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Whale Wars: How was the Sea Shepherd's new ship sunk?

Paul Watson, star of "Whale Wars," and his eco-vigliantes at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been sailing close to the legal wind for some time, harassing Japanese whalers. Wednesday the Sea Shepherd's $2.5 million speedboat Ady Gil was sunk.

By Staff writer / January 6, 2010

This photo provided by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows the sheared off bow of the Ady Gil, a high-tech speed boat that resembles a stealth bomber after a collision with a Japanese whaling ship in the frigid waters of Antarctica on Wednesday.

JoAnne McArthur/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society/AP

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The reaction of Paul Watson, the controversial leader of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, to the destruction of the crown jewel in his tiny anti-whaling fleet on Wednesday was swift. But Watson also managed to get a plug in for his reality TV show, "Whale Wars."

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Early Wednesday the Ady Gil, a $2.5 million carbon-fiber trimaran that his organization has been using to harass the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean, was abandoned to sink after it was sheared in half by a collision (see video just below) with a much larger, steel-hulled boat running security for the Japanese fleet. The Gil, when it was known as Earthrace, set a global circumnavigation record.

"The Japanese whalers have now escalated this conflict very violently,” Mr. Watson said in a press release issued from his flagship Steve Irwin. “If they think that our remaining two ships will retreat from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the face of their extremism, they will be mistaken. We now have a real whale war on our hands... and we have no intention of retreating."

Retreat has never been one of Watson's strong suits. In over 30 years of environmental activism, he has taken a militant approach to whalers and other opponents that have seen him crow about intentionally ramming other ships (video at end of post of Sea Shepherd ship deliberately ramming a Japanese whaler in 2008) and paint the side of one of his earlier vessels with a tally of "enemy" whalers sunk, including the name of a Norwegian vessel that sank after its hull was breached by a limpet mine in 1980.

Mr. Watson's gone so far in embracing his self-image as an ecological pirate that he's made the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger the symbol of his fleet and he's long argued that environmentalists need to be devious and confrontational in pursuing their ends. Earlier this week, his newest boat, the $5 million Bob Barker (named for the game-show host that paid for it), approached the Japanese fleet flying a Norwegian flag, on the theory that the Japanese would think it was a friendly from one of the two other remaining whaling nations. When it drew close, down came the Norwegian flag and up went the Jolly Roger.

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