Sea Shepherd lectures camera operator on terrifying Whale Wars episode

We’ve seen Animal Planet’s Whale Wars break the fourth wall before, primarily when a camera operator put down his camera, fearing he’d drown.

But like when Whale Wars: Viking Shores included footage of some random blowhard next to Paul Watson on the deck of the Steve Irwin, the show has also shown crew members of the reality show or other non-Sea Shepherds without identifying them on screen, including on Friday’s new episode.

After one of the Brigitte Bardot’s pontoons was nearly torn off by a rogue wave in a storm, the crew member who had the strongest reaction during the episode was actually Whale Wars director of photography/producer Jillian Morris, who, along with her then-fiancee, now-husband Duncan Brake, is one of two reality show crew members on board the Bardot (they also filmed Whale Wars: Viking Shores, when I interviewed them for Playboy).

First mate Beck Straussner, who later tied the pontoon to the ship with a single rope, asks her, “Jillian, are you hanging in there?” She says, “Yeah, I’m alright.” And then he says, condescendingly, “Okay, cool. Please, just remember, everybody feeds everbody else’s energy.” Jillian replies, “Yeah, I know. I’m doing the best I can, Beck. I don’t need a lecture from you.”

We rarely see anyone challenge Sea Shepherd’s sometimes incomprehensible attitudes or behavior in these moments, and while Beck’s response was probably just his own anxiety and stress, it was nice to see the condescension and superiority challenged.

The Bob Barker had to go through a storm with 50-foot waves to rescue them, leading to terrifying footage of the boat listing at what appeared to be 45-degree angles repeatedly. The storm delayed the rescue, just another unbelievable, head-shaking moment. A Sea Shepherd volunteer on the Bardot says, crying, “It’s progressively getting worse and worse. It’s just a lot.”

Jillian is shown crying on the ship’s bridge, and says, “Sorry, I’m just…I can’t do this. I didn’t sign up for this. There’s a hole in the boat!” The show doesn’t identify her on-screen as its camera operator, though the credits do.

As night falls, it seems like all hope is lost, and the editors heightened the tension by not showing footage from the Bardot as the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker try to contact them the next morning, having heard nothing for 10 hours. If it weren’t for the fact that there was no news about this and that footage survived (never mind that I’m friends with Jillian on Facebook), I’d have been convinced they were all dead.

The severity of their situation was contrasted, of course, with footage of Paul Watson seeming disconnected: “What do you mean, they’re taking in water?” “Yeah, I guess so,” he said when asked if the Steve Irwin should use both engines to accelerate its rescue. He also seemed to think the trimaran boat could stay afloat even with two of its two pontoons torn off.

Adding to the drama were other Sea Shepherd shenanigans, such as the crew being unable to find the satellite phone when they realized there was an emergency. In other words, the usual high drama.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.