A Pirate for the Sea: Possibly One of the Most Influential, Controversial and Inspiring Documentaries to Ever Hit the Big Screen

by Veronica Houser

During the lunch hour on October 3, 2009, at the Fifth Annual Ellensburg Film Festival, I was awarded the privilege of attending Pirate for the Sea, this year’s winner of the “Best of Fest” film award. I was already excited for what I heard was a spectacular, yet disquieting, retelling of eco-activist Paul Watson’s journey through the two major oceans to put a halt to the unethical and brutal slaughtering of marine animals. Followed by his loyal crew, made almost exclusively of volunteers, Watson had encounters with  various individuals from numerous nations around the world that were participating on illegal whaling vessels, poachers that club baby seals or cut the fins off of thousands of sharks in addition to  many other disturbing situations on our ocean highways plus  protected and endangered marine sanctuaries.

While watching the film, I was horrified by the brutality expressed by so many seemingly heartless people; how can one consciously murder helpless, infant animals simply to make a buck? How can a person infiltrate the peace and majesty that is present in a designated whale sanctuary by massacring the animals that inhabit it? Perhaps one of the most unbelievable aspects of the film was that Watson received no support, even resistance, from police and legal authorities all over the world.

An hour and a half later, choking back the tears of sadness and disgust that threatened to overwhelm, I exited the theater to speak to Ronald Colby, the director of the film. Colby had followed Watson around the globe, filming all of his major interactions with his adversaries, as well as, compiling several archival clips to emphasize Watson’s ongoing struggle with legal authorities and the people who insisted on exerting such brutal violence upon the environment and its inhabitants; both marine and mankind.

I found Colby to be an extraordinarily insightful man; I used the opportunity to ask him a few questions based upon the documentary and its underlying message.  Naturally, the first question was what drew him to Paul Watson in particular. He answered simply by saying that Paul was concerned about the ocean and so was he. That Paul was willing to get out there and do something about it. He said, “I like people with initiative.”

During one of the scenes in the documentary, Watson expressed his disapproval of the consumption of meat by vocalizing his vegetarianism. Based upon the horrific treatment of animals and the way fishermen abuse the ocean’s seafood resources, I asked Colby what he thought about the consumption of meat; does he think it’s unethical or hypocritical? Colby’s response was quite noble; he has quit eating fish altogether, save for one pound of creamed herring per month. He enjoys shellfish and oysters, and pointed out that if enough people ate these sea creatures for a while and eased up on fish, it would give the ocean a chance to replenish the fish in the sea, allowing us to continue to eat fish in moderation without endangering any species. Colby said that the ethics of consuming meat, or any product, depend largely on how you buy it; is it organic, or not? One would be helping the environment a great deal if one bought exclusively organic meat and vegetables. Colby himself adheres to these suggestions; you won’t find any inorganic produce in his refrigerator.

The remainder of the session evolved into a sort of debate, as Colby expressed his strong opinions in the matters of planet conservation. He appears to believe strongly in population control and that if something is not done, the number of humans will spiral out of control and lead to the destruction of our precious planet. He also believes that the government needs to take a more active role in the education of the nation’s children, and from there stems improvement. Colby asserted that the true “evil empires” of the world are the chemical companies that destroy the land, pollute the earth and destroy countless species; the best way to fight this, according to him, is to boycott their products.

I found that speaking to this man was one of the most thought-provoking experiences of my academic career, and I felt truly inspired to strive towards improving the quality of my life  and ultimately the betterment of the earth. I asked Colby if he had any words of wisdom, or bits of advice, for anyone who wishes to become more active in this or other causes; after all, not all of us are capable of making documentaries. His response was simple, yet inspiring. Colby said that the best thing any of us can do is to begin in our own kitchens; pay attention to the food you eat and the cleaning products you use. Buy organic produce only; don’t support the chemical companies that destroy our planet. Think about the overall picture of importing expensive items such as cars and furniture along with other household items; the cost of fuel to transport these items can balloon into a shocking number. Then, beyond your own house, consider your own community. Pick up trash, get involved with community service and try to make a difference around you. If participation becomes substantial, a larger movement will emerge from these small steps. This is the philosophy endorsed and implemented by director Ronald Colby.

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