"Whale Wars" TV Show Leads to Real-Life Feud Between Activists

By Jennifer Welsh | October 11, 2010 1:51 pm

ady-gilIt’s not so surprising that the violent destruction of a $1.5 million boat would lead to an argument. But you would expect the argument to be between the owners of the boat and the vessel that rammed it.

Instead, members of the activist group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the group at the center of the Animal Planet TV show Whale Wars, are arguing amongst themselves and are making their he said/he said argument public business.

The group’s expensive and high-tech speedboat, called the Ady Gil, was damaged in a collision with a Japanese whaling ship in early January. The boat, worth $1.5 million, was used to chase down and harass whaling ships. After the crash, the Sea Shepherd crew tried to tow the boat with another vessel for over 36 hours, failing twice, before the salvage effort was given up and the boat was scuttled (deliberately sunk).

After the crash the Ady Gil’s skipper, Pete Bethune, boarded the Japanese ship to confront the captain, but the whalers detained him and Bethune ended up in Japanese court, where he was found guilty of trespassing and assault. In the midst of the legal maneuvering Sea Shepherd’s founder, Paul Watson, fired Bethune, but later said it was a tactical move to get Bethune a reduced sentence. (He was finally given a two-year suspended sentence, and was deported from Japan.)

Last week the argument intensified when a statement by Bethune to Japanese authorities came to light, claiming that Watson had ordered him to board the Japanese ship; there are reports that information has allowed the Japanese authorities to issue a warrant for Watson’s arrest. The reaction to Bethune’s statement was swift and fierce. In an email to Bethune, Watson denied that he had ordered Bethune to board the ship, relieved him of his post at Sea Shepherd, and even blamed Bethune for the destruction of the ship:

We have put the best face possible on it but let’s be honest Pete, there is no excuse for not having your vessel under control in the vicinity of a hostile ship. The Shonan Maru #2 was able to destroy your ship because you allowed them to do so. You took no evasive action.

Check the video below for a view of the original crash:

In response to being fired (again), Bethune made statements to the press, saying that Watson and the rest of Sea Shepherd’s “morally bankrupt” leadership had ordered him to sink the Ady Gil. The Sydney Morning Herald explains Bethune’s accusation:

Mr Bethune, the Ady Gil’s skipper, said the Sea Shepherd founder, Paul Watson, ordered the sinking to “garner sympathy with the public and to create better TV” in the battle against Japan’s Antarctic whaling program. “It was definitely salvageable, it was still rock solid from the engine room back,” he told Radio New Zealand yesterday.

Watson denies the accusations, saying that the ship was under Bethune’s care when the decision was made to sink it. Again, from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Mr Watson told the New Zealand Press Association that he felt betrayed and denied all the allegations, which he said were made because Mr Bethune was angry at being sacked. “No one ordered him to scuttle it. Pete Bethune was captain of the Ady Gil; all decisions on the Ady Gil were his. And that’s all on camera.”

One thing’s for sure: This conflict could make for riveting television.

Related content:
80beats: Controversial Deal Could Allow Japan to Hunt More Whales
80beats: In “Operation Blue Rage,” Sea Shepherd Activists Will Target Tuna Poachers
80beats: Is the Anti-Whaling Activist Who Boarded a Japanese Whaling Ship a Pirate?
80beats: Videos Show Collision Between Japanese Whaling Ship & Protesters
Discoblog: Say What? Japanese Whaling Ships Accuse Animal Planet of Ecoterrorism

Image: Sea Shepard Conservation Society

  • Sea Shepherd Fail

    Sea Shepherd – Watson “Fiddling Around” While Rome Burns


  • JMW

    Hm. The Shonan Maru #2 starts her turn toward the Ady Gil at 0:04, and contact starts at 0:18 – 14 seconds from the time it became obvious they were going to ram to the actual ramming itself. Additionally, the Shonan Maru #2 was spraying water at the Ady Gil, so it would be possible that someone on board might not be able to see the change in the Shonan Maru #2’s course.

    Whatever, if this dispute gets traction, it’s certainly going to bring the whole whaling situation to a wider public. Publicity is good. Good publicity is even better.

  • ednakano

    If Ady Gil really wnat to avoid collision, Ady Gil Should not sit in front of big vessel.
    Collision itself just prove Pete Bethune made bad decision.
    Anyway this fued comes share of money. Paul Watsin do not want to pay enough promissed help to Pete Bethune and Pete Bethune was upset. Impostors got into trouble by the share.

  • jordan

    [This comment has been deleted for its racist content.]

  • Jennifer Welsh

    Hey all,

    Thanks for reading and posting your comments!

    I’m interested to see what comes out of this debacle. The more I looked into this feud and these guys’ history the weirder it seemed to get.

    I just hope it doesn’t negatively affect the work they are trying to do, and the support their cause gets.


  • Jimbo

    Watson could easily tell Pete that scuttling the boat was his call (on camera), then tell the camera crew to leave the bridge so he can actually *order* Pete to scuttle the ship. Being that Earthrace was designed to circumnavigate the globe without assistance, I would be willing to bet that there were multiple compartments in the vessel to stave off sinking in the event of a collision. Watson simply did not want the Bob Barker out of the hunt because it had to tow Pete’s boat back to harbor. He also could not set it adrift to be picked up later, as you cannot discard anything in the Antarctic Zone. Therefore, it would have been far easier to sink the vessel and blame it on the collision. Given Watson’s history of bending the truth (like the shot that never was) and Bethune’s effective, but less-than-elegant style, I would have to lean towards Pete’s account of the event. Bethune is not as talented as Watson when it comes to smooth talk.

    What Animal Planet really needs to do is fund their own observation ship. The Sea Shepherd crew is really hamming it up for the cameras, and it makes them look like they are prostituting their cause for better ratings (and funding). The drama has gone up a hundredfold since AP hitched a ride on the Steve Irwin, chiefly because drama sells. I would call on AP to take a more documentary role, rather than a sensationalistic role, so that the SSCS can focus on its original role – saving whales, not ratings.

  • http://www.endecoterrorism.com/ Kujirakira

    The most interesting part of this whole debacle are the quotes Watson has of Bethune’s testimony.
    What Western media seems to be avoiding, probably because none of you bothered reporting on Bethune’s trial in the first place, is that Bethune had all of his statements altered at the last minute leading up to the trial. This was brought up several times during Bethune’s testimony on the stand. The transcripts are still online — though it would require somebody who can speak Japanese. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely in a movement which is inherently based on bigotry and regularly promotes racism and hate.
    Getting to the point, the alterations Bethune suddenly demanded to make to his written statements? To exclude any and all mention of Paul Watson. I wonder why he would suddenly want to do such a thing.
    But more importantly, how is it that Paul Watson has the original statements, statements that never entered the official record? These earlier statements are not admissible in a court of law. It appears Bethune’s lawyers had a conflict of interest. Not surprising since Paul Watson was footing the bill for his lawyers.

    Lastly, why is it that Watson is pretending that he only recently got Bethune’s statements when the trial finished months ago?

  • Samuel

    AP is selling an entertainment program, not making a documentary. They are very successful with the program because Watson provides the entertainment. He has become a caricature of an activist.

  • Brad

    Sorry but the Japanese are absolutely 100% wrong in this entire situation. Killing whales for research most certainly doesn’t require water cannons, sound devices, ramming of ships …

    Along with their promotion of the mass slaughter of dolphins, the Japanese have shown zero respect for wild life.

    Does this mean Sea Shepard people are right, absolutely not…. It is really a shame that the Japanese have been so corrupted by money, greed and pride, but then who hasn’t?

  • johnnu oini

    Watson is an Atheist, 3 time divorced thug from a broken fatherless family, still demanding the attention he never received as a child. His Atheist belief demands he not accept mans superiority to animals. If your little sister was drowning and a whale needed help at the same time, he would flip a quarter! There are more population troubled whales killed in the shipping lanes by tankers, then the heavily populated whales Japan is harvesting. I guess escorting Blue Humpbacks through shipping lanes, which would be a noble cause, doesn’t make exciting TV. Like throwing acid at Legitimate whalers does???? What a self serving, egotistical waste the sea hippies have become!!

  • Shawn Egan

    I’m not picking sides but, the Ady Gil was sinking. From, what I saw on TV (take it for what it is), the Ady Gil was sinking anyway. This could have been editing though. Regardless, this man voluntarily put his boat in harms way. Wether he got paid for it or not, he brought his boat there. That being said, I believe he was running out of gas, or was out of gas, and couldn’t move anyway. I believe they were just drifting and thought (and I think the whalers were) the whalers were just getting close to scare them.

    The man’s boat should be rebursed the cost of the boat. As far as legal stuff, that is on him. He could have said no.

  • Amber

    I must say I am appaled with the “Whale Wars” tv show… Seriously it just needs to be taken off the air. I know that I will never watch the show again. How could the crew on the “Bob Barker” be so stupid to allow the situation between the two small boats to happen? Why couldn’t those people load up on one of the small boats leave the sinking one behind and save themselves from the cold?

    No instead they waiting on a slow ship that has no business being out there in the first place and took cover behind an iceberg. How stupid are you people?!? Your boats are slow, unkept, and you have idiots out there making bad moves and for what? The japan people have bigger faster and more dependable boats and have spent their funds wisley.

    I wonder what the Aussie and whoever else is involved spent the funds they had on. It’s obvious by the tv show that the money wasn’t spent where it needed to be. I’m all for protecting Whales but at least do it right. It makes me sick to see the same old crap every week.

    I think that you should just count your losses you aren’t doing anything to help the whales except look like idiots. If this was your mission then congrats you’ve accomplished that goal. I’ve seen some BS shows in my lifetime but this one takes the cake.

  • Jflove

    fuck you ppl dem japs just trying to make a living like us other red blooded americans its just dope smoking hiippies like those clowns on the steve irwin who use their daddy’s money to pester hard working ppl who are just trying to make a living….get a life and a real job you fucking tree huggers


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