Interview with Sea Shepherd Scott West at Bonneville Dam
“. . . for twenty-one years, as a federal agent I’d see a problem, I’d walk into the middle of it and stop it. Not being able to do that in Taiji or do it here at the Dam is extremely difficult.”
I spoke with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society‘s Scott West while he was on location at Bonneville Dam. There is something that we can all do to aid him in this campaign. See for yourself!
Holise: You were in law enforcement. What did you do and how has it contributed to the work that you now do in Sea Shepherd?
Scott: I started law enforcement in the summer of 1987. I was hired as a criminal investigator with U.S. Customs Service and I was sent down to South Carolina where I was involved with the interdiction of drugs being imported into the United States. Then I started doing some work in the control of export technologies. I also, at the same time, was in the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer and so the export control and my intelligence work kind of duct-taped together.
After a couple of years I decided that law enforcement wasn’t really my thing. It was something I had done out of grad school, and I needed a job. Eventually I realized I wanted to do environmental work and so I decided to go to law school. Well, a friend of mine said that the E.P.A. had criminal investigators so I gave EPA a call and, lo and behold, I got hired in late 1989 as a special agent criminal investigator with the EPA and moved to San Francisco and started working. I said, “I’ll give it six months for an experiment. For what that’s worth, if it doesn’t work out I’ll go to law school.”
At the end of 2008 — that was nineteen years later — I retired from the EPA Criminal Investigations and I was a Special Agent In Charge when I retired. Special Agent In Charge is a person who runs a geographically centered office and supervises the investigators, scientists, attorneys, admin people and is the one who makes the decision about which cases will get investigated and referred for prosecution. So, my background is environmental law enforcement and Naval Intelligence and those two things are what I bring to the table for Sea Shepherd.
I first became aware of Sea Shepherd back about ’88 and, sometime during 1990, I had the opportunity to meet Paul Watson. Sea Shepherd was headquartered down in the L.A. area at the time and I was in San Francisco. California was in my area and I thought Paul might be a good source of information about environmental violations in U.S. territory. So I called him up, told him who I was and that I wanted to talk with him and he said, “Come on down.” He thought that what I did for a living was pretty interesting and so we started talking and as the years unfolded we developed a friendship.
In 2008, he called me up and reminded me that I could retire; although, I had not been planning on it. And he said, “Come on, retire! Let’s put your skills to work for Sea Shepherd.” So, I did and that’s how my background fits into what I’m doing now. I run Sea Shepherd’s Intelligence and Investigations branch. I’ve been leading the ongoing campaign in Taiji, Japan, I did the undercover part at the Faroe’s campaign last year, I’ve done some investigations around the world and now I’m down at the sea lion defense campaign. I bring my law enforcement to bear because I know how the law works, and I’m able to talk to law enforcement officers here, in Japan and anywhere I go. That’s how it all comes together.
Holise: Wow! That’s incredible. Let me ask you, how do you deal with the stress of witnessing the torture and murder of sentient cetaceans over and over again?
Scott: Not very well! [Laughs nervously]
It’s extremely difficult for anybody to watch or anybody who gives a damn. I mean, certainly the people who are doing it don’t have trouble watching it. But for me it’s particularly difficult because, for twenty-one years, as a federal agent I’d see a problem, I’d walk into the middle of it and stop it. Not being able to do that in Taiji or do it here at the Dam is extremely difficult. I internalize a lot of it which isn’t healthy, but otherwise I’d be a madman or my anger would get the best of me and I’d end up hurting someone or going to jail. That’s not good for the cause, so I have to keep it in perspective that we’re not going to win these battles overnight. It’s going to be a long process. A lot of animals are going to suffer and die in the process but ultimately it will be a part of the victory.
Holise: What advice would you have for anyone who wants to engage in a Sea Shepherd campaign?
Scott: It used to be much easier getting onto one of the ships’ crews prior to the popularity of Whale Wars. Now it’s much harder because there are a lot more people aware of it and wanting to do it. There are particular skill sets that are badly needed on the ships. I’d say, learn how to weld. Learn to be a good welder. That would give you a step up. And be persistent!
Also, look at some of these other campaigns that we’re doing now, not just Antarctica. We have the Blue Rage in the Mediterranean. We have work in the Galapagos. We have the Cove Guardian campaign in Taiji. We have this one that just started, this Dam Guardian which will only last a couple more weeks.
But there are opportunities around, also to become an onshore volunteer and become known because we’d much rather put someone on our ships that we know than put on a complete stranger. For people who are interested, get involved in however you can.
Holise: Excellent! And right now, obviously there are some openings at the dam?
Scott: Oh, yeah! All somebody has to do is write to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll respond with an application package. It’s not that hard to get approved. I just need to know who’s down here wearing Sea Shepherd colors.
Scott: You have waivers to sign. It’s the onshore application. It tends to turn off a lot of people but those are probably folks that we don’t want representing us anyway.
Holise: Is there anything going on right now at the dam?
Scott: Well, there are sea lions in the water. The traps are open and set but they have to be manually dropped. There were some guys out hazing the sea lions but there haven’t been any trapped in a couple of days. We also have volunteer in Astoria, which is on the coast. The dam is located about a hundred and forty river miles inland. The sea lions get pulled out from the trapped areas in Astoria where they get branded. Then they get poked and prodded for research.
Holise: God! That’s horrible.
Scott: It looks like at least for right now, it’s a little after 7 in the morning here on Thursday morning, it doesn’t look like any sea lions here are in jeopardy.
Holise: Okay. So, let’s take someone like me for example. I’m not able to go there. What can I do?
Scott: You can certainly help spread the word. We now have a Twitter for Dam Guardians. You can pay attention to that. If we report that animals are in the traps, then we encourage everyone to pick up their phones and call the governors of Washington and Oregon. It’s the states that are doing this, primarily the state of Oregon, with permission from NOAA to kill these animals that are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. I’m sure the governors of these states don’t want to be seen as sea lion killers, but that’s what they are and they need to be told that.
The Humane Society has done quite a bit of work over the past several years through the courts. They have been successful for the most part in preventing this from happening but they were unsuccessful recently in court proceedings with the injunction that hey asked for. But the judge limited the numbers that could be killed this year and there’s another hearing in U.S. District Court on the 15th. So you need to follow that and support the Humane Society and their legal acts.
- Follow the Dam Guardians on Twitter
- Volunteer as a Dam Guardian
- Sign up to be a SSCS onshore volunteer
- Visit Save the Bonneville Sea Lions
“I’m sure the governors of these states don’t want to be seen as sea lion killers, but that’s what they are and they need to be told that.”
~ Scott West, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
- Erwin Vermeulen: Impressions on the Bonneville Dam (cyberwhalewarrior.com)
- Showdown in Taiji – High Speed Chase Between Cove Guardians and Japanese Nationalists (cyberwhalewarrior.com)
- Operation Infinite Patience: April 4, 2012 – Sea Shepherd (shadowwolf32.wordpress.com)
- More Japanese Turn Against Whaling – IPS ipsnews.net (cyberwhalewarrior.com)
- Are You a Leader? #Tweet4Taiji #SeaShepherd (cyberwhalewarrior.com)