Ninth District Labels U.S. Charity “Pirates,” by Teresa Platt

Captains Locky Maclean, Paul Watson and Alex Cornelisse.

Captains Locky Maclean, Paul Watson and Alex Cornelisse.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the “Ninth District,” in San Francisco labeled a U.S. charity “pirateswhile, on the other side of the planet, the charity was violating the Court’s injunction requiring it to stay 500 yards from cetacean researchers.  On February 26th, a large Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel placed itself squarely between a Japanese research vessel and its tender during an at-sea refueling.

Footage airing on Australian TV revealed how the dangerous stunt put all hands at risk in the Antarctic’s frigid Southern Ocean.  Discovery Channel chronicles Sea Shepherd’s aggressive and illegal tactics in its reality TV series Whale Wars.

The Ninth District Court upheld the injunction, originally issued in December 2012 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case mid-February.  Stated the Ninth District Court:

The Sea Shepherds are pirates. Period. No district judge could fail to grasp the clarity and firmness of our opinion. …When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be. …A dangerous act, if committed often enough, will inevitably lead to harm, which could easily be irreparable. …Enjoining piracy sends no message about whaling; it sends the message that we will not tolerate piracy. Refusing the injunction sends the far more troublesome message that we condone violent vigilantism by U.S. nationals in international waters.

The Court’s injunction requires Sea Shepherd to operate in a safe manner while at sea:

Paul Watson.

Paul Watson.

Defendants Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Paul Watson, and any party acting in concert with them (collectively “defendants”), are enjoined from physically attacking any vessel engaged by Plaintiffs the Institute of Cetacean Research … in the Southern Ocean or any person on any such vessel (collectively “plaintiffs”), or from navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel. In no event shall defendants approach plaintiffs any closer than 500 yards when defendants are navigating on the open sea.

The Court’s 2012 injunction was issued after Sea Shepherd’s founder Paul Watson resurfaced after he skipped bail in an effort to dodge other charges filed in Germany.  The International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol, has also issued notices for Watson’s arrest.

To comply with the Court’s December injunction, Paul Watson resigned as an officer of the charity’s U.S. and Australian corporations.  He then violated the ruling, giving interviews to the press from the Sea Shepherd vessel following the February 26th incident at sea.

WatsonFFARegistered as a charity in the U.S. (EIN 93-0792021) and Australia (ACN:123 339 499, ABN:38 123 339 499), Sea Shepherd has raised money on such exploits, growing from a rag-tag band of eco-warriors underwritten by grants from Fund for Animals (now merged with the Humane Society of the United States) to a multi-national organization with its own TV show and revenue of almost $12 million in 2011 – and legal fees of $1.4 million.

Discovery Channel hyped Sea Shepherd’s illegal actions, season after season:

Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society return for [another] adrenaline-fueled season of WHALE WARS, one of Animal Planet’s most-talked-about, best-performing and award-winning series to date.  WHALE WARS documents the Sea Shepherds …as they wage a high-risk battle and masterful chess match to find and stop Japanese ships from hunting whales in the name of research.

Clearly, the work of Sea Shepherd results in ratings gold for Discovery Channel but it is not in the public benefit.  Its corporations induce the commission of criminal acts.  By doing so, “it increases the burden on government and thus thwarts a well recognized charitable goal, ie., the relief of the burdens of government.”

It’s time for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to revoke Sea Shepherd’s charitable status and require payment of taxes, back to the first incident of law breaking.

At the very minimum, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society should be required to comply with the law of the land and the sea.


Teresa Platt is the Director of the Environment and Enterprise Institute at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.