Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 4 October 1997


On the Soviet Whaling Falsification, 1947-1972

by Prof. Alexey V. Yablokov, Chairman, Center for Russian Environmental Policy


As Environmental Advisor to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Dr. Alexey V. Yablokov, with assistance from Dr. Bob Brownell, published and presented to last year's IWC meeting previously secret data on Soviet whaling from 1947 to 1972, despite protests by the Russian Delegation. Enduring repercussions have included charges brought by the Russian Foreign Ministry and State Fisheries Committee for passing state secrets. Dr. Yablokov still serves on the National Security Council, but is no longer paid. With support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Dr. Yablokov created the Russian Marine Mammal Council in 1995 as a professional and non-profit NGO. CSI and many others concerned with whales feel he is a true hero. Dr. Yablokov's summary report included here will also be available on CSI's web site. CSI is committed to ensuring that this powerful resource is easily available to everyone. The full document, "Soviet Antarctic Whaling Data, 1947-1972", includes 256 tables and 50 maps, and may be included later. Should you wonder why decades-old data is timely and vital today, just correlate his brief discussion with the reality that unobserved and unregulated commercial whaling is happening as you read this. His data is a particularly fitting reminder for the upcoming IWC meeting. - William Rossiter

Analysis of the previously classified real data on the Soviet whaling operation in the Southern Hemisphere shows that the official data reported to the International Whaling Commission were heavily falsified. Unreported (most species) and over-reported (to cover illegal catch of protected species) data deviate more than 82% from data officially submitted to the IWC. More than 9,000 blue whales, about 46,000 humpback whales, 3,350 right whales, and more than 21,000 sperm whales, etc., were unreported. Official data on geographical location, time, biological and physiological condition of whales also were especially falsified. This falsification partly explained the lack of recovery of all large whales populations in spite of decades of protection. All previous population models for whales now need to be recalculated.

In 1992-1996 Prof. V.A. Zemsky (Moscow), Dr. D.D. Tormosov (Kaliningrad, Russia), the late Dr. A.A. Berzin (Vladivostok, Russia) and Dr. Yu. A. Mikhalyev ( Odessa, Ukraine), under my initiative (at that time I was the Environmental Adviser to the Russian President) with strong organizing support from Dr. R. Brownell (MMC-US, La Jolla, Ca.) collected previously classified data on Soviet whaling statistics and compared it with the official data presented by the USSR in the International Whaling Commission. The first result of this work is the technical report Soviet Antarctic Whaling Data, 1947 - 1972 (Moscow, 1996, Published by the Center for Russian Environmental Policy) which includes 256 tables and 50 maps. Although the revealed data are incomplete (they cover about 85-90% of all Soviet Whaling Southern Hemisphere operations), it is now possible to understand the scale of the official falsification.

This table summarizes all data on the real catch from the beginning of the post-war Soviet whaling activities in the Southern Hemisphere until the introduction of the International Observers Scheme in the season 1972/73.

Comparison of the data submitted to the IWC and the real Soviet Antarctic Whaling data, 1947 - 1972

(+ means over-reported, - means unreported)

Species Submitted to IWC Real Disparity, n
Balaenoptera musculus 3887 3681 +206
B. m. brevicauda 10 9215 -9205
B. borealis 29751 53366 -23615
B. physalus 52860 42889 +9971
B. edeni 10 1457 -1447
B. acutorostrata 1246 384 +862
Megaptera novaeangliae 2820 48651 -45831
Eubalaena australis 4 3354 -3350
Physeter macrocephalus 50715 72372 -21657
Orcinus orca 482 124 +358
Hyperoodon ampullatus 10 17 -7
Others 0 29 -29
Total 141785 235539 116548

The data from the table show that the total unreported was 105,141 whales (74.1% from the total reported harvest). 11,397 whales (8.0% from the total reported harvest) were over-reported. The total falsification by number (over-reported + unreported) is 116,538 animals, or 82.2% of the total officially reported harvest.

As can be observed from the table, the false data have two opposite tendencies: for several species data have been unreported, and for several others over-reported. It was done to mask the enormous scale mass destruction of the pygmy blue whales (B. m. brevicauda), sei whales (B. borealis), humpbacks ( Megaptera novaeangliae) and bowhead whales (Eubalaena australis). For pygmy blue, right, Bryde's and humpback whales, levels of falsification by number of killed whales were as great as a thousand times.

By IWC regulations, hunting for baleen whales (Mysticeti) north of 40 degrees was completely prohibited. Under the pretense of hunting toothed whales, the Soviet whalers killed a lot of baleen whales north of 40 degrees. The main areas for such illegal hunting were: South Atlantic waters (mostly South West, Central and South East, but also Canarean, Sierra-Leonian and Guinea waters); Indian Ocean (Central parts, Aden bay, Arabian Sea, Somalian, India, Sri-Lankian, Madagascar, West- and South-Australian and even Indonesian waters); South-West Pacific (West Australian Sea and Northern New Zelandian waters).

Practically all the biological data passed to the IWC have been specially "corrected" to cover huge illegal hunting. Because it has been prohibited to kill lactating females with calves, practically all such cases were concealed. For example, instead of reporting a fin whale female and calf, "two sei whales" might have been reported, and 4-5 female sperm whales might have been reported as two males. In this way the bulk of the official Soviet Antarctic whaling data about length composition, weight, male-female proportion, and state of maturity have been falsified.

For years scientists around the world have debated why no recovery has been observed in many of the Southern Hemisphere baleen whale populations despite decades of protection. Now this lack of recovery can be partly explained by the new records showing that Soviet whale catches were significantly higher than officially have been reported.

The Blue whale. In spite of IWC protection, blue whales have remained at extremely low levels and show no significant evidence today of immediate recovery. When blue whales were protected by the IWC in the mid 1960's, the total abundance was estimated between 800 to 1,600 true blue whales and over 10,000 pygmy blue whales (today approximately 700 and 5,000 respectively ).

The four Soviet factory ships that operated in the Southern Hemisphere after blue whales were protected killed not less than 12,896 blue whales of both subspecies. About 9,000 whales were never reported to the IWC and many of them were killed after the 1965/66 season. These new data mean that these whale populations were reduced to much lower levels than previously calculated by the Scientific Committee of the IWC, and therefore it will take longer for these populations to recover.

The Humpback whale. The taking of this species was prohibited by the IWC in the 1962/63 season. Before new Soviet records were available the post World War II (1946/47 through 1977/78) catch by all nations reported to the IWC was 14,897 humpbacks. The total humpback catch from Soviet Antarctic operations was not less than 48,651 whales (officially reported as only 2,820 or 5.8%!).The Soviet whalers killed humpbacks even off the coasts of Oman, Pakistan and northwestern India.

The Right whale. Right whales have always been protected under regulations of the IWC. In recent years only four of the 13 putative populations (western Australia, Argentina, east Africa and west Africa) of southern right whales have shown rates of increase. Now one can surmise the main reason for this - the huge and completely illegal Soviet catch of the right whales, totaling at least 3,354 whales, during the 1951/52 - 1970/71 seasons. The majority of these whales were taken from remote and isolated populations.

The scale of the Soviet Antarctic whaling data falsification is so great that it is necessary to recalculate practically all models for whale population studies, not only for the Antarctic, but also for the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific populations of all whale species. The Russian Marine Mammals Council together with the Center for Russian Environmental Policy plan to continue to collect, analyze and publish the facts about the Soviet whaling operations (in spite of the strong official opposition from the fisheries circles and even the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

It is also necessary to reveal the real whaling data for the South as for the Northern Hemispheres, including the pirate fleets (e.g. Onassis), Norwegian and Japanese ones. It will be difficult, even (as my personal experience has shown) dangerous, but possible. Maybe it will be important to create some kind of "White book" on the XX Century whaling.


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