It’s been a long time since I’ve been as inspired by a TV show as I am by Animal Planet’s Whale Wars. Of the n billion people on earth, only a few dozen are prepared to actually put their lives on the line to help prevent extinction of whales.
While international law is clear on the illegality of modern whaling, “research” loopholes allow for a certain number of whales to be taken annually for research purposes. Japanese fishermen exploit the loophole to carry on with commercial whaling under the guise of research. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society exists to prevent specious whaling by interfering with whaling directly. The society was created in 1977 by Paul Watson, who co-founded Greenpeace. But Greenpeace didn’t go far enough for Watson – he accuses the organization of refusing to directly engage whalers, going instead for high-profile photo ops.
Every winter, a group of volunteer sailors head for Antarctica with a ship, a helicopter, and a couple of high-speed delta boats. When they find Japanese fishing boats and evidence of whaling, they engage by throwing stink bombs on board, buzzing the deck, taking close-up photographs of the action, and generally making whaling impossible.
It’s a classic David/Goliath story. Sea Shepherd feels that the work they do should be government work. But governments won’t step up to enforce existing laws, so they take matters into their own hands. The crews are poorly trained, and it’s sometimes funny to see environmentalists organized in a semi-military structure, but they do have some effect, and it’s a fantastic watch. This is reality TV.
Got into an interesting debate tonight on Twitter on the question of whether efforts to save a single species are worthwhile. That’s a slippery slope – we might well survive after a species or two disappears. But how long can we continue to say that? How many extinctions can our species endure before we are affected? And is it really all about us? Even if we’re not affected, are whales worth saving just because they’re awesome? I believe they are.