Whaling clash highlights two Hollywood donors

The Hollywood-style rescue of six militant conservationists stranded after Tuesday night's collision between an anti-whaling boat and a Japanese whaler in the Southern Ocean spotlighted significant financial contributions to the activists from two of the entertainment industry's top animal-cause philanthropists.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's sleek, speedy and stealthy carbon-fiber trimaran, the Ady Gil, was purchased with a $1-million donation from Gil, co-owner of American Hi Definition Inc., one of Hollywood's leading providers of video production trucks, custom control rooms and camera systems to entertainment and corporate clients, including Jay Leno.

The vessel's six crew members were rescued from the stricken craft by the crew of the Bob Barker, a former Norwegian whaler recently purchased and refitted with a $5-million donation from Bob Barker, who hosted the TV game show "The Price Is Right" for 35 years.

"Sea Shepherd is extremely fortunate to have the support of Bob Barker and Ady Gil," said Amy Baird, spokeswoman for the group. "Their generous contributions will help Sea Shepherd to end illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."

Gil, of Woodland Hills, was shocked when he heard, by phone, about the violent collision that sheared off the vessel's bow and left at least one crew member with minor injuries.

"This is so sad," Gil said in an interview. "My little boat was out there trying to save the whales. Now it has a broken nose and is badly damaged. It was one of a kind. Can it be repaired, or rebuilt? We'll have to see."

The collision off the Antarctic coast was only the latest run-in between the militant conservationists and whalers from Japan, which insists it has the right to hunt the cetaceans for what it calls scientific purposes. The group's campaign to interfere in the hunt is featured in Animal Planet’s "Whale Wars" reality show, which had a production crew of 16 aboard Sea Shepherd vessels, including a cameraman on the Ady Gil.

Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet Media Enterprises, said in a news release that the show was "excited to be on Sea Shepherd boats again this season" and that the group's efforts have "made 'Whale Wars' intense and vital television."

Barker, who lives in Hollywood, said he was "delighted" at the role of his namesake ship.

"By virtue of the Bob Barker being there, six lives were saved," he said in a telephone interview. "The whole purpose is to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically by making it impossible for them to harvest enough whales to continue to exist."

Barker's contribution to the anti-whaling cause followed a conversation he had six months ago with Sea Shepherd's founder, Paul Watson.

"I was impressed with Paul in every way," Barker recalled. "At one point, he said, 'If I had $5 million, I could put the Japanese whalers out of business.' I said, 'I have $5 million. Let's get it on.' "

The Ady Gil, designed to run for long periods on biodiesel fuel, set a world record for global circumnavigation before Gil bought it in October and donated it to Sea Shepherd.

"We can't allow a piece of seagoing history like this to go down," Gil said. "Maybe we'll build my boat a little sister and call it Ady Gil II."

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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