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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Eco-terrorism’

‘Whale Wars’ to return as two-hour special

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

“Whale Wars,” which chronicles dramatic high-seas clashes between Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Japanese whalers, will be reduced to a two-hour television special this year. The program will run on Dec. 13 on the Animal Planet network.

whale wars

For five years, the program was produced as a weekly series. But we knew things were changing a year ago when Sea Shepherd decided to hire its own videographers instead of using an independent film crew associated with Animal Planet. Check out Water Ways, June 11, 2013.

Normally, the anti-whaling campaign ran through the summer whaling season in the Antarctic, generally from December into February or March. The series then followed each year in June. But this year the production was delayed, and it was hard to find out when the program would air or in what format.

Brian Eley, vice president of communications for Animal Planet, sent out a news release this morning explaining the new format with these highlights:

Capt. Paul Watson, the leader of Sea Shepherd, is no longer in charge of the anti-whaling campaign at sea. He was ordered by federal courts in the U.S. to keep his vessels back from the Japanese whaling ships. As I’ve reported, the campaign was turned over to Sea Shepherd Australia, which the organization contends is outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

“Leaderless and without Watson’s vast experience in aggressively engaging the whalers at sea, the Sea Shepherds are at a crossroads. Which one of the Sea Shepherds will take the mantle of leader and guide the group as they embark on their dangerous mission ‘to die for the whales?’”

Four captains are assigned to Sea Shepherd’s fleet, consisting of the Steve Irwin with Siddarth “Sid” Chakravarty at the helm; Bob Barker with Peter Hammarstedt; the trimaran Brigitte Bardot with Jean Yves Terlan; and the newest ship Sam Simon with Luis Manuel Pinho.

The actions of one of the rookie captains lead to tensions among the crew and the early retreat of one of the vessels, while another captain “makes a major decision that nearly causes a mutiny.”

Update, 5:30 p.m.: Brian Eley told me in an email that this year’s production was especially challenging. Animal Planet remained committed to following that actions of Sea Shepherd in the Southern Ocean, he said, but with all the “legal complexities” surrounding the organization, Animal Planet looked for an alternative to the formula used over the previous five years.

“We’re actually using the Sea Shepherds’ legal issues as a storytelling device in the special,” Brian said. “And because the Sea Shepherds’ shot the footage themselves, there was a delay in getting and then evaluating the thousands of hours of footage, so the series was delayed to this fall. What happened during their campaign was a story that made sense to produce as a two-hour special, not a multi-episode series.”

In another change this year, Animal Planet will offer a “ground-breaking, immersive online experience,” according to the news release. Included will be photos, video, interactive graphics and sound to produce a “powerful narrative that tells the tale of Watson and the Sea Shepherds, while also offering the perspective of the Japanese whalers whom they confront.” The new website will launch shortly before the television special.

Coincidentally, Watson and other members of Sea Shepherd are making an appearance this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, where they have argued that their actions did not violate the injunction issued last year. Reporter Gene Johnson wrote the story for The Associated Press.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Watson said one of the reasons he took the risk of being arrested this week was because he has not seen his granddaughter in 15 months. “So that was the most important thing about coming back.”

The next campaign in the Southern Ocean, still under the direction of Sea Shepherd Australia, is scheduled to begin on Dec. 1, according to Watson.

There’s still no word if Animal Planet will be involved in another “Whale Wars” television series or special.


U.S. court declares Sea Shepherd a ‘pirate’ group

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” begins Judge Alex Kozinski, launching into a scathing ruling against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which the judge calls a “pirate” organization.

Kozinski, chief judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, concluded in a ruling today that U.S. District Judge Richard Jones had made “numerous, serious and obvious errors” when he declined to issue an injunction against Sea Shepherd for its high-seas battle against Japanese whalers.

The three-judge panel ordered that the case be removed from Jones’ jurisdiction and turned over to another Seattle district judge drawn at random.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Cetacean Research — the Japanese whaling organization — continues its effort to get a contempt-of-court citation issued against Sea Shepherd, which has increased its efforts to disrupt Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Sea Shepherd remains under a U.S. Court of Appeals injunction, which requires that the organization’s ships operate safely and stay 500 yards away from the Japanese vessels.

I’ll provide an update on Sea Shepherd’s activities in a separate blog post, but let me first tell you more about Kozinski’s ruling (PDF 238 kb), which finds nothing commendable about any of Sea Shepherd’s actions.

(more…)


As whaling resumes, Sea Shepherd faces legal issues

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Japanese whaling fleet is headed toward the Antarctic to kill whales, and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is waiting with an increased armada to frustrate the whaling effort.

The level of intrigue has increased substantially this year, as Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd has become an international fugitive and Sea Shepherd finds itself under a U.S. court order to maintain a safe distance from the Japanese fleet.

Even the television show “Whale Wars” could be different this year, as Sea Shepherd has hired its own camera crew. That move has left network executives at Animal Planet somewhat uncertain about the upcoming sixth season of the show.

SSS Sam Simon, the newest vessel in the Sea Shepherd fleet.Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd

SSS Sam Simon, the newest vessel in the Sea Shepherd fleet. / Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd

Japan’s Kyodo News reported that the Japanese “research whaling fleet” left the Shimonoseki Port in Western Japan last Friday. The Japan Times reported that the Japanese Fisheries Agency has authorized a take of up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales this year.

Sea Shepherd crews departed for the Southern Ocean in mid-December with four vessels, including the latest addition — the 184-foot SSS Sam Simon, a former Japanese government vessel once used for meteorological research. The formidable ship, which has a hull strengthened for ice, was purchased for Sea Shepherd by the co-creator of “The Simpsons.” Read more in Sea Shepherd’s news release.

Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, was arrested in Frankfort, Germany, last May on charges relating to an incident in Central America in 2002. He was released on bail but failed to check in the following month, as required by conditions of his release. Siobhan Dowling reported on the incident for The Guardian.

In December, Paul told Associated Press reporter Manuel Valdes that he wanted to stay at sea. He contends that the Costa Rican government was pressured by Japan to seek his extradition.

“I want to stay in the ocean. I’m not going to be able to do that from some holding cell in Japan,” Watson, who now has no passport, was quoted as saying.

On Dec. 13, the U.S. State Department issued a joint statement with the governments of Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand calling for vessels in the Southern Ocean to observe international collision-avoidance rules:

“We are deeply concerned that confrontations in the Southern Ocean will eventually lead to injury or loss of life among protestors, many of whom are nationals of our countries, and whaling crews…

“We remain resolute in our opposition to commercial whaling, including so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, in particular in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission, and are disappointed about the recent departure of the Japanese whaling fleet for the Southern Ocean.”

In a written commentary, Watson actually seemed encouraged by the joint statement:

“We at Sea Shepherd have no problem with this. We haven’t sustained any serious injury nor have we caused any injury at sea in 33 years and certainly not in the last six voyages to the Southern Ocean.

“What the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society welcomes, however, is the fact that the statement issued by the four nations clearly condemns the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet. This statement validates and encourages Sea Shepherd intervention during Operation No Compromise this year.”

But Sea Shepherd faced a new turn of events on Dec. 17, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Sea Shepherd — and Paul Watson specifically — from “physically attacking” the Japanese whaling fleet or from “navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel.”

The order (PDF 37 kb) prohibits Sea Shepherd from getting any closer than 500 yards to the Japanese ships. The injunction will remain in effect until a final ruling is issued by the U.S. District Court, which could come about the end of this year.

A well-written analysis of the hearing before the Court of Appeals was provided by June Williams of Courthouse News Service. An audio recording of the lively hearing is available from the Ninth Circuit’s website.

“It looks like the Japanese whaling fleet is ready to rumble,” Watson responded in a written commentary issued the same day the injunction was announced. He continued:

“It is a complex situation whereby a United States court is issuing an injunction against Dutch and Australian vessels carrying an international crew, operating out of Australia and New Zealand in international waters and the waters of the Australian Antarctic Economic Zone. In addition, the court has ignored the fact that the Japanese whalers are in contempt of a court order by the Australian Federal Court and the whaling takes place in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

“We will defend these whales as we have for the last eight years – non-violently and legally.”

So now the stage is set for another confrontation in the Southern Ocean. As the whaling season goes on, we’ll get the usual conflicting news releases from Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whalers. But how the events are portrayed on the television program “Whale Wars” may be influenced by a change in film crew.

whale wars

Before the ships’ departure, Sea Shepherd advertised for its own film crew to replace an independent crew previously used by Animal Planet. Officials with the network confirmed to me that they do not have a film crew on board at this time.

Blogger Michael Destries reported that Sea Shepherd officials hired their own crew to provide “greater flexibility for distribution purposes.”

How this will play out for the show “Whale Wars” is yet to be seen, but Sea Shepherd apparently intends to provide footage to the show’s producers.

Animal Planet spokesman Brian Eley told me that the network plans to air a sixth season of “Whale Wars,” but the two parties are still working out some critical details. Animal Planet owns the name “Whale Wars,” the show’s format and everything that goes with it.

The program is important to both organizations. “Whale Wars” helped transform Animal Planet from a children’s channel to an adult network, and the program has served the goals of Sea Shepherd almost beyond belief.

Brian said it is important to Animal Planet to maintain editorial control over “Whale Wars” with a documentary format and a “neutral point of view.”

“Every year, there are certain things that they (Sea Shepherd officials) disagree with over how we portray them,” he said. “But we have a good relationship with them, and I think people like the show the way it is.”

Brian did not seem to think it was too late to get an independent film crew on board, which would be the preference of Animal Planet executives.

He concurred that this was a “banner year for legality” facing Sea Shepherd, but Animal Planet is not caught up in that drama. The network has been careful to simply document the group’s activities, he said, not influence what the group does or does not do.


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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