In 1967, he left Toronto and headed to Vancouver where he was employed as a fireman working aboard the Canadian Pacific steamship, Princess Marguerite.
In 1968, he joined the Canadian Coast Guard where he served as a crew aboard the weather ship C.C.G.S. Vancouver. This, however, was only a short tenure as the following year, in 1968, he joined another crew on the Norwegian bulk carrier, Bris. This experience aboard the Norwegian carrier exposed Paul to magnificent oceans of the world in faraway places, such as Norway, Sweden, Southern China, the North Atlantic, Africa, and the Persian Gulf, making him a seasoned and experienced ocean crew, deck hand, and sailor.
Co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation
In October 1969, Paul Watson co-founded the Greenpeace Foundation and provided assistance to voyages across Canada and the USA, protesting against nuclear testing by the Atomic Energy Commission at Amchitka Island. Greenpeace called their mission “Don’t Make A Wave,” which also involved some members of another group called the Sierra Club wherein Paul was also a member.
The “Don't Make a Wave” Committee sponsored the voyage of the Greenpeace I in 1971—an old fishing vessel known earlier in its life as the Phyllis Cormack. Under the command of Captain John Cormack, Greenpeace I embarked on a voyage from Vancouver, BC Canada, with its intention to sail right into the middle of the nuclear testing zone, thereby ceasing or at least delaying the test. The crew was composed of a total of 13 volunteers on board including Lyle Thurston, Rod Marining and Robert Hunter. (Thirty years later, the crew would again be sailing together, this time, with Paul Watson as the commander and Captain of the Sea Shepherd with a mission to fight marine interventions.)
Their mission “Don’t Make A Wave” was hailed as a success when the nuclear testing was delayed; and after a month of being on the ocean, Greenpeace I sailed back to Vancouver. Later on, the storm and media sensation caused by the Greenpeace voyages created enough attention and public outcry that the Atomic Nuclear Commission cancelled further tests, making November 1971 the last nuclear test to occur at Amchitka.
In 1972, the Don't Make a Wave Committee decided to use the name of their first two ships. They sailed on in their first campaign and renamed themselves the Greenpeace Foundation. Doing so made Paul Watson one of the founding members and directors of Greenpeace and he was given his lifetime membership number 007, the same lifetime membership number he continues to have today.
Watson later skippered Greenpeace’s boat called the Astral in true Paul Watson maverick style in Vancouver harbor, Canada BC. He placed it on a collision course with the French helicopter carrier, the Jeanne D'Arc in protest against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll occurring in the South Pacific. The massive helicopter carrier was forced to change course so as not to collide; however, Paul also changed course with the warship, ultimately forcing the French aircraft carrier to stop in its tracks, again attracting much media and publicity, dividing opinions across the globe about Greenpeace and their causes.
In 1974, several of the founders of Greenpeace Foundation—Paul Spong, Paul Watson, Robert Hunter, and other newer members of Greenpeace—agreed to work together against their first organized campaign with the intention to oppose whaling.
This took them to Russia to confront the Soviet Whaling fleet where Paul proudly claims he was the first to attack Russia (on Russian soil) since the Cold War.
In inflatable boats called Zodiac they were the first people to protect whales and put their lives on the line by Paul placing his Zodiac boat between the Russian’s harpoon gun and a pod of sperm whales.
Later, they noticed that a Russian military helicopter was taking aim at them. Paul asked Robert “He’s taking his gun out! Ok, so what should we do?" Robert replied, "We’ll… Smile and wave at him!"
Sadly, during this event, a sperm whale was killed by a harpoon. The whale valiantly fought for its life, but lost. Paul Watson later recounted that he and the whale shared a special moment together during that moment as their gaze locked into each other. He felt that the whale knew what he, Robert, and the Greenpeace crew were trying to do—save the lives of their kind. Briefly looking into the dying whale's eyes changed Paul’s life forever and he vowed to become a lifelong protector, advocate, and defender of the whales as well as all marine creatures of the world’s oceans.
Greenpeace’s next mission took them to the east coast of Canada in an effort to protect harp and hood seals. Using their sea knowledge and brinkmanship, the Greenpeace ship successfully stopped Arctic Endeavor in its path by blocking it. The Arctic Endeavor was stuck in the ice. After a newspaper published an article called Sheppard’s of the Labrador Front about their campaign, the name Sheppard stuck with Paul and inspired the name of his new organization the Sea Sheppard.
In 1977, Brigitte Bardot joined in the movement of animal rights and lobbied to stop the killing of baby seal pups. This second campaign was the last campaign Paul would share with Greenpeace. Back on the land, animal activists would cover themselves and their fur jackets in blood, throw dead, bloody animals and lie in front of fashion icons and Vogue models wearing fur in a way to gain attention and the public’s support for their cause.
Leaving Greenpeace and Starting the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
In June 1977, Watson left the Greenpeace Foundation due to disagreements on tactics in addition to the emerging bureaucratic structure of the organization. Patrick Moore had replaced Robert Hunter and was opposed to direct action campaigns that Paul Watson was passionate about. Moore had informed Watson that he would not be allowed to lead another seal campaign due to his controversial tactics.
Paul Watson therefore left Greenpeace, starting Sea Shepherd out of a global need to continue direct action conservation activities focusing on enforcing laws that protect marine wildlife, later saying he left to start his own organization out of the frustration and the original goals of the Greenpeace organization being diluted, causing a lack of effectiveness in what Paul felt the organization was formed to actually do.
In an effort to protect marine wildlife worldwide, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was created with a dedicated focus in the areas of investigation, research, and the enforcement of laws, resolutions, and the establishment of regulations and treaties. Captain Paul Watson was able to purchase his first boat, which he called the Sea Shepherd, with the financial assistance from Cleveland Amory and the Fund for Animals. It used to be a fishing trawler. The boat was refurbished and made seaworthy for long research, journeys, and campaigns.
Sea Shepherd’s first campaign was in 1979 when Paul and his crew of activists set sail on a mission to stop seal pup hunting occurring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the eastern coast of Canada. During his first campaign, Captain Paul Watson was fined $8,000 and sentenced to 10 days in prison for his disruptive activities. Their campaign also headed them up again with a boat which hunted, harpooned, and killed whales. By the end of the year, the Sea Shepherd had won their campaign to make commercial whaling illegal when the killing of whales was written into law in Canada.
Throughout the 1980s, Paul Watson promoted the Sea Shepherd and likened it to the "navy" of Earth First! He also threw his support behind the Earth First! In 1980, Paul also had his first child, a son he and his first wife Starlet Lum named Lani in 1980.
During the 1980s, Paul Watson also ventured into politics twice, running for the Greens Party as a Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre in the Canadian Federal elections once in 1987 and again in 1995 as Mayor of Vancouver.
A UCLA Instructor
Throughout the 1990’s Paul Watson was academically active. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree at Simon Fraser University Canada BC, in communications and linguistics. Between 1990 and 1994 he was a professor at Pasadena College, teaching students about Ecology of Design as well as lecturing around the world at other universities. He was an assistant instructor in UCLA's Honors Program in 1998 and 1999.
Throughout this decade, Paul Watson remained highly active with his Sea Shepherd Organization and the protection of marine life. He was always pushing the legal boundaries and, as such, received jailing on occasion. He was convicted and served 120 days after being found guilty of attempting to sink a Norwegian whaling and fishing boat in 1992. He was again arrested in 1993 for his part against a Cuban and Spanish fishing boat off the east coast of Canada in Newfoundland.
In 2002, Paul Watson gained public attention when a reporter published Paul’s quote: "There's nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win. Then you write the history." There was media frenzy around his comments while Captain Watson reinforced his view that he does not consider himself a protester but a marine protector and interventionist.
One of The Guardian’s 50 People Who could Save the Planet
The Sierra Club, wherein Captain Paul Watson was a member of, elected him onto the board of directors in 2003 for a three–year term. However, when re-elections took place in 2006, he did not seek re-election as a sign of protest after finding out the Sierra Club sponsored an essay writing contest called "Why I Hunt."
Later in 2006 Paul Watson was named by The Guardian as one of the "50 people who could save the planet." This was decided after reviewing and considering the work of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its role in protecting marine life since 1979.
Getting Shot while Filming a Reality Documentary
In 2007, Paul Watson held talks with the Discovery Channel and convinced them to back him and invest in making a reality show about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The idea is to film a reality show documenting their campaign against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary off the coast of Antarctica. They wanted to prove that the Japanese were not only conducting whaling research in the sanctuary but were actually whaling. The Sea Shepherd’s video evidence became popularity and the show caused an international media frenzy and drew in millions of supporters via the TV show in support of Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd’s campaigns.
Paul Watson again was front and center of international media coverage for his Sea Shepherd Organization when, during filming of the hit TV series Whale Wars campaign in the Southern Ocean, he proclaimed he has been shot by one of the Japanese crew or coast guard during their Operation Migaloo anti-whaling campaign. The incident unfolds on film with the Sea Shepherd’s crew seen throwing butyric acid at the Nisshin Maru whaling vessel and the Japanese responding by throwing flash bombs back. Captain Paul Watson was seen standing on the deck shouting, “I’ve been hit!” He was shown finding metal fragments inside his jacket and vest. The last of the series of Whale Wars received huge views and worldwide attention for the Sea Shepherd’s movement.
In 2009, Paul Watson again revives publicity for his cause when he his request for an Australian visa was denied, making international news all over the globe. In front of reporters and cameramen, he directly accuses the Australian government of sabotaging the 2010’s Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling campaign by denying him entry into the country.
The Japanese Coast Guard obtained an arrest warrant for Captain Paul Watson "...on suspicion of ordering sabotage activities against Japan's whaling fleet" in 2010.Through the negotiations between the Japanese Government and Interpol, Paul Watson was registered as Wanted under a blue notice (Categories of offense included "Life and health, Hooliganism/ vandalism/ damage"), which requests national police forces to provide information on Watson's whereabouts and activities, however, it does not require national police forces to undertake an arrest.
The Sea Shepherd becomes a mainstream international movement due to its activities and its televisions series Whale Wars being screened on the Animal Planet. As an acknowledgement of this success, Paul Watson personally received over $120,000 from the Sea Shepherd Organization.
Paul Gets Arrested in Germany
The German authorities arrested Paul Watson in 2012 and detained him for 50 days after arriving at Frankfurt Airport base (the German police are acting on a request made to them by the government of Costa Rica). These charges from the Costa Rican government are from an altercation which occurred back in 2002, when the Sea Shepherd was intervening with fishing vessels in Guatemalan waters partaking in the act of shark finning—catching sharks only for their fins. Shark fin soup is considered a Chinese delicacy.
Video evidence of the conflict took place during filming for the documentary Sharkwater. The crew of the fishing vessel claimed that the Sea Shepherd was trying to kill them and that Paul Watson as its Captain should be charged with violating navigational regulations. After being detained, Paul Watson was released on bail of €250,000. Costa Rica then formally requested the extradition of Paul Watson to Costa Rica from Germany to face charges in Costa Rica.
Upon this news, Paul Watson fled Germany breaking his conditions of bail, prompting German authorities to order his immediate re-arrest. It is understood that the statute of limitations on his Costa Rican charges expires in June 2013 and Paul Watson intends to remain at sea and away from the attention of the authorities until the extradition charges expire. His current location remains unknown.
Watson has published several books to date:
- Shepherds of the Sea (1979)
- Sea Shepherd: My Fight for Whales and Seals (1982)
- Cry Wolf (1985)
- Earthforce! (1993)
- Ocean Warrior (1994)
- Seal Wars (2002)
- 1979: Outstanding Courage in the field of Animal Protection Fund for Animals
- 1989: Honorary citizenship to the Florida Keys as Honorary Conch Florida Keys
- 1990: Environmentalist of the Year CITY TV (Toronto)
- 1996: Honorary Citizenship to the French town of St. Jean Ferrat, France
- 1996: Medal of Service from the French town of Ville France sur la Mer, France
- 1997: Honorary Citizenship to Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
- 1998: Life Time Achievement Award Genesis Award Ark Trust Foundation
- 1999: Earth Trustee Award, Daily Points of Light Award
- 2000: Earth Day 2000 Special Award, Heroes of the Planet Time Magazine
- 2001: Star Award to Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for Outstanding Organization Supporting and Promoting Ethics for the Animal Kingdom. Outstanding Environmentalist, Eco-Link Award. Conservationist of the Year by the Orangutan Foundation.
- 2002: For outstanding contributions to animal liberation, Inducted into The U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame
- 2006: Defenders of the Earth acknowledge Paul Watson as one of the ten eco-warriors.
- 2007: Gold Medal for Humanitarian Service Winsome Constance Kindness Trust in addition to receiving two awards for the protection of marine life around the world by Ecuador’s General Director Gustavo Paez of AMAZNOR,
- 2008: Amazon Peace Prize & the Australia Zoo: Wildlife Warrior Award, Whale Wars the Discovery Channel documents Sea Shepherd Activities now in its 5th season.
- 2010: In recognition of his merits achieved by the work done in defense of marine life Paul Watson receives the Defense of Marine Life Award, and the Outstanding Commitment2Action by Humanity4Water.
- 2012: Sea Shepherd gets additional series by the Animal Planet called Whale Wars. Viking Shores. Jules Verne Award to Paul Watson
- Blue Fin Tuna: Operation Blue Rage
- Dolphins: Dolphins Home, Taiji Japan Cove Guardians, Faeroes Island Campaign
- Gulf Rescue Oil Spill
- Seal: Operation Desert Seal, Seal Home
- Sharks: Operation Requiem
- Whales: Operation Zero Tolerance, Whale Wars, Operation Kimberly Miinibimi, Faeroes Island Campaign