San Clemente woman produces show in difficult conditions

San Clemente resident Erin Calmes recently completed three months at sea as the producer of the sixth season of the television show “Whale Wars.” Courtesy photo
San Clemente resident Erin Calmes recently completed three months at sea as the producer of the sixth season of the television show “Whale Wars.” Courtesy photo

By Jim Shilander

Erin Calmes of San Clemente just completed one of the most difficult jobs in television.

Calmes recently spent three months living on ship with the crews of the Animal Planet documentary series “Whale Wars,” which documents the efforts of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society, a group that confronts whaling ships in open waters and attempts to ward them off. The series, which began its sixth season last Friday, includes a number of close confrontations between the society’s ships and crews and those of the whaling vessels.

Calmes said while the conditions on the boats were challenging to film, given the frigid conditions near Antarctica, where the fleet went this year, the larger challenge was maintaining a sense of distance between the crew of the ship and the crew of the show.

“You have the camera crew living alongside the Sea Shepard crew, side by side,” Calmes said. “Keeping a professional and personal distance can be tough. Most film crews on reality shows can come and go and don’t live with the subjects. They aren’t living with them 24/7.”

The climate of the area also makes for a challenge, Calmes said. Many cameras froze in the conditions. Footage became unusable if even a drop of water came in contact with it.

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Then there were the confrontations. Calmes, who had previously worked on a documentary film about whale sharks, as well as feature films like Air Force One, said some whaling ship crews flash grenades at the ships, and threatened the crew with ramming. Calmes, who has photojournalism experience covering war zones in the Balkans, said the crews were “very aggressive.”

At one point, Calmes said she spoke to the ship’s crew about what might happen if the ship were rammed and went down.

“We advised the crew we would be the last to leave the vessel,” Calmes said. “We said we would step up into the lifeboats.

Calmes, who has lived in San Clemente since 2005, is an avid kite boarder and surfer.

“I happen to be drawn to the ocean,” she said.

Calmes is now focusing on a new documentary advocating for a ban on the killing of whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, which are being hunted for their fins.

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