Kim McCoy: You Protect Who You Love

Posted on April 27, 2013

Meet Kim McCoy–Executive Director of the One World One Ocean Foundation, and former quartermaster and International Executive Director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. As a former cast-member of the show Whale Wars, Kim has a special interest in the issue of illegal Japanese whaling. In fact, Kim gave a stunning talk about whale conservation at the 2012 Animal Law Conference at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon (where she was once a member of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund). The conference was sponsored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Center for Animal Law Studies. Her tales of the great suffering of our planet’s majestic whales brought the entire room to tears. But every person there walked away with the inspiration to do more, and to do better, to protect our precious marine mammals.

What lead you to study animal and environmental law?

I swore I would never go to law school. But in 2003, I went to my first Animal Rights National Conference and I literally came home a vegan. I liked the credibility a law degree would give me, and the understanding of the legal system, so I decided I was going to use the law as my form of activism. All of a sudden, I was ready to take on the world!

How did this lead to your work with the Sea Shepherd and the Animal Planet show Whale Wars?

At that same 2003 conference, I met Captain Paul Watson for the first time. I already considered myself an environmental activist. Among other roles, I was the local fundraising chair for the Chicago chapter of the Sierra Club. I specifically looked for Paul because he was on the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club, and I wanted to know why the Sierra Club wasn’t taking an environmental stance on vegetarianism. That sparked a friendship, and we kept in touch. After my graduation from law school in 2007, I was fortunate enough to work directly with Paul and his team at Sea Shepherd, which was a highlight for me both personally and professionally.

You showed some heart-breaking clips from Whale Wars in your conference presentation. What was it like working on board a Sea Shepherd vessel?

It’s a privilege to be a part of something so meaningful, and I enjoyed every moment spent on board the ships. However, one of my most impactful memoriesthat hit me harder than when I was actually on the ship–happened the following year. I was in South Africa, trying to launch a local campaign against the deadly shark nets in KwaZulu-Natal, and immersed in diving with these beautiful sharks. One day, I received word from the ships–and this was the horrible footage I showed during the conference–that the whalers had just killed a whale right in front of our helicopter pilot.

I literally fell to the ground. I was completely overcome with emotion and a sense of helplessness. It was one of my most profound moments, because I felt so small and insignificant. It reinforced for me the importance of coming at this issue from every possible angle–to make sure it never happened again.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) established a non-binding moratorium on commercial hunting of whales. So why are whales still being killed?

It’s a question of jurisdiction, enforcement, resources, loopholes, and politics. You’re dealing with international territories on the high seas, and nobody wants to take responsibility for that. Case in point: back in 2008, when the Australian Federal Court issued an injunction against the whalers, they just kept on whaling. Because Australia didn’t send a war ship down to make them stop–they sent a Customs vessel to “document” the slaughter–so who was going to stop them? What sanctions were going to be imposed that would actually stick?

Should we dissolve the IWC?

Like most international treaties, the IWC is tricky because there is no binding enforcement mechanism; it is largely self-policing. You can opt out, you can issue a reservation for a specific species, or you can withdraw from the treaty altogether if you want. But its existence is important, because it keeps the topic on the table, and presents an opportunity for discussion and for countries to exert pressure.

Even so, it doesn’t always seem to make a difference. It seems like the countries that want to whale are going to cite any loopholes they can as justification. It could arguably come across as greenwashing, and yet it’s important to have a structure in place for nations to talk about these issues. My biggest problem with the IWC is that its stated purpose isn’t to conserve whales for the benefit of whales as sentient beings; it’s to allow their numbers to rebound so people can resume commercial hunting. It’s absurd.

You lived in Japanwhat is the Japanese perspective on whaling?

The people I know–the average urban Japanese person who isn’t a coastal villager–they’re not eating whale and dolphin meat. Japan is stockpiling whale meat and using it to make things like “pet” food. In coastal villages, it’s a different story. I’ve seen whale meat sold in grocery stores alongside other meats.

But, in Japan, I’ve also met incredibly brave people–especially women–who are doing remarkable things, often under complete anonymity to protect their family’s reputations. We do have activist counterparts throughout Japan who are passionately doing everything within their means to try to bring about positive change on behalf of animals, and I consider them heroes.

What are the problems and strengths of the laws that protect marine animals?

A law’s strength is derived solely from the resources devoted to enforcing that law. It is important to get strong laws enacted–but it is equally important to make sure that the resources and political will exist to enforce them. If people want a call to action: get out there and advocate for stronger enforcement.

As the executive director of One World One Ocean Foundation, how does your organization use the power of film to inspire a global movement to protect the oceans?

I love being able to support giant-screen ocean-themed films–they are valuable conservation tools. It has been said that we protect what we love, and we love what we know–so first, we have to introduce people to the ocean, show them what’s beneath the surface, and help them fall in love with it. IMAX® theater films are a great way to do that. Nothing else can create such an immersive, visceral, “you-are-there” experience–except for the real thing, of course, but that simply isn’t an option for most people.

We create educational materials and help underserved youth by sending classes to museums and science centers to see these films. We also support the creation and enforcement of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Our goal is to leave behind a legacy of protection in the areas where filmmakers go to make these beautiful films, to give them a fighting chance to stay beautiful, healthy, and diverse. This is my personal passion project.

To learn more about the One World One Ocean Foundation, please visit their website. 

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