The Makah Harpooners vs. Willy the Whale, alias Killer Keiko
[Originally published in September 1998]
NEAH BAY, Washington; NEWPORT, Oregon––If the September 1998 media drama underway in the Pacific Northwest was a professional wrestling match, it would be billed as the Makah Harpooners vs. Willy the Whale, alias Killer Keiko, orca star of the hit films Free Willy!, Free Willy II, and Free Willy III.
Scrapping for air time, they might make a show of enmity, and their partisans might fall for it, but more cynical viewers would suspect they were working for the same syndicate.
But who might own the syndicate––Hollywood, or Japan?
Whoever wrote the Keiko-vs.-Makah script, literal or figurative, seems to have worked for four years to bring about an autumn battle of Leviathans. Captain Paul “The Pirate” Watson and fellow voyagers of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will try to put themselves between the Makah whalers and migrating gray whales.
The Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, led by David Phillips, also head of Earth Island Institute, will meanwhile prepare Keiko to become the first of his species ever returned to the ocean after prolonged captivity.
The real struggle will come through your TV and mailbox, as their causes vie for public interest and donations.
World Council of Whalers
Promoting the Makah position from nearby Victoria, British Columbia, the Japanese-backed World Council of Whalers almost certainly hopes the prospective Willy/Keiko release will continue to distract attention and money away from Neah Bay, where the first Makah whale-killing in 70 years may set a global precedent for permitting coastal whaling in the name of preserving cultural tradition.
Already Japan, Norway, Iceland, several Caribbean nations, and 13 British Columbia coastal tribes are clamoring for whaling quotas under the same pretext.
The three-year-old World Council of Whalers did not invent the rivalry between the Cetacean Freedom and Save the Whales factions, though. That dates back a decade, when Watson and Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry first clashed over priorities.
O’Barry vs. Watson
Watson, observing that public concern for wild marine mammals rose roughly parallel with exposure to marine mammals at captive facilities, steered the Sea Shepherds away from captivity issues. Pointing out that marine mammals in captivity number in the hundreds worldwide, most of whom could not survive in the wild, while whole whale species are endangered by fishing and whaling, Watson eventually orchestrated a campaign against driftnetting with substantial help from Steve Wynn, owner of The Mirage hotel, casino, and dolphinarium in Las Vegas.
O’Barry called that a sellout. The rift was amplified by dissident Sea Shepherds, led by former executive director Ben White, who eventually resigned under pressure, along with several other longtime crew members. Disagreements pertaining to marine mammal captivity were only a few of many reasons cited for their departure.
Watson and Mirage executives told ANIMALS 24-7 that White had even solicited Mirage funding himself, a point White denied. White had been associated with the Sea Shepherds since 1981, following and somewhat overlapping approximately a decade of intermittent and sometimes controversial involvement with Native American causes.
Whatever the truth of the Watson/White split, and their relations with Wynn and the Mirage, lingering ill feeling simmered, coming to center on captivity––especially after the first Free Willy film focused activist attention on Keiko in mid-1993.
Keiko was then kept at the substandard El Reino Aventura oceanarium in Mexico City.
A fast-rising campaign to relocate him eclipsed media note that Norway unilaterally resumed commercial whaling.
While Seattle telecommunications magnate Craig McCaw contributed a reported $2 million via the McCaw Foundation to “free Willy,” and the public tossed in millions more, the Sea Shepherds scuttled at least three Norwegian whaling ships at dockside, clashed with the Norwegian coast guard on the high seas, and struggled to find the funds to keep going, all to virtual U.S. media silence.
By spring 1995, Norway had killed more than 600 minke whales. U.S. vice president Al Gore at a White House meeting with Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland had, in effect, traded indifference by the Bill Clinton administration for completion of a $261 million missile sale to Norway––as ANIMALS 24-7 reported in July 1994.
“The Cult of Animal Celebrity”
Watson in a June 1995 op-ed column entitled “The Cult of Animal Celebrity” challenged the growing activist fixation on Keiko and other captivity cases. But his frustrations were just beginning.
On May 25, 1995, soon after Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt declared that gray whales were no longer a threatened or endangered species, and a week after Watson’s op-ed column appeared, the Makah announced their intent to begin killing gray whales in 1996, claiming a right to do so under an 1855 treaty.
The Sea Shepherds pledged to “directly intervene.” Mass media paid little attention.
Warning from Jose Truda Palazzo
As early as June 13, 1995, International Wildlife Coalition marine mammalogist Jose Truda Palazzo warned from Brazil via the MARMAM Internet bulletin board for marine scientists that the Japanese might use the Makah whaling strategy as a precedent to reopen commercial whaling under an argument of cultural justification. But mass media and even the International Wildlife Coalition itself made little of Truda Palazzo’s suspicions, which he reinforced by citing several precedents involving Japanese conduct as regards international conservation agreements.
A few days later, Makah minister of fisheries Daniel Green killed a gray whale in a salmon net, and distributed the meat among the tribe. Humans reportedly ate little of it. Most became dog food, or just waste.
On June 19, 1995, the Sea Shepherds exposed federal and state funding of a protected marina complex from which Makah tribe whaling boats will operate.
The sequence of incidents might have produced a furor. Instead, International Wildlife Coalition president Daniel Morast and much of the rest of the marine mammal activist community appeared wholly preoccupied with infighting at the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary.
Located at a former dolphin exhibition facility in the Florida Keys, owned by the family of Lloyd Good III, Sugarloaf was supposed to rehabilitate for eventual release two dolphins from a private club, whose names were Bogie and Bacall, who arrived in August 1994, and three ex-U.S. Navy dolphins, delivered on November 30.
The dolphins were obtained after long campaigns led by Ric O Barry, Joe Roberts of the Dolphin Alliance, Russ Rector of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation, and Rick Trout, who later founded the Marine Mammal Conservancy.
The organization of Sugarloaf coincided with the arrival in marine mammal activism of one Rick Spill, who signed the “S” in his name as a dollar sign ($).
Representing himself as a Vietnam veteran and former naval intelligence operative, Spill was marine mammal consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute from mid-1993 until May 1997.
During the first year of this time he was also earning a masters degree in marine science from the University of Miami, with emphasis on maritime law, which gave him frequent reason to visit south Florida.
Spill organized an association of marine mammal activists called The Gadfly Coalition, and was elected to the Sugarloaf board of directors.
Two weeks after the Navy dolphins arrived, Spill had a prominent role in forcing Rector, Trout, and Lynne Springer, Trout’s companion, out of Sugarloaf and the Gadfly Coalition, after they clashed with O Barry over training methods.
Having trained dolphins for the Navy before leaving and denouncing the Navy dolphin program in 1989, Trout had already become skeptical of Spill’s purported naval background and war stories.
From that point on, major incidents involving the resumption of the Atlantic Canada seal hunt in early 1995 after a 10-year suspension, Norwegian whaling, Japanese research whaling, and/or the Sea Shepherds usually seemed to coincide with public escalation of the Sugarloaf hostilities. Usually the Sugarloaf trouble preceded the incidents involving wild marine mammal killing by two or three days.
On March 14, 1995, for instance, Roberts fired O’Barry, who refused to accept the action, just as Watson and actor Martin Sheen arrived at Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, to protest the 1995 seal hunt.
The Sugarloaf fracas usurped U.S. media notice, even after sealers on March 16, 1995 stormed the hotel where the Sea Shepherds were staying, beating Watson bloody.
Immediately preceding the Makah announcement of intent to whale, Spill and other off-site Sugarloaf board members, including Mark Berman of Earth Island Institute, in late May 1995 moved to close the sanctuary and take the dolphins away from O Barry and Good, who countered on June 16, 1995 with a lawsuit.
That ‘s when O’Barry, quite upset, first suggested to ANIMALS 24-7 that Spill might be worth investigating as some sort of infiltrator.
Introduced to Spill by Ben White a year earlier, O Barry developed an intuition of something wrong, he explained, when he noticed Spill was eating veal––produced by keeping calves in dark crates which severely restrict their movement, and shunned by most animal rights activists.
O’Barry said he had confirmed it was veal with the cook at the restaurant where they met. But O’Barry hadn’t taken the matter any farther, he added, because other activists reminded him of the purported necessity of maintaining a united front while negotiating to get the dolphins.
By mid-June 1995, O’Barry argued that trying to maintain movement unity had only achieved a year of turmoil, delaying releases which he and Rector agreed could have been accomplished within a month or two of the dolphins arrival if the Gadfly Coalition hadn’t been involved.
Weighing O’Barry’s intuition, and similar suspicions voiced later by Rector and Trout, ANIMALS 24-7 soon noted an apparent strong physical resemblance between Spill and one Bill Wewer, an attorney self-professedly fond of veal, who in 1990-1991 was leading spokesperson for the anti-animal rights organization Putting People First.
Renamed Putting Liberty First in 1997, PPF was founded in September 1989 by Wewer’s wife, Kathleen Marquardt. Together, they had earlier been two of the four members of the board of directors of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which Wewer founded. They left in 1986 after the NPSSM received rebukes from the U.S. Postal Service and the Justice Department for allegedly mailing misleading fundraising appeals, and twice came under Congressional investigation.
Wewer subsequently incorporated the Doris Day Animal League and drafted contracts for the 1990 March for the Animals, but jumped from DDAL and the March to assume his PPF position on March 21, 1990.
Rarely seen in public after mid-1991, Wewer in a December 1992 letter to Mark Berman identified himself as representing Norwegian whalers who belonged to PPF.
Keeping an eye on Spill from mid-1995 on, ANIMALS 24-7 noted a continuing sequence of events, usually but not always involving Spill and/or Ben White, which tended to refocus activist attention on captivity issues any time either the Sea Shepherds, the Makah whaling proposal, or the Atlantic Canada seal hunt seemed about to take the spotlight.
Whales & jail
On August 29, 1995, two weeks before Watson was to go on trial in St. Johns, Newfoundland, facing a potential life sentence on charges resulting from a confrontation with the Cuban dragnetting vessel Rio Las Casas in July 1993, White reputedly brokered a settlement of cross-filed lawsuits between O’Barry vs. the Dolphin Alliance and the Gadfly Coalition.
Under the settlement, the Dolphin Alliance took the dolphins Bogie and Bacall to a sea pen on the Indian River. O’Barry kept the Navy dolphins.
Other parts of the deal were in dispute again within 48 hours. Roberts had O’Barry jailed for alleged trespassing.
As that made headlines, the Watson trial drew extensive note in Canada, but virtually none in the United States. Convicted of the least serious among four charges, Watson served a 60-day jail term.
Keiko was finally moved from El Reino Aventura to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, his home for the past 32 months, in January 1996. Attention to his arrival predictably upstaged Sea Shepherd efforts against the 1996 Canadian seal hunt.
As the Makah pursued permission to whale from the International Whaling Commission in May 1996, they did draw publicity. On May 17, 1996, however, an individual never caught or identified by law enforcement clandestinely freed Bogie and Bacall.
O’Barry, fearing the National Marine Fisheries Service would then reclaim the Navy dolphins, publicly freed two of them six days later. They were soon recaptured by Trout, and were returned to Navy custody .
The episode lured the TV cameras back to Florida, away from the Makah, for most of a month.
Amid Internet buzzing over who was to blame for what, Congressional pressure rallied by Representative Jack Metcalf (R-Washington) at request of the Sea Shepherds on June 26, 1996 obliged the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission to delay presenting the Makah whaling quota application until 1997.
The application was advanced again only after the Bill Clinton administration and Republican Congress, both sensitive about their environmental records, were re-elected.
Ben White meanwhile took two Makah tribal elders to the IWC meeting, and claimed their lobbying at the scene was responsible for the postponement. Watson issued a conciliatory press release, sharing the credit.
The upstaging continued. Notably, the August 20, 1997 announcement of the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation that Keiko had finally learned to catch his own fish pre-empted mass media note that on August 22, 1997 the National Marine Fisheries Service published a required environmental assessment of the Makah whaling proposal, which in effect gave it the go-ahead for presentation at the International Whaling Commission meeting of October 1997.
As the IWC at last took up the Makah proposal, whatever print space and air time might have been devoted to marine mammals was diverted when a dispute erupted between the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation and the Oregon Coast Aquarium over Keiko’s care and rehabilitation.
The fracas reached media via the former Gadfly Coalition, renamed and much more formally constituted as the Cetacean Freedom Network.
On Friday, October 17, as the IWC delegates arrived in Monaco for the meeting, the Washington Post syndicate distributed an extensive account of the latest turns in the Keiko saga. It appeared in the Washington Post itself and in many other major newspapers on Monday, October 20 the first day of the IWC meeting and was typically published with photographs, while IWC coverage––if published at all––tended to be no more than a paragraph, without illustration.
Mass media did take note when the Makah whaling quota was apparently approved, lumped together with purported subsistence quotas for Siberian tribes.
Whether the IWC actually intended to approve Makah whaling is disputed by some activists, and may become the subject of legal action. Since then, however, the Clinton/Gore administration and the Makah have proceeded as if killing up to five whales in October is a go.
Still the upstaging went on. As the World Council of Whalers met in Victoria during the first week of March 1998, and visited the Makah, the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation announced it would move Keiko to a sea pen in August. Activists were further diverted by protest, led by Ben White, against U.S. Navy sonic experiments off Hawaii.
Seattle-area media reported on the whalers’ visit a week afterward, and even then tended to focus on Makah traditions, rather than the possible precedent for other would-be whaling nations.
Friends of Animals had hired White in July 1994 as Pacific Northwest representative and marine mammal consultant.
Based first in Port Townsend, Washington, and later in Friday Harbor, White repeatedly clashed with the Sea Shepherds during the next two and a half years over campaign tactics pertaining to both the Makah whaling proposal and sea lion predation on endangered salmon runs.
When the Sea Shepherds offered to relocate sea lions caught eating salmon at Ballard Locks, near Seattle, White occupied the cage set up by fisheries officials to hold trapped sea lions.
The cage was later smashed and sunk by unknown vandals. Both the Sea Shepherds and National Marine Fisheries Service officials told ANIMALS 24-7 that this might have brought the shootings of any sea lions who subsequently turned up.
White was eventually reprimanded for making a telephone call to the Sea Shepherd headquarters, caught on tape, in which he threatened that FoA would destroy the Sea Shepherds because Watson had not endorsed a campaign seeking to release or transfer the two Vancouver Aquarium whales.
FoA fired White in January 1997. A review of telephone calls White had billed to FoA since his hiring found that more than a third were to numbers answered by Spill.
ANIMALS 24-7 pursued investigation of Spill by seeking Wewer. In February 1997 Wewer responded by fax to questions from ANIMALS 24-7 by boasting that he had “moled into a movement organization using an identity which, although assumed, does contain a humorous clue to my real identity, if you know how to look for it.”
In archaic Germanic languages a “wewer” may be a weir, a small stream or spillway, a pitcher or basin, or a werewolf.
ANIMALS 24-7 had already picked up a hint, indirectly leaked from Putting People First, that Animal Welfare Institute moves pertaining to the eventually killed but then still pending European Union ban on imports of trapped fur were perhaps known in advance by fur trade lobbyists.
In March 1997 ANIMALS 24-7 tipped Animal Welfare Institute founder Christine Stevens and executive director Cathy Liss to the possible presence of a spy on their payroll.
Confronted, Spill denied being Wewer, as ANIMALS 24-7 reported in July 1998.
Carroll Cox on the case
Spill gave Stevens and Liss affidavits that he was not Wewer, signed by Doris Day Animal League president Holly Hazard, Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Valerie Stanley, who was formerly Hazard’s law partner, and several Washington D.C. housemates.
But as ANIMALS 24-7 also reported in July 1998, one housemate later told EnviroWatch investigator Carroll Cox that contrary to the affidavit, Spill could not be definitively placed at that address at a time when Wewer was making a public appearance in Montana.
The Social Security number Spill used at AWI traced to three different individuals, in various parts of the U.S.; public records indicate no births of males within a week of his stated date and place of birth; and Spill abruptly left AWI in May 1997, he told associates, to attend to matters associated with the death of his 85-year-old mother in Maine, but ANIMALS 24-7 was unable to locate any record of anyone female dying in Maine during the right several days who was in the right age range to have been Spill’s mother.
There was more. ANIMALS 24-7 and Cox compiled a long list of quirks that Spill and Wewer seemed to share. Individuals using the same SSN as Spill had rented premises close to several prominent west coast marine mammal facilities.
Another rented premises in proximity to a subsequent series of alleged Animal Liberation Front arsons and break-ins against fur farms and other animal use industry targets, each of which did not appear to lastingly harm the enterprises in question, yet did produce negative public response.
Did it mean anything?
As ANIMALS 24-7 and Enviro-Watch followed the trail, Washington state marine mammal activist Athena McIntyre told Cox, and affirmed in writing, that Spill in March 1997, apparently soon after Liss and Stevens talked to him, solicited her help to arrange for police he claimed to know to “rough up” ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton. McIntyre did not cooperate; no such “roughing up” occurred.
API hired White in place of Spill. ANIMALS 24-7 and EnviroWatch continued to note coincidences, including Spill’s contact with individuals whom acquaintances repeatedly identified from a variety of photographs and videos as Mary Lou Sappone and Jan Reber.
The person whom three sources identified as Sappone was said by Spill to be a “girlfriend.”
The person who appeared possibly to be Reber was a supposed tourist who was photographed and videotaped in the act of allegedly assaulting Spill during a 1997 demonstration at Marine World Africa USA.
The episode enhanced Spill’s credibility among the Cetacean Freedom Network, but Marine World Africa USA witnesses told ANIMALS 24-7 they suspected it might have been choreographed. No charges were filed. Spill told other demonstrators that he might sue Marine World Africa USA, but the only subsequent legal action was apparently a demand from Ben White that the facility refund the demonstrators entrance fees. White said this was done.
Reber, a decade earlier, was a partner in Perceptions International, a private security firm hired by U.S. Surgical Inc. to spy on animal rights activists. Sappone was a Perceptions operative, who infiltrated Friends of Animals as a volunteer, was elected president of the Connecticut Animal Rights Alliance, and allegedly encouraged and financially assisted one Fran Trutt, of New York City, in a November 1988 attempted bombing of the U.S. Surgical parking lot.
Sappone and Marc Mead, another Perceptions undercover operative, also arranged for Trutt’s arrest at the scene, much publicized by U.S. Surgical. Trutt plea-bargained a year in prison.
Others of possible dual identity and conflicting values also turned up near Spill.
(Further relevant information later turned up as result of a PETA lawsuit against covert operations funded by Feld Entertainment. See Ringling Bros. circus folds, upstaging last SeaWorld San Diego “Shamu” show.)
Are we nuts?
Perhaps all the factional name-calling and coincidences of timing and location amount to no more than the usual activist hoopla. Perhaps ANIMALS 24-7 is paranoid, perhaps the reputedly wimpish Wewer is really just Wewer, and perhaps the weightlifting, tough-talking Spill never was anyone else.
In any event, if the ongoing confluences of events have all been plotted, they would require the connivance of even better-placed participants to go on as they have, long after Spill and many of his apparent friends lowered their profiles.
Among the highlights, Free Willy/Keiko Foundation personnel during the first week in March visited Iceland, Scotland, and Ireland, inspecting potential sea pen sites for Keiko.
Associated Press reported their findings on March 14, 1998, one day before the scheduled start of the 1998 Atlantic Canada seal hunt ––which was then delayed by poor ice conditions.
On April 16, 1998, an Icelandic veterinary team assessed Keiko at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Coverage of their visit upstaged the Sea Shepherds’ April 22, 1998 disclosure that the Makah whale hunt is to begin on October 1, 1998.
On June 17, 1998, the same day the Japanese “research” whaler Nisshin Maru unloaded 100 dead minke whales, the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation announced that Icelandic prime minister David Oddsson had agreed back on June 9, 1998 that Keiko could be moved to a sea pen at Klettsvik, Iceland.
Iceland, a whaling nation, before 1998 opposed any return of Keiko to Icelandic waters, where he was captured in 1980. TV stations worldwide mostly aired footage of the live Keiko, not the dead minkes.
On July 21, 1998, the Baffin Island Inuit killed a highly endangered bowhead whale. The Sea Shepherds announced that their flagship, the Sea Shepherd III, would pay a visit to Neah Bay two days later to draw attention to Makah whaling. The U.S. Coast Guard called a press conference to announce rules for on-the-water protest during the Makah whaling.
The Free Willy/Keiko Foundation again pre-empted media notice, however, by announcing completion of the sea pen.
On July 23, 1998, the Sea Shepherd III anchored in Neah Bay, but even local media were more inclined to banner an anonymous death threat against Keiko, reportedly received by Free Willy/Keiko Foundation spokesperson Hallur Hallsson.
Keiko is to be flown from the Oregon Coast Aquarium to Iceland on September 9, 1998. That should insure a further barrage of attention to him, coinciding with the arrival of migrating gray whales within shooting range of the Makah.
Get yourself a ringside seat.
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