By Sean Olson
I had no idea what to expect when I made the decision to work with Sea Shepherd. Some people said that they were pirates, some called them eco-terrorists, and others dismissed them as “dirty hippies.” Looking back, I suppose that all of those groups sounded good to me, so I caught a plane to Mexico to save a porpoise on the brink of extinction, and maybe, something else.
On my first day here we freed a humpback whale that was caught in a fishing net, two weeks later we pulled up a similar net that had trapped and killed both a white shark, and a bottlenose dolphin. In the few weeks between, we removed a dozen illegal nets, several long lines, and resuscitated quite a few dying animals.
The Vaquita porpoise has taken the worst hit from the nets, it is estimated that there are less than one hundred Vaquita left in the world. I think of every net we remove as a small relief, a slight breath towards the greater breeze. It can be hard work. The nets are full of and all manner of sea life and rotten fish; and these missions usually take place in the middle of the night on very little sleep. Despite all this though, the work somehow doesn’t seem that bad, maybe it’s because of our sense community, or a belief in what we are doing, but with Sea Shepherd, it seems that some rather miserable jobs, when done with good company, can be more than tolerable.
Since I have been onboard, I haven’t seen any piracy, and eco-terrorism is such a relative term, as for the hippies; well, it seems strange to call one that when you see them on an industrial machine that is full of welding, sparks, diesel smoke, and all the while pushing 5000 horsepower. But then again, maybe they are hippies, hippies in the original sense of the word; a group of like-minded, yet independently thinking people who love nature and genuinely believe that their actions can change the world. Isn’t that how it all started? What I see here is a group of passionate and enthusiastic human beings, who care deeply for this planet and all its creatures, but they are not sitting around and talking about it, they are taking action. We are using the tools of our time to combat that which is killing the Earth's greatest treasures, and right now, time is of the essence.
The image of the white shark and the dolphin dying together in the same net is telling. These two animals perfectly represent the duality of the ocean, and in doing so, they represent the paradox of the human experience as well. The dolphin is playful and intelligent, a companion that is easily loved by humanity; while the Great White inspires fear and admiration for its strength, size, and of course-its teeth.
The ocean is the last frontier, the place where the wildness isn’t tamed, and the edge is still out there. That is why I am here. I don’t want to live in a world where the great white isn’t down in the deep, inspiring imagination, wonder, and fear; or in a world that doesn’t have the dolphin to rescue us from that fear, to inspire joy and help us all to laugh like children again. The natural world is us-every part of us, we need it physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but right now, it needs us too. That is why I am proud of what Sea Shepherd is doing. I feel that wildlife conservation is a noble goal, but sometimes it doesn’t have the necessary impact--Sea Shepherd is conservation with teeth.