If you thought Breaking Bad had its share of heart-in-your-throat, edge-of-your-seat moments, and have been left wanting at the end of its five season reign, then have I got a worthy replacement for you. Sure, there’s not a meth lab in sight – in fact, there’s not much at all on the surface of Antarctic waters, except for the tips of icebergs disintegrating in super-slow motion, the occasional seal, and the barnacled faces of ‘the client’: the whales. Oh, and an entire Japanese whaling fleet.
In this good guys/bad guys docu-drama, called Whale Wars, the faceless fisherman on board the massive harpoon ships – representatives of a multi-million-dollar meat industry – are the enemy ants. Their Queen and mothership: the Nisshin Maru…a factory vessel designed to accept slaughtered whales, butcher them, and package them for sale back in Japan.
Out to stop the killing are the Sea Shepherds – an unpaid crew of mostly unskilled volunteers lead by Captain Paul Watson. They aim to be the spanner (or prop-fouler) in the works (engine) of the Japanese whaling industry’s annual whale hunt.
Sea Shepherd says the whalers are violating an international ban on commercial whaling.
The Whalers say they’re legally killing whales for scientific research.
(Both claim to have the law on their side).
It really is a David and Goliath battle, but the Sea Shepherds have one all-important attribute the whalers don’t: their crew are willing to risk their lives to save a whale. The Whalers, no matter how much they’re being paid, will not risk their safety to kill one.
Members of the Sea Shepherd crew with Captain Paul Watson (left)
Downsides: Yes, it’s a bit he says/she says, and with no other witnesses to the conflict down at the frozen bottom of the world, you have to make up your own mind as to who to believe. Although if you honestly think that the ‘Institute for Cetacean Research’ has anything to do with scientific study, please send me your credit card details and $10,000 cash and I’ll prove to you that Santa Claus is real!
But in all seriousness, for a documentary to be accurate and unbiased, you need to be able to see both sides of the story. Each season, the film crew asks for permission to board the whaling fleet’s vessels to film scenes for Whale Wars, but unsurprisingly, they are yet to be granted access.
What you DO see: Real-life oceanic warfare. Near-death situations. The most magical and inhospitable environment known to man (on this planet anyway). Inexperienced crew – possibly the biggest threat to the Sea Shepherd campaign and lives of those on board in the early seasons (along with super-storm cells and routine technological malfunctions). But best of all, you see regular people risking everything to stand up for what they believe in, doing a job no government is prepared to do. And if that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
Sea Shepherd Seasons 1-6 were screened on Animal Planet (season 6 comprised of a special two hour episode). Spin-offs include Whale Wars: Viking Shores, Seal Wars and Operation Bluefin.