Japanese sue over whale-killing pictures

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Chief Reporter

A British journalist who exposed the electrocution of Antarctic minke whales is likely to lose a pounds 260,000 court case today against the Japanese institute that ordered the deaths for "research".

Mark Votier is being sued by the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research for releasing footage of the killings to the media in 23 countries.

Mr Votier, 37, who will not contest the action in Tokyo's district court, was privately commissioned to film a whaling expedition in the Antarctic in February 1993. But he was so sickened by what he saw that he decided to release the footage.The institute is suing him for pounds 60,000 and the court is likely to impose pounds 200,000 costs.

"Altogether, I watched 30 harpoonings," Mr Votier said yesterday. "In about 50 per cent of cases the whales were immobilised instantly and shackled to the side of the catcher ship for transport to the waiting factory ship.

"But in the other 50 per cent the whales were only wounded. To immobilise them, they were dragged to the catcher ship and speared with a lance containing a detachable electrode. The gunner then discharged 220 volts of electricity into the animal's body, in most cases causing it to react violently.

"The average immobilisation time, on a conservative estimate, is eight minutes. However, I did witness one botched electrocution which took 23 minutes. If I had not released the pictures I could not have lived with the decision."

Mr Votier, who lived in Japan for seven years, said he will ignore the court ruling but may have to take further legal advice if the institute, which is part funded by the Japanese government, initiates proceedings in Britain. He has been supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Japan and Norway continue to be the only nations to ignore consistently appeals by the International Whaling Commission not to engage in "scientific research" whaling following the world ban on commercial whaling in 1987.

Last year, Japanese fleets killed more than 300 minke whales and the figure for this year is likely to climb to 440.

Vassili Papastavrou, an IFAW marine biologist, said he believed the institute was wrong to sue Mr Votier. "The institute is trying to stifle a basic human right - free speech," he said. "It is another attempt by the Japanese to hide the barbarity of their whaling."

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said Mr Votier's actions had advanced the whales' cause and his footage had been used by the British government in talks aimed at reinforcing the whaling moratorium. "The Japanese are unrepentant about the killings but they are having to face up to slowly growing public opinion at home, so it is a very sensitive issue for them," their spokesman Jonathan Owen said. "This kind of electrocution is simply barbaric. We would argue that the whole exercise is completely unscientific and is just a pretext for them to carry on whaling."

A spokesman for the Agriculture and Fisheries Division of the Japanese Embassy denied that the whaling was unscientific. "We need to gather scientific data on the age and sex and population of the minke whales in the Antarctic," he said, claiming that around 400 whales had to be slaughtered to satisfy statistical best practice.