Death! Dismemberment! Exclusive footage of Japan's shocking whale hunt!

This week the Australian government released video of Japanese whalers harpooning an adult minke whale and its calf in the Antarctic Ocean as part of the country's annual whaling operation, which it has always insisted is for legitimate scientific purposes. That aside, the footage isn't something you'd want to watch before getting sushi: It includes images of a whale bleeding to death as it struggles against a taut harpoon cable and the bodies of the mother and calf being dragged by their tails aboard the whaling vessel.


The story played big in the local media, particularly the (Sydney) Daily Telegraph, which in a fit of old-fashioned public crusading was already in the midst of organizing a 100,000-people-strong campaign against the whaling fleet. The paper posted the footage to its website, complete with bloody photographs and prose that made little claim to journalistic objectivity ("Scientists say this baby minke looks to be at suckling age—an easy target for a cowardly harpoonist").

Certainly the tabloids were outraged, but they weren't alone. Australia's environmental minister, Peter Garrett, said the "distressing" photos "sickened" him. "It's very disappointing," he told the Telegraph. "It's even sadder when you consider there's a calf involved." Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner of the European Union, released a statement reading in part, "the graphic images on our television screens bring home the reality of whale hunting."


These are hardly the first pictures of whaling the press has gotten its hands on (even 150 years ago, Herman Melville was describing much the same process in excruciating detail in Moby Dick). But what's interesting about this most recent example is how clearly it displays all the good and bad characteristics of classic muckraking journalism. On the one hand, the images make crystal clear the brutality of the killings and could raise awareness in the general public, even leading to pressure on elected officials to more aggressively demand Japan cease its whaling. The ideal model here is probably Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.


But sensationalism can also lead to trouble. Pressed to deliver ever more outrageous, 52-point headlines, reporters can sometimes spin a story, overlooking key facts and delivering their readers a distorted view of the facts. Screaming front pages inevitably need to get more and more over-the-top in order to hold readers' attention. And at a certain point, few people besides the converted will be interested in reading the reports of a news outlet with an obvious agenda.


As Susan Sontag spent so much of her life picking apart, photographs are particularly powerful symbols that can easily be used to distort the truth and manipulate the viewer. Good journalists don't need to have read On Photography to know that a more restrained use of such powerful images can go far toward bringing readers the whole story.


I read this poem on the Internet written by A. Viirlaid of Toronto. It made me think there has to be a better way for us to coexist with other life on our planet Earth. My reaction follows after the poem.

Mother Whale’s Lament

I cry for our shared grace
I cry for your human family
I cry for your whaler's family
I cry for my family
I cry for me
With your warm hand you could stroke my skin like so many of your family have chosen to do
You would feel my warmth and gratitude
Why do you touch me only with your cold harpoon as you thrust it into my flesh?
I thought after so much killing that we would both crave harmony
That we had learned that we both feel and love
That we both treasure life
That we revere our comrades
That we embrace our children
That we share the same blood of our ancestors
That our hearts both beat the rhyme of life
How my child will cling to me as you haul my dying carcass out of the sea
How she will cry
Until you kill her too 

A. Viirlaid, Toronto

Nature and Paradox in the Human Condition

I believe this whale hunt is utterly unnecessary, mindlessly cruel, deeply hypocritical, and an activity not worthy of modern humankind nor especially of the Japanese people who are a culturally and economically advanced people.

The Japanese of today are not the same people as those who scraped a living out of the wilderness during the Stone Age. They are not starving. They do not today live in a disadvantaged situation when compared to the many poor peoples of other nations.

So there is little substance in any nutritional argument for killing whales. There is even less in the cultural argument. Also one cannot justify the current killing with the "scientific study" argument — it is easier to prove that guns and tasers don't kill people, than to try and prove that we have to kill whales in order to study them.

Cultures and people move forward. They advance. Values and our common cultural mentalities progress. Hopefully our humanity strengthens. And customs evolve. These things are not frozen in time. Like an individual who occasionally manifests irrationality, societies too can be unbalanced in some of their customs or practices. They can both mature and grow beyond the behaviors that indicate an alienation from their true long-term natures.

Retaining worthwhile and revered ancient customs is praiseworthy. But, for illustration, if the Japanese of ancient times, and sometimes not so ancient times, never took prisoners alive during wartime because of the prevailing Japanese Samurai "culture", does that mean that such a particular practice is something to be retained with pride today? Using the modern sword (剣) against defenseless whales is equally dishonorable.

Any appeal to ancient customs is thus especially absurd in the whale hunt discussion. Did the Japanese in ancient times use steel-hulled ships to journey to Antarctica to hunt with steel harpoons and explosives for whales?

Can we condone what is being done by any of the arguments presented so far? This is all doublespeak. These arguments are not even up to the pathetic standards of crooked politicians who lie when trying to justify their corrupt behavior.

If tribal customs for aboriginal peoples in some parts of the world are used to appeal for the allowance of hunting or fishing of protected species out of season then it is true, the local lawmakers will often grant exceptions in such cases. But these should only be granted if the indigenous peoples are willing to use their forebears' (先祖) ancient technologies. That would protect the species in question since ancient methods are much less likely to have the mass killing effect of our modern methods. More importantly it would give true meaning to the phrase "retention of valued ancient customs".

How much more profound would it be for a young man coming of age to perform an ancient rite or ritual with the ancient methods, like fishing with spears rather than with drift nets 100 km in length? With the introduction of a highly sophisticated technology, ancient customs can — in this new and different context — assume a completely new and different nature and hence become unjustifiable on the basis of any appeal to “tradition”.

The right to carry forward with a tradition implies that the traditional methodology, as much as practical, should be used — naturally with the provision that if the ancient method involved taking your enemy's head off, then we abstain from that part of the tradition with the understanding that we have moved forward from that point in our common development.

Our purpose today should be to protect and serve life. Whereas our primordial instinct for self-preservation through the ‘harvesting’ of animal life served us well and allowed us to survive as a species, that same instinct is no longer appropriate — it does us a disservice. It takes our identity away from us. It can today jeopardize our primary motivation for living, the celebration of life itself.

Henry David Thoreau wrote “In wildness is the preservation of the world”. Today that wildness preserves us more than ever. But we don’t serve it nor does it preserve us by our ‘harvesting’ of the great whales. The wilderness preserves us through our conservation of those great creatures and through our preservation of their environment.

Those Japanese and Norwegians who actively hunt whales may delude themselves into thinking that they are in touch with the past, with their primordial selves. But what they are in touch with is what all of our forebears (先祖) were compelled to do in order to survive. But precisely because such activities are no longer germane to our survival, they needlessly alienate us from our potential — our true loving human character. Early humans had no choice — we do.

Today when so-called primitive tribes hunt for food, they invariably practice a form of prayer and a showing of gratitude to Nature for the gift they have just received. There is an inherent paradox they recognize explicitly. And they must atone for the taking of Nature’s gift of life in order to keep themselves psychologically whole. Otherwise they would have to coexist with unacknowledged hypocrisy.

They have extinguished the lives of others. They have killed to preserve and ensure their own continuance. Without the proper atonement and acknowledgement of the wrong that has been done, they risk becoming mentally unwhole and eventually physically unwell. But when was the last time you saw a whaler give thanks to God or more to the point to the whale whose vibrant life he has just ended?

The Japanese (and the Norwegians) and their compatriots in other nations are worthy of something more sublime than the needless slaughter of their fellow mammals in the oceans. These nations prove this every day in all of their other activities. Why not do the same with a permanent cessation of whaling?

We don't own the whales. They were born free. We did not raise them for food. We have no more right to organize in societal groups to hunt them down with modern technology than they would have that right to organize and hunt us. Because we can do so is not sufficient reason for so doing.

As far as our concern for our fellow humans, there is no contradiction in helping helpless animals as well as helping our fellow humans who are in need or in danger. There is no mutual exclusivity in pursuing both such noble activities. Admirably, both Japan and Norway give very generously to foreign aid. We as individuals should similarly respect all life.

Even if we raise life on the farm for eventual human consumption it should be done with care and respect for those creatures we raise. There is sacredness in all life, even most especially our own, which it is true, we do not always recognize. When we mistreat so-called animal life we are not respecting their sacredness or our own. By so doing, we diminish ourselves and disavow our own sacred nature.

The respect for every human and animal life is an essential precondition if worthwhile societal life is to ever be possible for all of us in our Home Earth. When our collective conscience loses respect for Life as something incredibly sacred, and as something worthy of all of our protection, we inevitably end by disunifying our own identities and repudiating our own most basic reason for living.