Welcome back from your one-week vacation! Did you have a good break from the Whale Wars? I did. I saw a Prairie Home Companion taping. Always wanted to do that.
But alas, there’s more Whale Wars to recap. This was a frustrating episode for me. There’s a Far Side cartoon that comes to mind. A caveman was completely trapped in some ice, then was discovered in modern times and thawed out. He immediately signed a book deal to write a memoir about the experience. But the joke is, the whole book can be summed up in one sentence: “It was very cold and I couldn’t move”.
That’s kinda how this episode plays out, at least the first half of it. Some of the Sea Shepherds have been trapped on a small boat in the middle of the Southern Ocean for an entire day and they get hypothermia. And this week they get rescued and thawed out. “It was very cold and I couldn’t move”.
And…Animal Planet decides to repeat this EVERY TWO MINUTES. And not just what’s going on, but WHY it’s going on. “You get hypothermia when it’s cold out, and when you get hypothermia you have to warm yourself up because otherwise you’ll dieeeeeeeee!!!!”
The first half is pretty much that. And then it’s back to Sea Shepherd being outwitted by the whaling fleet, like it has for the entire fourth season.
I’ll try to make this as enjoyable as possible for you.
PREVIOUSLY ON WHALE WARS
When we last left our intrepid band of Sea Shepherderers, the whalers had dispatched harpoon ships to follow the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker, noting their position so the rest of the whaling fleet could stay one step ahead of them. The harpoon ships could not be evaded, so Paul Watson conceived a daring plan that would simultaneously a) rid them of the tail ships, b) locate the Nisshin Maru, the mothership of the whaling fleet, and c) make for some great teev.
And like most daring plans in real life, it didn’t work. Part of the plan involved dispatching the small boats to harass the tail ships. One of the Bob Barker’s small boats sustained a crack in its pontoon, forcing the Barker to turn around and retrieve it. Meanwhile, the boat crew, not really prepared to just sit in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean for a full day without, like, space heaters and shit, is slowly freezing to death.
Ready? Bombs away…
You better close-read the Cold Open section, because it’s positively packed with new and enlightening information.
We start with the crew of the small boats. It’s still about negative 1,000 degrees outside. They’re still waiting to be picked up. Young deckhand Mikey May is falling into hypothermia. The Animal Planet narrator is nearly hysterical.
ANIMAL PLANET NARRATOR: THEY ARE LITERALLY ON THE BRINK OF DEATH!!!!!!!!!! DO YOU HEAR THE EXCLAMATION POINTS IN MY VOICE?
The show interviews the crew about what this experience was like. (You know, in case you weren’t sure). Verdict: It was shitty.
Over on the Barker, it’s already a full day since the attack. We’re on the bridge. Everyone’s on edge, thinking about their small-boat friends. One crew member says, “The most important thing is picking them up”, because apparently that’s something that needs to be said out loud.
Then they give Captain Alex Cornelissen the floor to tell us his thoughts. As a captain he feels responsible for his crew, even though his overall mission is to save the whales. Not a single crew member will be lost on his watch. (Even if that would give Sea Shepherd an instant martyr to rally around.)
The small boat crew was supposed to check in every thirty minutes via satellite phone. That’s stopped. First Mate Peter tries calling them every five minutes, to no avail.
They cut to the medical doctor for his thoughts…and wouldn’t you know it, but he’s in agony over not being able to help. He says he was concerned about the well-being of another human being! That’s like no doctor I’ve ever seen.
He also did the Bill Clinton lip thing at the end of his spiel
Aaaaaand that’s it for the cold open. Sure, the whole thing could have been summed up as: “It’s really cold and the crew is about to die”. But you know what? It’s really hard to make TV shows.
The Bob Barker reaches the last known location of the small boats, an iceberg behind which they were taking shelter from the icy winds. Problem is, there’s no iceberg, and no small boats.
No sign of the small-boat crew on the radio, either. On the Irwin, Paul Watson takes the opportunity to remind us how dangerous Antarctica is, and thus, how big his balls must be to be down there.
“The reality of this situation is, my balls are huge. But not only are they huge, they’re also made of exceptionally strong material. Not mere ‘brass’ balls; balls even stronger. A titanium alloy, or some kind of space metal we haven’t even discovered yet.”
Back on the Barker, everyone scans the horizon for their small boats. Miles and miles of empty ocean. Finally they spot something! It’s the small boats! But something doesn’t look right…
“They’ve been shrunk down to toy boat size! Damn you, whalers! Damn YOUUUUUUUUUU!”
Here are some literal transcriptions of the crew’s dialogue upon finding their imperiled friends.
CREW #1: I think that’s them over there.
PETER: Huh. Yep, that’s them.
Whoa, ease up on the rowdiness!
Anyway, the deck crew gets ready to pick them up.
This guy had one of the weirdest names I’ve ever seen.
They bring up the first small boat, the one with Mikey May onboard. The Barker crew is aghast at seeing how hypothermic Mikey is.
“Oh my god, are you all right? Because you’re on the kitchen cleanup sheet for today”
They take him inside and cover him with blankets. This is to warm him up.
I put it that way because that’s how Animal Planet put it. They show the Sea Shepherds taking Mikey inside. They show them covering him up. And then they tell us why, in that reality show way where they’re clearly not confident we’re smart enough to understand what we’re seeing without someone TELLING us.
“The Sea Shepherds brought Mikey inside, because inside is warmer than outside.”
Next they bring up other small boat, the one that got damaged. Apparently there’s another hypothermic guy they’ve never mentioned before. His name is Sam.
Sam and Mikey are shivering and babbling incoherently. The doctor is worried. He puts a thermal blanket on Mikey to make him extra warm and…again…Jesus Christ…tells us why he’s doing this.
The doctor went on, “Don’t shoot yourself in the face with a flare gun. A lot of people don’t know this, but shooting yourself in the face with a flare gun would set your face on fire and really hurt.”
He takes Mikey’s temperature and finds it to be 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Holy shit, dudes! For you Celsius-lovers out there, that’s like way, way cold. I couldn’t be bothered to convert it for you, so just think up a body temperature in Celsius where you’re almost dead.
The doctor tells us that this might be the first time someone’s actually died fer the whales, and we head to commercial. Animal Planet lays in a sound effect of a mournful-sounding whale call, and I laughed out loud.
Does his death count as dying for the whales? Technically he died from hypothermia caused by them not knowing how to use their own boats properly. That’s pretty far removed from the actual mission.
“I slipped in the shower and died. But it happened on the Bob Barker, so I died for the whales!”
Back from the break, the doctor is trying to warm Mikey up. Meanwhile, Peter congratulates the rest of the small boat crew for surviving, and is nice enough not to mention how they ruined one of the small boats.
Because no one has fucking died, Peter sums the mission up as a success. I’m pretty sure that’s not how “success” works, but whatever.
Actually, maybe I wrote too soon, (and did not edit), because the tracking device Mikey stuck on the Yushin Maru #2 is working. The Sea Shepherds think the Yushin is headed back to the whaling fleet.
They have a decision to make. The Irwin is still being tailed, so it can’t approach the Yushin Maru #2’s destination without alerting the Nisshin Maru. Sending the Barker would just give away the Barker’s position again and allow the whalers to tail it. The only ship fast enough to do the job is the Gojira.
Look at that painting on the wall behind him. Is that supposed to be a whale who has betrayed his kind and is helping the whalers? I DON’T KNOW
The Gojira is still experiencing engine problems that have kept it out of action the last few weeks. They only have one engine. But they don’t really have a choice, so they head towards the spot where the whalers might be.
For some context, the show reminds us that it’s now halfway through whaling season and they still haven’t found the Nisshin Maru. No telling how many whales have died in 2011, but they definitely haven’t achieved their “zero whales killed” objective.
Then there’s a problem. The Irwin crew notices that the tracking device hasn’t relayed a position for a while. It’s supposed to do that every four hours and it’s been nearly five since they last heard from it.
With a growing sense of dread, they approach Boat Licensee Watson’s bedchambers.
Side note: You guys have been really awesome with your comments about the ins-and-outs of sailing, but my favorite piece of information is the one about Paul Watson calling himself a “Captain” even though all the Sea Shepherd boats are registered as private yachts. So I’m gonna stop using the naval titles for a while.
Anyway, Sailing Enthusiast Watson worries that the tracking device might be kaput, either fallen off or removed from the ship. They may have missed their narrow window to find the Nisshin Maru for good.
Turns out the realization that the tracking device has failed was actually the apex of this mission, because the next morning the Bob Barker realizes they have been found by a different harpoon ship, the Yushin Maru #1.
“[yaaaaawn] My harpoon’s really sore from killing all those whales, so I switched places with the #2”
Why are the whalers SO GOOD AT THIS?
The Gojira, meanwhile, has begun searching the ocean sans the tracking device, meaning they’re doing it the old fashioned way. With eyes.
And surprisingly, a success! A blip on their radar, and then a ship on the horizon. A large ship, too—big enough to the the Nisshin Maru! Is it?
What is it, then?
Based on the ship’s possession of “fueling booms”, which are big cranes used to interface with other ships, Locky figures this new ship is a refueling vessel. The whalers have never used a refueling tanker before. Is it part of the Japanese whaling fleet? They notice it’s registered in Panama…
And its name is “Sun Laurel”! Such a happy name for a whale-murder ship
Locky calls up Boat Guy Watson to run a search on boats named “Sun Laurel”. Then he gets on the radio and hails the Sun Laurel’s captain. In the past, the whalers typically have not responded to radio communications. The Laurel’s captain does. Is it me or do I detect a Japanese accent on that English?
Locky asks the Sun Laurel captain what they’re doing in the Southern Ocean, and the captain responds that they’re a “bunker ship”—so, a refueling vessel. Locky asks them if they have any upcoming bunkerings, and the captain gets flustered. “Um…maybe,” he says.
Locky asks him point-blank if they’re going to refuel any Japanese whaling ships. The captain gets even more flustered. “I don’t know. Maybe. Goodbye!” and he promptly hangs up.
The Sea Shepherds laugh.
“Ahoy Gojira! This is the Sun Laurel. We’re a long way from our home nation of Panama. We sure do miss its 75,000 square kilometers of land, and its 3.4 million inhabitants, spread out at a density of 44.5 persons per square kilometer!”
On the Irwin, a little research has turned up the fact that the Sun Laurel’s last port of call was in Japan. The Laurel left on the same day the whalers did. Busted.
Disrupting the Sun Laurel would keep the whaling fleet from refueling and force them to go home early. It’s as good as finding the Nisshin Maru itself. Yachter Paul Watson decides to change course. The entire Sea Shepherd fleet will converge on the Sun Laurel and bring the ruckus. They get on the phone and tell Locky.
It’s pretty clear the Sun Laurel is with the whalers, but that’d be a pretty funny screwup if it wasn’t and they wound up harassing a random Panamanian ship
Locky closes in on the Sun Laurel to circle it up, send a message. The Sun Laurel honks angrily, like pretty much any ship would do.
“You guys are being real inchiki gaijins! I mean, jerks! I mean, putas!”
The Gojira runs in front of the Sun Laurel to piss it off. It seems to work.
Again, where are they getting all these aerial shots from? The helicopter is like 150 miles away! The chronology of this show makes no sense.
Locky and the Gojira crew delight in their discovery of the Sun Laurel. They vow that no refueling operations will take place. To do that, all they will have to do is tail it, discouraging any of the other whaling ships from getting too close.
Because if there’s one thing the Gojira knows how to do, it’s fuck up a refueling operation
The next morning, the Irwin and the Barker meet up at the Sun Laurel. It’s a new day and everyone’s excited and optimistic. They imagine what the poor Sun Laurel’s captain must be thinking right now. He’s new to the whaling controversy and as a tanker captain may never have had to worry about getting boarded or having bombs thrown on his deck. The Sea Shepherds laugh at the panic he must surely be feeling, and feel a warm glow for the reputation they’ve cultivated.
“Man, all that erratic behavior over the years sure has paid off!”
Everyone’s just so excited! Cap’n Alex of the Bob Barker congratulates Mikey May for his bravery in attaching the tracking device to the Yushin Maru #2, as if that had something to do with the Gojira blindly stumbling onto the Sun Laurel.
While they get ready to bring the hammer down on the Sun Laurel, the Gojira has traveled 50 miles south and searches for the Nisshin Maru. They still haven’t fixed their engine troubles. They still don’t even know what’s causing them.
The ship computer is telling them fuel pressure is dangerously high, which makes no sense to them since they seem to be leaking fuel. (I think, anyway. It’s not clear what’s going on).
They consult the manual, and all it says in this situation is to return to port.
This exact thing happened to my Xbox 360 this week. I got the three red rings.
Worse than THAT, their one working engine is starting to fade. And so the fastest ship in the fleet is down to half an engine.
Sailor-Man Watson makes the tough call. A limping Gojira is useless, so it must return to port to get fixed. And port is three days away.
With the Gojira returning home for some maintenance, the Barker and the Irwin continue to tail the Sun Laurel, and in turn are being tailed by two of the harpoon ships.
But one of the harpoon ships starts to leave the scene. This could be a bad call on the whalers’ part. One harpoon ship is left to tail two Sea Shepherd ships, which means one of the Sea Shepherds could slip away with the harpooner unable to pursue.
Person-on-Boat Watson decides it’s time to do just that: slip away from the whalers. The Irwin will be the ship for the job. It speeds away. It needs to get fifty to twenty miles out of radar range.
Now it’s at four. Six. Nine and a half. Eleven. Thirteen point six.
They worry about the harpoon ship realizing what’s up and firing up the engines to follow them. I’m not sure why that’s a problem, because it seems like the Barker could be the one to leave the region and the Irwin could just return to the Sun Laurel. But I don’t know anything. And anyway, they get to fifteen.
Guy-Who-Owns-A-Captain’s-Hat Watson’s plan is a success!
And it looks like it’ll be smooth sailing for the Sea Shepherds. Finally. It’s been five episodes of frustration so far.
And then helicopter pilot Chris Aultman gets a phone call. It’s from New Zealand. Apparently two guys went to the South Pole on motorcycles, and the yacht sent to pick them up has run into some trouble. The motorcylists and the yacht crew are stranded on land. Nobody else is in the area, so could Sea Shepherd pick them up?
Their faith to the anti-whaling cause is put to its most severe test. Will they continue the search for the Nisshin Maru, or will they divert their attention to some dumb humans who got themselves in trouble.
Looks like they’re gonna puss out and help the people. Nice commitment, Sea Shepherd. It was bad enough when you helped your small boat people. Now this?
Lots of frustration for the Sea Shepherds this week, not a lot of action. Hope I’ve made this a fun read for you.
I was listening to some podcasts this week and they were commenting on how little character you get to see of the Sea Shepherd crew. I’ve been doing this so long I don’t even notice it any more, but that was one of my biggest complaints when I started watching it. There’s no color! Everyone’s focused on the mission, and since that’s all Animal Planet shows us, they come off as grim and humorless.
I think I know why, though…there actually used to be a little color, in the form of dissent against Watson’s rule. Those people have all left. Now the only crew members are the most diehard loyalists, ones with few outside responsibilities like families and jobs. There’s probably not much color to be had.
That’s it for me. Hope next week is a little more eventful for us.