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Like I said in my minicap, let’s forget last week’s episode ever happened. I don’t care any more if Animal Planet has abandoned pursuit of the truth. I didn’t get into this show for truth. I got into it because…well, it was fun to watch the Sea Shepherds fuck things up. And fight with each other. And clumsily try to manipulate the story. (Remember when Paul Watson claimed the whalers SHOT him back in Season One?)
So far, this season has had virtually none of that. All the colorful characterization has been bleached out. The screw-ups that have happened either a) weren’t that funny or b) were too catastrophic to be funny. Whale Wars without the bumbling is like my favorite public park after bathrooms got shut down. I don’t go for the sunshine and the fresh air, I go for…wait, what?
Um…what I’m saying is, here’s hoping the last four episodes get back to the Whale War Basics.
Here we go…
It’s easy to forget last week’s episode 6, because episode 7 jumps right into the action without the normal “previously on” segment, like they’ve had on every other episode of this show, ever. It’s jarring, like coming out of a coma. We know that huge chunks of time have gone missing. We vaguely remember the search for the Berserk, but we have no proof this event ever occurred.
Let’s actually go back to the end of season 4 episode 5 to pick up the story. Things are much where we left them. We are now two months into Operation No Compromise. The Gojira is still in Australia getting engine repairs. The Bob Barker continues to trail the whalers’ tanker ship, the Sun Laurel, with one of the Yushin Maru ships keeping an eye on them nearby. And the Steve Irwin continues to hunt for the Nisshin Maru. The mothership has eluded them for two whole months. They’re getting frustrated.
And to underscore the point, Paul Watson says “Frustrating!” out loud
Plus, the Steve Irwin is nearly out of fuel. The Irwin can’t hold enough fuel for the whole season, so the plan always was to spend two months in the Southern Ocean, return to New Zealand to refuel, and then resume the mission. And now it looks like the first two months might have been wasted.
And to complicate things even MORE, the helicopter pilot, Chris Aultman, is nearly exhausted. He’s spent six years flying for the Sea Shepherds. He’s missed six holiday seasons with his family. And with this year’s especially strenuous mission, he needs a break. He won’t be returning for the second leg of the trip. It was the hardest decision of his life, he tells us.
“And I’ve had to make a Sophie’s Choice on two separate occasions”
The show doesn’t say whether he told them this beforehand or whether he’s springing it on them now. Buuuuut it’s not like that tidbit would drastically alter the story or anything, so no big deal!
So, it looks like Part I of Operation No Compromise might be a total bust. But then, the Irwin’s communications officer gets an email from an anonymous tipster: the location of the Nisshin Maru.
Doesn’t it seem pretty easy for the whalers to fake one of these? Easy, but not gentlemanly
It’s not the first anonymous tip the Sea Shepherds have received. Tips come from people in the Australian or New Zealand governments, from people who obviously aren’t authorized to send this information out.
Finally, the Irwin crew feels some excitement. The first hint of good news in two whole months. Immediately, they head for the Nisshin Maru’s last known location and prep the helicopter.
The tip’s a couple days old, so the Irwin believes the Nisshin Maru could be anywhere within a few-hundred-mile radius:
That’s actually whale blood surrounding the Nisshin Maru
Which means, tons and tons of searching for Chris Aultman. He gets up at about quarter to five to begin a full day of helicoptering. This will be the last day the Irwin can spend in the Ross Sea before having to turn back for New Zealand.
And by a full day, I mean nineteen hours of sweeping over monotonous oceans and icebergs looking for the ships. Returning to the Irwin to refuel every couple hours. Keeping yourself awake on coffee and maybe even a few rails. It’s about the most boring thing you’d ever want to describe in a TV show recap, and that’s why I’m glossing.
While they were filming an episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter this week, Dog unnecessarily pepper sprayed a fugitive to make the show more exciting. Why can’t we be watching that show?
Let’s skip to the end of the day. Chris is just about finished searching, when he spots some shapes on the horizon: it’s the Nisshin Maru, and the Yushin Maru #1.
On the Steve Irwin, the crew rejoices.
“I was almost out of reasons to hug the girl crew members!”
But, it turns out, approaching in a helicopter with the words “Sea Shepherd” painted on the side is a pretty good way to alert the whalers to the presence of Sea Shepherd nearby. The Nisshin Maru fires up the engines and start to flee the area.
The whalers are running east, straight towards a huge ice field. There’s nowhere for them to escape, so what are they doing? Commodore Watson orders Chris to approach for a closer look.
Chris flies over the whaling ships. He sees that the harpoon on the Yushin Maru #1 is uncovered, and a whale carcass is being processed on the Nisshin. Discouraging news back on the Irwin. Commodore Watson’s goal of preventing a single whale from being killed has not been met. But the Sea Shepherds’ resolve has been strengthened. Pretty much nobody on the Irwin is happy to hear the news.
The whaling ships reach the edge of the ice field and don’t slow down or turn away. They plow straight through it. It’s a pretty cool visual:
The Sea Shepherds thought the whaling ships were not ice class, but that must have changed over the summer.
Now Commodore Watson has a choice to make: does the Steve Irwin follow the whalers into the ice field, thus risking damage? Or does it skirt around the ice field and lose the whalers on the radar, hoping to intercept them when they emerge?
I was thinking they’d plow straight through themselves, based on what I’ve seen with the show before, but what happens might surprise you.
Wait, that pretty much gives away what happens. Note: don’t forget to revise that last sentence before submitting this article!!!
Shockingly, Paul Watson chooses the safer option. The Irwin will not go into the ice field. They’ll try to anticipate where the whalers will come out and meet them there. But the ice field is so big that they won’t be able to track the whalers on radar, so anticipating their emergence won’t be easy.
Turns out their recklessness has a limit. I was waiting for Paul Watson to hop in a small boat and suicide bomb the Nisshin like in Syriana
Plus, they’re about to turn around and go back to New Zealand for a refuel. If you’re playing at home, (And they need to make a Whale Wars: Home Edition), that that Sea Shepherd, after spending two months looking for the Nisshin Maru, is now letting it go off radar, and will soon be gone. How the hell do they plan to keep track of it tomorrow? Maybe with the helicopter?
At this point Chris flies back to the Steve Irwin. The sun is going down. He’s flown a nineteen-hour day. He’s done. Flying any more than this would actually be reckless. He tells this to Commore Watson.
Clearly the Commodore would prefer Chris to just plow on past FAA-recommended safety measures, but Chris, wisely, won’t budge. He needs sleep. Literally. His brain won’t let him fly amy more without it. Paul Watson tells us he’s unhappy about the situation, but what can he do? Other than be passive-aggressive to Chris, of course.
He’s got one tool in ol’ leadership belt, but it’s a reliable one. Usually.
Being passive-aggressive actually works pretty well if you’re running an all-volunteer organization and don’t have enough leverage. Trust me on that one.
And so, provided the Nisshin Maru doesn’t slip away in the FOUR HOURS NO ONE’S WATCHING IT, the Steve Irwin needs to wait for the Bob Barker to arrive so the Barker can pick up the tail on the Nisshin while the Irwin goes back to New Zealand.
Let’s cut over to the Barker for a little while. Like we saw earlier, it’s tailing the whalers’ refueling tanker, the Sun Laurel, for four days. It’s also BEING tailed by one of the Yushin Maru harpoon ships. The Barker can’t simply sail away from the area and meet the Steve Irwin, because it would lose track of the tanker, and it probably be tailed by the Yushin, which would relay the Barker‘s position on to the Nisshin.
Two things need to happen: one, the Barker needs to find a way to keep tabs on the Sun Laurel while it’s out of the area, and two, the Barker needs to shake its tail. There’s only time enough this week to deal with the first one.
Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple way to check that off the list: they will attach a tracking device to the Sun Laurel’s hull. It’s the second tracking device-attachment mission of season 4.
But this time: it’s red. And hopefully no one will get hypothermia
I really don’t understand this next part, so maybe you can help. The last tracking device mission took place in the daytime. I made fun of them. It made no sense to just motor up to a harpoon ship in broad daylight and attach a giant metal tracker to its hull.
Although to be fair, there was the time when James Bond walked right up to Scaramanga and asked him to put a tracking device on his own car, so Bond could easily keep track of him. (Result: Scaramanga said no).
Now then, the second tracking-device mission will be taking place under cover of darkness. They will not be using radios or lights of any kind. If the plan works, the tanker crew won’t know there’s a tracker on their ship. Makes more sense, right?
The Barker’s crane operator—aka the guy responsible for getting the boats into the water—listens to the mission briefing and has visions of all the ways this could go wrong. It’s hard enough to launch a boat properly in the day time. Doing it in the dark? Shit.
Oh…I guess that’s why they did the first mission in the daytime
So let’s see how they do!
Psych! It’s not The Cove. I know, I wish it were, too
Night falls and the crew gets to it. Matt Smith, the crane operator, stands at the controls. The mission crew climb onto the small boat. Matt lowers it into the water.
The sea isn’t cooperative. Every time they think they have the boat in the water, it turns out they’re only on the crest of a wave, as the sea drops three feet out from under them.
But eventually they get the boat off without too much trouble, and the mission commences. Back on the Barker, everyone waits, wishing they could use their radios.
The best part of this sequence was when Matt came right out and said he has no way to predict what the ocean’s gonna do, so basically his job is entirely guesswork. Thank god I don’t care enough about the whales to be on that boat myself.
Animal Planet didn’t get any footage of the tracking device mission, it seems, because after the break the small boat is being raised out of the water. The small boat crew climbs back on the Barker without much fanfare. Captain Alex asks how the mission, and Pottsie, the small boat-captain, mutters, “Oh, fine.” Like he wasn’t expeting the question.
Translation: “I dropped the tracking device in the water by accident and paid my crew not to tell.”
And that’s that for the second tracking device mission. It was almost exciting enough to be on TV!
As the Bob Barker starts to get ready to link up with the Steve Irwin, day breaks. Back on the Irwin, Chris is finishing up his four-hour powernap, and the crew is getting anxious. They’re giving the Nisshin Maru more and more time to get away from them.
To kill the time, Paul Watson poisons the crew against him
Finally Chris wakes up and joins everyone on the bridge for a cup of coffee. He luxuriates in the sunrise and his renewed energy while everyone tries not to flip out on him. Chris is confident they’ll be able to find the Nisshin again today. But because it’s not showing up on the radar, Sailing Master Malcolm Holland has his doubts.
Is that title real? It sounds pretty made up
Chris ambles on out to the helipad and gets in the chopper. Time to re-find the Nisshin.
Chris has a pretty good idea of where the Nisshin is. It’s been four hours since they had it on radar, and based on their speed and direction, Chris has calculated where they would most likely be now. He flies to that spot now.
And Chris learns the valuable lesson that ships these days can change direction, pretty much any time they want.
The Nisshin Maru is nowhere to be found. The Steve Irwin has to go back to New Zealand today. Chris only has a few hours to scan the area for the whaling mothership, and he finds nothing.
“Would you like a samurai sword or a kitana for your seppuku?”
As Chris flies back to the Steve Irwin, the news breaks that the Nisshin Maru has escaped and the Irwin can’t search for them. Spirits are low.
Here’s their DVD collection, by the way. Can anyone tell what movies they’re watching? Is that Colin Farrell on one of them?
Malcolm is especially unhappy. The Sea Shepherds have worked hard over the years to cultivate a formidable image in the whalers’ minds. It almost seems like the whalers respect their abilities, being that they’ve devoted harpoon ships to the sole mission of keeping track of the anti-whaling group. What will they think now, being that Sea Shepherd has found and lost them in under twelve hours?
Chris tells us how ashamed he felt at this moment. There really wasn’t anything he could have done, but it’s a downer moment to leave the campaign.
Paul Watson calls him into his stateroom. He has one more mission for Chris. He pulls out a wooden box. Chris is to fly to a nearby iceberg and plant the box on it. Because inside the box is an urn.
And inside the urn is a bomb that will blow Chris up for disappointing his leader
The ashes belong to a big-time Sea Shepherd donor from California. His dying wish was to be laid to rest in the Southern Ocean. You can tell he’s big-time because they’re actually using the helicopter to fly his ashes onto a glacier and not just chucking the ashes in the water over a few hasty words.
Chris is honored to be doing this. He gets in the chopper for one last time. Flies over to the glacier. Lands.
He lets the Animal Planet camera guy get out and into position. He takes the helicopter back up into the air and lands it again so they can film some B-roll.
He gets out. He puts the urn on the glacier and packs it in the snow.
In this moment, he tells us, he decided he would stay for the second leg of the journey
And with his resolve strengthened, Chris gets back in the helicopter. Takes off. Flies back to the fleet
And strands the camera guy