Access Green: ‘Whale Wars’ Helps Save The Planet Through Reality TV

In the sea of the often unnecessary drivel that is reality television, there are few islands of hope that actually have an important impact on people’s lives. “Whale Wars” is one of those rare shows that dares to use its platform for a purpose, exposing the cruelties of whaling to encourage protection of these beautiful animals and their marine environment. Starting its third season on June 4 on Animal Planet, this exciting docu-series follows the esteemed Captain Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society crew as they take to the high seas in a brave attempt to stop Japanese ships from hunting whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Access had the chance to sit down with the Captain recently at the NBC studios in Burbank to talk about what to expect from the upcoming season.

According to Capt. Watson, the Japanese whaling ships’ murderous hunt is “blatantly illegal, but no one is doing anything because there is simply a lack of economic and political motivation to enforce existing laws.” He goes on to say that “there’s a lot of money to be made from exploiting our oceans and, of course, no money to be made from protecting them.” Enter the Sea Shepherd Conservation.

In the show’s two previous seasons, the noble journey to rescue whales has been both emotionally rewarding and physically demanding for the crewmembers. The icy Antarctic waters can be deadly and the Japanese whalers become “more and more aggressive” every year, in large part because Sea Shepherd’s valiant efforts have been financially detrimental to the Japanese whaling fleet. In one of many dramatic moments this coming season, a Japanese boat crashes into a Sea Shepherd vessel, forcing the activists to abandon their ship as it sinks into the frigid waters. Even when the battle seems lost, the captain on board, Capt. Pete Bethune, doesn’t give up. Instead, he boldly attempts a citizen’s arrest aboard the Japanese whaling ship, but, in a shocking twist, he is taken into custody and shipped back to Japan to await trial for trespassing, amongst other charges. His trial begins today, Friday, May 28, and will continue throughout next week with an expected verdict as early as June.

Despite Capt. Bethune’s uncertain future, Capt. Watson is proud of Bethune’s intrepid move and expects nothing less from all of his crewmembers. “The determining question asked of every volunteer is, ‘Are you ready to risk your life for a whale?’ If they say no, we don’t take them.” For those who consider this stance radical, Capt. Watson counters, “I’m not a radical. I’m a conservative. You don’t get any more conservative than being a conservationist. We are trying to conserve the planet; the radicals are trying to destroy it.”

Even though Capt. Watson clearly takes the issue of conservation very seriously, he does not take himself overly seriously. This can be seen in his upbeat response to the “South Park” episode that skewered both him and his Animal Planet show with an episode called, “Whale Whores.” Instead of lashing out at satirical duo Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Capt. Watson “looked on it as a very positive thing,” saying that, “the very fact that they did a show on ‘Whale Wars’ indicates that we have moved right on into the popular culture.” He even wrote a review about the episode and sent it to the creators. Did he ever receive a reply? Capt. Watson retorted with a wink, “I don’t think the ‘South Park’ people have a sense of humor.”

“South Park” is not his only brush with Hollywood. Many celebrities have joined the Sea Shepherd advisory board, including, impressively, William Shatner Christian Bale, Richard Dean Anderson and Pierce Brosnan. “How can we lose when you have people like Capt. Kirk, Batman, MacGyver and James Bond?” Capt. Watson quipped.

While “Whale Wars” is universally entertaining, the program is even more important for its educational component, especially in a time when the United States is considering rescinding the commercial whaling ban in conjunction with the International Whaling Commission. Watch the season premiere of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars” on Friday, June 4 at 9 PM ET to follow the brave crewmembers of the Sea Shepherd vessels as they risk their lives for these magnificent mammals.

“Whale Wars” exposes the best and the worst of humanity, but the fact that this show is on the air and it’s a hit, is promising news that possibly the best intentions of humanity could ultimately prevail.

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