Whale Wars Season 2

Series: Whale Wars, Season 2

Whale Wars Season 2
Whale Wars Season 2

Tony and I devoured Season 1 of Whale Wars, and moved straight on to Season 2. The series chronicles the annual efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to stop the Japanese whale hunt in the Southern Ocean. The Japanese claim that taking whales for research is legal, and the Sea Shepherds swear it is not (and apart from that, object to the killing of whales in any context).

The Japanese claim that they need to harvest 900-1,000 whales for lethal research, carried out under the auspices of their Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR). After doing the research, the Japanese pretend to eat the whales. Actually whale meat is not popular food any more in Japan, partly because of its content of toxic chemicals, but apparently it’s culturally important to have a lot of it available. Amusingly, the ICR website is devoted largely to explaining how much research is done (five papers per year after killing 1,000 whales seems a bit paltry), but very little in the way of facts and actual research results. There is also a massive section containing video footage of “harrassment and terrorism” – namely Sea Shepherd’s activities around the Japanese fleet.

The Sea Shepherds use their vessel, the Steve Irwin, to pursue the Japanese whaling fleet (three harpoon ships, a factory ship, a spotting ship and a supply ship), and to interfere with their activities. In the first season of Whale Wars, tossing smelly and slippery chemicals and attempting to deploy prop foulers was sufficient to keep the whalers on the run and not fishing.

During the whaling season depicted in this season, however, two things combine to make their task almost impossible. One is that the Dutch government, under whose flag the Steve Irwin sails, instructed the Sea Shepherds that they could not throw anything from the deck of the ship, but they had to launch the RIBs and operate from the smaller boats if they wanted to toss chemicals or other items at the Japanese. The second obstacle was that the Japanese equipped their vessels with high pressure water hoses, stern lines (to foul propellors), and hanging nets protecting the deck from hurled bottles of butyric acid. The result is a number of fruitless attempts to interfere with the massive factory ship (the Nisshin Maru) from the tiny rubber ducks, which are just too small to allow the throwers to get anything over its bow. The sides and rear of the ship were protected by nets and hoses.

Several aggressive confrontations with the whaling fleet are shown – an almost disastrous foray deep into the ice, and high seas manoeuvering reminiscent of what you’d see in Master and Commander take place. The Japanese fleet engages the Steve Irwin repeatedly, pursuing her and – in a reversal of roles – keeping the Sea Shepherds on the run.

It is in the final few episodes of the season that the Sea Shepherds engage most aggressively (and, they felt, successfully) with the whalers. This culminated in the Steve Irwin ramming one of the harpoon ships as she transferred a whale to the factory ship. There are photos here, and video footage here and here. This action, apart from angering the Japanese, causing a mini diplomatic crisis, and damaging the Sea Shepherd boat, did not actually prevent anything from happening that wouldn’t have otherwise. In contrast to previous years, the Japanese fleet simply continued with their whale hunt as if the Sea Shepherds were not there.

The whaling process was largely unseen in the first season, but this time the Sea Shepherd’s helicopter pilot witnesses the slaughter of a whale and it is captured on film. It’s awful – first the whale is chased until exhausted (unable to take enough deep breaths to dive while being pursued), and then shot in the spine with a harpoon the size of an artillery cannon. Multiple shots to its head with a rifle, and then a slow (25 minute) drowning in its own blood while attached to the harpoon complete the process. It is simply not possible to kill an animal this size humanely and it was horrible to watch. The carcass is tied to the railing of the harpoon ship and taken to the factory ship for slicing and packaging.

We found this very entertaining and thought provoking, and (one of the eleven episodes, in which the whale hunt is shown from beginning to end) very upsetting. (There is a warning at the start of episode ten not to watch if you’re a sensitive viewer.)

You can buy the DVD set here if you’re South African, and here or here otherwise.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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