Next Monday, December 7th marks the start of yet another season of cat and mouse games between the Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whaling fleet. Paul Watson and his crew have taken this week to finalize strategy, do a bit of fundraising, and prepare to embark to the Antarctic Ocean to intercept the whalers already en route.
It’s been an extremely busy off-season for the anti-whaling organization. Its reality television series Whale Wars on Animal Planet brought in big ratings, the futuristic stealth boat Earthrace (now known as the Ady Gil) joined the fleet, and publicity from South Park’s lampooning drew even more attention — something Watson called a “a damn good message” for linking “Japan to the horrific and senseless slaughter of dolphins and whales.”
When they leave Australian port next week it’s safe to say that the Sea Shepherd fleet will be feeling much more empowered than any season before. Not only do they once again have an Animal Planet film crew on board to document the campaign, but the Steve Irwin has been fully repaired and, new to this season, installed with a high-power water cannon. They also now have a “fleet” of sorts with the powerful Ady Gil ready to provide additional harassment.
I have to wonder, however, if all of these new additions, coupled with increased publicity and expectations, might make this season of “Whale Wars” a much more risky one. Here are some of my concerns:
The Ady Gil
In all previous campaigns against the Japanese whalers, the Sea Shepherd have never had a ship much like the Ady Gil. This fast, sleek powerboat under the command of Captain Pete Bethune holds the record for fastest powered circumnavigation of the globe. Whereas it was difficult before for the Steve Irwin to intercept and disrupt the much faster Japanese harpoon ships, the Ady Gil can now choose one (of the three) to harass with ease.
Of course, this presents it’s own issues. One being that the Japanese Harpoon vessels will not be as familiar with how to safely handle a powerboat circling around them as they might the Steve Irwin. The same goes for the Ady Gil, as this is its first campaign against whaling vessels — in particularly rough seas. Then there’s the whole thrown around quote from Watson of using the Ady Gil as a “harpoon blocker”. As Captain Behtune mentioned in an email earlier this summer, “If they ever hit us with an explosive harpoon it’ll be massive damage. but certainly we’ll do our best to get in their way. If they hit us it will always be their guy that pulled the trigger — but hopefully things won’t come to that.”
I hope so too — but an explosive harpoon in the side of the Ady Gil would be damn catastrophic; especially to the people onboard.
The Japanese Whaling Industry and Economics
It goes without saying that the Japanese whaling industry is feeling the pressure to bring home targeted quotas of 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales. Sea Shepherd’s activities reduced catches in 2007 and 2008 to 60–75% of expected figures. Even though the marketplace for whale meat is sinking fast, Japan still buoys the industry with taxpayer subsidies to make up the difference.
That’s all potentially about the change under the new Japanese government as politicians look for ways to cut bloat and cash-sucking programs — with whaling currently up for review. But to the average whaler out there as part of the various crews of each Japanese vessel, that’s his or her job on the line. You have to imagine these people getting fed up with the Sea Shepherd’s tactics interfering with their livelihood. As the pressure rises, could we see some Japanese crew cross the line and fight back more violently? Could all that antagonizing lead to someone flipping out? Sure, it would all play into the Sea Shepherd’s hands in terms of PR — but at what cost of human life?
Publicity and Exposure
Thanks to a hit television show and media mentions of all kinds, the Sea Shepherd are now more popular than ever before. That South Park parody was the icing on the cake. Will all this attention, however, cause Paul Watson and Co. to feel a little more bold in stirring up trouble with the Japanese. Being called “vegan pussies” by a show that advocated for more action may be completely against the Sea Shepherd strategy, but could that goading come into play when things get frustrating? Will the Animal Planet crew, new high-pressure water hose, and Ady Gil make it more tempting to up the stakes?
I’ve no doubt that both the Sea Shepherd and the Ady Gil crew have trained extensively for what’s about to happen over the next several months. As with anything that borders on the confrontational, however, the pendulum between safety and disaster can swing very quickly. The Japanese equipped themselves with a long-rang acoustic device last year. This year, the Sea Shepherd have a water cannon and the stealth boat Ady Gil. Who knows what the Japanese boats might have up their sleeve to counter these new additions? Can such a tango continue — with every year bringing new technologies and strategies — and something not eventually go horribly wrong?
I wish the Sea Shepherd luck in saving as many whales as they can this year — but more than that, I hope their own lives are kept safe, as well as those on the other side. With Japan potentially about to put the axe to this industry, lets hope that peaceful means can result in the final season of Whale Wars, and not something more tragic.