Hey gang. Welcome back to the Wars. Season 4 Episode 4 is a pretty unusual one for this show. On a lot of fictional shows they do what’s called a “bottle episode”, which is where basically the entire plot takes place within one location—it’s called “bottle” as in “ship in a bottle”, a little self-contained, ornate little novelty. Star Trek did episodes that would occur only on the bridge. Community did one with “Cooperative Calligraphy”. Breaking Bad did one with “Fly”. (Side note/shameless plug: I will be recapping BrBa for this site when it starts back up. July 17th!). And now Whale Wars has a bottle episode. This week focuses almost entirely on one of the boats in the Sea Shepherd fleet.
This is because Sea Shepherd screws up so mightily that their boo boo takes an entire hour to cover.
Before the meat of the episode begins, though, the show picks up last week’s cliffhanger, which had helicopter pilot Chris Aultman flying back to the Steve Irwin through heavy fog with no working radio—and the Irwin had moved from its last prior position. What happens? Nothing! He finds the Irwin and everything’s fine! It’s yet another tease in what’s turning out to be The Season of Blue-Ballers.
Whatever. Let’s jump into this week. Mechanical problems still plague the Gojira, and one of the Yushin Maru harpoon ships continues to trail the Steve Irwin. That leaves the Bob Barker, which is fifty miles away, as Sea Shepherd’s best chance to track down the Nisshin Maru. Not sure how that works, since it’s ALSO being trailed by a Yushin, but I guess it’s because the Barker is capable of outrunning the Yushin while the Irwin isn’t. Or it’s because it makes no sense. Either way, Paul Watson orders the Bob Barker to get rid of the tail.
They have a plan to do this. I’m about to describe it for you here, and I have to say…I still can’t make out anything resembling an internal logic. It’s a little bit like describing a short story written by a second grader. Here goes nothing!
First, Sea Shepherd must get the Bob Barker twenty miles away from the Yushin Maru because that puts it out of radar range. To do that, the small boats will just harass the Yushin, stalling it so the Barker can put some distance between themselves and the Yushin. But as we’ve seen before, particularly last week, eluding the whalers’ radar is way harder than it looks.
You might be thinking, hey, um, don’t the small boats have to be picked UP by the Bob Barker? So wouldn’t the whalers just wait with the small boats until the Barker comes back to pick them up? That’s what I was thinking. Technically, though, the small boats are like way faster than the Yushin, so they’ll just outrun whaling ship to get back to the Barker. Which means they’re counting on outrunning whaler radar not once but three times. (You don’t want to question the logic any more than that because you’ll start to get a tension headache and want to lie down).
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. While the small boats are harassing the Yushin Maru, one of them will also attach a magnetic tracking device to the its hull. That way, assuming the Yushin really will lose the Bob Barker’s trail, the whaling ship will have no choice but to return to the rest of the fleet, leading Sea Shepherd straight to the Nisshin Maru.
I mentioned it’s a magnetic tracking device, right? Did I also mention it’s about the size of a microwave oven? I’ve seen my fair share of James Bond movies, and the real beauty of a tracking device is when the person you’re tracking isn’t AWARE of the tracking device. Because if they were, they could just, you know, rip it off and throw it in the ocean. But whatever, it’s not my anti-whaling organization.
The weather worsens. Snow flurries with a wind chill of -35 degrees. Captain Cornelissen waits for conditions to improve, but then remembers they’re in Antarctica and gives the go-ahead. The attack begins. Two boats are launched, one piloted by our old friend Pottsie, the other by a guy named Ben. There’s also a new weapon Sea Shepherd is going to deploy, called a “Shepherd’s Crook”. (What an adorable and clever name! And I get to describe more naval shit! Yay!) Basically, it’s a modified propeller fouler, a rope attached to a large metal hook. The idea is, Sea Shepherd hooks the Shepherd’s Crook onto the railing of a whaling ship and lets go, so that the rope hits the water and trails behind the whaling ship. Then, when the whaling ship turns in the water, theoretically it will have to run over the rope. Obviously it’s more accurate than just throwing a rope in front of an enormous whaling ship and hoping it gets run over, but it’s also more dangerous since the small boat has to pull up alongside the whaling ship and attach it by hand. Let’s see how it goes, shall we?
Pottsie’s boat gets the tracking device attached. I guess none of the whalers noticed it, so that’s promising. Then Ben’s boat attempts to attach the first Shepherd’s Crook. It hooks onto the railing. Also good. Pottsie’s boat makes its second run, launching flares and smoke bombs at the whaling ship. If I were a whaler I’d look at that as my license to finally shoot the motherfuckers, but they exercise tremendous restraint and do not. And then Ben’s boat makes its second run to attach another Shepherd’s Crook, this time enduring blasts from the Yushin’s water cannon. The Crook is attached…but they can’t detach it from themselves. So now the small boat is tethered to the Yushin Maru and is being thrashed around the waves. Oops.
During the commotion the Bob Barker has escaped the Yushin’s radar range, so the mission has been partially successful. Now would be time for the small boats to make their escape as well. Ben’s crew finally manages to cut through the rope, but it’s too late: the thrashing has cracked one of the boat’s pontoons, and now it’s taking on water. Not so much that the boat’s going to sink, but enough that high-speed travel is impossible.
Pottsie has to make a decision: does he risk further damage and make a run for the Barker, or does he order everyone to stay put and ask to be picked up, thus ruining their day’s work? He calls Captain Cornelissen for advice. The Barker, it turns out, has gone many more than the twenty miles required to be out of the Yushin’s radar range. Now it’s about seventy miles away, a five hour trip. The small boat won’t hold up for that distance, so the Barker captain must suck it up and turn back. (Which seems like an obvious choice, but by Sea Shepherd rules, where it’s Whales Above All Else, caring about the safety of your crew is pretty radical).
In the meantime, the small boat crews must sit and wait. Those -35 wind chills haven’t abated. And the crews now learn that sitting in an idle boat is way colder than carrying out a mission in a fast-moving one. Plus, during the attack one of the crew members, Mikey, got his undergarments soaked from the water cannon blast.
After about an hour, Mikey’s in bad shape. Hypothermia has begun to set in. For some reason Pottsie has let him go to sleep, which you’re not supposed to do—it’s like letting a concussed person go to sleep, I guess. The Barker is still four hours away. The whaling fleet is still at large. Whales are dying. The Animal Planet camera batteries run out of juice. And didgeridoo music is played over their final moments of footage.
Didgeridoo music. That’s never good. See you Monday for the full post-mortem.