Friday night, Animal Planet debuted its new series Whale Wars. Inexcusably, it does not involve a tournament of mortal battles between orcas and spermaceti. The reality series follows the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group of militant environmentalists who set sail to confront and stop Japanese whaling ships, sometimes under threat of gunfire.
I can’t imagine that Animal Planet took the election into consideration in scheduling this program. But it is quite a coincidence that we just saw the defeat of McCain-Palin’s Deadliest Catch populism—a ticket with an Alaskan candidate, trying to appeal to small-town blue-collar voters—and the next week TV has moved on from he-men catching crab to gung-ho conservationists trying to keep whales from being caught.
Zeitgeisty or just accidental, Whale Wars is a much more muscular version of environmentalism than you see on your average Planet Green series, and the first episode was a fascinating look inside a subculture in which Greenpeace is disparaged as not militant enough. (My favorite scene in the entire episode was the young Sea Shepherdess arguing on the phone with a Greenpeacer who refused to share info on the location of a Japanese whaling ship: ”We don’t need you, the whales need you. The whales need you to get serious and pull your head out of your ___!” I’m thinking about using that for my answering machine message.)
It’s also an interesting departure for Animal Planet, which usually focuses more on nature’s creatures than on the people who obsess over them. I don’t recall Jacques Cousteau ever being this pissed off.