I only recently became aware of one of television's most frustratingly addictive hours of programming, Animal Planet's Whale Wars. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, the basic premise is this: a group of potheads from Moore Hill dorm hooked up with the foreign exchange students from your high school, bought a boat, painted it black with skulls and whales and other hallmarks of stoner art and hired a pudgy, disheveled, middle-aged geek with a vacant stare and slack jaw to serve as their Captain. This rag-tag group of environmental pirates calls themselves the "Sea Shepherds."
After smoking a bowl, the Sea Shepherds decide to name their boat after the Crocodile Hunter, adopt antiquated nautical honorifics such as "Quartermaster" and "Bosun" for themselves and set sail bound for the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. Their goal? To disrupt Japanese whaling operations by covering the whaling vessels with an unbearable stench, an objective they fulfill in one of two ways: (1) tossing homemade stinkbombs on the decks, or (2) ordering one of the smelly hippie crewmembers to board one of the Japanese ships. Never mind that their boat, the Steve Irwin, has a thin hull and the Antarctic waters are full of steel-ripping icebergs. Don't fret that it appears none of the Sea Shepherds are qualified seamen. Set aside your concerns about their puerile attack strategy. These nitwits intend to save the whales or die an icy death trying. Watch a couple of episodes, and you'll find yourself rooting for the latter.
The Japanese whalers, of course, take umbrage with the annoyances bestowed upon their crew and have recently begun fighting back. Given that the offensive tactics employed by the Sea Shepherds would make Greg Davis' '00-'04 OU gameplans look like Alexander's outline for defeating Darius of Persia, it doesn't take much for the Japanese to stymie the Seahippies' attacks. Namely, it takes a few nets and some hoses.
The Sea Shepherds' response to the rudimentary Japanese defenses illustrates the depth of our heroes' complete ineptitude. There's simply no way the rag-armed Sea Shepherds can toss bottles full of butyric acid over several-story-high nets from an inflatable boat, especially while being pelted by a jet of ice-cold water. But they try anyway, only to get beaned by brass nuts and other debris hurled from the deck of a whaling ship. So the crew puts on their 100% all-natural hemp thinking caps and comes up with another bright idea: let's disable the whaling ships by tangling their propellers in an "unbreakable" swimming pool lane rope. As anyone who is familiar with the not-actually-unbreakable nature of nylon rope might guess, this does not go well and the Sea Shepherds are forced to return to the drawing board after the whalers snap the line in half and fish the remnants out of the water. Their new idea? "Let's sharpen the shit out of a steel grappling hook and toss it high in the air above our inflatable boats, hoping to rip the Japanese ship's nets down." That's right - they plan to toss a sharpened three-pronged puncturing device into the air above their inflatable raft. And it's with that nugget of bong-smoke-fueled dipshittery that this week's episode ends.
What's frustrating about the show is its complete failure to establish a protagonist. Despite their admirable determination to carry out a well-meaning cause, the incompetent do-gooders of the Steve Irwin are thoroughly unlikeable. Sure, there's one or two decently attractive female crew members. But I can't shake the feeling that even the prettiest She Shepherd almost certainly reeks of a pungent cacophony of sandalwood, sardines and unshaved underarms. The transparent PR shenanigans of their fearless leader, environmental antihero Paul Watson, only add to the inept blundering of his amateurish crew. In one episode, Watson went so far as to stage an assassination attempt. During a close pass between the Steve Irwin and a Japanese vessel, Watson inexplicably left his place at the helm to stand idly on the deck. After the crews exchange hand-thrown projectiles (stinkbombs from the whale-huggers and "flashbangs" from the whale-eaters), Watson strolls back into the bridge and announces that he's been shot. Miraculously, the bullet was stopped by a combination of the Captain's bullet-proof vest and his shiny anti-whaling badge. This raises at least two questions: (1) why is a boat captain wearing a kevlar vest and (2) why is anyone wearing an "anti-whaling badge?" Of course, not more than five minutes after the alleged murder attempt, we see Watson at the ship's computer posting a press release about the non-event.
Despite playing victims to the Sea Shepherds' inane assaults, it's also impossible to empathize with the Japanese. There's something off-putting about the industry's claim that it kills and processes 1,000 whales annually in order to "collect tissue samples" for "scientific research." It's especially insulting that these claims are broadcast from the deck of an enormous seaborne whale cannery operated by a country with a thriving market for whale meat.
But I'll keep watching, because I'm addicted to mocking the Sea Shepherds as they stumble and bumble around the Antarctic, clumsily crusading for the whales. Also, the show pairs well with sushi.