Controversial Sea Shepherd conservationist and "Whale Wars" star Paul Watson was released from a German jail on Monday after posting 250,000 euros ($318,000) bail in an extradition case from Costa Rica.
Watson, whose attempts to disrupt Japanese whalers at sea gained fame through Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars” TV show, was detained last weekend at the Frankfurt airport after Costa Rica issued an international request for his arrest.
Costa Rican authorities allege that Watson’s crew aboard Sea Shepherd’s Ocean Warrior ship endangered a Costa Rican fishing vessel during a confrontation off Guatemala’s coast in 2002, according to the Frankfurt court.
The court ruled Friday that Germany will consider the request and that Costa Rica will have 90 days to make its case. The German Ministry of Justice then will decide whether to extradite Watson.
Speaking outside the prison Monday, Watson defended what happened in the Costa Rica case.
"I had to take action with my crew a decade ago to protect hundreds of sharks, and of course, those shark poachers have very powerful allies in government and other places," he said.
The U.S.-based Sea Shepherd has denied wrongdoing in the Costa Rica case and urged supporters through its website and social media to write to German officials, arguing that the charges have less to do with law than with Watson’s anti-conservationist enemies and that it doubts he would get a fair trial.
"It's very strange that this so-called extradition thing was dismissed by Interpol in every country except Germany," Watson said Monday.
“As Sea Shepherd becomes increasingly more effective at protecting marine wildlife globally, the enemies of the oceans are using all of their resources to stop us,” the group said in a statement. The extradition request "we believe stems from Sea Shepherd victories in curbing shark finning on the high seas.”
In the 2002 incident, Sea Shepherd ship operations officer Peter Hammarstedt said, the Ocean Warrior found the Costa Rican crew killing sharks for their fins in Guatemalan waters. It initially had permission from Guatemalan authorities to stop it and tow the vessel into port, he said.
The Ocean Warrior used water cannons on the fishing vessel in an effort to stop it, but “there were no injuries and no physical damage to any ship,” Hammarstedt said.
The Ocean Warrior succeeded in stopping the ship, but Guatemalan authorities eventually asked Watson to release it, Hammarstedt said.
The confrontation is detailed in part of a 2007 documentary, “Sharkwater,” Hammarstedt said.
Shark finning is the practice of cutting the fins off sharks and throwing the shark itself back into the sea, where they die. The fins are used for expensive soup, mostly in China.
On Monday, Watson said he hoped he could use attention the case is generating to bring a new focus on preserving life in the world's oceans.
"We have all the laws and regulations we need to protect our oceans, but we don't have governments with the guts to enforce those regulations," he said.