In the following blog post Dan Goodman, Councillor, Institute of Cetacean Research, Tokyo, responds to an earlier post by Greenpeace’s Adele Major in which she quotes John Frizzel explaining why whaling can not be sustainable, click here to read the Greenpeace position.
In this response Goodman puts the case for sustainable whaling and explains the importance of the current research effort in Antarctic waters:
Greenpeace has been misleading the public on issues related to whaling for many years (If Greenpeace told the truth about whaling, The Japan Times, 2nd January 2002). They clearly have an economic interest in continuing their campaign of “hype, half-truths and posturing” as it was described by a former director of Greenpeace International (Nature Vol. 396, December 10/98).
John Frizzel’s arguments are simply more of the same with additional errors of fact and omission. His advocacy is for the most part fiction rather than science.
Frizzel’s argument that because past commercial whaling depleted whale stocks, whaling should never be attempted again ignores the fact that science related to whales and resource management has very substantially progressed in the last 50 years.
His argument also ignores the fact that past whaling was for whale oil which was a commodity valued worldwide whereas current and future whaling is for food for a very limited market. The argument is also contrary to the views of the IWC’s Scientific Committee which developed and unanimously recommended to the Commission a risk-averse procedure for calculating catch quotas for abundant species of baleen whales. Clearly the Scientific Committee, and indeed the Commission itself which adopted the procedure in 1994, were of the view that sustainable whaling is possible.
Frizzel notes that the blue whale is only showing slow signs of recovery from past over-harvesting but he should also have informed readers that data from Japan’s research program is providing important information to explain why this is the case.
Flawed logic also leads Frizzel to conclude that because the IWC has established a sanctuary in the southern ocean, “Japan’s research program is gathering data to set commercial catch limits on a population for which commercial whaling has been forbidden” but he omits the fact that Paragraph 7 (b) of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which established the Southern Ocean Sanctuary includes the words “However, this prohibition shall be reviewed ten years after its initial adoption and at succeeding ten year intervals, and could be revised at such times by the Commission.”
Presentation of data to the IWC from Japan’s research program clearly shows that the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, which was established without advice from the Scientific Committee was required for conservation reasons, clearly shows that the sanctuary is not required. If the IWC followed the requirement of the Convention for its regulations to be based on scientific findings the sanctuary would be abolished. In addition, Japan filed an objection to the Southern Ocean Sanctuary with respect to minke whales as is the right of any member of the IWC. The meaning of this in legal terms is that the sanctuary does not apply to Japan.
Frizzel quotes a genetics study by Roman and Palumbi (2003) suggesting that pre-whaling abundance was much higher than previously thought however, he fails to note that this study has been severely criticized in the scientific literature and that in 2004 the IWC’s Scientific Committee agreed that “figures presented by Roman and Palumbi could not be considered reliable estimates of pre-whaling abundance”.
Work by Palumbi and colleagues following the 2004 meeting of the Scientific Committee did not resolve issues raised by the Scientific Committee (IWC/57/REP 1 page 38).
Frizzel also mis-stated the findings of the Scientific Committee concerning recent preliminary and not-agreed estimates of southern hemisphere minke whales when he says that “The new estimates are half the old in every area that has been resurveyed.” The fact is that the estimate for Area VI is higher from the more recent surveys (IWC/57/ REP 1, page 24).
He is, however, correct that the possible reasons for the differences in estimates derived from circumpolar surveys conducted more than 20 years ago and more recent surveys are not yet understood. Factors such as differences in survey design and areas covered, differences in ice and whale distribution and species interactions where increasing abundance of fin and humpback whales may be reducing the availability of krill for minke whales may all be contributing to the difference in estimates of abundance.
On the other hand, data from Japan’s 16 year whale research in the Antarctic (JARPA) which used the same survey method each year shows a stable level of minke whale abundance and there are no indications that biological parameters such as natural mortality rates, pregnancy rates and age of sexual maturity have changed to the degree which would be required to reduce the population by half over the past 20 years.
It also needs to be pointed out that even if minke whale abundance was half of the 1990 estimate of 760,000 animals, the current level of take under JARPA II (the new Japanese research program begun this year) is approximately only 0.02%. Clearly this level of removal is not a conservation concern.
Frizzel states the Greenpeace view that “whaling in all forms must be stopped” because of threats to whales other than whaling. Here again he fails to note that the Revised Management Procedure for setting catch quotas developed by the IWC’s Scientific Committee takes account of uncertainty including uncertainty related to environmental change. His statement that “Expectations for the recovery of whale populations have been based on the assumption that, except for commercial whaling, their place in the oceans is as secure as it was a hundred years ago” is therefore simply false.
Finally, Frizell opines that very little is known about southern fin whales and that most civilized cultures recognize the need to preserve biodiversity and conserve species that are endangered and protected. The fact that little is known about southern fin whales is precisely the reason we will sample a few whales of this species