Let’s skip the introductions. You’re here for Whale Wars, and Whale Wars you shall get!
It’s six a.m., and Captain Pete Bethune is preparing to embark on his final mission to board the Japanese whaling ship. As he makes his final preparations, he pauses to give his mood…he’s starting to feel the butterflies, but he’s upbeat and eager. This is it!
One of the other crewmembers explains how Bethune’s essentially been planning this ever since his own ship, the Adi Gil was sunk five weeks ago. Bethune’s even got his own night vision goggles. They are the most advanced in the world:
Actual retail price: $4,995.00. Possibly waterproof. Only one way to find out!
The rest of the crew of the Steve Irwin have finalized their preparations, too, and they’re as anxious as Bethune is, though probably for different reasons: they seem to better grasp the possibility that he really could die.
But it’s time. The lights go out, so the crew of the Shonan Maru 2 will not see the jet ski launch. Bethune says his final goodbyes. The Steve Irwin comes to a complete stop. The jet ski is launched. With them on it. And away we go.
See how there are two of them? There are really three. There’s also an Animal Planet camera guy on board.
Before we go any further, let’s take a sec to go over exactly how challenging this proposition is. They’re on a jet ski. Bethune’s trying to jump onto this boat:
He’s jumping onto the port side, here. That’s gotta be, what, eight feet above the water level?
I don’t think I could do that. But hang on, it gets crazier.
I found this picture online, and it was taken in a calm harbor. Imagine this is in the treacherous Southern Ocean. Then add in the fact that the Shonan Maru 2 weighs 800 tons, which means it’ll throw out a ton of wake, and Bethune will have to time his jump for when the jet ski is at the crest of a wave.
AND, it’s pitch black out. But at least the Shonan Maru 2 has a big honking spotlight on its starboard that makes it visible. So, um…should be a cinch!
Out somewhere in the blackness, the jet ski approaches the Shonan Maru 2. Another fun detail: they’ve agreed beforehand to go into radio silence so as not to alert the whalers. Instead of verbal communication, Bethune came up with a system of clicks to use on their radio channel. Here’s what the system is…
This isn’t a joke…
One click: everything’s fine.
Two clicks: they are trying to board the Shonan Maru 2.
And that’s their entire code for the mission. Seems pretty thorough, doesn’t it? “If you don’t hear any clicks, that means I’ve either succeeded or am dead.”
Three and a half minutes go by with no clicks, so really nobody knows what the hell is going on.
Meanwhile, the other Sea Shepherd ship, the Bob Barker, continues to trail the factory ship, the Nisshin Maru. They also keep an eye on the jet ski, but First Mate Peter makes a keen observation: “Hey, that jet ski’s gonna be pretty tough to see in the dark.” No visual contact, and neither are the infrared or the radar yielding anything. Same’s true back on the Steve Irwin. All they can do is wait. The atmosphere is very tense.
And then there’s a click! At least I think that’s what that was! It sounded kind of like a click, so we’re gonna go with it!
Here Animal Planet cuts to the night vision camera they attached to the jet ski and have had all along…they’re 0.3 miles away from the Shonan Maru 2 and indeed are alive and well. Bethune isn’t too concerned with the ban on verbal communication right now, because he freely narrates the action and gives instructions to Larry Routledge, the guy piloting the jet ski. Nice.
bmxbethune: “cant believe im about to ilegally board a Jpnese #whaling ship!!!!! #seashepherd #paulwatsonlovesyou”
But back on the Steve Irwin, they hear their two clicks, so it appears Bethune’s going for it.
Bethune and Routledge approach the Shonan Maru 2…they have some trouble timing the jump…aaaaaaand they cut to commercial.
When they come back, we’re on the bridge of the Steve Irwin again. It’s been 15 minutes since Bethune’s last radio transmission. Everyone’s stomachs are in knots.
But at last, they hear some radio static. Larry Routledge informs them that Bethune is…on board the ship!
Everyone lets out a huge sigh of relief, and immediately after that they start remarking how great a man Bethune is. They went straight from dread to adulation, completely skipping relief. It was weird.
Soon Routledge and the camera guy are back, and Bethune is launching a flare off the Shonan Maru 2…which I think is a signal for him to tell his mates that he’s on board? They don’t explain. The Japanese don’t seem to notice the flare, either.
Then Routledge gives some detail on what actually happened…apparently the first time they tried to get Bethune onboard he fell into the water! WHY DID THEY DEPRIVE ME OF THAT FOOTAGE?
Now Bethune starts broadcasting back to them over his radio…he’s using that surprised tone of voice he always has, saying “Boy, there sure are a lot of people over here!” over what sounds like a bunch of yelling in Japanese.
But apparently—this is my favorite EVER—the Japanese don’t realize he’s on board right away. Everyone’s trying to figure out if Bethune has even made contact with them, and he’s no help himself. It really sounds like he’s just chilling on the deck of the ship until somebody stumbles across him.
I really think Animal Planet skipped a TON of details when they went over this so-called “plan” of his…the extra camera guy on the jet ski, the flare, Bethune not immediately jumping into action once he got onboard? This makes no sense!
But the sun is coming up, so now it’s time for Chris Aultman to go up in the helicopter. The plan is for him to hover over the Shonan Maru 2 as Bethune confronts the whaler captain, presumably because the whalers wouldn’t just gut Bethune when there are cameras around.
As Aultman approaches the Shonan Maru 2, he spots Bethune:
I am literally astounded that he’s been able to walk all this way without anyone bothering him, especially when the whalers can all hear the helicopter HOVERING OVERHEAD.
Bethune then makes his way towards the bridge…
OK, now it’s getting exciting. How am I even managing to pause this to take screen grabs? Holy shit!
When he arrives at the window, he pulls out his invoice and presses it up against the glass…
Gaaaaahhhhhhh this is crazy!!!
But no. One of the whalers comes out to meet him, takes the invoice, and…
Tries to shoo Bethune away!!!!
You gotta hand it to the whalers, man. They’re taking this extremely well. They’re within their rights to shoot him and they seem to be behaving very politely.
Aultman makes a good point here, that the whalers are probably so dumbfounded by Bethune appearing out of nowhere, without a boat, that they don’t know how to react.
Eventually, Bethune and the whaler go inside.
Everyone, both the Sea Shepherd crew and the whalers, try to process what’s just happened. The Sea Shepherds are too overwhelmed to make much sense of it, and the whalers are just trying to figure out how somebody got past all their defenses. One of them spots the point where Bethune cut through the nets, here:
Below the “Keep Out” sign, next to what I believe is a giant grenade.
Aultman can still see Bethune through the windows, but then Bethune suddenly disappears below deck. Admiral Watson has their resident Japanese interpreter, a Japanese gal who’s keeping her identity secret, raise the whalers on the horn. They don’t expect the whalers to answer, because they almost never do.
But hey, they respond this time. Sea Shepherd asks them if they received Bethune’s etter, and the whalers reply they’re not even going to look at it. So Watson has his interpreter read it out to them.
She cuts to the main thrust of the letter, which is an order to the captain of the Shonan Maru 2 that he surrender himself to the Steve Irwin so they can take him back to New Zealand to face prosecution.
Then she reads some of the letter’s propaganda, about how Bethune is just an ordinary family man standing up for something he believes in, blah blah blah. Animal Planet makes sure to cut in some shots of Watson defending Bethune’s actions, how he’s justified because they destroyed his ship, and so on.
The whalers keep quiet. Aultman comes back to the Steve Irwin. And that’s…it, I guess. Bethune’s onboard the whaling ship and there’s nothing they can do for him, so they just turn their focus back to the rest of the whaling fleet. The Barker and the Irwin are both continuing to track the Nisshin Maru, and since there aren’t any kill ships in the area, it looks like the whalers aren’t getting anything done.
It’s been twelve days now since the whalers processed any kills. Sea Shepherd thinks the Nisshin Maru can process 20-30 whales a day, so their interference might have saved up to 300 whales total. That’s one-third of the whalers’ yearly total. Yay! Now there’s nothing to do but wait for the whalers to make their next move.
A bit later, the Nisshin Maru changes course. It looks like they’re headed south. Admiral Watson has to decide whether to continue pursuing the Nisshin Maru and leave Bethune behind, or to stay with Bethune and let the factory ship continue operations. It’s actually a simple choice, because Bethune repeatedly told him to disregard his own safety and focus on stopping whaling. And that’s what they do.
Bethune’s fate is now subject to the Japanese legal system, after a six-week ride back to Japan. Here we get more on-message reactions from the crew… “The only way to stop whaling is to cause an international incident,” “This is why we’re down here,” and “Bethune is a hero,” and so on.
Anyway, the Nisshin is headed south, towards some ice fields, and the Sea Shepherds think that means they’re meeting up with the kill ships because normally the Nisshin would want nothing to do with ice fields.
As they follow the Nisshin, the international media finally gets a hold of the Bethune story. There seems to be a mixture of condemnation from the Japanese and surprise and amusement from everyone else…
And everyone knows you don’t cross Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu
Admiral Watson does the quintessential Donald Rumsfeld Incredulousness routine…he has no idea what the Japanese would even punish Bethune for, because they destroyed his ship and Bethune is merely upholding the law. But he wanted a media firestorm, and that’s what he got.
Back to more practical matters. A wrinkle has come up regarding the campaign. It turns out the Bob Barker can hold way more fuel onboard than the Steve Irwin can, so while the Barker can continue the chase until the end of the season, the Irwin has to turn back within a day.
Even worse, the Nisshin is entering the ice fields now. The Barker is designed to navigate through densely packed ice, but the Irwin isn’t…
The Irwin ran into some ice fields last year when it was by itself, and it was a shit show. It just didn’t belong in the ice.
This isn’t really a Titanic scenario, but enough ice pressing down on the hull can be very dangerous. Watson decides to have the Barker take primary position behind the Nisshin Maru and break through the ice so the Irwin can follow.
Things are iffy for a bit, as the Barker hasn’t been tested in thick Antarctic ice fields, but once they try it out they find the hull is strong enough to keep up. Looks like they’re good to go. More following, more waiting.
And a day later it’s time for the Steve Irwin to head home. Admiral Watson calls the Bob Barker, (and asks for Peter, not Chuck Swift), and gives him a few last guidelines…they’re not to try anything fancy now that they’re alone. And with a twinkle in his eye, Admiral Watson turns the ship towards Australia.
On their way home, they come upon a huge iceberg. Chris Aultman has long wanted top give everyone a chance to walk around on top of an iceberg, so today Admiral Watson decrees that everyone will get just that. They share their moment and congratulate each other on a successful season.
And finally, we end on Admiral Watson. He declares this season a resounding success, but vows not to stop until whaling is over for good.
And Admiral Watson walks off into the sunset, probably so he can discreetly take a piss, but it works well enough to end the season on.
Here are the stats for this season of Whale Wars, aka “Operation Waltzing Matilda.”
The whalers fell 528 whales short of their quota. This is their lowest catch since Sea Shepherd began harassing them.
The Shonan Maru 2 took Bethune back to Japan and charged him with five different crimes, including possession of a weapon and assault. (The “weapon” bit isn’t explained on the show, but apparently it’s the knife he used to cut through the nets).
Bethune wound up spending six months in a Japanese prison and was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Sea Shepherd will not be taking him on any future expeditions…this is actually because apparently he brought a bow and arrow with him onboard the Adi Gil, and Sea Shepherd didn’t realize that at the time, but they have a no weapons policy, so he’s done.
Apparently there’s something of a pro-whaling movement in Japan, and they hate Bethune:
The overall message is clear. They want Sea Shepherd to “Get out of the Earth”
Well, there ya go. It’s unclear whether there will be another season of Whale Wars. Back in June the International Whaling Commission didn’t change their quota laws, so whalers are free to keep hunting for their scientific knowledge. So they’re not going anywhere.
Still, the whaling “industry” is an odd one. Even if it’s legal to hunt whales, almost nobody on the planet wants to eat them, not even the Japanese themselves. So with no market, and with what’s basically a tiny volunteer navy preventing you from harvesting over half their allotment, how much longer will they want to keep doing this?
But if I had to guess, I’d say this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Admiral Paul Watson. Michelle Rodriguez said she wants to join Sea Shepherd for their fourth season. That’s as close to a guarantee as you’re gonna get.
Thanks for reading everyone! You can probably tell I had a blast covering this show, and I hope y’all enjoyed it yourselves.
Saint Clare of Assisi