfully undermines the market for seal products. Costco Wholesale Corporation pulls seal oil capsules from their store shelves in St. John's, Newfoundland, when a Sea Shepherd representative provides them with information on the sealing industry, in particular, the killing methods of the sealers.

2005 - In late February, Captain Paul Watson and celebrity/activist Sea Shepherd Board Member Richard Dean Anderson (of TV's MacGyvor and Stargate) visited the harps seals to help bring attention to the plight of the seals.


Watson and the volunteer crew of the Sea Shepherd flagship R/V Farley Mowat (named after the Sea Shepherd International Chairman, Canadian author and naturalist) returned to the icy waters of Eastern Canada to oppose the annual slaughter.


This is the 4th time a conservation vessel has journeyed to the ice floes to protect seals -- all Sea Shepherd expeditions. (Above left: The conservation ship is painted with a beautiful mural depicting marine wildlife. Right: The Coast Guard vessel Amundsen heads towards the Farley Mowat.)



The Canadian government spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars protecting and assisting the sealers. Their Coast Guard vessel, Amundsen, kept a close and constant watch on the Farley Mowat except for the times when the coast Guard were busy breaking paths through the ice for sealers to get to the seals or rescuing sealers whose vessel were stuck in the ice.

Sea Shepherd volunteers were physically attacked by the captain and crew of a sealing vessel (see above) without any provocation. The sealers were never charged for their violent actions. Subsequently, eleven of the Sea Shepherd crew were arrested, not for any involvement in this confrontation, but for filming seal killers without permission from the government.

The arrests give Sea Shepherd the opportunity to challenge these censorship regulations as violations of the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and to elevate international public and media awareness of the slaughter. Right: Eleven Sea Shepherd crewmembers are arrested and taken to jail.

2006 - Sea Shepherd intends to continue its battle to defend seals and work to permanently end the annual slaughter of seals.


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