Captain Paul Watson

The Good Pirate




(a story for children aged 5 to 105)


© Dave Keenan, Brisbane Australia, October 2003.

Images and source material are from the website of

the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Paul Watsonís 1994 book Ocean Warrior.

Two of the images are from the website of the Greenpeace Foundation.


This is a true story.

Paul Watson was born in Canada on the second of December, 1950. Even as a child he hated any kind of cruelty, and at the age of nine he would go out into the forest to find and destroy the leg traps that trappers had set to catch animals.

When Paul was a young man of twenty one years, the United Nations asked everyone to stop killing whales, but most countries still allowed it. Sailors who kill whales are called whalers. Whalers use ships with a gun on the front that fires a big steel arrow at the whales to kill them. The steel arrow is called a harpoon.



Three years later Paul Watson and some other people decided to work together to try to stop people killing whales. Their group was called Greenpeace. They went out in a small blow-up rubber boat with an outboard motor. They bravely drove their boat in front of the whales so the whalers couldnít shoot the whales.

The Greenpeace people werenít always able to protect the whales. One time, after a long chase, a pod of sperm whales was so exhausted they couldnít swim away from the whaling ship any more. The whalers waited until a wave made the whales go up while Paul Watsonís rubber boat went down and they fired an explosive harpoon right over Paul Watsonís head and killed one of the whales.



Then the biggest male whale, who was the leader of the pod, dived under the water. Paul Watson knew it would come up fast and try to attack the whaling ship to protect its family. But the whaling ship was bigger than the whale, and it was made of steel, so the whale didnít have a chance.

Paul Watson had been told that this whale might attack his boat too, since his boat was right between the whales and the whaling ship. But the whale narrowly missed the rubber boat and launched itself straight at the harpooner.



The harpooner had another harpoon ready and he shot the whale.

Paul Watson was so close he got some of the whaleís blood on him. When the dying whale came up out of the water again, its huge head was above the rubber boat. Paul Watson looked into one of its big eyes and he felt that the whale understood what they were trying to do. He felt that it knew they had been trying to save it from the whalers. It could have fallen onto their little boat and crushed it, but instead it moved slowly backwards into the water before it died.

This made Paul Watson feel so sad for the whale, and so angry at the whalers, that he vowed to dedicate his life to saving these magnificent and intelligent creatures.

Two years later, Greenpeace had lots of people, but Paul Watson wanted to do things that Greenpeace wouldnít let him do. So he left Greenpeace and bought his own ship. He called his ship the Sea Shepherd and made his own pirate flag. The flag has Neptuneís trident and a shepherdís crook instead of crossed bones.



He made sure his ship was as fast as the whalerís ships and he had the bow (thatís the front) of his ship filled with concrete to make it very strong. When he finds a whaling ship, Captain Watson drives his ship fast into the side of the whaling ship to try to sink it. This is called ramming. But first he calls the captain of the whaling ship on the radio and tells them he is going to ram. This is so the whalers can be ready to get into their life-boats if their ship does sink. Captain Watson doesnít want any people to get hurt; he only wants to make sure they canít use their ships to kill whales any more.

By 1986 many species of whale were nearly extinct and most countries at last made it illegal to kill them. But three countries still keep killing whales: Japan, Iceland and Norway. So Captain Watson is still trying to stop them.

He also tries to stop hunters killing seals, and he tries to stop fishing boats catching too many fish in places where they arenít supposed to. If they take too many fish there wonít be enough left to make sure we have enough fish to eat in the future.

The countries that own these fishing places are supposed to protect them, but often they donít. Captain Watson doesnít usually try to sink these illegal fishing boats, but if they wonít leave when he tells them, he hoses them with sea-water and sometimes throws stink-bombs onto their deck. Or he rams them to damage a part of their boat so they canít pull in their nets. Then he destroys the nets.

One time his crew fought off men with guns who were trying to take over his ship, by hosing them with pie-filling! Hundreds of litres of it - banana cream and cherry flavours Ė pumped at high speed out of water cannons.

One of the most terrible whaling ships of all time was the Sierra.  It had been used to kill thousands and thousands of whales (around 25,000). After many months of searching the Atlantic Ocean, Captain Watson and his crew finally found the Sierra near Portugal in 1979. They managed to ram it twice but didnít quite sink it. Then a navy ship from Portugal arrived and threatened to shoot the Sea Shepherd. So Captain Watson agreed to sail his ship back to Portugal.


A judge in Portugal said that because Captain Watson had damaged the whaling ship so much, the judge would give Captain Watsonís ship to the whalers. But Captain Watson and some of his crew managed to sneak back on board the Sea Shepherd at night, and they sank their own ship rather than let it be used to kill whales.

The whalers spent lots of money and many months fixing the Sierra. But before it was finished, someone swam under it and put a magnetic limpet mine on it. They made sure no one was on board. A few minutes later, the mine exploded and blew a hole in the whaling ship. It sank in ten minutes.

Captain Watson and his friends have so far sent ten illegal whaling ships to the bottom of the ocean, and no one has been hurt.

Captain Watson has had other ships since the Sea Shepherd. He called his newest ship the Ocean Warrior. He later changed its name to the Farley Mowat, naming it after a famous writer and environmentalist.  Captain Watson has mounted an old brass cannon on his ship, like the ones on the old pirate ships, but with no cannon-balls. He sometimes fires it just with gunpowder, to scare the whalers.




The good pirate Captain Watson doesnít use plunder (thatís stealing) to buy his ships and supplies, as a bad pirate would. Instead, people from all over the world send him money because they believe he is doing such a good thing. Most of his crew are volunteers. That means they donít even want to be paid for the work they do. Itís likely that some of these men and women come from your country. Captain Watson has received awards from all over the world for his good work in protecting sea creatures, and sometimes when heís back on land, people pay to go and listen to him tell of his adventures. A movie is being made about his life.

If you are ever lucky enough go on a whale-watch tour to see whale families playing happily together, think of Captain Watson who helped to make that possible. Heís still out there sailing the seas trying to make the world safe for all whales.



Note for grownups: If you found this story inspiring please consider making a donation to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.