On Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” every member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society that travels to Antarctica to stop the Japanese from whaling, bravely and selflessly pledges to Captain Paul Watson (the founder of Sea Shepherd) that he or she is willing to die for the whales. On January 6, 2010, that oath was put to the test, and now, the outcome of that fateful day is being told in multiple parts in the show’s season finale, airing this Friday, August 27. The finale will be follow up with a new special, “From Pirate to Prisoner” airing September 6.
Access Hollywood recently sat down with the three Sea Shepherd captains (Paul Watson, Pete Bethune and Chuck Swift) and two crewmembers (Laurens de Groot and Fiona McCuaig) to hear their accounts of that harrowing day and its aftermath.
Back in January, The Ady Gil (one of the Sea Shepherd ships), was quietly floating through the Antarctic waters when one of the Japanese whaling ships came crashing toward them at top speed. In a single instant, The Ady Gil was chopped apart and started sinking, leaving the crewmembers at the mercy of the frigid sea.
But the shocking crash itself was only the beginning of what ultimately escalated into an international catastrophe – one during which The Ady Gil captain, Pete Bethune, was locked up in a Japanese prison for five months. So, what happened? Why was Bethune imprisoned? And why have the Japanese whalers managed to avoid any type of penalties for sinking the Sea Shepherd ship and endangering the lives of its crew, or for blatantly violating the anti-whaling laws established by the International Whaling Commission?
This type of compelling drama is one of the main reasons that “Whale Wars” is one of the highest rated programs ever on Animal Planet — seen by over a million viewers each week.
“It broke my heart to lose that boat,” Bethune confessed. “I couldn’t believe it was gone. And in such a brutal way.” Yet, Bethune and Watson didn’t let this tragedy set them back in their mission to stop the whaling. Rather, they saw it as an opportunity. Bethune would board the Japanese ship (The Shonan Maru 2) that had sunk The Ady Gil in the hopes that he would be taken back to Japan, and they’d use the media attention from Bethune’s arrest to shed light on this important issue.
Sea Shepherd’s story made headlines across the globe and, according to Bethune, his imprisonment became a “festering sore” for Japan. So, Bethune’s imprisonment was considered a success for Sea Shepherd’s campaign, but what about Bethune’s own personal well-being? Though he knowingly put himself in harm’s way, wasn’t being locked up in a Japanese prison for five months still difficult for him?
“My first day in prison was extremely intimidating,” he described. “I was in where they have all the murderers and rapists, because I was considered an evil, dangerous terrorist.”
Bethune still seems haunted by his experience. He spent 23 hours a day in a cell by himself with the light on 24 hours a day, with very rigid rules. Luckily, after five months, Pete was finally released from prison. He was given a two-year suspended sentence, which means that if he does anything deemed unlawful against the Japanese government within the next five years, he’ll get two years of hard labor.
As for repercussions for the captain of The Shonan Maru 2, Watson explained that New Zealand and Australia had started an investigation, but that “it couldn’t go anywhere because Japan refused to cooperate with the investigation,” and Australian authorities said that “there was insufficient evidence on the collision.” Watson countered that “This was the most documented collision in history and the video was high-definition for a television show, and they give us this lame excuse as to why they couldn’t proceed.”
Even though the investigation has come to a standstill, all of the Sea Shepherd’s members heartily agree how important it was to have captured the footage at all, as it is now being broadcast on national television via “Whale Wars.” Crewmember Fiona McCuaig raved that, “Many thanks to Animal Planet for going down there and bringing this issue to light.” According to Watson, “The most powerful weapon that Sea Shepherd has is the camera.”
On top of solid ratings, the show was nominated for two Emmys this year, and in 2009, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gave the show a Television Academy Honor for being “television with a conscience.” To add onto that great news, the whole crew is excited that actress Michelle Rodriguez (“Lost,” “Avatar,” and the upcoming “Machete”) will be joining the team for season 4. Watson joked that he’s planning on making her fly the helicopter due to her amazing aviation skills showcased in “Avatar.”
Having a famous Hollywood actress join the crew could spell even bigger ratings for the show. And there’s a good reason this show is doing so well: it’s about passionate people putting their lives on the line for something noble in which they believe. Bethune’s imprisonment is a prime example of how far the crewmembers are willing to go to save the lives of these beautiful marine mammals.
Crewmember Laurens de Groot told an encouraging story about meeting a man whose kids decided that instead of playing the politically incorrect “Cowboys versus Indians,” they decided to play a game of “Whale Wars,” with the whalers clearly as the enemies. The Japanese whalers may not show any signs of stopping their brutality toward innocent whales, but they had better get ready for an onslaught of compassionate Sea Shepherd soldiers for years to come, in large part due to the valiant efforts reflected on “Whale Wars.”
This is not just “television with a conscience,” it’s television that dares viewers to care – something Animal Planet is making quite a brand of paired alongside their new show, “Blood Dolphins.”
Check out the two-hour season finale of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars” on Friday, August 27 at 9 PM (ET/PT). Also, for an in-depth look at Bethune’s ordeal while he was detained by the whalers and imprisoned in Japan, check out the Animal Planet special “From Pirate to Prisoner” on Monday, September 6 at 10 PM (ET/PT).
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