Friday, February 18, 2011

A Victory in the Whale Wars?

So those of you who've been readers of this blog for a while know that I've been sort of fascinated in an on-again-off-again sort of way with this show called Whale Wars. Whale Wars is this sort of documentary that this group of environmental activists, The Sea Shepherds, have been making about their attempts to stop the Japanese whaling fleet from conducting whaling in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica.
Most of you know that I'm a pretty big animal lover, and those feelings definitely extend to whales, dolphins, etc., but that's not really the reason that I find the show fascinating. I'm mostly captivated by Whale Wars because of the fairly clear incompetence of the Sea Shepherds and because of their recklessness behavior (I mean, I don't think there's really any legitimate reason why human need to be killing whales at this point, and I tend to frown upon killing things except when there's a really strong reason for doing so in the first place. Plus, whales are just cool.). The Shepherds regularly put themselves needlessly into harms way (even if you;re willing to accept the fact that some risk might be warranted in pursuit of this cause, they just seem to do things in dumb ways), their crew of volunteers typically seem utterly unqualified and woefully undertrained for the tasks that they're attempting, and their leaders seem to court disaster in a way indicates some sort of underlying desire for martyrdom. The list of their reckless acts has been long, but includes navigating ice floes in ships which aren't built to handle ice, steering into storms that are known to be extremely dangerous, boarding and trespassing upon Japanese ships under unnecessarily hazardous conditions, and colliding with whaling vessels on a fairly regular basis. Watching the show, you can't help but get the feeling that many members of the Sea Shepherd crew definitely see themselves as taking part in some sort of self-styled, epic, romantic tale in which they're occupying the role of hero. I really like whales a lot, but we never really hear the Japanese perspective on things, and the self congratulatory feel of the show can become a bit hard to swallow at times (for instance, if you're so willing to dedicate yourself to this cause, why do they so infrequently seem interested in putting in the extra time and effort to do things right?).
In addition to all of this, the head of the Sea Shepherds, Paul Watson, strikes me as a a bit of a shyster and disingenuous spin man. On one episode of the show it seemed pretty clear that he faked his own shooting by Japanese sailors in order to try to garner sympathy for his cause (conveniently he happened to be wearing a bullet proof vest on the day of the shooting). Watson's extremism and willingness to bend (or break) the facts tend to undermine his credibility, in my opinion. The man has suggested on any number of occasions that he's willing to do just baout anything to protect whales, and various points this fanaticism has not only put his crew at risk but has also made him less effective.
So, anyway, I respect the cause (i.e., wanting to curb or put an end to whaling), but I have serious reservations about the tactics and even, at times, some of the personal motives of the volunteers (is it really more important for these people to save whales or are they just attention seeking thrill junkies who happen to like animals?)
Annnyway, I only bring all of this up because there was a CNN story yesterday reporting that the Japanese whaling fleet had cancelled the rest of its winter whaling season in response to interference by the Sea Shepherds.
If true, this is a huge victory for this band of activist misfits and further proof that sheer willpower, tenacity, and idiot confidence can, at times, be considerably more important than talent, knowledge, or experience. There have been plenty of times when I've thought that the money spent on these whale saving expeditions would have been better spent on legal battles or the pursuit of lobbying efforts for more effective protection treaties, but it's pretty hard to argue with an effort that actually, physically brings whaling to a halt.
Of course, in his response to the news that the Japanese had suspended their whaling operations, Watson's overzealousness still seemed to lead him a bit astray. Instead of congratulating the Japanese on making the right decision putting marine conservation above profit he took the opportunity to make some vaguely boastful and paranoid statements (i.e., he issued claims that sounded almost like challenges, claiming that the Japanese whalers had been worn down by the Sea Shepherds and had no choice but to give in. He also promised to keep an eye on the Japanese fleet until they left the Southern Ocean sanctuary. Even with what very little knowledge that I have of Japanese culture, I suspect that it's not a good idea to make the Japanese feel like they're "losing face" or being dishonored in defeat. From what I've read of Japanese history, they definitely seem to sometimes wage battles that become counterproductive when they feel like the alternative is likely to result in shame...)
Anyway, Whale Wars can be ridiculous, but it's also been an interesting ride. It might become genuinely fascinating if this whole Sea Shepherd thing ends up truly shutting down Japanese whaling.

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