Martha Rosenberg: Here in Chicago, you are known as the “Wild Man” who staged alternative whale shows with inflatable orcas outside the Shedd Aquarium in the 1990s and who went to jail for disrupting a bird shoot with a powered paraglider. Now, both issues are back in the news.
Steve Hindi: At the time we held the whale shows in 1992, two Shedd white whales had died 15 minutes after being given the parasite drug levamisol, unapproved for whales, by veterinarian Jeff Boehm. In the show, we had a mad doctor give an injection to a huge inflatable whale whose tail began shaking and as he flipped over dead. Just like in rodeos, marine “abusement” parks hide the real causes of death from the public.
MR: The way you positioned your show, while crowds watched the Shedd’s performing marine animals, they saw your performance through the back window.
SH: Yes and banners on telescoping poles that said “Whales are Dying to Amuse You.” We were able to explain to many people that in the wild, marine animals don’t tail walk, they don’t eat dead fish–they’re predators not scavengers–they swim 50 to 100 miles a day and they don’t live and breed with random animals outside their pods in chlorine pools. It is no different than human jails.
MR: Around this time you debated Ken Ramirez, the Shedd’s vice president for animal training, on Chicago television.
SH: The show was broadcast from San Diego where we had been trying to stop the capture of dolphins taken from a preserve. Soon Ken Ramirez, who is a circus trainer in a wet suit in my opinion, had them swimming in their own feces.
MR: Most people were not aware of anti-hunter harassment laws until you were tried and convicted for a hunt disruption in McHenry county, outside of Chicago, in 1997.
SH: We FOIed the location of Illinois hunts after hunters at the Hegins pigeon hunt
MR: The public pigeon shooting event in Pennsylvania that was eventually stopped?
SH: Yes, hunters there said why don’t you look at the pigeon hunts in your own state which we had not been aware of. The hunt where I operated the paraglider was actually a geese hunt at the Woodstock Hunt Club. The paraglider was so noisy and bright, it scared the geese away though I was actually booked for using a megaphone.
MR: What was it like to be up there, knowing you were infuriating hunters with loaded guns?
SH: Well the paraglider cruises at 50 or a 100 feet and the hunters were waiting in holes next to decoys. So after a while, I began buzzing them and each time, the prop would knock their decoys. Eventually McHenry County sheriff’s deputies and McHenry Conservation District rangers tried to chase me in their vehicles which was pretty ridiculous since I was over a field.
MR: But they did eventually get you and you were sentenced to six months in the county.
SH: They got me when I landed right in front of them the next day. They had no legitimate charge against me, but up in McHenry County that didn’t matter. I only served a few weeks. I said I would fast without vegetarian food and I ended up fasting even though they got me vegetarian food to protest the corruption of the judge and the system. I lost 20 pounds and looked like I was 18 again.
MR: Your group, Shark [Showing Animals Respect and Kindness] protests hunting, rodeos, bull fights and slaughterhouses. I bet many people would be surprised that you were a hunter in the past yourself.
SH: I wasn’t as much a hunter–though I did enjoy shooting and eating pheasants and ducks–as I was a fisherman and shark hunter. In fact, my fishing successes were written up in magazines such as Fishing Facts and Midwest Outdoors, while my shark hunting was written up in the New York Daily News. I would go out in a 17-foot boat and get a seven-and-a-half-foot mako shark while the guys in 30-foot boats got nothing.
MR: For the “fun” of it?
SH: Yes, for the sport.
MR: What happened?
SH: In the late 1980’s I had heard about the Hegins pigeon shoot and thought the cruelty charges were propaganda. But when I saw it myself I felt like My God what are you doing? We hunters have enough bad press without something like this. These pigeons are captured from cities or purpose bred and put into shoe boxes which catapult them into the air to be shot. Sometimes they can’t even fly when they come out. It is the ultimate canned hunt.
So I said to the guys I hunted with, we’ve got to go there and take their guns away. Here we believe in conservation and fair chase and these pigeon shooters are using live birds for target practice. They’re so unsportsmanlike they won’t even pick the birds up after shooting them.
MR: They have kids pick up the dead and dying birds at these pigeon hunts?
SH: And put the birds in the boxes, yes. They claim they are killing these birds because they have diseases but why are kids handling them? My hunting buddies and I felt so strongly about hunting ethics we joked that if we ever found a poacher, there’d be a “hunting accident,” but none of them would take a stand against this canned hunting except my brother.
Meanwhile I went on a fishing trip and at one point captured a 200-pound mako shark. At the end, I shot it and stabbed it in the back of the head with a knife which is how you kill them and realized I didn’t enjoy it anymore. By the next year’s Hegins’ shoot I felt like I’d been working on the wrong side…..
MR: Now you’re back at Pennsylvania pigeon shoots…
SH: Yes. In February I was in a small boat on the Delaware river and pigeon shooters at the Philadelphia Gun Club actually shot at my boat. These canned hunters are so well connected–the Philadelphia Gun Club’s owner Leo Holt is a board member of the NRA–that Bensalem police would not even respond to my call: a citizen being fired on in cold blood!
MR: They claim pigeon shoots are legal.
SH: Humane laws have to be written broadly–banning a puppy being thrown out of a third story window won’t cover the fourth story–so pigeon hunts are not mentioned directly. But the Pennsylvania code states a person commits an offense if he wantonly or cruelly ill treats, overloads, beats, otherwise abuses any animal, or neglects any animal as to which he has a duty of care, whether belonging to himself or otherwise, or abandons any animal, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter or veterinary care…And, unlike Illinois, when there were shoots here, pigeon shoots are not in the wildlife code, and therefore are not exempted from Pennsylvania’s humane laws.
MR: What keeps you in the line of fire, literally? You are like the Steve Fossett or, pardon the expression, Ted Nugent of animal protection.
SH: When I was shark hunting my overarching goal was to find, subdue and kill a great white shark. The NRA, pigeon shoots, corrupt politicians, and corrupt corporations are my great white sharks today. Every day of pursuing them is like the Super Bowl on steroids.
MR: And you don’t discouraged?.
SH: I am surrounded by a great team. And when you can rescue an animal like the pigeons we were able to save from the Pennsylvania shoots, you see how much the animals need you and it is not about us.