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'Whale Wars' is back and so is controversial Capt. Paul Watson

June 5, 2009 |  9:51 am


Capt. Paul Watson, whose Sea Shepherd Society has drawn praise and harsh criticism for its sometimes confrontational encounters with Japanese whalers, says of the second season of the Animal Planet series, "Whale Wars," which debuts tonight at 9 p.m.: "It ought to be 10 times more dramatic and exciting than last year."

That's because last year's shows, which were based on the 2007-08 exploits of Watson and crew, contained very little drama and excitement. This year it'll be different because Watson's 2008-09 campaign against whalers in the Antarctic included numerous confrontations -- including three collisions and a very dramatic pursuit through ice -- with Japanese crews that regard Sea Shepherd as a terrorist group.

"They were very aggressive toward us -- the most aggressive I've ever seen them -- so it's a far more dramatic season for that reason," Watson said in an interview this week.

Sea Shepherd's tactics are to disrupt the months-long hunt and any efforts by whalers to transfer harpooned whales onto the processing ship. 

Japan employes a research loophole in the wording of an international whaling moratorium to justify the hunts, which annually target nearly 1,000 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales. Minke whales are not endangered and the country for generations has sold whale meat at market. Whaling, Japan has argued, is deep-rooted in the nation's culture.

Watson, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace, is either revered or despised for the controversial methods he employs. Greenpeace and other whale conservation groups consider his efforts too confrontational and potentially perilous. Watson counters that Sea Shepherd doesn't violate laws and has not injured anyone. He has lots of critics and does not care.

"People think we're sort of arrogant in what we do," he said. "But as I always say, our clients are whales and we don't really care what people think. We're more concerned with what the whales think. Find me a whale that disagrees with what we do and I'll reconsider."


During the 2008-09 hunt (summer in the Antarctic), Japan fell 305 minke whales short of its quota, so Sea Shepherd is taking credit for saving those whales. The whalers killed only one fin whale, so Sea Shepherd is saying it saved 49 fin whales.

"We saved 500 whales the year before, 500 whales the year before that and 83 whales the year before that," Watson boasted.

Japan, which requires a high quota to profit from these hunts, has fallen short in recent years but remains steadfast and some believe it will announce, later this month, its intention to add endangered humpback whales to its quota list.

Sea Shepherd also remains steadfast. Watson said his crew will greet the Japanese fleet in 2009-10 with three vessels instead of one, enabling a longer and more effective campaign because it will allow for a constant presence, whereas with only one vessel there is a need to make long refueling voyages.

Asked if having film crews aboard embolden his crew to a dangerous level, Watson responded: "That's absolutely not true. We can't control the Japanese and the problem is one-sided. Those guys are trying to kills us and their government will defend them if they do. But we have to take every precaution to ensure we don't injure any of them. It's a very one-sided battle and I have to be very careful."

--Pete Thomas

Photos, from top: Paul Watson; "Whale Wars" videographer Jamie Holland braces for an evasive maneuver aboard an inflatable boat as a Japanese whaling ship bears down. Credits, from top: Animal Planet; Sea Shepherd.