Whale Wars

shepherd 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.

11 thoughts on “Whale Wars

  1. J. Alan

    It took me a while to get through all the episodes of the “Whale Wars” marathon but it was worth it. It’s easy to understand how this show has become such a ratings winner for Animal Planet.

    One of the most memorable episodes of the season was “Nothing’s Ideal” where Watson first announces his strategy and encounters a distinct lack of enthusiasm from the crew, most of which didn’t feel justified in openly criticizing the plan.

    Irritated with the reluctance, Watson later stated “I don’t have much patience with people who are–what I refer to–as cowards.”

    Later in the episode he goaded the crew of a fleeing harpoon ship saying “you run like cowards” as they were trying to escape harassment by his crew.

    It would seem from all indications that the way Watson threw around the word “Coward” he must be a bold, daring man indeed.

    However, in the episode “We Are Hooligans,” when Watson was desperate to lose the Japanese surveillance ship, he proposed a plan to the ships bosom, David Jennings, where Jennings would take a crew aboard the vessel and sabotage the ship’s communications. However, he stopped short of giving the order, preferring to let Jennings decide if he should perform the mission or not. When Jennings decided against it, Watson then made the argument for the action again. However, Watson again stopped short of making it an order, even when Jennings told him he’d do the mission with an official word from Watson.

    Something similar happened earlier this spring when Watson was preparing to head to the eastern coast of Canada for Sea Shepherd’s annual seal hunter harassment. The Canadian government drew a line in the proverbial sand warning Watson his crew were not permitted to harass, monitor, or be anywhere near the sealers. Watson, the stalwart eco-warrior that he is, called their bluff and commanded the crew of the Farley Mowat to confront the sealers. However, when the RCMP raided the ship and arrested the ship’s captain and first mate, Watson was conspicuously absent. He was staying with friends in Brooklyn New York when the ship was boarded. According to Shannon Mann, the communications officer at the time, it was the first time Watson wasn’t able to make a campaign. Lucky for Watson he wasn’t on board when the Canadians decided to crack down on him, otherwise he could be one of the two about to stand trial next year for illegal activities.

    So, what would you call a man who tries manipulating people to commit illegal acts, and simultaneously insulates himself from being charged? Hmmmm. It’s right at the tip of my tongue? What could that word be?

  2. shacker Post author

    Great comment J. Alan. I agree that the more I watched the show, the more questionable Watson became in my estimation. Kind of the very definition of passive aggressive. And wish I had more info on that bullet he supposedly caught with his badge. Just seems too cowboy movie to be true. Plausible, but highly unlikely.

  3. Dennis Cumberland

    I am all for saving whales etc… but either Paul Watson is psychotic or secretly in bed with the whaling industry. I could blab on and on … I like the young people on board and think they on their own would be more effective providing they drop all Paul’s ideas and come up with more creative ways to carry out their missions. Just an opinion. Thanks!

  4. jeff

    Watson isa coward as are most of the people who go on the ship. They all bragged about how they were willing to give their lives for the whales but at the 1st sign that the whaling fleet would defend themselves with LRADs everyone looked like they would pass out from fear. Also everytime the whaling fleet defends themselves the crew of watson’s boat whine like little babies and talk about how violent the whaling crew is and how they use non violent and non dangerous meathods to stop them, yet everytime watson pulls the ships that close together he puts everyone’s life in real danger and he even ran into the other ship on one of their attacks which could have sunk both ships and put the crews in freezing water with death almost certain. BY THE WAY the shooting incident was without a doubt faked, which makes them even more of loosers. He claims they targeted him for assasination. in rough seas from that distance it would be a 1 in 100 million shot, it would have required a high powered rifle to be remotley accurate from that distance and his vest and badge wouldnt stop a high powered rifle and even if it did somehow stop penetration the force of the round isnt eliminated. it would have broke ribs and left a pancake sized bruise not a like mark from the pin of the badge, typ in a search for shot with bullet proof vest on an image search and you will see what it really looks like. when someone is shot. If I threw a baseball at you with a vest on it would hurt because the impact is still there and I can’t even come close to the 1700 to 2550 feet per second that a round fired from a weapon can reach. I think they should be arrested as terrorists. I only wish I had a boat to go out and harrass them with the understand that I feel they are breaking the law by impeading legal whaling. I only watch to see their crew get hurt and most of the time the whalers have noting to do with them getting injured, it has to do with their incomeptence. They get hurt launching the RIB Boats, ridding in the Rib Boats because they have no clue what they are doing. I loved watching them get all excited and gloating when they caught up to the factory ship, then to see the smiles go away when they found out there was a LRAD and how nervous they got when the harpon ships started hunting them. Watson is a phoney who like to put other people’s lives at risk so he can achieve fame for himself.

  5. shacker Post author

    The fact that they are out there to begin with, rather than sitting at home talking about it like the vast majority of people who agree with their position proves that they are not cowards. The LRADs didn’t stop them – they thought about it carefully and proceeded up to the whaling ships anyway. Are you telling me you wouldn’t have some trepidation in that situation? Dude, they went for it despite their fears. How does that make them cowards?

    Also everytime the whaling fleet defends themselves the crew of watson’s boat whine like little babies and talk about how violent the whaling crew is and how they use non violent and non dangerous meathods to stop them,

    I’ve seen every episode but have not seen an example of them whining like babies. It is factually true that they take pains not to hurt humans in the process of their work. The Japanese on the other hand are both OK with killing whales AND OK with intentionally hurting humans. That doesn’t bother you?

    You’re right that they’re often incompetent as seafarers, having come mostly from the civilian population and being untrained. But you know, at least they’re doing it. I’d say it’s pretty brave to go out there and go for it despite a lack of sea training. Don’t see how you can get to “cowardly” from that.

    I think they should be arrested as terrorists.

    Huhn? What is your definition of terrorism? The dictionary I’m looking at defines terrorism as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.” We don’t see any examples of terrorism by that definition coming from the Sea Shepherd, so I don’t know where you’re coming from on that one.

  6. jeff

    To answer your question, No I wouldn’t give pause if it is a cause I beleive in. I am a Vet who was wounded 3 times while serving in the Marine Corps, I have been in the life and death situation more times than I can count, I have never flinched. I have also worked in close proctection in some of the most dangerous places in the world and yeah sometimes it was volunteering for a charity doing good work (like doctors without boarders) and was stabbed protecting one of the doctors where i had to step between the attacker and the doctor.

    As for the “no terrorist act” as you say, what would you call ramming your ship into another boat, it’s not a polite way to say hello. and of the lattest show Watson who already showed he was willing to do it said this when the Yusin Marru tried to employ a prop fowler (The same tactic the sea sheppard used 1st) made the satement “I will ram their ship before I let them put that in our prop” Realy? non-violent? then when the jap fleet dot close to being able to use the fowler watson went out and fired flares at the ships, humm what happened to non vilolent tactic. he almost hit the chopper he could have easily hit a person on the ship. funny that they thought these tactic were just fine when they employed them but when the shoe was on the other foot the sea sheppard didn;t even hessitate to resort to dangerous vilolent acts.

    As for whinning like cowards and babbies, I can just go back to the last episode. After the RIB boat were recovered one of the crew said “It really pissed me off that they have become so aggressive as to not let us recover the RIB boats” yet they failed to even acknoledge the fact that ther leader had just fired flares at the other ships and threatened to ram them.

    To show just how clueless they all are, as soon as the flares went off the RIB boat crews automatically blamed the japs for them and condemmed their use, but you hear no mention of it once on the boat after they found out it was their own people who di the shooting, guess it is OK if they do it.

    Als how clueless watson is. when the chopper pilot radios saying be careful with the flares after watson sends on screaming into the sky near him, watson reply when the message is relayed “I have no idea what he is talking about” then he fires even more flares. any idiot could figure out that fireing flares with a person in the air

    Who is more dangerous to the crew, the japs or their leader?

    Somehow they think it is OK to shoot flares at people ram ships and some thought it was ok to throw a gappling hook into nets and destroy property. sounds like terroist to me.

    You know I am agianst whaling in general, but these people have me rooting for the whalers. I cheer everytime one of them gets hurt and cheered when they shot the whale right infront of them.

    You have watson a grown man taking advantage of young kids and putting their life in danger.

    I have been in a lot of cmabat and dangerous sittuations and I have seen bravery and I have seen stupidity and these guys are acting on pure stupidity and when one of them gets killed they will blame the japs who didn’t start the fight. Why are they not stink bombing the buildings where the people who regulate these issues, why because they would go to jail and while they say they are willing to give their life they are not even willing to give their freedom.

    I would have responded sooner but I was in Mexico City providing security and had to watch the last few episiodes off my dvr before responding

  7. jeff

    Oh yead it is still true and a fact that they take great pains not to hurt the japs in their actions? Will you let me shoot a few flares at you since it is a safe thing to do?

    By the way carefully thinking things out goes a little like this. Ok they have this weapon how do we aviod it or counter it. It doesnt go like they did it. not a change am i going out there, it is not worth it and is too dangerous. I would have liked to seen the group meeting that got them from that statemnt to actually doing it.as soon as one of them bumps their head they return to the ship willing to risk your life means just that, you stay and fight while the fighting is good, My hats off to the lanky dude who stuck it out for so many hours after being injured, I have some respect for him but in all he is one of the few inteligent ones and by the way the one who protested and refused to use the hook.

    Still waiting for you to explain the shooting of watson and how it was real.

  8. jeff

    After watching final episode

    Do you still think they are using non-violent ways to stop the japs? they fired flares at the japs (this time at close range while they were planning to ram them) They continue to throw from the sea sheppard even though the dutch have given then instrutions not to, I guess they figure they don’t have to follow the law.

    Watson almost killed his entire crew out of stupidity when he cut across the bow of mother ship barely missing being hit putting the crews of both ships in danger. in that water it is minutes in a survival suit, without it is seconds, he risked eveyone’s life because he is a terrible captain

    When they rammed the jap ship, the crew in the wheel house clapped and cheered, when it was reported they hit them with the anchor they said good job, that could have tore open the jap ship why was that a good thing, in the end he put a huge whole in his own ship endangering young people who don’t know better than to follow him.

    The ramming of the japs ship was described by the crew of the SS as Outstanding, Great Well done, Brilliant, Beautiful

    Molly said “when the two ships collided the japs knew the extent we would go to stop them” Wow that doesnt even sound like they are trying to be non-violent, Other members were filmed saying “I wish we couldhave done more and one said it was unbelivable carnage, well done.

    The crew was suprised see the jap mad about this. one of the crew said (Acting suprised about it or confused he would see this emotion) “the japs were full of rage, you could see it in their eyes, they were rally upset” really, you just ran into their ship, naw that couldn’t be it.

    Paul Watson got on the radio after this and told the media that the japs turned into him when video clearly shows him fighting the wheel to get the SS to turn into the japs and video shows him put the SS right into the japs ship.

    Paul said they are not out there hurting anyone, well if you don’t count his own people that hurt themselves every 5 minutes then I guess we could say we have no proof they have hurt anyone but not for a lack of trying.

    I am glad to see them getting boarded when they arrived back in port, I hope they pull Watson’s freedom and turn him over to the japs for trial.

    Please excuse their actions this time as non-violent

  9. JMc

    All i can say after seeing the latest episode is that I would not let Watson command a rubber duck in a bath tub. He could be the most incompetant skipper ever and Gilligan would probably be a better choice. The only person that seems half normal on the ship is the helicopter pilot and if he doesnt leave soon he will end up getting hurt, most likely by the Sea Shepperds crew. I am only hoping that the Janpanese crew has the good sense to use the LRADs while alongside the SS Minnow / Shepperd and have them run into an ice berg. Now that would be good television.

    Lastly, not to give them any advice but how long will it take the crew to figure out that you cant throw a bottle up over a 60 foot net in rough seas. I see this as a good opportunity to use the T-Shirt launching machines that come out at sporting events – effective and cheap.

  10. shacker Post author

    Sorry for long response delay – been swamped at work for months and missed the last few episodes of Whale Wars, so it’s hard for me to comment on those things. But I totally agree with you that Watson is a nincompoop of a captain – seems like he’s in a fog most of the time and unclear what his own mission is or how best to carry it out. I admire his commitment but not his unfocused approach.

    I stand by my earlier statement that the crew of the SS are not terrorists, unless you are taking a *really* broad definition of terrorism and violence. You point to shooting of flare guns as being dangerous – maybe so, but they’re not real guns, and that’s not accidental. If SS crew were terrorists they’d be out there with real weapons, not caring whether they hurt people or not. Yes they’ve upped the ante in the game but they’re pushing it as far as they can without being truly violent. Imagine what *real* terrorists would do in a similar situation. The Jap ships wouldn’t be afloat and their crews wouldn’t be alive. There is a difference, and calling SS crew terrorists is a gross exaggeration that just muddies the waters.

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