SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine – A high-tech ship from the TV show “Whale Wars” is docked at a local marina, but its crew is not interested in the debate between lobstermen and environmentalists over endangered right whales.
The MV Brigitte Bardot, one of 14 Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships, has been docked at Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina since mid-July because it needs repairs. It’s not here to weigh in on whether Maine’s lobster fleet is responsible for fishing lines that entangle and kill the endangered whales, said society founder Paul Watson — though he did say fishing lines pose a threat to whales.
“Whales do get entangled in lobster traps,” Watson said Thursday in a telephone interview from Colorado, where he is attending an environmental conference. But he did not say that new restrictions should be placed on how lobstermen fish.
“The answer to that is to have a [disentanglement] response team. You could say that the lobstermen could go out and free them, but it is a dangerous thing. You need training to do it.”
Maine lobstermen have steadfastly denied contributing to whale entanglement deaths, saying that their gear is dozens if not hundreds of miles from whale feeding grounds.
Local lobstermen were concerned that the Bardot was in town to put itself into the debate, said Micah Peabody, Dysart’s dockmaster.
“There was a lot of misinformation out there,” Peabody said. “I was a little concerned. I am friendly with a lot of fishermen and if they were here to have any beef with our local fishermen, they would not be on my dock.”
When Peabody approached the ship’s crew, they made it clear that they were in Maine for repairs only.
“They are super-nice people and they do great work,” Peabody said.
Three lobstermen approached Thursday by a BDN reporter declined to comment about the group or the vessel.
The presence of the well-known ship in Maine surprised Michael and Kim Strawbridge, Montana residents vacationing on Mount Desert Island.
“I support that organization and I am thrilled to see them,” Michael Strawbridge said. “It’s comforting that they’re here.”
The 115-foot Brigitte Bardot cuts a notable profile tied up at the marina, in many ways resembling a spaceship more than a sea-faring vessel. It is a fast, high-tech trimaran that the society has used to chase down and confront whaling ships around the globe.
Formerly named Gojira, the vessel first was launched in 1998 and then renamed in 2011 in honor of the French actress and animal rights activist.
The Bardot docked in Southwest Harbor after touring arctic waters for several weeks as a reminder to Iceland’s leaders to keep working to prevent illegal whale hunting. Iceland cracked down on illegal whalers after the society caught several last year, Watson said.
“We wanted to have the Brigitte Bardot there to show the Icelandic government that we were serious about monitoring the whales. It was an effective campaign. No whales will be killed there this year,” Watson said.
The society uses volunteers who serve three-month terms crewing society ships on endangered-species monitoring and protection missions around the world. The Bardot’s next stop is the waters off Peru, where they will be patrolling to stop the illegal fishing of sharks, he said.
Society ships frequently carry military personnel from host countries. The society provides the transportation, and the military handles law enforcement, Watson said.
“People think that these ships go after everything. We only go after poachers, criminals,” Watson said. “I call what we do aggressive non-violence. It is effective, but it’s not violent.”
But the Bardot will be stuck in Maine until it gets repaired. Engineers are still working on her, with no end date in sight, Watson said.
“You know what they say about boats,” Watson said. “They’re holes that you pour your money into.”
Watch: This right whale gets partially disentangled off Cape Cod