Whale Wars: A New Ahab

Like most people, I am sympathetic to the plight of whales, particularly endangered varieties. Once whales were an important source of oil and the pursuit of this resource radically reduced whale numbers. As the need for this resource diminished and countries recognize the need for conservation, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was agreed upon in an attempt to keep some whales from extinction. Current international agreements allow for some whale harvesting, for example for indigenous peoples and for scientific research. The Japanese have been accused of violating these agreements by using the “research” exclusion to harvest whales for the real purpose of providing a popular Japanese foodstuff.

The Whale Wars is an Animal Planet channel show detailing the exploits of the Sea Shepard organization to stop the Japanese whaling. The show has miraculously succeeded in transforming a natural sympathy for the whales into rooting interest for the Japanese whaling ships. This transformation is a consequence of antipathy for Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society, who comes across in the show (I am sure unintentionally) as a petty, arrogant little Napoleon, whose Ahab-like pursuit of self aggrandizement puts others at dangers.

Watson captains the Steve Irwin, a ship named after the popular television conservationist killed in a tragic accident. Though there are some crew members with experience, the ship operates in the dangerous Southern Ocean with young people largely equipped with more zeal and eagerness for adventure than experience. Watson sends these people out in small Zodiacs, often out of contact with the Steve Irwin in attempts to throw glass bottles of foul smelling butyric acid aboard the decks of whaling ships or racing in front of fast moving whaling ships trying to deploy lines to foul the props of these ships. One can not doubt the bravery of the young people enlisted by Watson, but it is a bravery girded by the expectation that the Japanese whalers will not use lethal force in self defense.  Thus far, the Japanese have confined there responses to water cannons an disabling acoustic devices.

The publicity seeking Watson, exaggerates every defensive effort by the Japanese as deliberately endangering his crew, when it is he who puts the crew in danger. Last year two crews member so the Steve Irwin managed to board a Japanese vessel a serve papers protesting whaling. The Japanese detained the individuals, while Watson quickly called the media claiming these people were be held hostage. One gets the impression, that Watson would eagerly exploit the accidentally injury or death of one of his crew for all the publicity he could. Indeed, last year Watson tried to claim that he was shot at by the Japanese.

It should be remembered that Paul Watson has a reputation as an eco-terrorist having advocated the use of tree spikes to deter logging. Tree spikes embedded in trees can damage equipment or more dangerously injure people. Tree spiking is a felony in the United States.

I have to admit that the series Whale Wars is exciting to watch. So now I have two unwanted guilty pleasures: Finding my self rooting for Japanese whaling ships for whom I would normally have a strong antipathy and giving positive ratings to publicity seeking old fart.

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