Reality Time: Is That a Humpback or Are You Just Watching ‘Whale Wars?’

This is a tad bit long, so pull up a chair, get a tall frosty adult beverage (probably not Japanese sake though), and get comfortable. Because I’m about to tell you kids about one of the best reality shows on TV. It’s a little show we like to call “Whale Wars,” (actually, Animal Planet named the show that—genius name, actually).

“Whale Wars” is straight-up, plumb crazy. And XFE and I love it with a capital “WTF??”

We just saw this season’s finale this past weekend and we’re quite concerned that one of our favorite shows will be no more.

But first, let me enlighten you on why we love this show.

I remember the first time XFE and I saw a commercial for “Whale Wars” back in 2008. The commercial showed boats heading toward each other on a collision course, people throwing bottles of stuff onto each other’s ships, and small little blow-up motorboats heading directly towards huge hulking ships. We both looked at each other and said, “Hell. Yes.”

“Whale Wars” follows a scrappy group of volunteers made up of vegan college students, old hippies and professionals on apparent sabbaticals from jobs and family. This motley crew is known as the Sea Shepherds and they are on a mission to save the whales. The Sea Shepherds patrol the waters of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica to hassle the Japanese whaling fleet.

Now, I like whales myself. I believe they are in need of some help. I totally support and applaud the Sea Shepherd’s underlying mission. But I don’t think I could muster up even a tenth of the passion that the Sea Shepherd loonies display on a weekly basis. Not for whales. Heck, probably not for anything.

But Sea Shepherds have passion in spades. The Sea Shepherds are all about engaging the enemy. They use tactics including throwing butyric acid on the decks of the whale processing ship to taint the whale meat, dropping steel-enforced cables to foul their propellers, and routinely threaten to ram  into them. You read that last bit right – the Sea Shepherds believe in physically putting themselves between the harpoon ships and the whales.

So as you can imagine, the volunteers of the Sea Shepherds all share a deep-abiding passion to save the whales, but there’s hardly a lick of sense among the whole lot and very few nautical skills, which makes for a lot of bumbling and bungling of things. One of the things that make this show the most entertaining is all the potentially life-threatening mistakes they make in trying to complete the simplest tasks. Like, checking to make sure that satellite phones are fully charged before you are dropped off in the middle of the freezing ocean in basically a dinghy. These kids are definitely not being recruited to work on the boats featured on “Deadliest Catch.” 

 Here’s a description of the type of person the Sea Shepherds’ are looking for:

“Technical experience isn’t required to snag a crew position, but Sea Shepherd volunteers must have positive attitudes.”

And, of course, one must be willing to die for the whales. You hear that repeatedly from the Sea Shepherds’ fearless leader, Captain Paul Watson. He will send you into life-threatening situations in a heartbeat to save a whale. Don’t doubt it for a minute. Those wimpy, vegan kids are totally replaceable.

I will say that Watson is one of a handful of people on the crew who does have legitimate seafaring experience. But that experience is cancelled out by the fact that he is crazier than the rest of them. To watch him steer the ship through some nautical maneuver called the Crazy Ivan — heaving the steering wheel, tongue clenched and eyes ablaze — is to see the face of crazy, no doubt about it.

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider this: Watson was one of the original founders of Greenpeace, but he got kicked out/left (depends on whose version you believe) because Watson was too radical. For Greenpeace. This guy was too radical for Greenpeace. So he started his own group, the Sea Shepherds, in 1977.

Season 1 of “Whale Wars” ended with a particularly violent episode in which Watson claimed he was shot (in his previously unworn Kevlar vest) by the Japanese whalers. It was all pretty suspicious, to say the least. For one thing, even though there were cameras filming the entire exchange (the whalers and the activists were yards from each other, with the activists throwing – wait for it – rotten butter. The Japanese are throwing some sort of flares back), there was no video whatsoever showing a shot. One minute, Watson is standing at the railing, watching the proceedings, which are winding down, then they cut to him in a later interview saying he hadn’t realized it at the time, but that he had been shot. He shows a supposed bullet hole in his Kevlar vest (his jacket seems unaffected), but that’s it. No bruises, no footage of him collapsing to the ground. Even Animal Planet’s description of the event says “One of the Sea Shepherds appears to be shot!” (That’s their exclamation point, not mine, for once.) And the fact that said incident has never been brought up again in the subsequent four years we’ve been watching firmly places the whole thing into the “revisionist history” category for us.

They also like to directly engage the whalers, sending out the small, motorized rubber boats to throw out the prop foulers and the acid bottles. Invariably, disaster strikes when these tiny 6 man boats take on these 11,000 ton Japanese ships. In previous seasons, we’ve seen these boats flipped during launch, plunging crewmates into the icy waters of the Antarctic.

This season was no exception when it came to the idiocy of the small boat crews. While deploying one of the rarely effective prop foulers (it actually did work in this case – one of maybe 3 times in the history of the show), the rope was still attached to the small inflatable boat. While cutting the prop fouler loose, the boat got damaged – a huge gaping split along the bottom – and the crew was unable to travel the 70 miles to get back to the main ship. They literally had to wait 13 HOURS behind an iceberg for the large ship to come back and get them. 13 hours, in below 50 temperatures. People started suffering from hypothermia! You can’t script this crap!!

For their part, the Japanese often turn high-powered water cannons on the activists, which looks incredibly dangerous, and for a while, they used these apparently totally ineffective high-frequency noise makers to try to disorient the crew. Since they’re already a bit disoriented, I would say there was no perceptible difference.

The Sea Shepherds also been known (in at least two instances) to board the Japanese ships. Both times, the individuals were arrested and held in Japanese prisons for an extended period of time. One of them, known as Pottsy (no cannabis jokes necessary), returned to the campaign eventually. 

Last year, the Sea Shepherds had this super high-tech speed boat called the Ady Gil which was piloted by a pretty hardcore dude named Peter Bethune. While resting in the water after playing chicken with one of the Japanese vessels, the tiny fiberglass boat got totally sheared in half and sunk. It was pretty crazy.

This year, they brought in another fiberglass new high speed interceptor boat, named the Gojira (Japanese for Godzilla). But I recently read they had to rename it after they were contacted by Godzilla’s lawyers and ordered to remove the name from the boat. Guess what they named it? The Brigitte Bardot.

Oh, did I not mention that they name all their boats after famous animal rights conservationists? The first boat is called the Steve Irwin, after, well I think we all know who Steve Irwin was. The second boat, a former Norwegian shipping vessel, was named after Bob Barker, who donated $5 million to the group.

This season was a bit slow to start and incredibly frustrating. The main goal of the Sea Shepherds and their three ships is to find the large manufacturing ship and tail it. That way, none of the three harpoon ships will be able to transfer shot whales onto the factory ship (although, a couple of seasons back, the Japanese whalers shot and transferred several whales right in front of the Sea Shepherds. Lots and lots of patchouli-scented tears from the crew that season).

For the first 7 or 8 episodes this season, the Sea Shepherds are unable to locate the factory ship. Or, they would locate them and then lose them because the Sea Shepherds either couldn’t chase them through the hard packed ice or because they had to go back to port for fuel/repairs.

Finally, in episode 9 of the 10 episode season, they’ve got the factory ship well on the run. Then, out of nowhere, after the Sea Shepherds have been tailing the factory vessel for about four days, the Japanese government JUST GIVES UP and goes home! It’s unbelievable! A huge victory for the loonies! The Japanese whalers had been worn down to the point that they cut their whaling season by six weeks and just went home. There’s even talk that the Japanese will suspend their whaling activities all together! (Yes, I know there are a lot of exclamation points in that paragraph. I’m a known abuser of exclamation points. If you could see me right now, you’d see me waving my arms quite incredulously and emphatically. Thus, exclamation points.)

Incredible stuff. But where does this leave “Whale Wars?” If there are no Japanese whalers to pester, what will our little lost shepherds do?

Never fear. The Sea Shepherds have other areas and fish to fry—er, save. The boat’s next mission is to sail to the Faeroe Islands near Norway to protect endangered pilot whales. This summer, they’ve already been causing trouble in other parts of the ocean, freeing bluefin tuna from nets in Libyan waters. And getting sued because of it.

I also suspect that even the President watches a little “Whale Wars” and wants to give the Sea Shepherds some more work.

“In July, the Obama Administration announced it was considering possible sanctions against Iceland for violating international animal conservation rules through their whaling practices. The President has 60 days to decide on sanctions.”

Talk about targeted stimulus for shovel-ready projects. (DC geek joke there. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here all week. Tip your waitress.)

Anybody else watch this madness? Favorite moments from the last four seasons?

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