Home > Ends Ways and Means, Strategy > Whaling, Protesters, and Strategy

Whaling, Protesters, and Strategy

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I don’t watch much TV, but one show I do like to catch is Whale Wars. If you don’t know, Whale Wars is a documentary series that follows the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservations Society (SSCS) who are animal rights activists trying to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean through direct action.

I am no activist, though I do not support whaling. I mostly watch the show because the SSCS troopers are fiercely passionate and tragically incompetent, which makes for great entertainment as they try (and fail) week after week to stop the Japanese from killing whales. Among the more humorous amateur-hour moments are: springing a leak in the Steven Irwin due to running it through ice (the ship is not made for ice), running out of fuel, running out of drinking water (and harvesting icebergs to drink), and discovering that the ship Bob Barker, which the SSCS recently bought for $5 million, wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the Japanese boats. The SSCSbought the Bob Barker specifically for its speed, only to find out it’s too slow.

While I don’t feel strongly enough about whaling to make a monetary donation, as a thank-you for the hours of entertainment I have decided to offer the SSCS some free strategic analysis. Captain Watson has said that he doesn’t value anyone’s opinion outside his own, so I doubt he’ll ever read this, but perhaps it will make its way to some Sea Shepherd somewhere and have a positive impact.

Why the Sea Shepherds are Failing

What is strategy?  Do the SSCS and Paul Watson have a good one?  Do they even have one at all?

The simplest definition of strategy is the balancing of ends, ways, and means. One begins by defining a desired end state or goal (ends), then (and this is the hard part) balancing that goal with the resources (means) and methods/tactics (ways) available to achieve it.

It is important to note that strategy and tactics are two related but distinctly separate concepts. However, few of the Sea Shepherds seem to know the difference. Recently disowned Captain Pete Bethune of the now-bifurcated Ady Gil once predicted that his air-powered potato gun would become one of the most effective strategies for the SSCS. It goes without saying that a spud gun, while loads of fun, is most certainly not a strategy.

The stated SSCS strategic end state is the economic collapse of the Japanese whaling industry. The SSCS hopes to make it so difficult for the Japanese to hunt whales that it becomes too expensive to be profitable. The problem with this strategic goal is that the Japanese government subsidizes its whaling industry, which makes it almost impossible to attack the whale market economically. In fact, since the SSCS started their campaigning there has been no significant increase in the price of Japanese whale meat. If free market forces were at work the strategy might have a chance, though they would still lack the means to execute it, which leads us to the next strategic issue.

Strategic goals must be balanced with the available means (resources) to achieve them. This equation then gives way to the ways (methods), or what can also be called tactics. Watson has at his disposal two (with the recent sinking of the Ady Gil) ships, the Steven Irwin and the Bob Barker. These ships are the primary means by which SSCS tactics are employed in an effort to realize strategic goals. The SSCS crews harass the whalers, prevent them from killing whales, and if a whale is killed, prevent them from transferring the whale to the factory ship. If a whale does make it to the factory ship, the SSCS attempts to contaminate the meat.

Unfortunately for the SSCS their tactics are severely ineffective. As previously mentioned, the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker are both too slow to keep up with the Japanese ships. Additionally, the Japanese defensive tactics, namely water cannons and protective nets, nullifies many of the SSCS tactics. Finally, the Japanese have far superior logistics. They are able to stay out at sea for long periods of time whereas the SSCS ships are continually forced to leave the whaling grounds to refuel.

So, we are left with a strategic goal (economic collapse of the whale market) which is unachievable supported by tactics which are ineffective due to resources which are inadequate for the task. In a nutshell, this is why the Sea Shepherds are failing. They just have a really bad strategy.

Measuring the Effectiveness of a Strategy

Aside from the theoretical problems with the SSCS strategy, how do we really know they are failing? Or, in a broader sense, how can we measure the effectiveness of the strategy?

Strategic measurement can be broken down into two broad areas; Measures of Performance (MOP) and Measures of Effectiveness (MOE). MOPs are metrics associated with things the Sea Shepherds do, regardless if those things are effective or not. For example, days spent on the ocean campaigning is a simple MOP. MOEs are metrics associated with the impacts of performance, i.e. effectiveness, and they are both more important and more difficult to measure than MOPs An example of an MOE might be total number of whales killed. However, this might not tell the whole story. The key to good MOEs is establishing causal relationships. For example, there could be many reasons why the number of whales killed is low (whalers spend fewer days hunting, bad weather, ship maintenance, etc). Some better MOEs might be average number of whales killed per day while the SSCS is campaigning versus average killed while SSCS is not present.

In regard to measuring effectiveness, the SSCS is doing a poor job. The SSCS claimed success last year by emphasizing that the Japanese did not meet their whaling quota. Of course, the Japanese are free to set whatever quota they want under international law, so this measure is meaningless. If the Japanese harvest 100% of a 200-whale quota one year, and 75% of a 400-whale quota the next, they have increased their net harvest by 100 whales. The number of whales harvested against the quota is really meaningless. A recent analysis by the conservation website Southern Fried Scientists determined that the SSCS had little or no impact on the whale harvest (read the article at: http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=6156).

While claiming success based on faulty MOEs might be a good information / public relations tactic, the SSCS should not confuse this will actual effectiveness. The truth is that the SSCS campaigns have been utterly ineffective.

A Better Way

The great strategist Sun Tzu advised, “In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” The weak point in the Japanese whaling system is the government subsidies. Eliminate those and the system collapses. Of course, this is a political target which requires the support of the Japanese people to affect change. Unfortunately, the SSCS is making it difficult to build political support against the whaling industry in Japan.

While some may praise the SSCS for publicizing this issue to the masses, the fact is that in Japan the SSCS actions are hardening pro-whaling sentiment. Many in Japan see the SSCS as terrorists at worst. At best, they are resentful of outsiders trying to strong-arm them away from a traditional industry. The SSCS is certainly not saving whales, and may actually be driving the killing of whales by hardening public opinion in Japan and prolonging government financial support for the industry.

So, why do they keep at it? I don’t know the answer, but here is my guess: First, they haven’t done the kind of strategic analysis presented in this article, so they don’t know that they are hurting and not helping. Second, it gives them warm and fuzzy feel-good feelings to be sailing around the ocean looking for whalers. Although ineffective, it makes them feel like they are doing something good. Third, they are simply naïve about what is and is not required to be effective. Peter Hammarstedt is often heard on the show going on about how dedication and passion is all they need and they can accomplish anything. This sounds great, but it’s utter bullshit.

In fact, this type of strategy was tried by the French over 90 years ago in World War I. French Army General Joseph Joffre introduced a doctrine into the French Army in the pre-war years in which morale and courage were thought to be primary factor in determining the outcome of battles. The Army with the highest morale and the most courageous soldiers would prevail. As a result French commanders ordered their soldiers into futile charges against German machine guns in the belief that the courage of the French would win the day.

The results were dismal. In the first month of WWI the French lost 260,000 soldiers. A young French Captain named Charles De Gaulle would later say, “In a moment it is clear that all the courage in the world cannot prevail against gunfire.” The SSCS would be well-advised to listen to De Gaulle. All the passion in the world is useless when you have a flawed strategy.

In conclusion, this all suggests that the SSCS should stop direct action and use their considerable resources to help build political opposition within Japan to whale industry subsidies. This strategy, unlike the current one, is actually achievable and represents a better balance of ends, ways, and means. Greenpeace, perhaps having realized that a bunch of amateurs getting hosed in a rubber dinghy, while entertaining, is nonetheless ineffective, has taken to building political pressure as a way to attack the whaling industry. A shrewd move – I hope the SSCS follows suit.

Check that – I enjoy my Friday nights too much

  1. September 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    This is, by far, the most well reasoned and logically sound post I’ve ever read on Sea Shepherd. Nice work and I’m honored you chose our site for data fodder.

    • M.L.
      September 16, 2010 at 2:08 am

      Thank YOU sir (over-done British-style bow here).

  2. Insight 808
    September 8, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Perhaps the missing piece to the puzzle involves the television show itself? Is network funding paying for any portion of operations? If ratings are significant, the network benefits from the ‘war’ being an endless struggle — dramatic, but never quite successful. If they actually *were* successful in shutting down whaling, they would lose their adversary — and need another PR platform.

  3. September 12, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan was famous for saying: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” The Bob Barker had no trouble keeping up with the Japanese whaling fleet. Moreover, Pete Bethune was not “disowned” by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (“SSCS”). It was simply considered a strategic advantage to give assurance to the Japanese judges weighing his fate to tell them he would not go back into the Southern Ocean anti-whaling campaign. It worked. Pete was released and is back in the SSCS fold. As for your assertions of incompetence, remember, the entertaining show you love so much is the result of editing thousands of hours of video to find the most compelling moments. When things are going smoothly, it is pretty boring. But if someone falls down: that’s a keeper. For such an incompetent crew of volunteers, how come there is been no serious injury or death — ever? The Japanese whalers have lost several men and had a major fire just in the past couple of years. And they are “professionals.” The metrics you use give a false impression of ineffectiveness. The whaling season has a finite length and the Sea Shepherds have been extremely successful (despite limited resources) at stopping whaling entirely for increasingly long periods every year. So, the slaughter compared with the Japanese self-imposed quotas are, in fact, one valid good measure of effectiveness. More importantly, while the Greenpeace folks are very good at making and holding banners, that makes pretty boring press. Millions and millions of people all over the world are now aware of the horror of the blood sport of torturing and slaughtering whales directly from witnessing what the Sea Shepherds have been confronting for decades. Did you ever think that the strategy and tactics of the SSCS are what is setting the stage for a political solution? Paul Watson has brought the issue to the forefront of Australian and Japanese politics. One of the most telling metrics is the growing mountain of frozen whale meat in storage in Japan. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100912rh.html The Japanese people are not immune to the message the SSCS is promoting. To that end, the whale slaughter industry (I refuse cal call it “research”) is now promoting the use of whale meat in schools (notwithstanding high levels of mercury). May I commend to your reading “Whaling in Japan” by Jun Morikawa (2009) of Rakano Gakuen University in Sopporo? One other thing: to quote captain Paul Watson “What part of Southern Ocean Whale Conservation Area don’t they understand?” Twitter: @nvpatentlawyer

    • M.L.
      September 15, 2010 at 11:58 am

      David Comarow:

      You bring up some great points, which I will address in a subsequent blog post.

      Thanks for your comments.

  4. Shah
    September 13, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Very interesting analysis.
    I was curious, what would you regarding the monitoring and enforcement of other illegal fishing operations. Take shark fining or some of the activity that occurs in the South Pacific (with Taiwanese and Indonesian vessels) or off the coast of Africa (with European illegal fishermen). This is a situation where governmental pressures have been horribly ineffective (take Tuna quotas for example). If you wanted to stop illegal fishing in the EEZ of a country, why wouldnt the Sea Shepherds method work? Id love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • M.L.
      September 15, 2010 at 12:01 pm


      I will indeed address your comment. Thanks for your reply.

  5. Pottsy
    September 23, 2012 at 1:07 am

    The Southern Fried Scientist ain’t much of a scientist, his study involved comparing Icelandic and Norweigan whaling in their coastal waters to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. This is like comparing apples and oranges, they are completely different forms of whaling, targeting different whale populations and species (Northern vs Antarctic minkes). If you wish to gain a perspective of SSCS effectiveness simply go to the ICRW website where they have attributed their failure to met quota not on a lack of whales but directly to the actions of SSCS. In addition I pose this question – Why would the Japanese commit 30 million dollars in extra security including a dedicated security vessel, armed Coast Guard, LRAD sound weapons, netting over their entire ship, law suits in the US and through Costa Rica etc etc to stop opposition to their whaling program that was ineffective ?

    SSCS is both causing considerable finiacial pain to the whaling industry but also polictical pressure not only at an international level but at a domestic one. Do you think the Australian govt would be pursing the Japanese in the ICJ if it were for the domestic political pressure at home, which has been ignited by the SSCS campaigns. On the ground, the tactics employed such as prop fouling have a very real impact on the harpoon vessels to the extent that they will do everything possible to avoid running over these devices after the Yushin Maru No.2 received severe damage to its shaft and rudder in the Ross Sea in 2011 forcing it to come to a full stop for several days before limping back to port. You want strategic analysis…….. the results speak for themselves. In 2010-2011 season, the whaling fleet was chased (why would you run from something that was ineffective?) from the Ross Sea to the Drake passage (thats a quarter of the way around the world) before the Japanese government called an end to the hunt over 1 month earlier than scheduled citing interference from Sea Shepherd as the reason – this is straight from the horses mouth. Sea Shepherd’s job is not to lobby the Japanese govt or people with petitions and whale origami, it is to physically defend the Southern Ocean Whale Sancutary and it has by anyones measure done so for the last 7 years, just ask the whalers !

  6. Ian
    January 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Good analysis. However, I suspect Watson has a strategy, a very well thought out strategy, but it has little to do with conservation and everything to do with making money.

    Political maneouvering is far more effective at achieving conservation goals, but it’s difficult and mostly low profile work, and so tricky to get people to fund. Instead, when it comes to conservation, Watson has chosen far more ineffective – even counter-productive – tactics, because they’re easier pull off and, more importantly, they’re more entertaining. And show business is a lot more lucrative than politics.

    I’ve noticed that he also spends a lot of time attacking other conservation organisations – like Greenpeace – as I suspect he sees them as competition for revenue. In fact, it seems Watson has stolen his strategy directly from the playbook of every rich televangelist out there who spouts fiery rhetoric, gathers famous followers to hang out with, knocks other preachers, and feeds their useful idiot congregation a continuous diet of entertaining stunts in order to keep them sending in money.

    It’s either this or it’s just more fun blasting around the ocean throwing stink bombs than doing the difficult work that actually makes a difference.

  1. September 8, 2010 at 10:27 pm
  2. September 11, 2010 at 2:07 pm
  3. September 13, 2010 at 4:11 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: