Let’s get right to it…
This week’s episode is about Sea Shepherd’s search for a distressed Norwegian yacht named Berserk. It’s ostensibly a story about a search-and-rescue mission in inhospitable conditions, where the Sea Shepherds search the Southern Ocean, despite increasingly worse odds of the yacht crew’s survival.
The show makes a big point that Sea Shepherd had to abandon their harassment of the Japanese whaling fleet to do this. I was going to focus this recap on the search itself, but when some of y’all started to point out that the Animal Planet episode is a lot different than what happened in real life, I checked that out first. Before we get into the recap, I want to take a look at the chronology of the events being portrayed on this week’s episode. Here’s what Animal Planet says happened, in chronological order:
-Gojira heads back to port for repairs
-Steve Irwin continues hunt for the Nisshin Maru
-Bob Barker tails the Sun Laurel
-Distress beacon activated
-Search is called off
-Sea Shepherd resumes the hunt for the Nisshin Maru
Two events are in dispute: a) the Gojira wasn’t in port when the Berserk went down, and more importantly b) whaling season was already over when Sea Shepherd got the distress call.
Here’s the real-life chronology, with dates and sources. (There’s some pretty major spoilage both for this episode and for the rest of the season, so be careful if you want it to be a surprise).
January 23rd, 2011: Gojira arrives in Hobart, Tasmania for its repairs.
February 16hth, 2011: whaling fleet suspends operations because of Sea Shepherd harassment. This article DOES, say, though, that the whaling fleet was only putting the hunt on hold, not cancelling it, and that more hunting was scheduled.
February 18th, 2011: Japan recalls the whaling fleet, making whaling season officially over. That looks like a smoking gun to me. Whaling is over.
February 22nd, 2011: the distress beacon on the yacht Berserk is activated and Sea Shepherd begins searching for them.
February 28th, 2011: New Zealand calls off the search.
March 7th, 2011: Sea Shepherd returns to port.
So of the events in dispute, I couldn’t tell where the Gojira was when the actual search-and-rescue began. But the part about Sea Shepherd having to suspend anti-whaling activities to look for the Berserk? Bullshit. Whaling season ended on February 18th—and that article contains congratulatory quotes from Paul Watson himself—and the Berserk’s distress beacon didn’t go off until the 22nd.
After the recap I’ll have more on this plus some other information I’ve found out about what really happened. I put the chronology here, though, because it did inform my viewing of this week’s episode. Meaning, I have no idea if any of it is true.
So OK. Last week we ended the episode with the Sea Shepherd helicopter pilot, Chris Aultman, getting a call from the New Zealand navy about a Norwegian yacht going missing nearby. According to Maritime Law, that means Sea Shepherd has to postpone their hunt for the whalers and carry out a search-and-rescue mission. (I don’t know what part of Maritime Law…it’s not like I’m Jereth Cutestory or something).
And without a second thought, that’s what they do. If anyone’s bitching about forgetting the whalers for a little while, we don’t see it on camera. But come on, you know at least one of them was calculating the yacht crew’s chance of survival.
“Come on, guys! Let’s make it look like we think this isn’t pointless!”
Oh wait, that joke doesn’t work because WHALING SEASON WAS ALREADY OVER.
Chris Aultman briefs the Steve Irwin on the situation. It’s possible the yacht has become disabled or, worse, sunk, and its crew is now sitting in life rafts waiting to be rescued. The yacht’s last-known location is about two hundred miles away from the Steve Irwin’s current position. Like we saw over the last couple weeks, sitting in a boat on the Southern Ocean, exposed to the elements, can be deadly. It’s literally a race against time.
Of lesser urgency but still important: the yacht has a five-man crew and came to the Southern Ocean for an expedition to the South Pole—the original plan was, two crew members would depart the Berserk and travel to the Pole on motorbikes while the remaining three would wait for them. Whale Wars only briefly mentions the purpose of Berserk’s trip to the Antarctic. There’s a lot more to the story, but that’s for the end of the recap. For now, it looks like your standard Bear Grylls-esque bullshit.
Here’s the captain of the Berserk. Jarle Andhoy, aka Captain Down-Here-by-His-Own-Free-Will.
There’s no indication as to what state the crew is in: are all five still on the yacht? Are two on land and three on the yacht? Did all five escape the yacht? Are they in a life raft now? No way to know. This makes it, as Aultman says, about 100 times harder than finding the whaling fleet.
Speaking of which, right about now the Animal Planet narrator says, to us, the audience, that “Sea Shepherd will have to put its search for the whalers’ factory ship on hold”. Happened about a minute and a half into the show, and never in real life
Ugh. I’m going to forget about that until the end of the recap. The Steve Irwin heads for the Beserk’s last-known location.
Shockingly, Animal Planet doesn’t just cut to Saint Paul Watson and softball him a question that lets him say something like “Our priority is helping the Norwegiants, because that’s what’s right” or some such shit. Instead, they cut to him and let him tell us that he’s worried about Captain Andhoy Berserk, and then a shot of him staring apprehensively out a window.
How about a wrinkle? Right now there’s a huge storm in the area. It’s what most likely caused the Berserk’s situation, and it’s why New Zealand had to call Sea Shepherd—the Kiwis tried to send a ship themselves but had to turn away because of the ship’s severity. And now, this storm is standing between the Steve Irwin and the distress beacon.
Here’s a map of the storm. It might or might not have actually existed. At this point, who the fuck knows?
And here’s a big wave hitting the Steve Irwin, or so we’re told. This COULD be the Irwin. That COULD be the ocean. There COULD really be whales getting killed in Antarctica. Sure!
Paul Watson says this is the worst weather he’s ever experienced in the Southern Ocean, and everything he’s ever said is incontrovertibly true.
Before we continue with the search, Whale Wars gives us a probably-true update on the whereabouts of the other two Sea Shepherd vessels. The Gojira, we hear, has just now returned to Hobart for engine repairs. (Which seems off by about two weeks, but who’s counting?) And the Bob Barker is continuing to tail the Sun Laurel somewhere else in the Southern Ocean. That’s all we’ll hear from them this week.
The Steve Irwin, meanwhile, braves the storm. The narrator tells us that “a New Zealand ship captain” called it “the worst storm he had seen in 19 years”.
That captain’s name? Snow Job
The Irwin takes a bit of a beating. Sprays of water freeze instantly when they hit the deck, coating the Irwin in ice a la 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and growlers are everywhere.
They interview the Sea Shepherd’s “security officer” (They have one?) and he tells us he was so worried during the storm he called his wife and told her he was going to die.
“It was the fourth time I’ve done that on this voyage. She’s not answering my calls any more”.
But of course they make it through the storm unscathed. We resume with some deckhands knocking all that ice off the deck, in a scene way too reminiscent of my childhood in Erie, Pennsylvania.
They forgot a windshield scraper. Dumbasses.
Everyone wonders how the Berserk could have survived this storm. We learn that it’s ¼ the size of the Steve Irwin. This shot pretty much sums it up:
You know how we’re always being reminded of how treacherous the Southern Ocean is? These guys are in a fucking yacht.
They give some more background on why these Norwegians are here. It’s the 100-year anniversary of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s famous journey to the South Pole and they’re recreating it in honor of him. Good for them.
The Norwegians actually had a video camera with them, and Animal Planet has acquired the footage they shot. Here they are, discussing their spirit of adventure, with sad piano music laid in to tell us they were heroic:
They also love eating whales. This is a shot of them luring one up to the surface to filet him. Oops.
But, now it’s time for the search to begin. The helicopter is prepared and Chris Aultman takes to the air. First he will travel to the spot where the distress beacon went off. If nothing is there, he will fly to the Antarctic coastline to look for signs of life.
It’s about twenty miles from the distress signal to shore
Everyone waits for Chris to reach the Berserk’s last-known position. When he does, he finds nothing but open water. Time to head for land. Even though the situation is bleak, he hasn’t given up hope just yet.
It’s sixteen hours since the beacon went off. Back on the Irwin, someone spots an object floating in the water. It’s black and looks inflatable. Maybe it’s a life raft. Commodore Watson thinks that’s a bad color choice for something meant to be spotted, though.
They pull up alongside the object. It’s empty and in tatters. If this is the Berserk‘s raft, things aren’t looking good:
They call up the New Zealand navy to see if the floating object belongs to the Berserk. They can’t get a positive ID yet.
While they wait, the Sea Shepherds start speculating about all the possible ways this could have broken. If this is the Berserk’s life raft, maybe it was just detached during the storm and the Berserk is still intact somewhere. Maybe it got detached when the Berserk sank but the crew still made it to Antarctica safely. Or maybe it’s exactly what it looks like.
Meanwhile, Chris Aultman continues to search the Antarctic coast, canvassing the area in one-mile-square grids. Still no signs of anything.
Back on the Irwin, the Sea Shepherds attach cables to the raft and pull it up with a winch. Predictably, the cables snap and the raft tumbles back into the water.
This was like the time I was having a horrible breakup conversation with my girlfriend. In the middle of it I sneezed and a bunch of snot got on my shirt.
But eventually they pull it up onboard and take a look at the serial number. When they call this in to the New Zealand navy, they learn that the New Zealand destroyer sent to rescue the Berserk lost three fifty-man search boats in the storm. The serial number from one of the boats matches the object just pulled out of the water.
Good news, for now. The search continues.
Now it’s forty-two hours since the distress beacon was first activated. If the yacht crew is in a life raft somewhere, the odds are worse and worse that they’ll survive the exposure. The Sea Shepherds are getting desperate. Growlers are starting to resemble overturned ships’ hulls covered in ice. Paul Watson and his neck beard are sad.
That’s his new pirate name. We’ve had Black Beard, Blue Beard, and now Neck Beard.
Then, Malcolm Holland, the Irwin’s sailing master, gets some hopeful information from New Zealand. It turns out that the two Norwegians who were making the motorbike trip, the captain and a guy named Sam Massey, have made it to an American research station. Now there are definitely only three crew members missing, and the survivors think they might have taken refuge at a small structure called Shackleton’s Hut.
After letting the Animal Planet guy set up his cameras, white balance, and check all his audio levels, Chris Aultman inspects the hut. As a flock of penguins look on, he finds the entrance is padlocked shut. There’s no sign of life.
There is, however, one of…these!!!!!
Don’t let it get back to the mainland, Chris.
Now it’s fifty hours since the beacon was activated. The Sea Shepherds are beginning to accept that the Norwegians are gone. The mood is somber.
Chris Aultman takes the helicopter up for one last look. This time it’s orange. Chris knows it’s a four-man life raft. As he comes over the top of it, he has no idea what it will contain. Survivors? Bodies? Nothing?
With a closer look, Chris sees that the raft’s canopy is torn in half and that ice has accumulated on both the insides and outsides. Water has begun to fill it, too.
Malcolm Holland informs Chris that the Berserk did indeed have orange Avon-class life rafts, which is what we have here. An empty lifesaving device.
The Irwin arrives at raft. The crew pulls it up on deck, this time without incident.
There are no signs that anyone has ever been in the raft. We learn the raft was designed to be deployed in the event that the yacht sank. With no evidence anyone was ever in the raft, the Sea Shepherds surmise that the crew couldn’t escape the Berserk before it went down.
They call New Zealand and relay the raft’s serial numbers to the navy, confirming that it did indeed belong to the Berserk. Shortly after, New Zealand officially suspends the search.
We leave this episode first with the Sea Shepherds contemplating the meaning of this incident. It’s yet another clear reminder how dangerous the Southern Ocean really is.
As they continue (don’t actually continue) the search for the whalers, Animal Planet cuts back to the video-camera footage taken by the yacht’s crew. The three now-deceased crew members bid goodbye to the adventurers.
And that’s that. It’s really sad that real people actually died in this episode, even if it was unrelated to the whaling stuff.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, um…Animal Planet, what the fuck?
I mean, I kind of get why Animal Planet did it…they edit Whale Wars so that every season builds up to a final climactic battle with the whalers and then concludes with the end of whaling season. In real life the search for the Berserk happened after whaling season already ended. It’d be anti-climactic to end the season with the Berserk episode, so they just stuck it in there, right in the middle of the season and did a little narration to make it look like that’s how it actually happened.
In other words: Fuck you in the face, audience. Like, did they not think people would Google this shit? Or do they just not give a shit, as long as they’re staying true to the story, or at least their version of it? Or maybe they just didn’t give a shit, period.
And that’s not the only discordant part of this episode. Animal Planet doesn’t mention any of this, but apparently the Berserk was in Antarctica illegally. You need a permit to travel to Antarctica by yacht, and when the Berserk captain applied for one, he was denied. They went anyway. This article goes into it.
(And it doesn’t mention Sea Shepherd’s participation in the search. Snap!)
I don’t really care that they went down there illegally. Remember, they were commemorating the 100th anniversary of Amundsen’s trip to the South Pole. If I were a Norwegian guy who gave a shit about adventure, maybe I’d disregard red tape and go for it, too.
But why did AP leave this information out? Maybe because of the needs of the story? It’s a simple, human, search-and-rescue story. In moments of crisis, people’s adrenalin kicks in and differences are set aside, especially petty legal distinctions. I kind of buy that version of events. After all, the New Zealanders themselves participated in the search after denying the Norwegians permits in the first place. Maritime law isn’t the story, search-and-rescue is.
Or maybe it was just more convenient to leave the legal technicalities out because they would have made the narrative a little more ambiguous. Instead of being bold heroes, maybe they were adrenalin junkies who couldn’t take no for an answer.
Again, I don’t think Animal Planet is necessarily being “evil” by leaving out or manipulating certain pieces of information. That’s what reality shows are. But Whale Wars is one of the few issue-based reality shows out there, covering a “controversial” subject that most of us have some opinion about or other. So when they STILL have to chop everything up into TV-friendly hour-long stories, it calls the truth of what we’re seeing into question, and it makes me wonder whether this genre is compatible with Serious Issues.