An Environmental Awareness Program for the Pacific

Broadcast 6/7 April 1996

"Hello, you're tuned to One World, Radio Australia's South Pacific environment program, with Carolyn Court and Lisa Harris."

(VOTIER GRAB) "The moral obligation to release the pictures, so that authorities around the world could see them and judge for themselves, I felt was much greater than any contractual obligation to the Japanese authorities not to release the information. Indeed if I'd been complicit in such an ugly secret, I don't think I could have lived with that decision."

HARRIS: In 1992 a British freelance film maker, Mark Votier, was permitted by the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, to video the Japanese whaling fleet in operation, during the five months of the 1992/93 Antarctic season. Mark not only took footage of the harpooning of whales, but also their electrocution by electric lance, which is a secondary method employed when harpoons do not kill the mammals outright. Mark's footage showed Minke whales thrashing in agony as a low voltage electrical charge slowly killed them. Mark released this graphic footage publicly and was sued by the Institute for breach of contract, as they claimed they had the right of censorship. A Tokyo Court has just passed judgement in favour of the Institute, on what's known as the whale cruelty film. Here I'm speaking with Mark Votier. He begins by explaining the procedures that Japanese whalers use to kill Minke whales.

VOTIER: Their objective is to recover certain samples for analysis. The most important samples are the ear-plugs which of course are located in the head. So the gunner is directed in each case, he has in fact a standing order to shoot the animal in the body, in order to avoid damage to the head. Now what this means is that in about 55% of cases, at least the cases I observed, the animal wasn't killed outright, it was only wounded. So the animal is winched into a position on the bows of the boat. There it is speared. At the base of the spear was a detachable electrode, which became embedded in the animal's flesh. And then the gunner turns on a machine which discharged just 220 volts of electricity through the animal, with the purpose of imobilising it.

HARRIS: Mark, you shot footage of a Japanese Antarctic whaling operation under contract with the institute. Can you firstly tell me the terms of the contract?

VOTIER: The particular terms of the contract which were in dispute, were first that no unsightly tasks on board should be filmed, and second that any program in its final form could only be broadcast with the prior consent of the Institute of Cetacean Research. It was alleged that I broke those two contractual conditions. I accept, certainly, that unsightly tasks in the water were filmed and broadcast and I accept the second clause was broken as well, but to be fair, I did explain to the authorities that no editor would willingly give up his editorial control of any output of the program and they seemed to accept that verbally before we went.

HARRIS: Can you describe further the footage that the Institute claimed breached the terms of your contract?

VOTIER: Yes, the footage depicted in very graphic detail what the animal experienced immediately after it was shot, when it was being winched in to the side of, sorry to the bows of the catcher ship. And the violent thrashing that took place when the animal was actually electrocuted. It seems to me that there were three stages to the electrocution. The first discharge of electricity caused the animal to thrash in the water. Then there was the sort of second second stage where the animal seemed to go stiff with paralysis as its muscles were being fibrillated and going into spasm. Then the final stage, the animal would appear to be limp, but not necessarily dead, because a whale, of course has a brain which is supremely adapted to diving, which means that it requires less oxygen than a land mammal to function. So throughout the whole process, the animal could have been fully conscious of what what was happening and indeed at the end of it, when the gunner declared the animal dead, it might not have been dead, merely immobile.

HARRIS: How many harpoonings did you watch and what percentage of those involved what you would call an inhumane death?

VOTIER: I witnessed 30 harpoonings, and I would say about 55% of those harpooning s resulted in the electric shock process being given.

HARRIS: The Institute brought a case against you in a Tokyo Court, what was the result of the court case?

VOTIER: Damages of 3 million yen were awarded to the Institute against me, but nothing was awarded in costs. I feel that the amounts are significant given the Institute had wanted 10 million yen in damages and 20 million yen in costs. So in the event the judge only decided to award one tenth of what they were asking for and my feeling is that the judge was sending a clear message to the Institute that the case should not have been brought to Court at all.

HARRIS: Now, I'm interested, why did you sell the footage to television companies and give it to animal welfare organisations?

VOTIER: I realised that I was possibly, well in fact I was the only person, outside of the Japanese whaling industry who knew full well the full extent of what was going on in the Antarctic Ocean, and had a full understanding of what the animals were going through. I simply felt that I had a moral obligation to get that message out in order that pressure brought through the International Whaling Commission on Japan to get electrocution stopped. Clearly, I couldn't have initiated that sequence of events without releasing the footage, so I had to.

HARRIS: So Mark, what kind of impact do you think the film, and indeed the court case, has had on the issue of how whales are killed?

VOTIER: In Britain, the RSPCA took the footage and made a very comprehensive study of it. With the New Zealand government, Britain jointly proposed a resolution at the IWC Scientific Committee to ban the use of electricity in killing whales as a result of that footage. Now the IWC works in weird and wonderfully mysterious ways, and its taken about, well it's taken three years for the decision to get as far as the Commisssioners. And they will decide in June this year, in Scotland, whether or not electricity should be finally banned in whaling.

HARRIS: With the data available as a result of your fill be able to be used? I'm thinking here specifically of the next meeting of the International Whaling Commission in June of this year.

VOTIER: I'm not sure about the exact data, which has been presented to the IWC from the footage, but interestingly, Japan has kept hidden from the IWC all of their killing time data, suggesting that it was still being analysed. But you know anyone can, an eleven year old maybe could add up the aggregate number of killing times and divide by the number of whales killed to provide an average killing time, so I think it is a rather spurious point, but I think it is the pictures which will have swayed the Commissioners in this case.

HARRIS: Your film obviously shows that the electrocution of Minke whales, as currently practised by the Japanese, inflict great pain on the animal, now what are the alternative humane killing methods?

VOTIER: I think the most humane way to kill a whale is to harpoon it through the head. If it's impossible to do this, for example, with a fast swimming whale, and you only wound it, then the kindest thing to do in that case is to bring the whale in to a point very close to the ship and use a high powered rifle to shoot it through the brain. In fact, that's what Norway does with her scientific research effort, but the Japanese can't do this because they're afraid of damaging the ear-plugs, so they desist from that method.

HARRIS: Mark this has been quite a long saga for you. Do you have any regrets?

VOTIER: Yes, I regret certainly, the fact that friendships were built up over the course of five and a half months that I sailed with the Japanese fleet, and that I had to betray those friendship, and that some of the people who were betrayed could never really understand why I did it, and certainly that hurts a lot.

COURT: Freelance film maker Mark Votier, who won't have to meet the damages claim, unless Japanese authorities choose to bring an action in a British court for enforcement. And Mark Votier was speaking with Lisa Harris. Your're tuned to One World. Coming up next...

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