Whale Wars is back for a second season! What? You’ve never heard of Whale Wars? It’s only the most popular show on Animal Planet. Of course it is. Any show about armies of whales at war with each other must be entertaining! Sadly, Whale Wars is about the war against whaling. We follow the plight of activist Paul Watson, an over-weight Kenny Rogers look-alike, captain of the MV Steve Irwin, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and former member of Greenpeace. There are about forty-five other crewmembers onboard including the camera crew, so although it’s a show on Animal Planet, the only animals we see consistently are the ship’s crew.
Years ago, Japan found a loophole in the international ban on whaling claiming that they are murdering whales for research purposes by taking flesh samples and weighing stomach contents. This year they said they would take 50 endangered Fin whales and 951 Minke whales. I’m not sure why you need to have a thousand dead of any animal in order to research it. The most ludicrous part of this are the huge white letters on the side of the Japanese vessels that read, simply, “RESEARCH,” like a narcotics officer wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt. Naturally, after the whales have been slaughtered, the Japanese sell the meat on the black market.
Now that you’re filled with righteous indignation, let’s send the Steve Irwin to go get those bastards, right? Well, kind of. The “battles” are little more than harassment. They threaten to ram the Japanese ships. They throw bottles of the extremely smelly and meat-ruining butyric acid to disrupt operations. They attempt to destroy propellers by leaving long ropes in the water. Once, in the first season, two crewmembers boarded one of the Japanese ships and were detained. That’s the extent of the Sea Shepherds’ arsenal.
But, the techniques are highly effective, right? Well, yes and no. Actually, just no. Even when the Sea Shepherds’ techniques are successful (they’re usually not), they don’t really cause any damage or force the Japanese ships to port. At best, they momentarily distract the Japanese from whaling. Worse, the Japanese have been fighting back in much more effective ways, for instance, with powerful water cannons and a sound-wave gun called an LRAD (pronounced “ellrad”), which is usually employed by cruise ships to run off Somali pirates.
For these reasons, the show can be frustrating to watch. The Sea Shepherds clearly need to be more aggressive in order to effect any change. They should be actively trying to sink these ships (a technique which they have employed before on docked whaling ships) or trying to capture Japanese crewmembers. Unfortunately, the Sea Shepherds are composed of pacifists who balk at the suggestion of making a grappling hook to board the Japanese vessel because it might hit somebody. Yet the Japanese are far from non-violent. They throw metal objects and use the LRAD on the Steve Irwin’s helicopter, which could greatly disorient the pilot. Moreover, they use harpoons to destroy the earth’s most majestic creatures. And although it’s great that the Sea Shepherds do what they do, you have to roll your eyes. They bring a knife to a gunfight and then refuse to use it because it’s too violent.
The first season starts off with Paul in the heat of battle finding a piece of metal under in his bullet proof vest and claiming he has been shot (this was never confirmed), the rest of the season is a flashback leading up to this point, which in general mostly centers around actually finding the whaling ships. In this season, there is much more action. Most episodes focus on the Steve Irwin harassing the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese whaling mother ship.
Despite all of this, the show is entertaining and even invigorating. The camera work is amazing. The show boasts one of the most fitting theme songs in television history, The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” which serves to rally any would-be viewer. Although some of the crewmembers are banal, the subject matter adds an edge to the show that is simply absent from most other television save for the best news magazines and documentaries. Of course, there is a “cliffhanger” before every commercial break and at the end of every show, and you can’t watch it without the sense that Animal Planet is desperately trying to manipulate you. Still, every episode makes you eager to devour the next one, and at this rate, we will definitely see the show back for another season.
So, sharpen your harpoon, batten down your hatches and set sail for Whale Wars. There’s still one episode left in the season (the others are available online) and who knows, maybe Paul and his friends will actually save a whale this time.
Starring: Paul Watson, Christ Aultman, Simon Avery, Laura Dakin, Laurens de Groot, Molly Kendall, Andy Perry, Jane Taylor, Luke van Horn, Peter Hammarstedt.
Producers: Elizabeth Bronstein, Jason Carey, Dee Bagwell Haslam
Network: Animal Planet
Airtime: Fridays, 9:00pm EST