To analyze the group dynamics of the team of “Sea Shepherd Conservation Society”, a crew
setting sail every winter to the Southern Ocean to stop Japanese whalers from catching and
killing whales, we decided to keep a close eye on the second episode of the first season of the
reality TV-show “Whale Wars”. The team operating in this episode intends to achieve media
attention by boarding a Japanese whaling vessel and accusing the Japanese of hostage taking.
Paul Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace, who is also criticized for his direct-action tactics,
commands this action. Captain Paul Watson and the five most important of his forty
crewmembers are analyzed in the following.
Our group observation team consists of four members and almost all of us grew up in
different backgrounds. Even though we all came from different parts of the world we
developed a similar impression of the team we choose to observe – the Sea Shepherds almost
look like a family of thirty-two members, who are linked together by the same goal – stop the
Japanese from killing the whales. However, even though we agreed that each member of the
team has its role in the team we came up with quite different ideas and opinions about each
one of them.
Firstly the captain – Paul Watson made an impression as a risk taking and inpatient person
who is leading the team. This was one of the things our working group could agree on, based
on the way the Sea Shepherds leader talks, the risky orders he gives to other members and the
plans he comes up with. However when we were discussing the two members of the team
who went on the mission, Giles Lane (engineer) and Benjamin “Pottsy” Potts (helicopter deck
chief) we had different opinions. While two members of our team thought these brave men
just wanted to prove themselves among the whole world to show that they contributed their
long career for a purpose and they just don’t want to miss their chance (based on the words “I
want to do something that counts” by Giles), the other two thought Pottsy was talked into it
by Paul, because he had damaged the helicopter earlier, which isn’t exactly volunteering.
These two of us also thought Giles only volunteered because he felt bad for Pottsy, based on
the fact that he waited until just before the mission, when he was sure no one else was going
to help Pottsy. This is not the only thing we discussed in different points of views. For
example the other three Sea Shepherds we choose to talk about, Kim McKoy (the excutive
director), Peter Hammerstedt (second mate) and Scott Bell (medical officer) made an
impression to three of our team members as the realistic part of the team who care more about
the facts and think more logically, whilst the other member of our team saw them as ones who
were the most worried about Pottsy and Giles. Our team also came up with different opinions
about the goal of the Sea Shepherds. Basically we had two theories:
1) The people in the show just use the attention from the mass media to attract more
popularity and greater ratings to the documentary.
2) The Sea Shepherds use the mass media as a tool to attract more attention to the problem
and to stop the Japanese from killing whales.
Last but not least we created different images of the key factors that keep the Sea Shepherds
motivated, how differences of the members impact their interactions among each other. For
example, we noticed that their motivation is limited by their own beliefs and not all of them
are willing to risk their lives for the whales (based on the lack of volunteers for the mission).
In this case lifelong experience and personal determination come as factors that determine and show how motivated a member is and what role in the group he takes (for example, Paul
Watson, the captain, spent his whole life working towards Greenpeace goals). While half of
our group agreed that this causes a chain reaction to the way group members talk with each
other, as in, the longer your work here, the more respect you earn for yourself and the less
respect you are obliged to show to others (based on the captain’s psychological portrait).
Others came up with a different idea – that their interactions with other team members are
based on their professions. For example, the medical officer, Scott Bell, is not only a doctor
but his whole lifestyle is devoted to taking care of others.
In general, one can say that each team member is individual and presents his individual
opinion. This is obvious especially in the interview sections in the episode. Due to differences
in opinion, captain Paul Watson distinguishes himself from Scott Bell, the Medical Officer,
who is more concerned about the safety and physical conditions of the crew members. Paul
Watson even doubts about Bell’s integrity into the team, he suspects how Bell could
undertake the admission procedure in the issue of sending two crew members to board the
Japanese whaling vessel (“In fact I don’t understand why he is on this ship.” says Paul
Watson). Furthermore stereotypes are held against the Japanese whalers. The crew for
instance makes fun of the Japanese whalers by doubting about if they speak Japanese (“Do
they speak Japanese?” says Paul Watson). It can be said that the general picture of the
Japanese whalers is that they are inhumane, in spite of the fact they kill whales. This picture is
enhanced by the reactions of the Japanese towards the two crewmembers who boarded the
whaling vessel: They were tied to the ship and harshly treated. In conclusion it can be said
that prejudices towards the Medical Officer and the stereotypes against the Japanese influence
the group working as a whole and its actions towards the Japanese. For instance, if the
stereotypes against the Japanese would not be so intensive, the crew would decide to use a
less extreme tactic.
The crew of the Steve Irwin showed a number of strengths and weaknesses in trying to
achieve their goal of stopping the Japanese whalers and gaining the attention of the
international media. One of the strengths we distinguished in this team was the fact that they
were excellent at communicating with each other. Communication was always very clear and
easy to understand. There was no yelling, screaming or shouting, which resulted in a very
business like style of communicating. An example of how the team worked well together to
communicate, was when part of the crew took of in an inflatable vessel. While they were on
this vessel they were unable to communicate with the main ship. Therefore they launched a
helicopter, which took over the role of communicating and told the main ship what was going
Another strength of this team is the fact that they were all very well disciplined. Everybody
performed the part for the team, even when they were really against the whole operation. For
example, Scott bell, the medical officer of the ship, was very much against the operation, but
still performed his duties. This shows his commitment to the team, which is a real strength.
Other strengths we have been able to take from this team are their contribution and
determination. Every team member is willing to give it their all and is wiling to sacrifice
himself for each other and for the cause that they are fighting. This leads to a very close
knitted team, which we see as a factor that makes this team stronger.
Besides these strengths we have also managed to point out a number of weaknesses, which
don’t allow the team to perform at its best. One of these is the lack of input in the planning of
other team members. An example of this is the fact that the captain, Paul Wattson, is the sole
planner of the feat they are trying to perform. There is none to very little input from others,
which leads to the team perhaps not carrying out the best possible plan.
One of the other weaknesses of this team is the fact that they lack experience. This in turn is
expressed in a lack of skills, and this ultimately leads to the fact that they don’t fully think
things through before act. This can be see in the fact they are unable to properly deploy the
prop fouler, which is supposed to bring the whaling ship to a halt. Despite this the still carry
on with their plan and when get two of their own crew on the Japanese ship, instead of being
able to stay near the ship it starts to gain distance on them. The fact that their plan doesn’t go
according to plan can be dealt to the fact that they hadn’t fully thought things trough and
therefore acted to soon.
We all agreed that the group’s biggest weakness was the fact that they often act before
thinking and talking things really through. A lot of things happen in a flash, such as making
the whole plan to board the Japanese whaler, writing a letter to the Japanese whalers for Potty
and Giles to carry with them on their mission, communicating to the Japanese whalers over
the radio, etc. These actions were usually just a quick brainstorm from one person only. We
think the group might achieve substantially better results if they took the time to carefully
plan and discuss their actions before carrying them out. For example, if they would have
thoroughly discussed what Pottsy and Giles were to do once they had boarded the Japanese
ship, they might have avoided a lot of hostility between the Japanese and them.
For the group, in order to be able to plan their actions more thoroughly, changes have to be
made, since Paul is the one making all of the decisions by himself. We came up with a list of
three possible solutions.
The first solution would be for Paul to simply to do a little more research before ordering his
crew to go on their missions.
The second solution would be for Paul to consult the rest of the group in an official group
meeting and to discuss his plans, and for the group to think about them, to give their opinion
on them, and to come up with suggestions for other plans, without changing the hierarchy of
The third solution takes the participation of group members in the planning even further, and
it changes the hierarchy to a democracy, where every crewmember has a chance to vote for
the possible plans and missions the crew comes up with.
The drawback of the first solution is that it would take a long time for Paul to carefully plan
things out, and the group would probably lose the speed needed to battle the Japanese
whalers. The drawback to the third approach however is that the group would lose their
structure and discipline, which are important strengths of the group. Therefore, we think the
second and middle ground approach would be the best solution. Paul would still come up with
ideas, but instead of immediately giving the orders, he would discuss them in a group
meeting. The rest of the group would then give their opinions, and they might come up with
glitches Paul didn’t think of. The group members would also be able to come up with ideas
themselves, and they could discuss those in the group meeting as well. However, Paul would
still be in charge, and he would make the final decision. In order for this to work, he would
have to be open to other people’s suggestions and really take them into consideration. We
think this solution would improve the actions of the group without slowing them down too