Behind the screen with Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Captain Pete Bethune takes aim at Japanese whalersYou have to wonder where nonviolence would get activists on the high seas. Whales can be grateful the Sea Shepherd Society heros don’t opt to sacrifice the whales to save them. Captain Paul Watson is visiting Colorado College tomorrow to elaborate, but I have no illusion he’s at liberty to detail his provocative strategies. First off, he can’t spoil the upcoming TV season of Whale Wars and second, doesn’t playing for the media really turn on illusion?

Sea Shepherd’s fight to defend whales scored big when the cameramen began to film their adventures for the Animal Planet network. Even for veteran activists the reality TV format has necessitated they take some stage direction, and meant that the documentary lens presuming to take viewers behind the scenes, created a layer behind that one.

For example, look at the action shot at the top right, where a Sea Shepherd inflatable comes in close to harass a whaling ship. Everyone is helmeted and goggled, except leading man Pete Bethune aiming his stink bomb launcher as the camera focuses in. He doesn’t even have gloves or the bulkier dry-suit of his comrades. Are we to imagine protection from the Japanese water cannons is optional? Obviously adventuring with a script requires taking greater risks to get more drama in the shot. I’m contemplating now about the controversy surrounding the ramming of the Ady Gil. It was certainly dramatic.

When I went to check out one of two Whale Wars DVDs at my public library, I discovered a waiting list fourteen borrowers long. Certainly Sea Shepherd got its money worth from the sinking of the Ady Gil, whether by accident or not. After the collision the whale warriors demanded the Japanese whalers be charged with attempted murder. There could have been casualties, if anyone had been below deck. Skeptics suspect the Ady Gil’s helmsman sneaked his bow into harm’s way. How will we ever know?

By all appearances the Ady Gil was coasting slowly, all hands on deck, when the Japanese ship suddenly turned on her. Unseen might have been a quick lunge to intersect with the whaler’s bow. It’s hard to tell from the footage, taken from just the right angle by the Bob Barker coasting nearby. The Ady Gil was an innovative speed boat designed to pierce waves, not ride them, and could well disguise a last forward thrust.

I don’t think Paul Watson is about to fess up.

The third season of Whale Wars promises to reveal what happened behind the scenes, at Sea Shepherd, because they don’t have cameras following the Japanese fleet. And I think we’re going to see where reality television hits the wall. Whale Wars is not documentary filmmaking, it’s advocacy and drama. I love it, and I’d like to see more of it.

I’m not such a kill-joy to say that fashioning 43-minute long narratives prevents telling the truth. But I suspect filming the whaling renegades is something akin to televised poker, pretending to film behind the dark glasses. After seasons of strategies and bluffs, some inferred, some revealed, Watson and co now have to play close to the chest, and certainly must never been seen by their adversaries to have something up their sleeve.

I already lament the distance which official history keeps in relation to historical truth. What really happened, the story of mankind, is reserved for the student with no whale in the race.

Sea Shepherd ripostes with broadside

This time when the Japanese whalers came abreast their eco-defense adversary to douse them with water cannons, the Sea Shepherd crew surprised them with a torrent of superior caliber! Yes, it sounds like a pissing match, the essence of swashbucklers. This one is worthy of Patrick O’Brian but we’ll have to wait for Whale Wars Season III for the full adventure. Score: Japanese fleet chaperoned now for three days with no breaking free in sight.

It’s a picture worth a thousand ships

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minster Ayalon and Turkish ambassadorAt first the story read like diplomatic sensitivities ruffled by no more than your typical office power feng shui: the Turkish ambassador to Israel was not seated at a height commensurate with his host, the flag of his nation was not displayed, the Israeli deputy minister would not shake his hand. Rather it was Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon himself who called the reporters’ attentions to the intentional affronts, lest it was not obvious enough from the photograph. To what do the Turks owe Israel’s displeasure? Turkey’s PM has been criticizing Israel’s crimes in Gaza, to no greater degree than has been confirmed by the UN Goldstone Report. Here’s to hoping that Turkish pride will answer appropriately.

It’s been a traditional role of ambassadors to suffer their host’s anger at a perceived provocation. Didn’t Ivan the Terrible once send emissaries packing after he’d nailed their hats to their heads? Often in less diplomatic times, envoys were beheaded, to usually ruinous result. In modern times, suffering indignity to foreign dignitaries is enough to send your message. But today too, media images have come to have a greater reach across the world. I’m thinking in particular the Muslim populaces. Let’s see what kind of posture of subservience Israel can expect of Turkey.

Said one Turkish parliamentarian: “The word scandal is not enough to describe this move.” And it seems unlikely that Israel will apologize, Ayalon already responding: “In terms of the diplomatic tactics available, this was the minimum that was warranted given the repeated provocations by political and other players in Turkey.”

Perhaps Israel was emboldened by Egypt’s recent display of obedience to the mission of starving Gaza. Israel’s violent repression of the people of Gaza is meeting with growing criticism, and perhaps they expect Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to heel dutifully.

What might the minimum of responses be from Turkey, given the sway the US holds over its actions, in light too of its aspiration to rise through the EU?

With Egypt’s intention to fortify its Gaza border to curtail tunneling, and its announcement to permit no further aid from reaching the besieged Palestinians, the path remains only for someone to reach Gaza by sea. I’m hoping it will be the Turks.

Why couldn’t a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society type flotilla mount a seaborne rescue of Gaza? I’d bet televising such an adventure would find a bigger audience than Whale Wars.

Aid groups have been trying, with sporadic success, to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza coast. Perhaps it’s time for a nation to lend some military vessels to the task. Why not? The United Nations considers Israel’s embargo of Gaza to be illegal. Why shouldn’t a local power sail right before the Israeli warships to escort relief supplies to the Gazans? Let’s see whose ships will look down on whose.


UPDATE: Here it is, the Free Gaza Movement is putting together a flotilla!

Japan owes somebody A NEW BOAT!

sea shepherd collision ram bow
The Japanese whaling fleet, whose inhumane hunts pretend to serve the Institute for Cetacean Research, have deliberately rammed the high-tech trimaran Ady Gil, formerly the Earthrace, operated by their arch nemesis the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Pseudo-science spokesman Glenn Innwood was quick to declare the footage showed otherwise, saying the accusation “is just not vindicated by the video.” Obviously the Japanese need a cover who speaks better English. It’s a Freudian slip to seek to be not vindicated.

Au contraire for Kiwi Innwood-sen, the videos from both ships show the Ady Gil floating idle to the Shonan Maru’s starboard side before the whaler turns straight for it. The whalers are perhaps counting on not enough people seeing the video. That might have worked before YouTube.

If the Japanese believe “The obstructionist activities of the Sea Shepherd threaten the lives and property of those involved in our research, are very dangerous and cannot be forgiven” then aiming to ram the smaller vessel must constitute attempted murder, however unpremeditated the crime of passion may be.

Whether or not the action is ruled a crime, it’s without any doubt a violation of maritime code. The Ady Gil had right of way both by its position, and by being stationary.

Here’s the collision from the perspective of the whaler Shonan Maru 2, a highly maneuverable harpoon chase ship, as broadcast on Al Jazeera:

And here is the footage released by Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd Conservation Society:

UPDATE: I’d say this footage clinches it, from the Animal Planet Whale Wars cameraman aboard the Ady Gil. Read a detailed description from NZ.