That Scary Boat in the Cannes Harbor? It's Filled With Conservationists!

Sam Simon Boat - H 2016

Amid security concerns and heightened police patrols, a camouflaged ship with jagged shark's teeth on its hull anchored in the waters directly in front of the Grand Hotel prompted "what’s that?" buzz on the first day of the fest.

The Hollywood Reporter has learned it's the Sam Simon, an antipoaching vessel named a­fter the late Simpsons co-creator, who financed its acquisition. The ship is owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an animal-rights group dedicated to marine causes.

The aggressive direct-activism organization, which can make PETA look mild, has arrived ahead of a planned May 14 press conference, with supporter Pamela Anderson calling attention to its ongoing legal campaign against Antibes' Marineland, a SeaWorld-like amusement park that’s the largest of its kind in Europe. Sea Shepherd contends that an orca and numerous other animals unnecessarily died after flooding on the property last fall. (Marineland reopened in March.)

"We are presently suing for negligence," says Paul Watson, founder and president of the activist group. "They don't want to release the autopsy for the orca. The pools on the property were filled with diesel and other chemicals."

Marineland, which has in the past denied abuse allegations and ensured that conditions are "carefully and strictly controlled by several European and international organizations and regulations," did not respond to THR's request for comment.

Sea Shepherd's members are no strangers to the Croisette, having made the scene repeatedly in the past. They attended a 2010 screening of Peter Jay Brown's out-of-competition documentary about the group, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist. "We've come to the festival at various times because we believe the camera is incredibly powerful," says Watson.

Indeed, Sea Shepherd’s pirate vigilantism, which includes ramming whaling vessels (Watson, who lives near St. Tropez, is wanted by Interpol for his activities), has seen a wave of such interest. Two other docs are in development about the group, one produced by Rob Stewart and the other narrated by Dan Akroyd. Meanwhile, Taken director Pierre Morel is at work on a feature film.

Several of Sea Shepherd's fleet of nine antipoaching ships are named after environmentally active entertainment industry benefactors, including the Bob Barker, currently patrolling off of Gabon; the Martin Sheen, which recently completed a mission in Mexico's Sea of Cortez; and the Brigitte Bardot, which is guarding waters near Sicily. "We've been working on this issue for 20 years," says Watson. "But Blackfish really gave it the push into the public eye we'd long been hoping for."