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‘Whale Wars’ to return as two-hour special

“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.