Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XIV No. 4 - October 2005


By William Rossiter

JARPA II, Japan's next round of "scientific" whaling, will escalate to the killing of 50 finback whales, 50 humpback whales and 935 minke whales. Almost 200,000 humpback whales and more than 700,000 fin whales were acknowledged as killed in the Southern Hemisphere during the 20th century. The whalers' "real" records, often smuggled from forgotten outposts, showed they actually caught anything they could. Many populations were brought close to extinction. JARPA II was "submitted" to the IWC last summer, but the IWC could do nothing but complain; because it's called "scientific" Japan decides their quotas. Because of the "scientific" label, JARPA II will kill whales in the IWC's Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

What do non-Japanese scientists say about JARPA II? Dr. Phil Clapham, director of large whale research at the U.S. National Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle, Washington says: "Japan's scientific whaling program has been widely criticized as a cover for a growing commercial hunt." "The quality of the scientific research is extremely poor, providing almost no information of value for the management of whale populations despite 16 years of operation and thousands of whales killed. Japan's research exists for one purpose only: to `prove' - no matter what the data actually say - that whales eat too much fish and are thus in competition with Japanese fisheries. This isn't the case, and is not even relevant in the Antarctic, where whales eat krill."

Dr. Michael Poole, Director of the Marine Mammal Research Program based at CRIOBE on Moorea in French Polynesia told CSI in May that they had "discovered a previously unknown breeding population of humpback whales here in French Polynesia. It's a small remnant that survived the previous slaughter in Antarctica, and a growing whale watching industry has developed at a few of our islands, focusing on these whales. It is simply unthinkable that, shortly after having been discovered, some of French Polynesia's whales could be killed once again while feeding in Antarctica." "We discovered that some of French Polynesia's humpback whales were observed elsewhere in the South Pacific during previous years, visiting more than one breeding ground. One as far as New Caledonia! . . . this is especially important right now in light of Japan's JARPA II program's intention to hunt humpbacks in Antarctica where our whales feed. Their whalers could kill whales south of New Caledonia or Tonga in Antarctica, but the whales could be ours. And since numbers of humpbacks are very low at all breeding areas in the South Pacific, none of them should be hunted."

Dr. Claire Garrigue of Operation Cetacean in Noumea has said: "The New Caledonia population of humpback whales numbers perhaps a few hundred individuals, many of which return year after year to our southern lagoon. Japan's whaling will threaten our local tourism and undermine recent legislation to declare a sanctuary for whales around New Caledonia."

Dr. Scott Baker, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Auckland has said: "The King of Tonga banned hunting of humpback whales in 1978 and the population is only now beginning to increase in numbers. These whales migrate past New Zealand to feeding grounds in the Antarctic where they will be at risk of Japan's whaling fleet."

Commercial sale of whale products from Japan's existing scientific whaling program generates an estimated US$52 million in profits, which Japan says supports their "scientific" whaling. If Japan and other whaling nations also are successful with their plans to weaken international agreements on trade in endangered species, meat from southern hemisphere humpback and fin whales could find its way to other whaling countries, including Norway and Iceland, as well as the supermarkets of Tokyo. Another concern is that illegal kills would be much harder to detect among so many added tons from JARPA II on the market. What if independent observers were on whaling vessels? IWC experts believe observers would be misused to give the hunt dubious credibility, and besides being difficult to implement, even if an observer certified an illegal catch, there would be no effective penalties for infractions. However they slice it, the whalers have become adept at saying and doing whatever works, as long as they can continue the killing.

The Faroe Islanders slaughtered at least 90 more dolphins and pilot whales in mid-August, in the opportunistic but traditional grindadráp. Again and again we've read how the meat is contaminated, yet most islanders apparently regard the hunt as much a part of local culture as Christmas. That odd cultural cue was from an island tourism web site, not CSI. They really don't see the difference.

Norway's whaling was extended to 30 September, as quotas of minke whales were not reached by the end of August. By early September 639 minke whales had been killed, 634 from the coast and Svalbard quota of 651, and 5 of the Jan Mayen and the Barents Sea quota of 145. The Norwegian Directory of Fisheries stated that deadlines were just technicalities and the traditional deadline and season are just for the mutual cooperation of whalers and processors. They added that whalers are no longer dependent on an expensive administration of whaling inspectors, and there is no need for as many inspectors because of the "blue box", so the season can be expanded.

The Norwegian Raw Fish organization, which markets whale products, is trying to boost consumer demand with sliced whale steaks packaged like ordinary beef. The whaling museum in Sandefjord, reporting an increase of up to 400 visitors a day, discounted the miserable weather that increased attendance at all indoor venues.

Iceland's Minke whale hunt ended in late August, after the self-awarded 2005 quota of 39 whales was processed for commercial sale. Iceland reports that 100 Minke whales have been killed since 2003, the Marine Research Institute's halfway mark of 200 whales to be sampled for diet, genetics, health, mating, energy management, and physiology. The announced goal is to present preliminary results from the samples to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission in 2006, although modern marine mammalogy could have acquired all this data and much more with nonlethal research.

Iceland's whaling was condemned in August by the Australian Government. Iceland formally responded in part that their lethal scientific research of whales "constitutes essential part of [Iceland's] ecological approach to the conservation and management of living marine resources . . . necessary to ensure sustainable fisheries and sustainable use of living marine resources in general" (they actually believe that not killing whales may lead to false conclusions and poor management), "most of the proposed nonlethal methods have not been scientifically validated", and the hunt is humane because "the animals do not realize that they are being hunted." Continuing this logic, and relying on skewed Norwegian data purporting that "around 80% of the animals die instantaneously", Iceland then demanded that Australia submit data on kangaroo and camel hunts to the IWC in 2006.

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (IRC) emulated Iceland's logic in a Commentary in Nature, 18 August. Responding to an earlier Commentary, "Japan's whaling plan under scrutiny", the IRC defended their methods, adding that their 18 years of killing whales for research had produced more than 150 scientific papers available to the IWC Scientific Committee, and had a further 79 published in academic peer-reviewed journals. Objecting to their publication record being cited as "very poor", they blamed many journals for rejecting their papers.

Independent DNA tests of openly purchased whale meat over a decade has found prohibited species like finbacks, humpbacks, and by one account a blue whale, mixed in with Japan's self-awarded kills of minke, Bryde's, sperm and sei whales. The tests are specific; one 1996 sample came from a blue-fin hybrid taken by Iceland in 1989. But the Japanese crudely but effectively deflect criticism of prohibited species or stocks for sale, saying that the meat was stored for decades in freezers, or was scavenged from whales that died from other causes.

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