Remembering Ben White
We Need More People Like Ben
Ben White's Spirit
August 19, 2005
Remembering Ben White
Mark "The Bermanator" Berman / Earth Island Institute
Ben White is a powerhouse of activism, compassion, hard work, genius, love, humor, and the list goes on. Ben has given his entire life to others. Whether fighting the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south, to saving trees, to stopping chemical waste in low income neighborhoods, to saving dolphins, whales, elephants, and a myriad of other species.
Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
"Ben and I had many adventures together, some were dangerous and some were fun. We shared many of the same interests and loves. When I think of Ben, I will remember him walking across the heaving, buckling ice floes alongside of me as we made our way over thirteen miles of open sea ice to rescue seals. I will remember him swimming with dolphins off Key West. I will remember him walking with me on the lonely beaches of the most remote Aleutian Islands. I will remember him swimming with me with the pink dolphins in the Amazon. And I will remember him clad in the cardboard armor of a turtle as he took to the streets in Seattle. He was a lover of life who lived life with the joie de vie that was both rare and inspiring. He leaves this planet having contributed more than he took from it, which is also both rare and inspiring. He will be remembered and he will be recognized as one of the great environmental warriors of his generation."
Photo by Mac Hawley
I first met Ben White of Sea Shepherd at that time in 1989 when I called upon him at the suggestion of Dan Morast and Donna Hart at International Wildlife Coalition. I had no idea how to stop the proposed dolphinarium in Myrtle Beach, SC that was to be stocked with cetaceans by the well-known [wildlife merchant] Mobi Solangi.
Ben drove from Virginia to teach me the skills to organize and recruit others to oppose the park. He spoke in front of large numbers of citizens in Myrtle Beach to explain why dolphins, whales and other marine life deserve freedom. Needless to say, the investors in Ocean Expo had no idea what was going on. Ben was branded a fire and brimstone preacher in the local newspapers, which is just what Ben did. He spoke from the heart about this passion for freedom for all life!
At this same time in 1990, Ben learned of another problem in Georgetown, SC. International Paper was being reviewed for its dioxin releases into creeks in the area of a low income community. Ben was intent to fight this environmental racism. He asked me to work with him on this as well to get evidence of dumping of pollution by Int. Paper.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1990, Ben, one other activist and I actually found our way deep into the property of International Paper. Being a holiday, the place was deserted and security was light. We found an area that is still in my mind today: "Boiling Cauldrons of Hell" as Ben described these pools of sludge that were a by-product of paper bleaching. Ben took several small jars, tied ropes to them and dipped them to collect samples.
While Ben did this, our friend Arthur and I were on look-out. We videotaped the area as well. All of this was presented to a hearing in Charleston which was to tighten controls on the plant. Ben showed the video and held up the jars of sludge in response to one IP official stating that the wastewater was fit to drink. Ben offered to pour him a glass! You can imagine the press and the shock of the IP officials since they had never confronted this type of activism, Ben White-style before.
While the plant still operates, it had to clean up its act. Ocean Expo never got built with the work of Ben, Ric O'Barry, and many of us locals at the time, Mobi Solangi will never forget Ben White and the rest of us who ruined this new venture for Mobi. A law is now in place in South Carolina which bans cetacean captivity. Ben also gave me a reference to Earth Island for a job opening which I still have today, and introduced me to the basement of the Mirage Hotel when he, Ric, Suzanne Roy, Lisa Lange and I were held by security for visiting the dolphin tank in 1992.
The list of Ben's work on the issues is endless: tree sits, blocking large electrical transmission lines near sensitive areas, freeing captive dolphins as the Dolphin Rescue Brigade with Ric, dolphin-safe tuna, whaling, CITES, LFA and Ocean Noise, stopping dolphin captures as they happened, creating hundreds of Dolphin Hats for protests in Mexico, Sea Turtle Costumes, Keiko and on and on and on.
Ben is a unique individual who is a loving brother, mentor, and wonderful friend. May we all continue this work in honor of Ben White so that this planet will have a better future. Thank you Ben!
Love Mark Berman
Mark Berman is Assistant Director of Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project.
Ric O'Barry / One Voice
FRANCE -- I first met Ben White near Pine Island, Florida. It is so many years ago, I can't remember the date. We called ourselves "The Dolphin Rescue Brigade," and we were there to disrupt the dolphin capture that was about to take place for the National Aquarium. In those early days, almost all of the dolphins captured for amusement parks in the United States and Europe were taken from Pine Island or Mississippi Sound.
|Ben White and Ric O'Barry|
Since that time, Ben and I shared many excellent adventures, and a few jail cells, too.
Today, no more dolphin captures take place in US waters, thanks to Ben and this small band of environmentalist activists.
Think about that for a minute. NO MORE DOLPHIN CAPTURES IN THE UNITES STATES. I think that's a really big
deal. All because Ben and his friends showed up to do something. It was not the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Marine Mammal Commission, the marine mammal scientific community, not even the animal welfare industry that stopped these violent dolphin captures. It was done by the direct action of Ben and a small band of activists.
They showed up and disrupted the capture process, got arrested, went to jail and went on a hunger strike; all of which caught the attention of CNN and other international media.
The international media exposure caused the captivity industry to back off. They didn't want the public to see the captures on TV. They wanted the uneducated public to think that the captive dolphins came from the sky or that God put them there. Ben was determined to show the world the truth. Disrupting the dolphin captures exposed the violent capture process for the first time since they began in the United States in 1938.
Ben stands out as one of the most altruistic, honest and brave persons I have ever met. He came to our home in Miami November 16, 2003. We asked him to sign our guest book. Here is what he said: "Ric and Helene -- Here is for the big march opposing FTAA, yet another anti-Earth trade pact.
On Thursday, 200 of us will march as dolphins. Thanks for the warm welcome to your warm home -- the perfect sanctuary from your travels saving the world. Keep on, stay healthy, keep the faith. I love you guys. Ben White."
I talked to Ben just a few days before he passed away, and assured him that the kind of direct action he stands for will continue on after he is gone. We will continue to show up and do what needs to be done to keep dolphins free and safe from harm. That was the promise I made to Ben before we said I love you and goodbye to one another for the last time.
Richard O'Barry Marine Mammal Specialist One Voice-France
We Need More People Like Ben
James A Yoder
I just read a copy of the article in the San Juan Journal about Ben White's recent death and was very sorry to learn about his passing. For three years, I served as Director of NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences and got to know Ben through his opposition to operations by NSF's ship, R.V. Ewing.
I also served on the Marine Mammal Commission committee on acoustics, and I believe Ben spoke during the public comment period at every meeting that I attended. I often disagreed with Ben's position on the effect of seismic sound sources on marine mammals, and the appropriate level of caution for operating scientific missions, but I was also impressed with Ben's sincerity and his passion for marine life. I've contacted several other folks at NSF who knew Ben and worried about his impact on various research projects.
All of them expressed their regret at his passing and their respect for his passion and dedication. We need more people like him to advocate for sea life and the ocean environment and to keep pressure on scientists, the Navy, oil companies and other groups that operate sound sources in the ocean to ensure that such operations are done safely.
James A. Yoder is a Professor at the University of Rhode Island's, Graduate School of Oceanography.
Ben White's Inspiring Legacy
Gar Smith / The-Edge
The second time I met Ben White, he was dressed like a tree. It was appropriate garb for a man who was, quite literally, a quiet yet relentless one-man "force of nature."
Ben was full of the kind of good humor and whimsy that a life-long activist needs to stay afloat in a world of environmental onslaught and outrage. He was also a man of astounding courage who didn't hesitate to put his body on the line -- on land and in the open sea.
I can't help but wonder if this willingness to put himself in harm's way -- especially when it came to exposing his body to various witches brews of toxic waste -- might have ignited the cancer that slowly burned away his life.
Ben's days on Gaia's good Earth, and in her blue-wonder waters, could not have been better spent. The following two snippets from Earth Island Journal capture some of the mischievous, maverick spirit that made Ben such a joy to have around -- unless you were on the receiving end of one of his many stunts.
Earth Island Journal (Summer 1993, Vol. 8, No. 3)
Marine World-Bound Dolphins Freed: During a trip to Japan to film the capture of wild dolphins near Iki Island, former Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd activist, Ben White, quietly slipped into a holding tank containing 40 captured dolphins, cut the restraining net and freed the animals to return to the sea.
Back in the US, White revealed that four of the dolphins were being held for sale to Marine World Africa USA. White called the marine park "hypocritical" for claiming that it was working to save marine mammals at the same time it was abducting wild dolphins from the ocean. Marine World called White's accusation "ridiculous, vulgar and personal attack" and countered that the park merely attempted to save the dolphins from certain death by negotiating to buy the animals for "a minimal price."
Earth Island Journal (Winter 1995 - 96, Vol. 11, No. 1)
Mole Nip: To Earthwatch, a Massachusetts-based research/ecotourism operation, for subsidizing the man-handling of dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida. Researcher Randy Wells pursues and restrains dolphins to extract teeth and blood samples. Ben White of Friends of Animals [1234 Garfield Street, Port Townsend, WA 98368; (360) 379-5168] has proposed tracking down and capturing Mr. Wells in order to obtain teeth and blood samples. Humanely, of course.
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