A former U.S. Marine helicopter mechanic, who spent 13 months at sea fixing military choppers and serving in the Gulf War, Chris Aultman is at an age when most warriors wind down the fighting. Now 38, he’s a helicopter pilot himself, flying commercially to support his family in Southern California. You’d think he’d be spending his winters flying tourists back and forth between Long Beach Harbor and the island of Catalina, taking it safe.
But instead, Aultman spends December through February trying to land a recon chopper on a boat rocked in rough Antarctic seas, fighting on the front lines of a dangerous battle that pits environmental activists against Japanese whale hunters. Fancast’s Watch This Way columnist Dan Frankel caught up to Aultman Friday, hours before the season two premiere of “Whale Wars,” Animal Planet’s documentary series that follows this fight.
You really get into it with these whalers. Hate is a strong word, but is that how you feel towards those guys? I personally don’t hate them, but I strongly disagree with what they do. I think that at this point, they’re doing it out of spite. Whaling is on the ropes – it’s met with strong resistance worldwide. What we need to do is find a way for the Japanese to get out of the business and save face.
In four years of flying reconnaissance missions on the Steve Irwin, how many times have you thought you were going to die? There have actually been only a few of those moments. We had a situation a few years ago when we were attempting to land on a ship, but because the sea was rough that day, we couldn’t do it. We ended up getting into a low-fuel situation before we could land on another ship. That was certainly tense.
What’s it like having cameras around? Does that bother you? Sea Shepherd is a default media organization itself, so at the end of the day, our most powerful weapon is the media. And ‘Whale Wars’ is by far the biggest exposure we’ve had.
There were some interesting onboard romances in season one. Given that interest in the show only helps your cause – that is, bringing light to whaling activity you say violates international law – did you guys or the producers do anything to enliven season two? I mean, did you choose a crew member because they might also make a good TV personality? No, that’s actually something we really try to avoid. People would figure that out if we did that. What we do is exciting and dangerous enough.
Cooped up on ship for 24 hours a day, you must have some down time. How do you fill that? We do have a lot of down time. Poker is really big on the ship – we play three nights a week and I’m the designated dealer. And we certainly watch a lot of movies.
How does your family deal with you being gone for four months of the year doing something so dangerous? It is really hard. When I’m down there, everybody’s hanging on the news, but they understand why I’m doing this, and they make the sacrifice.
Tune into the new season of ‘Whale Wars’ on Animal Planet.