As usual, this month’s editorial cover was the product of long debate. Personally, I don’t see how you can go wrong with a horse that has something on its mind, but there were dissenters. (Names have been withheld to protect the guilty.) Several ideas were tossed around before being tossed out, but one in particular was dumped for probably all the wrong reasons.
On the right is one of those pictures that nearly made the cover. It’s a photo of a man gutting dolphins with a sharpened spear. The shot was captured earlier this year by Howard Hall and Hardy Jones during a visit to Japan for Blue Voice.org, an online organization dedicated to bringing environmental issues to the attention of the public.
The story goes something like this: Every year, 20,000 dolphins are killed in Japan in a slaughter that is sanctioned by the Japanese government. Fishermen herd huge groups of dolphins into shallow bays so they can undergo selection. A lucky few are pulled from the bay, packaged for transport and shipped around the world so that tourists can have the thrill of swimming with them. (Granted, it’s a life of captivity but it beats what awaits the others.) Those not selected are driven into the shallows, where fishermen wait to disembowel them as they swim by, gutting them as they struggle to find a way out of the trap. As you can see in the picture, it’s a particularly bloody task. The eviscerated dolphins are then pulled ashore and cut up to be sold for their meat. (The wonderful irony is that dolphin meat is toxic, and is therefore dangerous to humans – we tend to use oceans as a repository for all the foul things we want to hide…)
That story, and that picture, piss me off. I’m a typical citizen of the First World in that I pay lip-service to conservation and environmentalism when it’s convenient, but that story made me angry. I suspect I’m not alone. Not even politics or religion create such a primal reaction as animal/human interactions. We’re not far enough removed from the animal world for these kinds of images and stories to not register emotionally with our biological programming.
There’s a lot of talk that says wildlife programming is in trouble, but it’s not. We need to think about how we tell those stories, and we need to revisit the way we show those pictures, but these programs register in a basic way, and that won’t change. If you’ve questioned whether or not the natural history market was ever going to recover, don’t waste your breath. If you felt half as sick as I did when you saw that picture, you already have your answer.
Brendan Christie Editor