Call them pirates, environmentalists, or eco-terrorists. But whatever you call the members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) -- better known as the crew from Animal Planet's "Whale Wars" -- you should know that one of their own is calling them "dishonest" and "morally bankrupt," and alleging conspiracies and cover-ups.
Former Sea Shepherd captain Pete Bethune, from New Zealand, has lashed out at the scrappy, yet highly organized and sometimes dangerous, group of international college activists, weekend warriors, and extended-vacation professionals who pester Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean in an attempt to save the whales. He's especially upset with the group's leader, Capt. Paul Watson, accusing the American of hoodwinking the public on multiple occasions.
In a lengthy explanation on his Facebook page, and then through a story on the site ecorazzi.com that he links to, Bethune offers an "online letter of resignation."
“I am asking that from now on, SSCS determine to act in an honest way with its volunteers, supporters and media,” Bethune writes via a Facebook comment. “SSCS does not need to lie. Saving whales, dolphins, tuna and sharks are noble causes, and the public will embrace these as worthwhile. The story does not need to be manipulated and changed in order to get public support.”
The controversy started when Bethune's boat, the Batman-style Ady Gil -- one in the SSCS's fleet of three -- collided with one of the Japanese whaling vessels, eventually leading to the boat's sinking:
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The collision enraged Bethune, and through a serious of conversations with Watson he devised a plan to board the Japanese vessel Shonan Maru No. 2 and place the captain under citizen's arrest. But while he was able to board the boat, he was arrested by Japanese officials, held for five months in a Japanese prison, sentenced to two years' imprisonment (a sentence eventually suspended for five years), and immediately deported.
According to the SSCS, while in custody Bethune implicated Watson incorrectly in the plot, which the group alleges lead the Japanese to issue an arrest warrant for Watson, put him on the international "blue list," and may have even resulted in a brief arrest while Watson was traveling between the U.S. and Canada.
"Perhaps in a misguided attempt to gain leniency while still in custody, Bethune provided false testimony to the Japanese authorities regarding Captain Paul Watson," the SSCS says in a statement on its website. As a result, "[SSCS] recently informed Captain Pete Bethune that he will no longer be associated with the society or with any Sea Shepherd campaigns."
In an e-mail to The Blaze, Bethune confirms that he in fact gave false testimony. "He never gave the order," Bethune writes regarding Watson and the boarding incident. "It was my own idea and he supported it. ... It was an error in judgment on my part and I apologized to Paul [Watson] for it. But in the end I did what my lawyers, appointed by Sea Shepherd, told me to do."
According to Bethune's e-mail, the relationship went sour once SSCS "ditched" him in a Japanese prison. When finally freed, Bethune says he he gave Watson "an ultimatum to start dealing honestly with public and to start honouring commitments he makes to volunteers."
That apparently hasn't happened, as Bethune blew the whistle yesterday on the group. The truth according to Bethune is a whale of a tale. He alleges that his boat, the Ady Gil, did not sink as a result of a collision, but rather was intentionally scuttled later by Bethune at the order of Capt. Watson -- Watson apparently did not want to take time away from agitating the Japanese in order to tow the boat back to port for repairs.
"I was told to go and do something to the boat so she would sink in 6-12 hours," Bethune writes in his e-mail to The Blaze. "Then the scene where the boat was left to sink was recreated in the morning to make it seem like I was present. ... We deliberately sank a vessel and lied about it." On his Facebook page he called the move "a total breach of ethics."
Bethune's e-mail even suggests that Animal Planet was in on the plan: "The raw footage would definitely show the apparent decision to leave the boat was staged."
But the allegations don't stop there. According to Bethune's letter on ecorazzi, there were more cover ups:
After the Ady Gil was scuttled, crew of the Shonan Maru found four arrows in the water. SSCS issued a press release denying all knowledge of the arrows, suggesting instead that the whalers had planted them as false evidence. There was no need to say anything at all. The story was the Ady Gil had sunk…not that some arrows had been found. No one really cared about four arrows when the whalers had explosive harpoons and 12 gauge shotguns.
When I met with Paul Watson in July 2009, he gave me permission to take a Bow and Arrow to Antarctica, with the idea of pasting a poison on the arrow tips (or fake poison), and firing them into dead whales while they were being transferred from harpoon vessel to processing ship. When I met Paul on the Steve Irwin in Antarctica, I confirmed all tactics, and he again said I had permission to use the bow and arrow if we came across a suitable situation.
Yet that might not be the worst of it. Bethune also reveals that an apparent shooting of Watson, captured on film during season one, could have been staged:
(Warning: graphic language)
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SSCS Crew present on that voyage argued strongly to me that the entire episode was faked. I was not on the campaign, so in fact I don’t know if it is in fact true or not. However given what I’ve witnessed in the last year, and my knowledge of the Japanese crew, I would bet $500,000 at odds of 10:1, that the event was staged.
“What really concerns me most is the apparent moral bankruptcy of senior SSCS personnel," Bethune says in his resignation letter. "They routinely conspire and lie over serious matters, with little regard for people like myself who they malign and bulldoze along the way."
The SSCS has always toed the line between activist and aggressor, more often than not falling into the latter category. The collision with the Shonan Maru No. 2 is not the first run in. Two years ago Watson was investigated for ramming into one of the Japanese whalers while trying to prevent a whale killing. The group also regularly throws beutyric acid at the whaling vessels, and even resorted to using potato guns on the most recent season.
Both SSCS and the Japanese whalers claim to have the law on their side. SSCS says the Japanese are violating international whaling laws, while the Japanese claim to be conducting research.
In the past, Glenn Beck has called the group "environmental extremists" in reference to their tactics. Bethune had yet to respond to questions regarding the groups designation at the time of this article's publication.
SSCS did not immediately return a request for comment. Attempts to contact Discovery Communications, LLC, Animal Planet's parent company, were unsuccessful.