“Whale Wars: Viking Shores” begins with scenic shots of the Faroe Islands, an 18-island archipelago about halfway between Iceland and Norway. As far as vacation spots go, it checks all the boxes for a picturesque getaway — rugged coastlines, green pastures, quaint towns and more than 20 beaches. But once a year the waters of these idyllic beaches turn red from the “Grind,” which is the Faroese term for a whale hunt.
“Whale Wars: Viking Shores” begins with scenic shots of the Faroe Islands, an 18-island archipelago about halfway between Iceland and Norway. As far as vacation spots go, it checks all the boxes for a picturesque getaway — rugged coastlines, green pastures, quaint towns and more than 20 beaches. But once a year the waters of these idyllic beaches turn red from the “Grind,” which is the Faroese term for a whale hunt. Using small boats, the Faroese herd hundreds of pilot whales into the shallow water off the beaches. When the whales are in position, the people waiting on shore rush in and stab them with hooks. According to the Faroese, it takes two minutes to kill a pilot whale. If Paul Watson is successful, it is two minutes that will never happen.
“Whale Wars: Viking Shores” documents the efforts of Watson and his marine conservation group Sea Shepherd to get between the whales and the Faroese who hunt them. As the narrator tells us in the opening episode, “There's a storm coming, and it has nothing to do with the weather.” The storm that is Paul Watson has been well documented over previous seasons of “Whale Wars.” He is willing to risk his life to save marine animals from mass killing and requires his followers to do the same. However, this single-mindedness, along with two seasons of chasing the same enemy (Japanese whalers), has meant that Watson and the “Whale Wars” franchise has become predictable.
“Viking Shores” tries to overcome potential viewer fatigue by introducing a new enemy in the Faroese. It's an effective strategy because unlike the Japanese whalers who were mostly silent enemies, the Faroese are prepared to use the presence of the cameras to launch a more contentious defense.
While the “Whale Wars” series has always used television as a platform to heighten awareness of Sea Shepherd's cause, “Viking Shores” is an even more self-conscious production because the Faroese are playing to the cameras as much as Watson and his crew. While the Japanese responded to Sea Shepherd's acts of sabotage physically from a distance, the Faroese do not hesitate to use the show to draw attention to their position. In the first episode, a foreman of the Grind approaches a Sea Shepherd member to explain how most of the local population feel about the hunt. Later, a Faroese man accuses Watson of launching his campaign against the Grind purely for the publicity it will bring him and his organization. Their arguments may not convince you, but they will make you stop and think.
The Faroese claim that the Grind is a tradition that has taken place for 1,000 years. For many, it is an intricate part of who they are as a people. They compare the killing of whales for their meat (which they claim is a regular part of their diet) to the killing of pigs or chickens. This dynamic makes the fight to stop the Grind feel more personal. Whereas the Japanese whalers used the dubious excuse of conducting “research” to justify their killing of whales, the Faroese are transparent in their purpose. This doesn't make their hunt less of a senseless slaughter, but it does challenge the viewer to understand the fight to stop it in a different way.
“Whale Wars: Viking Shores” premieres on Friday, April 27 at 9 p.m. EDT on Animal Planet.
Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.