Controversy buoys ‘Whale Wars’

Hit show's extreme tactics come under fire

Call it a good news/bad news scenario, reality TV-style. According to Nielsen estimates, the second installment of Animal Planet’s docuskein “Whale Wars” garnered more than 1.1 million viewers in its second week, improving 13% on its Nov. 7 debut and marking it as the net’s biggest Friday telecast in five years.

However, that Nielsen bump comes amid (and very possibly because of) a storm of controversy that has surrounded the series, which chronicles the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to prevent whaling. Some of its tactics, such as the boarding of oceangoing vessels and the use of stink bombs, have been deemed extreme.

In one faceoff with a Japanese vessel in the Antarctic, the SSCS’ leader, renegade environmentalist Paul Watson, appeared to have been shot. In response, Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research issued a press release denying that any shots were fired and debunking in detail what it termed an “elaborate fake incident.”

“Animal Planet is treating its viewers, advertisers and financial backers like fools,” said Institute director Minoru Morimoto.

Discovery hasn’t taken a stand on the veracity of the shooting one way or another, but in a letter to the ICR, Animal Planet prexy-g.m. Marjorie Kaplan said that the cabler “in no way endorses the Sea Shepherd’s tactics or its position that the whale killing by Japanese research vessels is unlawful.”

She continued, “The series attempts to capture the intensity of the group, their personal motivations, their mistakes and mishaps, their internal conflicts and their encounters with whaling vessels in the seas of Antarctica.”

Discovery invited the Japanese to participate in next season’s filming, which commences on Nov. 27.

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