Pennywise have always been a punk rock band with a cause, and with new frontman Zoli Téglás in tow, they’ve now got even more of one. Having been a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) for over two decades, this modern day Captain Planet is saving the world one sea critter at a time. We caught up with the man ahead of the band’s upcoming tour to find out why protecting our marine life is so important and how we can get more involved in the punk rock environmental organisation of the ocean.
What was it that drew you to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS)?
I became a part of the organisation in 1989. I was working at a pelican rescue facility called Pacific Wildlife in Laguna Niguel, California in 1987, and in 1989 I met this girl, she was like a hippie girl with white dreadlocks – I’ll never forget her – and she just said that she was on a boat with a group of people that went out to protect whales from these illegal whalers. At the time, it was the Icelandic whalers that she was talking about, and this organisation, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, they actively go out to defend the animals. They don’t just take pictures, they actually move in with their boats and ram the other whaling boats and stuff and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So I reached out to them and I became friends with Paul Watson (SSCS founder) and any time I’m on stage, I’m talking about ‘em. I helped set up their new West Coast office and I do a lot of outreach for them. I call a lot of bands like the guys from Rise Against, I have all the Sea Shepherd members on the guest list any time they play, and I just do what I can to spread the message that there’s an organisation like the SSCS where you can go out, get your hands dirty and actively involve yourself in some eco defence.
Even as a kid, have you always had an interest in the environment?
Yeah I just love animals; I feel sorry for them. Growing up in Hungary and then growing up in Southern California, especially Southern California, we had all this wild land and the Irvine companies just destroyed it over and over and over again and built strip mall after strip mall and these poor animals have nowhere to live and I always felt so sorry for them. Wild animals don’t have hospitals to go to, they’re not gonna always get food, they’re not gonna find water, it’s a very hard life. Not too many people dedicate themselves to helping them out. When I started working with wildlife, I just really saw how much human beings impact on these poor animals’ lives in different ways and go out of their way to shoot the pelicans and break their wings and do all kinds of stuff to them, and I just wanted to be a force for them, you know?
What kinds of methods is the SSCS employing to protect marine life?
Well, there’s a bunch of different campaigns. The problem is there’s so much devastation out in the ocean, so much. The ocean is being raped. I mean, if you look at shark finning, millions of sharks are cut down for their fins and thrown back in the ocean alive and they just suffocate to death. It creates an ecosystem that’s completely upside down. You’ve got the whalers that are going out in boats for “scientific purposes” to go kill these whales so that they can put them on sushi tables. There’s just so much. You’ve got illegal drift netters, you’ve got the Farroe Islands where they go in and attack and kill these poor minke whales and at least 90% of them don’t go back in the water. We only have two boats to patrol the world’s oceans. There’s all these environmental laws that have been passed but there’s nobody to actually enforce these laws, so we do everything from trying to stop illegal drift netting, to trying to stop illegal shark finning, to trying to stop illegal fish poaching, and it’s a 24 hour job. The boats are always at work doing something.
How does the SSCS differ from something like Green Peace? Are you essentially trying to do the same thing?
Greenpeace is an organisation that raises a lot of money to promote awareness, but SSCS’s motto is, this is the most educated time in the history of the world but we’re doing the most damage. Someone’s gotta physically stop these people from doing it and physically enforce the international laws. So the difference between Sea Shepherd and Green Peace is that Sea Shepherd actually makes a difference by physically being present and stopping people from whaling and turning the whaling fleets around. That’s the difference; we actually stop people from killing animals.
What kinds of success has the SSCS seen so far? It’s obviously an ongoing battle, but what wins have you had?
Sure, sure. There’s been a lot of wins. There’s a lot of small victories but the giant war that’s going on in the oceans, like for example the blue fin tuna. We went out there and did the tuna campaigns and freed thousands of tuna from illegal poaching pens, but when you have one blue fin tuna that’s worth $400,000 a fish, everyone’s gonna go out and try and destroy the species, you know? We can’t be everywhere at one time. We turned the Japanese around and they went home two years ago just to get 25 million dollars from the tsunami relief to put back into their whaling campaign and they came out even bigger and stronger and harder, so we’ve got two boats against the whole world. It’s a big job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
I know the Red Hot Chili Peppers have donated money and at the Smashing Pumpkins show recently there were members from the SSCS there and it’s something that Billy Corgan feels really strongly about as well. What do you think it is about the SSCS that draws musicians in?
It’s very punk rock. They actually put their money where their mouth is. 90% of the money that comes in through fundraising goes to the campaigns; hardly anybody gets paid. People do get paid, but Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd founder, he gets paid nothing and it all goes back into the boats and back into the campaigns. They’re a very punk rock organisation. They actually go out and if you’ve ever seen Whale Wars, they go out in the Southern Ocean and they risk their lives to defend these animals. It’s very, very dangerous out there and people look up to them because it’s not a bunch of talk. There’s nobody behind desks making a tonne of money, the money all goes back into the campaigns.
So it’s kind of like the punk rock environmental organisation of the ocean.
Will you be working it into your tour when you’re here later this month with Pennywise?
Yeah I will. We’ve organised for the SSCS people to come to all of our shows, so they’ll be there and we’ll bring them out on stage and we’ll talk to the crowds, so it’ll be cool. There’ll be ways to sign up and get information about them too.
How can people who want to help get more involved?
Go on their website www.seashepherd.org and check out the different campaigns, find your local chapter and just call them and say, “Hey, I wanna be of help somehow.” There’s a need to help and if you don’t wanna go out there and get your hands dirty, but you still wanna help, send some money. Work an extra shift. It’s a tax write-off and the money’s really, really needed and again, I know from firsthand experience that all of that money goes to the campaigns. It’s $600,000 for fuel for just one campaign for one boat. The biggest way to help is to spend money and the second biggest way to help is spend your time. The money’s not going to CEOs, that’s for sure.
Are there any other words of wisdom you’d care to impart on the BLUNT readers?
In life it seems like you’re trying to find your purpose and a lot of people have to really, really search for what their purpose in life is. You’ve gotta spend 24 hours a day trying to find it and once you do, spend 24 hours a day going after it. This life is not just about us, it’s about leaving this place a little better than you found it. Whether it’s a social movement or an environmental movement, we need good politicians and we need good police officers. We need people who really care about what they’re doing to change anything, so if you’ve got lots of passion in your blood, reach out and try to fix one thing; make your mark. I made my mark on the pelicans in California. I saved a lot of pelicans. If it’s not the Sea Shepherds, find something that you’re passionate about and give it 100% of your time and try to leave this place a little bit better than you found it.