Yup, we’re doing Whale Wars. Throw on your life jackets, grab your sea-sickness pills, and get ready to follow some morally ambiguous, PR-driven adventure on the high seas! Avast the starboard hull, mateys, and some such other sailing term!
WHALE WARS: A RECAP PRE-CAP
Technically whaling has been illegal since 1986, but the Japanese have found a loophole that lets them kill 1,000 whales a year for “scientific research.” However, all they really do is perform cursory experiments on the whales they kill and then sell them as meat. They’re pretty much dicks about it, and nobody does anything to stop them.
To justify what they’re doing, the Japanese hold up signs that would be right at home in Catch-22
Nobody, that is, except for a devoted organization of freedom fighters and/or eco-terrorists called Sea Shepherd. Every year Sea Shepherd and its crew of volunteers sail down to the Antarctic Ocean every year to try to stop whaling, and Animal Planet follows them with cameras.
The newest ship in the Sea Shepherd fleet: the MV Bob Barker (yep, that one)
Think of Sea Shepherd as a pushier version of Greenpeace, because that’s what they are—the founder of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, also founded Greenpeace thirty years ago, but eventually got kicked out for being too extremist. He’s kind of the Malcolm X of the animal rights movement. In a South Park episode from last fall, Watson was dismissed as a “pussy” and “media whore,” (and for being a fatty), but in reality he’s the rare kind of crazy person who also possesses excellent people skills and media-savvy. Laugh all you want, but this show has been wildly successful for him. The reason why that ship is named Bob Barker is because the former Price Is Right host donated five million dollars to the cause.
He sure is fat, though
The rest of Sea Shepherd feels the effects of Paul Watson’s particularly quirky personality. He’s is passionate enough to attract lots of volunteers, (i.e. alt-lifestyle hippies), and perceptive enough to know that someone who will work for free can be asked to do insanely dangerous tasks in the name of saving the whales. And because your average Sea Shepherd employee is long on enthusiasm and short on sailing know-how, it’s fairly surprising nobody has died yet.
Prior to joining Sea Shepherd, Marcus’s only sailing experience was taking his campers canoeing while stoned off his gourd
But best of all, Paul Watson has basically turned Animal Planet into his own personal PR firm. Every Whale Wars episode, starts out with the obligatory “this show doesn’t necessarily reflect Animal Planet‘s own views” disclaimer. But if they could use the Star Wars theme for this Whale Wars, they would. Sea Shepherd is the Rebel Alliance, the Japanese whalers are the Empire, and the whales are…I’m not sure, but you get the point.
EPISODE FIVE: A NEW HOPE
Now then. The first four or five episodes of every Whale Wars season are usually uneventful. Sea Shepherd never knows where the whaling fleet is at first, and the Antarctic Ocean is really big, so they spend a lot of time sailing around and dealing with all the mechanical problems that come up from their ships being too old. So basically you can treat this like Star Wars IV…yeah, a lot of shit has happened already, but you don’t really need to know it to follow along.
At this point in the season, Sea Shepherd has just discovered the Nisshin Maru. It’s the flagship of the whaling fleet, a “factory” ship—where all the whales are filleted and packaged up for sale. So, if Sea Shepherd can disable the Nisshin Maru, whaling season is over.
This is the Death Star, basically
Sea Shepherd HATES the Nisshin Maru. To them, it symbolizes the entire whaling horror. It’s a floating slaughterhouse, and any of them would sink the thing entirely if they could. And as the episode begins, it is in firing range. Time for some opening credits.
Ready the spud gun, lads!
When we return, the show has shifted to the Steve Irwin, (that one, too). It’s the flagship of the Sea Shepherd fleet but it’s 1,100 miles away from where the action is. For the first time ever, Captain Watson isn’t directly involved and has to command the battle from afar. This isn’t by choice, either; it’s because earlier there was a whole bunch of logistical problems.
The situation at the beginning of episode 5
Captain Watson can only wait and wonder why bad things happen in life
Nothing more to see here, so back to the battle. As Sea Shepherd closes within firing range, the Nisshin Maru begins broadcasting its pre-recorded warning messages. This is one of my favorite parts of the show…back in the first season the Japanese weren’t prepared for Sea Shepherd. But since then they’ve recorded a warning message in English. Basically it’s just “Warning. You’re too close to our ships. Stop being a terrorist!”
They get off a couple shots from the spud gun. Direct hit!
B-4…hit. Battleship sunk. (Or at least annoyed)
For ammunition they are using apples laced with a noxious substance that’s supposed to make the whale meat inedible. This way, even if the Japanese have killed whales, they won’t make any money off it.
So far in Whale Wars, this kind of thing has been their main strategy–buzzing the whaling ships and throwing gross chemicals onboard. But this season, they’re kicking it up a notch. Now it’s time for the fastest and newest ship in the Sea Shepherd fleet: the Adi Gil.
It’s super fast, resembles the Bat Boat, and was not meant to be used in the Antarctic
The Adi Gil is a refitted speed boat originally meant to break the water-speed record. It actually used to be privately owned by a guy named Peter Bethune, who was so taken with the Whale Wars show that he decided to donate his vessel and his services to the cause. They’re glad to have him in the fight, but worried that he’s a loose cannon. He’s so optimistic it’s a borderline personality disorder. I like him.
Also: looks like Locke
The only way they can disable the Nisshin Maru is to use something called a “prop fouler”—basically a long rope you throw in the path of an oncoming ship, hoping it gets sucked into the ship’s propeller, which would fuck the propeller up.
They make their first sweep in front of the Nisshin Maru and, what do you know, they pull it off!
I don’t know if you can make out the rope, but it got sucked under the Nisshin Maru
But it doesn’t work. The Nisshin just sails over it and spits it out. They’ve been trying to use prop foulers for three seasons and they’ve never worked. It’s a thick-ish rope up against an 8,000 ton ship meant to bust through ice fields, so, no surprise there.
Bethune then has to warn the other Sea Shepherd ship in the area, the Bob Barker, about the loose prop fouler floating in the ocean, because there’s actually a better chance the Bob Barker would get disabled by a prop fouler than the Nisshin Maru would. If a Sea Shepherd ship got completely disabled by its own weapon, I would give up a testicle. (Maybe even the functioning one).
Back to the Adi Gil. They’re still in pursuit of the Nisshin Maru, but they’re worried about running out of fuel—earlier in the season they fucked up and forgot to refuel when they were supposed to, so they’ve been running low on fuel and supplies for a while. The Nisshin Maru is also faster than any of the other ships in the Sea Shepherd fleet, so if the Adi Gil has to shut down, the fleet will escape.
They cut back to the Steve Irwin, still 1,100 miles away. Everyone’s just waiting and doing their chores over and over and over to relieve the tension. Finally, Bethune calls to tell Watson that the prop fouler failed. Watson passive-aggressively expresses his disappointment, which is always an effective way to get the people of Sea Shepherd to work just a little bit harder.
“Hmm…wonder why the prop foul didn’t work,” Paul Watson intones. He’s so catty!
But while they’re getting pissy with each other, they fail to realize the Nisshin Maru is getting away. If it gets out of their radar range they’ve lost the fleet all over again. Watson then issues one of his more insane orders—the Bob Barker is to pursue the whaling ship at all costs. Even if the Adi Gil runs out of fuel, food, and water.
I’m pretty sure they won’t let the Adi Gil guys starve to death but…I’d probably give my remaining testicle to see them have to sit there and wait to be rescued for a week or so. (That’s probably worth becoming a castrati, right?).
Bethune is cool with it. They’ll just have to follow the Nisshin Maru until they run out of fuel. This is what he signed up for. I’m guessing he’ll be singing a different tune after a week of drinking his own pee.
But back on the MV Bob Barker, First Mate Peter Hammarstedt comes up with a novel solution…it’s time to launch one of the small boats. (They have some zodiac-type inflatable speedboats they use to get up close to the whalers).
Peter is one of the more competent members of the Sea Shepherd crew, and therefore the least interesting
Problem is, they don’t want to slow down to launch one of the boats, so they consider…should they launch it at full speed?
This is really dangerous, because the boat might get caught in the Bob Barker’s wake. Back in season one the Steve Irwin messed up a launch and got a boat caught in its wake, and the boat capsized. If you’re in water this cold for very long, you’ll die.
At this point, it’s probably best to introduce the third captain in the Sea Shepherd fleet, Captain Chuck Swift. He runs the MV Bob Barker. He’s new to the organization, and they painted him as a charismatic and hands-on leader, but he’s never really been tested. Let’s see how well he does when Papa Watson isn’t around.
Captain Swift mulls it over
The small boats are probably the most dangerous aspect of the Sea Shepherd fleet. They’ve had sooooo many problems with them before: they’ve tipped over, they’ve gotten lost, and the boat crews even forget their communication equipment occasionally. They’re never good news.
So Swift makes his first big decision: he launches the ship. He pretty much has to. If he chickened out decided NOT to do what was best for the whales, Paul Watson would kick him off the ship. Probably literally, too, just throw him right into in the ocean. Watson gets really pissed when you don’t take a risk because you’re worried about the crew. As he says, his first responsibility is to the whales, and he’s dismissed people for being too cautious before.
Who is going to be on the small boat?
Remember how I said Sea Shepherd is made up of volunteers with no sailing experience? That comes into play now.
Here is Matt Kimura. He is going to be driving the attack boat. Back home, he is an elementary school teacher.
Special skills: seating charts, opening milk cartons, getting kids to be quiet during assemblies
His navigator is Marcus Graham, a carpenter from New Zealand, here on his vacation.
Special skills: devil sticks, didgeridoo.
And here is what they are being asked to do:
Unfortunately for them, they are not Navy SEALs
At this moment, Whale Wars cuts back to the small boat disaster I just mentioned:
That’s a boat capsizing because somebody was holing a rope incorrectly
They lower the boat into the water. At first Marcus can’t untie it, so it’s hanging from the crane and knocking up against the side of the boat as they motor ahead at full speed. Captain Swift actually has to slow down to let the small boat get free, which it does.
They’re still not in the clear yet, though. In the past, the small boat has had malfunctioning radios, or they’ve forgotten their sat phone, or just gone missing in general. Nobody has died before but come on, what’ll these guys do when night falls? This can’t be good.
And worst of all, the Bob Barker has lost even more ground on the Nisshin Maru.
They give chase for a couple hours, but huge waves have hindered the small boat, and it’s actually going slower than the factory ship now. They’ll never keep up, and the weather is getting worse. Chuck Swift decides to retrieve the small boat.
What would Watson do? Stop to retrieve his crew members, thus losing ground to the factory ship? Or leave them adrift in the Antarctic Ocean?
Captain Swift wonders if Animal Planet is going to include his little goof in the final cut
Swift decides to try for the best of both worlds. Get this: they’re deciding to do the boat retrieval AT FULL SPEED!
I used to have Top Gun on NES. There was a mission where you had to do a midair refuel by flying your F-14 up to a bigger fuel ship. It was really hard and I always crashed.
Even harder than when you have to land on the aircraft carrier
So I can imagine how hard this must be.
Chuck calls Paul Watson to break the news. Apparently, Chuck NEVER TOLD PAUL that he was going to deploy the small boat in the first place.
Paul Watson is not happy. Like any good parent, he knows being silent is way scarier than yelling. But later in a talking-head, he admits he was pissed, frustrated, and wishes he could have been there.
In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader choked Captain Needa for losing The Millenium Falcon in the asteroid field. If Paul Watson could choke people from 1,100 miles away, Captain Swift would be a dead man right now.
Captain Swift feebly tells Watson he’ll “see what he can do.” And Watson says, “Yeah, well…OK.”
And the Nisshin Maru continues to get away…
Swift is disappointed in himself. It’s time to scoop up the small boat. Only, as he has been dithering, the small boat is having trouble keeping up with the Bob Barker.
The small boat falls behind
I’m guessing Swift is contemplating retiring to his quarters to commit seppuku.
The small boat approaches, and Marcus attaches out for the rope things look shaky, but ultimately they get it back. Except the whaling mothership is no longer in sight…
It’s all up to the Adi Gil, now…but they’re running out of fuel…and the Bob Barker chugs along helplessly.
It’s been a couple hours since they’ve seen anything. But then, to their great fortune, a ship appears on the horizon! It’s the Nisshin Maru!
Only, as it gets closer, they realize it’s not the Nisshin Maru like they think, but one of the harpoon ships—these are used to kill the whales and transport them to the Nisshin Maru. The Sea Shepherd has fucked with it many times before.
You can see the harpoon itself in the bow of the ship…also, comically labeled “Research”
Somehow this turn of events makes Captain Swift turn cocky.
“If the Nisshin Maru is going really fast to run away from us, it can’t whale,” Captain Swift spins. “So even if they escape, it’s fine. And we’ve found another ship anyway, so, s’all good.”
But then another harpoon ship shows up, behind the Bob Barker. And then a THIRD harpoon ship shows up. The Bob Barker is surrounded.
And the whaling ships are closing in. Sea Shepherd starts to feel a little nervous…
At last, a fourth Japanese ship arrives. It’s called the Shonin Maru 2. It’s a reconnaissance ship the whalers use to keep tabs on where Sea Shepherd is, so that the other boats in the fleet can stay clear of them. Sea Shepherd hates the Shonin Maru 2. They even suspect it’s crewed by Japanese military, which is illegal.
First Mate Peter says that if the SM 2 closes in any further, they will interpret that as a threat and “act accordingly.” Animal Planet doesn’t mention this, but I’ve read elsewhere that Sea Shepherd ships have guns onboard. Everyone waits to see what the four Japanese ships do.
Meanwhile, the Adi Gil only has thirty minutes of fuel left. Bethune decides to use their last drops of fuel to make one last kamikaze attack on the mothership.
Here, he says something that doesn’t quite fit the situation: “It’s like the party is just getting started and we have to leave…the alcohol is flowing, there’s lots of hot babes there, and we’ve gotta go pick up our mum at the theater.”
Shouldn’t it be more like, “This is an important decision I’ve decided to make, and I want you to know I take this and the lives of my crew very seriously.”?
Anyway they burst ahead of the mothership and release their best prop fouler—this one’s reinforced with steel cable. It gets sucked under.
The mothership slows down…
And comes to a stop.
Holy shit, it worked.
Ding dong, the Nisshin Maru’s dead!
They congratulate themselves on a successful prop foul. Peter even thinks the Adi Gil could be the key to stopping whaling in the Antarctic forever.
But there’s still those four other enemy vessels to worry about…
Until next time, folks. Seriously. If you found this entertaining at all, wait until next time, because some crazy shit is going to happen, even crazier than this week, and probably the craziest in three seasons of this show—crazier than even the time the whalers may or may not have shot Paul Watson at the end of the first season.
They’ve been hinting at this event since the season three premier, and it’s finally here. You don’t want to miss it.
Your faithful witness to the wars for the whales,
Saint Clare of Assisi