Hello and welcome to Whale Wars season 4! I’m Saint Clare, patron saint of the whale wars, and this is my second season covering the show for the ‘gasm. If you’re a returning reader, thanks for rejoining me on a new recap voyage.
If you are new to Whale Wars, here’s the deal: this is a show about an outfit of eco-activists called Sea Shepherd. Every year they travel down to the Southern Ocean to harass some Japanese whalers.
A Sea Shepherd inflatable boat makes a hard left in front of a fast-charging whaling ship, a maneuver that Navy SEALs are too trained to attempt.
Animal Planet films the Sea Shepherds in action and once in a while they even report things objectively.
Missing from this disclaimer: “ba-dum ching”
For a more detailed overview of the series you can check out my writeup from last year.
And if you want more details than that, honestly, you can just Wikipedia it. I’m not going to link to the Wiki page, either. You know how to use Wikipedia.
Ready for season 4? Let’s do it!
Note: If you’re returning to the show, you’ll notice that some of our favorite people from season 3 are conspicuously absent, specifically Chuck Swift and Pete Bethune. Animal Planet doesn’t even mention them. However, I’ve done some digging and found some interesting little tidbits, (read: drama!) Stick around after the recap if you’re interested.
The Cold Open
We open season 4 with some tranquil shots of whales swimming around some ice floes. Sea Shepherd founder and CEO Paul Watson narrates. He reminds us that humanity is killing the planet, and he’s one of the few people actively doing something about it. Then, to emphasize his point, some bracing videos of people hunting endangered animals.
This is so biased. Sure killing seals sucks, but Animal Planet ignores how incredibly hard seal powder makes you
Then the introduction gets handed over to some Sea Shepherd crew-members. They don’t come right out and say they consider themselves martyrs. Instead, they say they wouldn’t discourage people from considering them martyrs, you know, if people feel like it.
And finally, just to really underscore the point, the intro montage ends with a shot of a woman looking over the ocean and bursting into tears.
Who’s probably just an Animal Planet producer who has to recreate this because her fucking camera guy missed it when the actual Sea Shepherd woman was crying
Finally, the actual show begins. Commodore Watson is giving a press conference in Hobart, Tasmania on Day 1 of the anti-whaling season. A lot has changed since we last left the Sea Shepherd crew. First of all, while last season saw a host of mechanical problems befall Sea Shepherd, this year their fleet is “stronger than ever”. (This will be much funnier a couple more minutes into the episode).
But there’s more. Last year was their most successful anti-whaling season ever, because the Japanese only managed to harvest fewer than half of their 1,000-whale quota. This year, Paul Shepherd believes the whalers won’t make a single kill. In other words, this could be the end of whaling forever.
But more importantly, if you like good television, this could be the last season of Whale Wars ever.
The lone Japanese reporter in the bunch asks him whether he really believes he can ever eradicate whaling. And Paul Watson replies, “Well, they said you could never stop slavery, and look what happened.”
“They also said you couldn’t convince the US to lower the age of consent, and I’ll prove them wrong about that, too.”
As the Great Whale Emancipator concludes his remarks, it’s time for the opening credits.
After the first break, the Sea Shepherd fleet pulls out of the harbor. Animal Planet gives us the overview. Leading the operation are the two old stanby’s, the flagship Steve Irwin and the ice-breaker Bob Barker.
Yes, they’re named for that Steve Irwin, and that Bob Barker
Next, we meet the newest vessel in the Sea Shepherd fleet. Last year Sea Shepherd utilized a super-fast interceptor boat, the Ady Gil, to track and chase the Japanese whaling fleet. A few episodes into the season, the whalers got fed up with it and ran it over.
Here’s a shot of that, for old times’ sake
And wouldn’t you know it, Sea Shepherd’s going to try this routine once again. Meet the Gojira. (That’s “Godzilla” in Japanese):
Scary, right? Although if I wanted to scare some Japanese people, I would’ve named my ship “Plummeting Birth Rate” or “Ha ha, we didn’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol!”
Also, why didn’t they put the name in Japanese characters? Will the whalers even be able to read this?
We get no mention of what happened to Captain Pete Bethune, owner of the late Ady Gil. More on that at the end, but as far as Sea Shepherd and Animal Planet are concerned, he never existed.
Even better, when the narrator’s introducing the Gojira, he explains that at one time it held the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe. No mention of the boat that broke the Gojira’s record. Wanna guess what it is? Yup, the Ady Gil. Awwwwwwkard.
Anyway, everyone at Sea Shepherd thinks the Gojira is superior to the Ady Gil in many ways, and optimism is high. Let’s look over the main cast for this season. Most of the old gang has returned, including…
Our favorite heartthrob, First Mate Peter Hammarstedt. His hair is frosted now
Chris, aka that nappy Aussie guy who boarded a whaling ship back in season 1 and ruined the inflatable Delta boat in season 3
But there are some new faces, too. First, Alex Cornelissen, captain of the Barker. He is a seasoned Sea Shepherd veteran who’s run a ship before. Since ‘07 he’s been running their Galapagos Islands operations. (No idea what operations those might be). Right now Alex seems like a capable leader and a competent sailor.
In other words he will be the most boring part of this season.
No word on what happened to the old Bob Barker captain, Chuck “Oops” Swift. Again, more on him at the end of the article.
The captain of the Gojira is a guy named Lockhart MacLean. Much like Alex Cornelissen, Lockhart is an effective leader who’s good at his job. Not only that, he’s described as a “sailing prodigy” who’s been captaining boats since he was twelve. Jesus Christ. Way to make my job easier, Sea Shepherd.
So to make fun of him I will say…he looks like 2010 Joaquin Phoenix? Ugh. Damn you, Sea Shepherd!
And with that, the show is officially on the road.
The first order of business is to find the Japanese whaling fleet. All three ships split up to cover more ground, but keep in mind the Southern Ocean is about as big as the continental United States. Somewhere in there are a few whaling ships.
While they search, Animal Planet steps in to give some of Paul Watson’s backstory. He was a founder of Greenpeace forty years ago but split off when he decided they weren’t aggressive enough.
And, in case you forgot, Animal Planet reminds us that Paul Watson risks his life every day to save the whales, and is a hero and a good person.
Did you forget that? Don’t worry, they’ll mention it several more times this week.
When we come back from the break, we get an update on the three ships. On the Bob Barker, Captain Alex calls an all-crew meeting to discuss their search strategy. Apparently the whalers have sent out a press release telling the world of their plans to increase the area of their hunting grounds. Now they will be heading west of where they usually hunt.
Captain Alex thinks this is misdirection. I agree. This is textbook Japanese strategy. We all remember this:
“Just so you know, we’re totally not going to bomb one of your bases in a couple months. Especially not that one in Hawaii. Anyway, did you guys see that new Abbott and Costello movie? Hilarious.”
Still, it’d be pretty stupid for the whaling fleet to announce exactly where they’re going, so Captain Alex’s suspicion is probably right. The Japanese probably really are going to where they always go.
Then Peter pipes up with his take on the press release. If the whalers are doubling the size of their hunting grounds, that must mean they’re desperate, right? Thus contradicting everything his captain just said.
Captain Alex ignores him. The Barker will be heading for the normal hunting grounds, to the east. He’ll bet his reputation on it.
Meanwhile, as the Gojira is heading south it encounters its first sign of the Antarctic ocean: huge chunks of floating ice called “growlers”. They can sink ships, even ones designed to break through ice fields, which the Gojira definitely is not. Captain Lockhart, thinking out loud, says he doesn’t think it’s a very good idea to take a fiberglass boat built only for speed to a dangerous, icy ocean.
It’s pretty much like taking a Mini Cooper on your trip to downtown Baghdad
But this is where the whales are, so it’s the whales’ fault.
And the Steve Irwin hits an area in the Southern Ocean called the “Roaring Forties”, home to some of the nastiest weather in the world. The Irwin apparently has a few new crew members who don’t quite have their sea legs yet, so Animal Planet tosses in some shots of them performing normal activities, with exaggerated sound effects laid in to suggest they are throwing up, probably because they missed the shot when they actually were throwing up.
They totally don’t doctor their stuff when they’re fighting the whalers, though. All of that is 100% real
Being a Sea Shepherd volunteer “[is] a fine line between life and death”, they remind us, since there’s nothing much else to talk about.
And then it’s back over to the Barker. Remember Cap’n Watson’s statement that his fleet is stronger than ever? Sure enough, the sixty-year-old Bob Barker has already sprung a leak in a fuel tank and is hemorrhaging diesel everywhere.
It’s up to Campbell Holland, the overworked chief engineer of the Barker to climb up and fix it. It’s going fine, until…
And we’re back. Maybe this season won’t be so bad after all.
After the break, the show takes us right back to the Barker. The sea is roiling. Shit’s flying around everywhere. And Campbell Holland is injured! Will he be OK?
How injured is he? He’s so incapacitated he can only give short reality-show interview instead of a normal-length one. Campbell Holland isn’t about to let a little head wound slow him down. He towels himself off, gets back up on the fuel tank, and repairs the leak. What a hero.
And then it’s over to the Irwin. The sight of icebergs in the water means they have officially reached the Antarctic Ocean. They can now begin the search for the whaling fleet.
Back on the Barker, Pete outlines their search plans.
The ships will all travel south until they reach the western edge of the ice fields, then sweep east all the way across the fields until they find the whalers. The ships will sail parallel to each other, like this:
Made using Plan Your Maritime Vigilante Mission 2.0 (trial version)
Captain Alex gives us a little more detail on why they’ve chosen the ice fields to search for the whalers. When all these growlers and icebergs broke off from their glaciers and entered the water, they were covered in nutrients that attract krill, the whales’ primary food source. The point is, So Sea Shepherd has a whale guy with them this season, so that’s good.
And, in case you literally are Guy Pierce’s character from Memento, Peter reminds us once again that he fully understands the danger of this mission but doesn’t worry about his personal safety. You will feel his bravery, damn it!
And what’s this? Shortly before a commercial break, there’s a blip on the Bob Barker’s radar! Could it be a whaler?
Well, what do you know? It’s one of the Yushin Marus.
Back in my day it took five or six episodes to find them. We’re not even done with one. You kids don’t know how lucky you got it.
So yes, they’ve found a harpoon ship. This actually a big deal. Lately, the whalers have taken to deploying extra ships named Shonan Maru #1 and #2, whose sole purpose is to protect the fleet. Last year, these security ships did a decent job keeping Sea Shepherd far enough away from the main fleet for the whalers to get a good amount of hunting done.
But this time, the Yushin Maru is a harpoon ship, not a security ship. That means Sea Shepherd can prevent whaling directly. Best of all, this Yushin Maru apparently hasn’t even loaded up its harpoon for the season. They literally just got down to the Southern Ocean. If Sea Shepherd plays this right, the Yushin might not be able to get anything done this season at all.
While the Barker keeps an eye on the Yushin, back on the Irwin, Cap’n Watson wants to send up the helicopter to look for the rest of the fleet. Specifically, the Nisshin Maru.
The “Death Star”, if you will. It’s where they turn the dead whales into fish sticks and whale oil and whatever else I couldn’t be bothered to research
Also returning this season is Chris Aultman, the humorless, no-nonsense helicopter pilot. He’s got a new, better helicopter this season, which has a longer flight range. He gets it ready to go.
As he does that, the Barker crew notice that the Yushin is sitting in such a dense ice field it’s practically encased. The Barker technically is an ice-class vessel, so tracking it shouldn’t be impossible. But at this point, the show points out a grim detail: the week before this sequence took place, another ice-class ship in the Southern Ocean had its hull punctured and sank, killing twenty-two people.
Here’s what they’re referring to. It really did happen, Animal Planet isn’t just making it up to ratchet up the tension:
Then it’s back to the Irwin. The helicopter hasn’t launched yet. Chris Aultman thinks the weather is too dangerous for it.
The old Paul Watson would have passive-aggressively complained about how hard it is to stop the whalers until Chris caved in and launched his helicopter, but this season he’s decided to be more deferential. So instead, he passive-aggressively complains about how he wishes there was better weather and leaves Chris hanging in uncomfortable silence.
I hate to ruin it, but the final act of this episode isn’t all that dramatic. While the Japanese haven’t put their harpoons together yet, Sea Shepherd is already more prepared as some of the deckhands on the Gojira assemble their spud gun. The spud gun is intended to launch projectiles over long distances and onto the decks of the ships. Last year, spud gun + Pete Bethune always added up to entertainment.
But now, the deckhands just laugh at how they had to trick the Australian police to get the spud gun onboard the Gojira. And then they test it, firing an onion out across the ocean. Everything goes according to plan, boringly
The Steve Irwin, meanwhile, continues to hunt for the whaling ship without their helicopter. And then, the visibility improves, and they spot a mysterious ship ten miles away. It’s another whaler.
And that’s the end of our season four premiere. Not much action, sadly. Aside from the head-bonking incident, I’d say this one was pretty boring. Pretty much a bunch of exposition and, worse, competent behavior out of the Sea Shepherds. In the past Animal Planet has said they intentionally balance Sea Shepherds’ heroics by showing us segments about their screw-ups. To me that’s what’s made the show successful. But if Sea Shepherd isn’t screwing up too much, maybe Whale Wars has jumped the shark.
I mean really, who wants to watch an hour of people succeeding? That’s not what TV is for!
Still, there definitely has been a progression from the first season until now. Season 1 had a really grassroots, seat-of-your pants feel. Practically the whole season was spent looking for the whalers, and only in the finale did they really mix it up with them. If they DIDN’T get better at whaler-hunting in four years, there’d really be something nuts about them.
I’m holding out hope for episode 2, though. In the “Next Week On” segment the narrator says that one of the captains makes “a reckless decision” that might cost him everything. Pretty much the only thing that would get Animal Planet to call them reckless is if somebody died, so my interest is piqued.
Thanks for reading. As always, love and whales.
What Happened to Sea Shepherd between season 3 and season 4
I don’t know about you, but the fact that Animal Planet told us NOTHING about what happened to the Sea Shepherd people between seasons is quite a bit…not going to make a pun on this…fishy. Jesus Christ, last year ended with Pete Bethune in a Japanese jail! You’re not going to even mention what happened to him?
Well, I’ve looked into it, and here’s what I’ve found…
When we last left our favorite erratic Kiwi, he had just undertaken a daring nighttime boarding mission to get onto the Shonan Maru 2. That forced the whalers to pack up and head home, so it did end their whaling season, but it also got Cap’n Pete charged for assault and for illegally boarding a Japanese ship. He was found guilty but eventually was sent back home to New Zealand with a suspended sentence. Yay! If you want to read one of Sea Shepherd’s always-catty writeups on it, click here.
So happy ending, right? Hang on. While Bethune was in jail awaiting trial, Sea Shepherd abruptly expelled him from their group. Ouch. Why? Because apparently Bethune smuggled personal weapons onto the Ady Gil, which is somehow a big no-no. Since he “endangered” Sea Shepherd members by doing this, he was out. (By the way, the “weapons” were a knife he used to cut some ropes and a bow and arrow he intended to launch things onto the whaling ships with).
The timing on that is a little suspicious, if you ask me. Bethune naturally wasn’t too happy about this, so once he returned home he took to the media to air some pretty inflammatory stuff. He’d changed his opinion of Sea Shepherd, calling them “morally bankrupt”. More than that, he claimed that he actually could have salvaged the Ady Gil after the Shonan Maru ran it over, but that Paul Watson ordered him to sink it because it would draw sympathy and make for better TV!
I wouldn’t put it past Paul Watson to give an order like that, would you? At the very least it gives new meaning to the events of Whale Wars season 3. Remember how, after Bethune lost his ship and ran out of stuff to do, they encouraged him to putter around the Steve Irwin coming up with new ways to fight the whalers? The highlights were: Bethune contemplating parachuting out of the helicopter, Bethune jury-rigging an underwater welding torch and nearly setting the ship on fire, and Bethune finally hopping on a jet ski, at night, and climbing onboard a whaling ship.
Maybe he was just schmuck. Or maybe all of it was Paul Watson trying to cover his tracks by getting Bethune out of the picture. We’ll never know.
As for the bumbling ex-Bob Barker captain Chuck Swift, I couldn’t find anything on the Internet about where he went. My guess is he’s either working in a Sea Shepherd gift shop, or Paul Watson made him kamikaze a tuna trawler.
Sea Shepherd definitely doesn’t confine their brushes with death to the few months covering whaling season. Last year, for instance,This happened.
And Paul Watson’s actions might finally get him in trouble with more than just the Japanese. Last year he was placed on Interpol’s most-wanted list.
Crazier than that, the Japanese apparently approached the US State Department to discuss revoking Sea Shepherd’s tax-exempt status. How do we know about this? Wikileaks.
I’m sure there are many more Sea Shepherd-related gems out there than these. If you’ve got any, send them by!