TV Review: Whale Wars

Season 1 on Animal Planet. Season 1 marathon airing Friday 4 pm e/c, Season 2 coming Summer 2009. Season 1 DVD releases Feb. 10, 2009.

Whale Wars has harpooned my heart and drawn me in. It has everything a tree hugger could want: vegan pirates, passionate animal lovers throwing stink bombs at whalers, environmental dangers, chase scenes, cute animals, hostage situations. It’s a very intense experience! I’ve watched and re-watched this entire series and I now wish to encourage others to watch it too. There is a marathon airing this Friday (Dec. 26, 2008) at 4 pm e/c. Season 1 is also being released on DVD in February 2009, with Season 2 docking next summer.

Whale Wars is about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s efforts to stop Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. The Sea Shepherds use direct action to intervene in illegal poaching of whales and other marine animals. They are made up entirely of volunteers, some experienced, some not. They have a variety of non-violent methods that they use to deter the whalers, including stink bombs, rotten butter, prop foulers, etc. Here’s a video describing some of their methods:

The confrontations with the Japanese whalers are exciting and intense. They taunt each other, chase each other, throw things at each other. In one episode, the Japanese throw flash grenades and try to shoot the captain. The Sea Shepherds board a Japanese ship and are taken hostage. Boats go missing, people fall into the freezing water, crew members sustain injuries, plans succeed, plans fail. The drama on the ship matches the confrontational drama. There’s a romance, arguments, mutiny, equipment failure, money woes, a helicopter breakdown, and so on. Some of the members of the crew don’t seem to realize what they signed up for and whine. Others take their place and excel at their positions. In a few poignant scenes, whales arrive and surround the boat, sometimes within view of the whalers. The Sea Shepherds take it as a sign that their employers are thankful. It reinvigorates their efforts.

There are laws protecting the whales. Unfortunately, the whales live in international waters and no country has taken it upon itself to enforce the law. The only people on earth doing so are the Sea Shepherds. They are a dedicated group of volunteers who put their own lives at risk to protect the whales from harm. They do so by using non-violent actions.
Whale Wars - throwing

What about Greenpeace, you might ask? Well, the charismatic captain of the Steve Irwin was one of the founders of Greenpeace, who was voted out for taking a club away from a hunter clubbing a baby seal. The two groups do not get along, with Greenpeace calling Sea Shepherd reckless and dangerous, and Sea Shepherd claiming that Greenpeace does little more than take pictures of whales being slaughtered while they actually stop it. Certainly both groups working together would be better for the animals, but it doesn’t appear that will happen soon. Currently, Sea Shepherd is pursuing Japanese whalers and Greenpeace has not sent ships out.
Whale Wars - Paul Watson

The Sea Shepherds cite the United Nations World Charter for Nature as their mandate, which gives authority to individuals to act on behalf of and enforce international conservation laws. I’d equate it to trying to make a citizen’s arrest on the high seas. The Japanese claim that they are allowed to kill a justifiable number of whales in the name of research each year. That number is reported to be on average 1,000 whales. Killing 1,000 members of an endangered species in the name of research hardly seems justifiable or believable, but this doesn’t stop the whalers from trying to convince us. They write “RESEARCH” in English on the sides of their ships, and make big signs that say, “WE’RE COLLECTING TISSUE SAMPLES”. There hasn’t exactly been a flood of cutting-edge peer-reviewed journal articles on whales coming out of Japan either. There has been a lot of consumption of whale meat, however. Reportedly a single whale is worth one million dollars. In one episode, the Sea Shepherds catch up with the ship that processes the whale meat, a butcher shop at sea. Blood pours out of the port holes as it ominously chugs along the water.
Whale Wars - hostages

The series has been called groundbreaking and controversial. I agree that it’s groundbreaking but can’t relate to the controversy. It’s groundbreaking for a few reasons. For once, there’s a reality series where instead of people risking their lives to destroy nature for a profit (such as “Dangerous Catch”), people are risking their lives trying to save it for no profit. It’s also the first series I’ve seen that puts the lives of animals equal or above humans and rejects speciesism. A crew member on Whale Wars boldly claims that whales are more important to the earth’s ecosystems than people. She is correct. The earth would thrive without us, but without whales, the oceans would die and the earth would die with it. The controversy comes from those who would disagree with those ideas, that claim the methods of Sea Shepherd are violent, that they aren’t operating under the law, that the Japanese have the right to kill all the whales they please, no animal is worth dying for, and so on. I really have no time for those people. To me, there’s no argument. There are people who risk their lives daily for far less worthy causes. You don’t kill endangered whales in a whale sanctuary. It won’t keep me up at night what happens to you if you do. I’m comforted by the fact that there is at least one small group of people out there who care enough to do something about it. Maybe because of them, the children born this year can grow up and go whale watching, and their children can too.

Whale Wars - Iceberg