The Australian government has released photos and footage of whales being killed and dragged onto the Japanese whaling ship. Visuals are always effective, and they got a lot of play on BBC and, I suspect, much of the Western media. I’ll talk about some aspects of the public communications efforts later, but first:
We rarely see animals － more precisely animals for which we can feel empathy* － die violently. In fact, if you are a regular viewer of CNN, Fox News and/or BBC and are not an animal documentary fanatic, you will have witnessed far more untimely deaths and their aftermaths befalling humans than animals. This is particularly true in the case of urban denizens of advanced economies, including yours truly (and most likely you as well), who are shielded from the unpleasant realities of the abattoir. We collectively also happen to be the greatest beneficiaries of the science and engineering as applied to the processing and packaging of animals for consumption.
The protocols of death in the case of cattle has been “humanized” in recent decades, thanks to the enthusiasm of animal activists, but possible only through the efforts of scientists and engineers, such as Temple Grandin. By “humane”, I mean, of course, minimized distress and pain to the animal. It is swift, efficient; a far cry from the exhilaration and agony of the chase, the blow and the denouement, the hunt, which cannot fail to invoke thoughts of a lynching. But swift and efficient? Need I remind you what thoughts would arise if we were to see similar images, photos, and video footage of similar duration, of cattle being systematically filed in, to be slaughtered, one after another, and to be benumbed by the sheer bureaucratic monotony?
* My impression is that for most people, this rules out all so-called cold-blooded animals － snakes, fish, insects, etc. － except perhaps frogs. I stand ready to be corrected. There must be some studies out there on this subject by behavioral scientists. And how do I explain Antz and Jiminy Cricket? But then, you can anthropomorphize a teapot. I need to do more thinking on this.
A couple of thoughts with regard to the Australian government’s most recent actions:
First, there’s a meaningful gap between the harsh words of Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who, according to BBC told reporters, "It is explicitly clear from these images that this is the indiscriminate killing of whales, where you have a whale and its calf killed in this way," and that "[t]o claim that this is in any way scientific is to continue the charade that has surrounded this issue from day one," and the calm and collected approach of Foreign Minister Stephen Smith reported here in talks with Foreign Minister Kōmura and a session at the Japan National Press Club. Words like “indiscriminate killing” and “charade” are not in harmony with Mr. Smith’s desire “that the whaling dispute would not affect the overall partnership between the two countries”.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, this is what environment ministers do. They tend to be advocators, frontrunners, and jawboning is a most favored, sometimes only, tool available to them. This happens repeatedly in environmental negotiations, when they routinely clash with their industrial, trade, and foreign relations colleagues. Second, Mr. Garrett is playing to the domestic audience. That is compounded by the rowdy, rough-and-tumble nature of political discourse in Australia. My guess is, Mr. Garrett’s statements are milquetoast down under. Here in Japan, though, I suspect that they will be seen as fighting words. If Mr. Garrett’s approach is typical of the “Australian point of view” that “a special envoy” as proposed by Mr. Smith would convey, perhaps it is better for the Labor government to shelve the idea and let the legal process work its course.
My second point is that Mr. Garrett overreaches his evidence when he asserts, according to this AP-CNN report, “that this is the indiscriminate killing of whales, where you have a whale and its calf killed in this way”.
Maybe, maybe not. Who is to judge? After all, one nation’s “random sampling” is another nation’s “indiscriminate killing”. But with regard to “whale and calf”, both AP and BBC fail to mention that the statement issued by Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) in response to the Australian claims notes that the larger female whale was not lactating.