“The trouble with whales, ” opined a voice from the La-Z-Boy, “is their eyes are too small.
“If we letter-boxed the Japanese with pictures of whales with big eyes the killing would stop … end of story.
“And … it would be cheaper – not to mention less confusing – than employing sharks,” sniffs he who has no great opinion of the legal profession.
We’d been watching some of the evidence presented to the International Court of Justice as part of Australia’s case against Japan over alleged breaches of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
And, as it is essentially a question of national face – and the saving thereof – the eyes really do seem to go to the heart of the issue.
Consider the seals.
Not so long ago the Canadians were clubbing baby harp seals with impunity, but today there is less incentive for sealers, with bans on seal products in 34 countries.
And it was those big black limpid eyes that helped turn around public opinion.
Seals, pandas and chimps count among what environmentalists call “charismatic megafauna”, able to stare into a camera lens to win hearts and influence people.
It seems even scientists are not immune to this phenomena, with studies showing “cute and furry” animals are 500 times more likely to be the subject of research papers than less attractive critters – irrespective of whether they are in any way endangered.
This also explains why, after going to one of those Loony Larry/Freaky Fred discount places to buy a loaf tin last week, I emerged – somewhat bemused – with a $2.99 plastic meerkat on a stick.
Has anyone ever gone into a shop intentionally to buy such a ridiculous item?
Yet, there were about 100 standing sentry just inside the entry and by the next day they were all gone.
The Japanese have contributed considerably to the cult of cute or “kawaii”, investing anime and manga characters with huge Bambi eyes since the launch of Astro Boy in 1952.
Eyes can also be a powerful deterrent.
British research shows strategically placed posters of staring eyes around car parks and other high-risk areas reduce crime because thieves can’t shake the feeling of being watched.
Whether the ICJ returns a verdict upholding Australia’s case before the start of the next whale hunting season remains to be seen.
But the world will be watching.
*meerkats image from Road Travel Africa