The plight of some of the world’s most magnificent marine mammals, and the largest animals on Earth, has not been more recognized or better publicized than in the last five years with the television broadcast premier of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars.
The award-winning docudrama follows Captain Paul Watson and the activities and operations of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS)—one of the planet’s most highly esteemed and acclaimed marine wildlife welfare and preservation organizations and an anti-whaling activism group.
High profile animal welfare and conservation organizations like SSCS have big donors, big boards and big affiliations. And to remain successful, they must recruit the brightest and the best professionals in their respective fields.
One of them is SSCS’s development and advancement expert Farrah Smith. Her special focus is on the recruitment and retention of high-profile entertainment industry celebrities. To help champion the organization’s mission, Farrah must spend much of her time cultivating important partnerships and relationships for SSCS.
In 2010, Ms. Smith watched Whale Wars for the first time. So moved by the program, that by July of 2011 she left the corporate world, relinquishing a fancy job and big paycheck, became a vegan, and joined the non-profit sector.
Farrah is not just a big-time non-profit fundraising executive, and among one of Captain Paul Watson’s close cohorts and elite aids. She is also a passionate animal welfare advocate and animal rights activist in her own right.
I got a chance to learn more about this dynamic member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s team in a recent interview for National Geographic News Watch.
Jordan: How did you join the ranks of this cetacean conservation organization coming from the corporate world?
Farrah: In 2008, I was working as the Director of VIP Sales at City Center when I read the quote below by Winston Churchill and it changed my life forever.
“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
I was disappointed in myself because I knew I was not “preparing for my moment” to make a difference (my passion has always been kids and animals). So I quit my job and moved back to Los Angeles. I started working for Innovative Dining Group (IDG), which owns sushi restaurants and steak houses. I never meant to stay as long as I did, but I was having a lot of fun and making good money. I got comfortable, but I always knew in the back of my mind I needed to make a change or I would be right back where I was in Las Vegas.
It’s when I saw Whale Wars and learned about Captain Paul Watson that I knew I had to have a career in helping animals. Captain Paul Watson became my hero and inspiration and I never imagined in a million years I would run in to him at one of my venues in Los Angeles! It’s truly amazing how life works out the way it’s supposed to.
After meeting him and education myself on animal welfare issues I became a vegan, left IDG and started my dream job at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Having a background in sales, VIP relations and special events made me the perfect candidate for the position they had open. All of the high profile relationships I had made over the last 10+ years in Los Angeles and Las Vegas came to be invaluable in my new role. It turns out that I actually was preparing for my moment, I just didn’t realize it at the time.
Jordan: I met many of the wolf dogs that are now at the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center (LARC) here in California prior to their move from the dilapidated facility in Alaska. How did you get involved with the wolf-dogs otherwise known as wolf-hybrids and the husbandry program at the LARC.
Farrah: I discovered LARC because the former Captain of the SS Steve Irwin spent some time working there. He invited me for a tour and I fell in love with the founders (Matthew Simmons and Lorin Lindner), the animals, and everything they stand for. Lorin is an inspiration to me, and a mother figure, and I would do anything to help her/them.
While we were shooting Sea Shepherd celebrity supporter Chef Spike Mendelsohn on the SS Brigitte Bardot in Marina del Ray in 2012, his producer overheard me talking about my upcoming visit to LARC. I had never met him before, but he was so passionate about wolves I decided to invite him to join us.
When we arrived the first wolf dog we met was a new rescue that desperately needed a home. He had no intentions of adopting, but by the end of the day he couldn’t imagine leaving without her! He already had one wolf dog so he was comfortable and familiar with the hybrids. She had very little recent risk heritage so Lorin and Matt approved the adoption. She couldn’t have ended up in a better home and it all happened because of a Sea Shepherd video shoot!
Jordan: So you obviously like cetaceans and canids like wolves and their domesticated relatives. Can you speak a bit more in depth about your interests in animals?
Farrah: I work for Sea Shepherd and therefore spend a majority of my time focusing on marine wildlife, but I love all animals and will do anything to protect them. It’s so important to protect the natural balance of ecosystems for the well being of all species, by protecting the animals at the top of the food chain or their respective food webs. So wolves and whales are not only critical to the balance of all species, but are two of my biggest passions.
I support LARC specifically because they don’t have to kill other animals to feed their carnivore rescues. They get the meat from a landfill diversion program, which is a grocery store overstock program out of Texas.
Jordan: What would you like to convey most about what you do or the organization endeavors to do?
Farrah: Captain Paul Watson has stepped down from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society United States, but he is still our founder and was my boss for a majority of my time here. I am so lucky that I was able to learn from and be mentored by such a hero in the world of ocean conservation and animal welfare. He made Sea Shepherd a direct action organization, which means we don’t protest, our brave crew actually put their lives on the line to save every single animal. In my opinion, there is no other organization out there that can say that. I feel honored to be a Sea Shepherd and surrounded by such devoted and passionate individuals all of whom I look up to very much. I say to myself every day, if I am dreaming I sure hope I don’t wake up!
Dr. Jordan Schaul is a zoologist, conservationist, journalist and animal trainer based in Los Angeles, California. For more of his posts, please visit his National Geographic Society author page. Like his public Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/jordan.schaul) or follow him on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/jordanschaul).