“Whale Wars”

Here is a TV “reality show” where a vessel of foreign registry tracks seagoing traffic, approaches and intercepts, shouts non-negotiatable demands at vessels flying the flag of friendly nations, and hurls stink bombs of butyric acid at those vessels’ crews.

You may be thinking, “Aah, I’ve seen this one, it’s more about those Somalian pirates.”

Unless you’ve watched Animal Planet (Comcast channel 51), you might not realize the ship is American. Vessels of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have had registry denied or revoked by the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.  The Steve Irwin currently plies its trade under Dutch registry.

Whale Wars TV series - Animal Planet

Whale Wars by Series from Animal Planet

 Now, as it happens, I am  firmly opposed to commercial whaling for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is concern for what’s going to happen to the balance of the planet’s marine food chain if these gentle giants are further decimated. I also think it’s unnecessary and inhumane: as a food source, whale meat is right up there with shark-fin soup. It is a botique commodity, exploiting food superstitions and faddism. Apart from the needs of certain indigenous native Alaskan populations, flensing whale flesh makes no more sense than butchering elephant. What are we going to do next, render cats and dogs as a petroleum substitute?

Having gotten all that off my chest, Paul Watson, the megalomaniac skipper of the Irwin, is a pompous ass with a callous disregard for maritime law and the lives and safety of his naive volunteer crew. He orders his crew into dangerous confrontations with Japanese whalers with the instruction that if they don’t have the stomach for it, they’re not cut out for saving the planet, and can jolly well just get off the boat.

The best review I found on the Animal Planet series is by Richard Spilman, at the liberal online Huffington Post, a resource I’ve generally ignored in the past. Spilman writes:

The Sea Shepherds fly the Jolly Roger flag of piracy. I think that they should be more accurately described as eco-terrorists.

”You don’t beg criminals to stop doing what they’re doing,” Mr. Watson said in the first episode last season. ”You intervene, and you physically and aggressively shut them down.” Of course the whalers, whatever you may think of their activities, are operating legally. It is Watson and the Sea Shepherds who are the criminals.

And where are these self-described pirates or eco-terrorists, call them what you will, based? In Friday Harbor, Washington. Given their arguably illegal and dangerous antics, I am surprised that the group, as well as the producers of the television show and the Animal Planet Network have not been swamped in lawsuits.

I’ve been meaning to write this TV review for months. I couldn’t have said it better. Spilman echoes my own original concern: isn’t Animal Planet financing, encouraging and enabling terrorist tactics by US operatives?

In a new world order where the US is belatedly realizing we can accomplish more tangible positive results by negotiating partnerships than by summary force and intimidation, Watson and his so-called Sea Shepherd are a particularly inappropriate national embarrassment. The United States, if it chooses, can insert a legitimate concern for marine biodiversity into the State Department agenda (along with the world economy, Al Quada and North Korea, et al), and we can negotiate this topic with the Japanese as we do in all other things with our important ally and trading partner.

No doubt they will see our negotiations as more credible when Winter and his eco-terrorist marine operation are grounded for good. And I gleefully confess to a retaliatory streak of my own: since this operation amounts to piracy on the high seas, I think it would be entirely appropriate for this cleanup operation to be assigned to the United States Navy.

What do we do with pirates? To take back ownership of Watson’s exact words: ”You intervene, and you physically and aggressively shut them down.” Send in the Seals.

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4 thoughts on ““Whale Wars”

  1. It’s laughable that you don’t know what a terrorist is. A terrorist is somebody who takes lives. Sea Shepherd are saving lives. I wouldn’t expect you to know this, but several of the crew members are former US Navy and US Marines. Way to call US military veterans ‘terrorists’.

  2. Would you feel more comfortable with the descriptor ‘vigilante’, then? These people are engaging in confrontational maritime tactics outside of the law, risking injury to themselves and others, and giving conservationists a REALLY bad reputation, just like tree spikers. Should we wait until they cause the first death before applying the “terrorist” label to the same existing tactics? It also seems wrong to me for the Animal Planet channel to glorify this with onboard camera crews. The only positive is that the whole world can witness the confrontations, so we don’t have to debate what happens. And, don’t hide behind the “veterans know best” myth – I am a vet myself and veterans are just citizens like everybody else. Working to save the whales is all good, but setting up your own naval battles is NOT the way to go about it.

  3. I think that it is great for the Sea Shepherds to stop the Japanese from killing whales. First, Have you ever seen the series? They may be using small naval tactics, but who cares? The Japanese are illegally killing whales and selling their meat. They have been throwing flashbangs and pointing rifles at the Sea Shepherds. They are no more careful or no less aggressive then the Japanese. Watch the series for yourselves.

  4. Thanks for writing, but I stand by my article. I assume you read it. I watched the series for a long time. You are right the Japanese are illegally killing whales. You are right that they threaten retaliatory force against Sea Shepherd force. But as far as “but who cares” about high seas lawlessness, I care, and I don’t mind saying so. Vigilante tactics – literally, taking the law into one’s own hands – cross the line whether on land or sea. I don’t care to help the ratings of a US network broadcaster that helps advertise and subsidize this kind of tactic. This isn’t protest, it’s not even confrontation; it’s forceful confrontation. Obviously I disagree with the Greenpeace ethic that’s it’s OK to use force in a good cause. If you want to help the whales, getting somebody killed is not the way to go about it. And Paul Watson is just the guy who’ll get someone killed and feel good about it.

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