The liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the crew of the “Sea Shepherd,” a group of anti-whaling protesters, were modern-day pirates. The February 25 decision reversed a district court decision in Washington State.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the star of Emmy-nominated “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet, uses its small fleet of ships to harass would-be whalers. “[H]ell bent on stopping the whaling industry for nearly a decade,” according to their official Animal Planet bio, Sea Shepherd, led by Paul Watson, had long pushed the envelope as to what constitutes a legal protest.
Watson has used such direct tactics in the past, arguing that “There's nothing wrong with being a terrorist so long as you win.” He claimed in a 2008 New Yorker interview to have sunk as many as 10 whaling boats.
"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch," wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. "When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be."
The court of appeals ruled that the acts that Sea Shepherd was engaged in were “clear instances of violent acts for private ends, the very embodiment of piracy.”
The 9th circuit had also ruled against Sea Shepherd in December, ordering it to stay at least 457 meters from Japanese whalers.
The 9th circuit has a reputation for being liberal, even according to major news outlets like The New York Times and CBS. Some of its more notable rulings include one to ban the Pledge of Allegiance as state-mandated religious exercise (which the same court later reversed). The Times said on June 30, 2002, that “dozens of the court’s decisions have been reversed unanimously by the Supreme Court”
Brian Eley, Animal Planet’s Senior Director for Communications, told the Business and Media Institute that “Whale Wars” has been contracted for a sixth season, and that “the court calling them whatever doesn’t really affect that.” He also stated that since the ruling was against Sea Shepherd and not against Animal Planet, the channel could not comment much on the ruling.