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War of the Whales: How Laurens de Groot keeps his head in the fight

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Image Credit: Animal Planet All you really need to survive a three-month stretch in Antarctic waters is a laptop, a few cans of beans, and a zen state of mind — or so says Laurens de Groot, who takes to the high seas again on the third season of Whale Wars. The premiere (airing tonight at 9 p.m., on Animal Planet) follows the Sea Shepherds, a non-profit conservation group, as they continue chasing and combating Japanese whale poachers in the Southern Ocean.

It’s dangerous business, fighting flashbang grenades with stink bombs afloat icy, choppy waters, so in season 3, the vigilante Shepherds are adding two new ships to their fleet. There’s the Bob Barker (yes, named after the Price is Right legend who donated $5 million for a new ship) and the Ady Gil, a Batmobile-like vessel that slices through waves and whalers’ harpoons with a quickness.

After two campaigns aboard the flagship Steve Irwin, de Groot joins the Ady Gil’s inaugural crew this season. He’s a former Dutch policeman who, with no prior experience on board a ship, “decided to sell everything I have, give up my job, and went to Australia.” And though (spoiler alert!) the Whalemobile doesn’t make it to the end of the season, de Groot’s resolve to continue this fight is stronger than ever: “When I was a cop, I [didn’t] run away from somebody committing a crime. You act, you interfere, and this is the same for me when a group is targeting an endangered species, on the brink of extinction, that is so vulnerable.” See our interview with de Groot after the jump.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to work with the Sea Shepherds in the first place? And how did you become part of the crew?

LAURENS DE GROOT: What’s happening on the oceans is just the biggest atrocity in our modern historythe overfishing, the overpopulation, the whaling, the dolphin-catching. When I found out about the Sea Shepherds I thought, wow, this is an organization that’s actually going out there and doing real action, enforcing laws where government should be. I had filled in an application but I wasn’t invited to the crew. I just thought, I’m going to walk up there and say, hey guys, can you use any help? They decided yeah, we could use your help, and I was welcome.

With two new vessels, you’ve also got some new crew this season. Are there any initiation rituals that you put the newbies through?

There’s one thing you always have to do when you reach Antarctica — well, you don’t have to do it — but you jump through the water, which is freezing cold. And then [Captain] Paul [Watson] writes a certificate that you’ve done the “penguin dives.” But we don’t have too much time for stuff like that because we’re after the whalers.

Tell me a little bit about the Ady Gil, a.k.a. the Batmobile on water.

Oh, I think it’s even better than the Batmobile — it was designed to break the world record of circumnavigating the globe, and it actually did that in 60 days. It was designed for speed, so we were faster than the harpoon vessels, [and] we could really easily find the Japanese whaling fleet. It was designed to pierce through the waves and it could submerge for almost seven meters. Inside, it was super crammed. It’s like you’re living in a spaceship. We have six people on board of that vessel, our living space was 10 meters [long] and maybe one to two meters wide. You drive each other mental when you’re a month out on [the] seas in such a small area.

How do you manage to not go mental, then?

You get into this zen mode, this meditation-like state, where you just go, I’m going to wake up, and I’m going to make my cereal, and I’m going to do my watch, and then I’m going to clean my dishes, and then I’m going to write a piece of my diary, and then I’m going to read a book, and then I’m going to sleep.

So you keep to a strict schedule?

That’s the only way I could keep myself a little bit sane. You just have nowhere to go and you’re constantly in each other’s face. We had a very small kitchen and all our vessels are vegan, which was quite hard because our cooking appliances were very limited. After a long week when we run out of vegetables, we were just doomed to eat rice and beans.

What kind of in-ship entertainment do you have on board?

A lot of videos on your laptop and a lot of books. We play cards, we did a little bit of fitness — we try to test each other with push-ups and stuff.

The name of the show is not at all an exaggeration — you actually do go into battle with the whalers. It’s aggressive, there are powerful weapons involved, you’ve really got to psych yourself up, so you listen to any music to get the adrenaline going, before a confrontation?

Yeah, yeah, I do. This year, we had a Maori song, but [in] previous years when I went out on the small boats, I was always playing “Lose Yourself,” by Eminem. “Do not miss the chance to blow” — you know that line? It becomes a mantra after a while. And the other one was “Enter Sandman,” by Metallica. That one gets you pumped. Good oldie from the Black Album.

About a month into this campaign, one of the Japanese ships destroys the Ady Gil and you and your crew have to jump ship. Can you tell us what happened and how you feel about the work now, after such a traumatic event?

I was on top of the vessel when the collision happened. We were getting low on fuel so we decided to hang back, let all the vessels pass, and [then] slowly make our way to the Steve Irwin. We were drifting there and all the vessels were passing by. And the last ship, the Shonan Maru 2, […] at the last moment, they turn to the right and just went straight for our vessel. That ship was coming in so fast and we didn’t expect it, so you think, well, it’s done. I’m dead. You don’t have time to actually think about, this is it. You just say the f-word pretty loud, and you know that bow is coming over you. [Then] you get into emergency mode, get a life raft out, and then we stuck it out for, like, five minutes. It shows so clearly that we’re dealing with ruthless poachers that no one is willing to interfere with. The ramming made it even more clear that these people don’t back down for anything, and that’s probably why there’s not many organizations out there. That’s why we do it, and that’s why I like to join, and that’s why it’s a good thing Whale Wars is a platform for us to show this to the world.

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